Acts 12:1-19, 24
Now about that time Herod the king stretched forth his hands to vex certain of the church.…
Sin has many aspects, and it is not only curious but instructive to see how it shows itself under different conditions. Here we have it manifesting its evil spirit in "high places." Herod's action at this juncture reminds us of -
I. ITS CONTEMPTUOUSNESS. "Herod... stretched forth his hands to vex certain of the Church" (ver. 1). He did not stay to inquire whether these men were in the right or not. They had with them the most convincing credentials - strong evidence, miraculous power, a truth which met the necessities of the human heart and life; but all this went for nothing. From his place of power he looked down superciliously on this new "way," and with a light heart he determined to vex its adherents. How often does a high place beget an unseemly, unwholesome, injurious arrogance which, smiting others, inflicts a deathblow on itself.
II. ITS BRUTALITY. "And he killed James... with the sword" (ver. 2). What was the life of an enthusiast to him? "He commanded that the keepers should be put to death" (ver. 19). What signified it to him that a few soldiers were executed? It would not spoil his meal nor disturb his slumber that, at his bidding, a few of his fellow-men had their lives cut short and that their families and friends were mourning. This was the spirit of the age, an unchristian age: it was especially the spirit of human tyranny. The ruler on his throne, too often attained by violence and cunning, was indifferent to the blood he shed, to the rights he violated, to the sorrows he caused. Such has been the history of sin in high places from the beginning until now, from one end of the earth to the other.
III. ITS MEANNESS. "Because he saw it pleased the Jews," he proceeded further (ver. 3) in the same course. What a miserable reason for imprisonment and execution of subjects! Not because any crime had been committed, or any folly wrought, or any danger incurred; but because it pleased the Jews, more violence was to be done, more wrong inflicted, more grief and lamentation called forth. To such shameful depth will sin in high places stoop, "justice" prostituting its high vocation (1 Peter 2:14) to win a mean and despicable popularity at the expense of innocence and truth.
IV. ITS IMPOTENCE.
1. How vain are bolts and bars to shut in a man whom God intends to be his agent among men (vers. 4-10; see Acts 5:19; Acts 16:26)!
2. How vain are swords to slay and prison doors to confine the living truth of God! A James may be killed and a Peter imprisoned, but the chapter which narrates these incidents of human tyranny does not close without recording that "the Word of God grew and multiplied." We may learn these two lessons.
(1) We may well be contented with our humbler lot. Obscurity and comparative powerlessness are far less attractive to an ordinary eye than eminence and power. But who of us can say that a "high place" might not prove to be a "slippery place," wherein virtue and purity would fall, never to rise again; or on which some of the finer graces would be dulled and dimmed, even if some of the sadder sins were not nourished and practiced?
(2) We may well rejoice to be on the side of the Lord our Savior. His cause will meet with such checks as this chapter records; there will be times when his disciples will mourn the loss of one champion and be alarmed for the safety of another; but unhoped-for deliverance will come, God will appear for us in ways we dare not expect, and the end will be the growth and multiplying of his living and life-giving Word. - C.
Parallel VersesKJV: Now about that time Herod the king stretched forth his hands to vex certain of the church.