By Russ Ramsey
The providence of God is mysterious business. If you’ve ever looked at the hand you’ve been dealt and felt confused by God’s logic, you know what I’m talking about. Job 14:5 tells us that God determines the number of our days, and we cannot pass the limits He has appointed. We live every one of our days in these mysterious boundaries.
Acts 12 is a sweeping narrative dealing with God’s prerogative to determine the number of days for those who love Him and also for those who don’t.
The chapter opens with of the death of James, the brother of John. Herod unceremoniously killed James in an effort to please the Jews. What is so stark about this is that the entire story of this key disciple’s beheading is told in just one verse—“Herod killed James the brother of John with the sword” (12:2). James, one of Jesus’ closest disciples, present at the transfiguration, was killed by a vicious, paranoid ruler, and this is all we’re told about it.
We then learn that, when Herod discovered that James’ death pleased the Jews, he detained Peter with the same intent. However, due to the fact that Peter was arrested during Passover (which would have made a public execution offensive to the very people he was trying to please), Herod left Peter in jail under the watch of four guards at a time. Peter was chained directly to two of them. On the last night of Passover, an angel loosed Peter’s chains and led him safely into the dark streets of Jerusalem.
These two encounters with Herod leave us asking, “Why did Peter live and James die?” Sure, Acts tells us people prayed for Peter’s safety (12:12), but can’t we assume they prayed just as fervently for James? So why did James die and not Peter?
Don’t we often ask similar questions about our own lives? Why am I going through what I’m going through when my neighbor isn’t?
The rest of the chapter (vv. 19-25) answers the question: How much power did Herod really have over James and Peter? Can anyone, regardless of their influence, wealth, or fame, cross the limits God appoints? No. Not even Herod. How can we be so sure? When Herod denied giving God the glory due His name, God struck him down (Acts 12:23).
John Stott observed, “This chapter opens with James dead, Peter in prison, and Herod triumphing; it closes with Herod dead, Peter free, and the Word of God triumphing.”
As ominous as Herod must have been, he was just a man, and his attempt to derail the Church amounted to less than a kid trying to derail a train with a nerf gun. This ruler who appeared so powerful was gone in a moment, but the Word of God still stands.
It can be unsettling to live in uncertainty, but there is nothing for it. We simply don’t get to know all that we’d like to. But we can rest in this: God determines the number of our days, and we cannot pass the limits He has appointed. There is no safer place to be than under His wise providence.
Written By Russ Ramsey