Saturday, June 23, 2012

The Death of Kings and Growth of the Kingdom - Acts 12 - The Kingdom of God is Bigger Than Us part 7 (conclusion)

(Click here to read Acts 12)  
(please see the introduction to Acts 6-12)

Acts 12:21-24 (ESV)
21 On an appointed day Herod put on his royal robes, took his seat upon the throne, and delivered an oration to them. 22 And the people were shouting, “The voice of a god, and not of a man!” 23 Immediately an angel of the Lord struck him down, because he did not give God the glory, and he was eaten by worms and breathed his last.

  24 But the word of God increased and multiplied.

The Kingdom of God has been rapidly spreading like weeds along the countryside. The empire of Rome itself is soon to take notice of these resistance communities of free and just citizens, generously sharing equally and without coercion. The name of Jesus is on their lips, he who was executed by the empire as an insurrectionist only a scant few years before. All boundaries to enter this Kingdom have now been transcended, and anyone regardless of gender, ethnicity, or religion is welcome to freely enjoy the benefits of Kingdom life.

The cost of citizenship is one's own power and privilege. In the Kingdom, no one holds control or rank over another. All come to the table as equals, rich an poor, citizens of all nations. For the poor, this is good news. For those who hold power in this age, it is also good news, for the power of the world is corruption, and the only authority with any value is that which is submitted to Jesus, the chosen one, the King of kings.

In Acts 10, Peter the Jesus Follower is led to share this Good News with an unlikely audience, the household of a wealthy and high ranking Centurian of the Roman army. Upon entering the Roman's house, this backwoods, undereducated, former fisherman gets a surprise welcome.

Acts 10:25-26 (ESV)
Cornelius was expecting them and had called together his relatives and close friends. When Peter entered, Cornelius met him and fell down at his feet and worshiped him. But Peter lifted him up, saying, “Stand up; I too am a man.”

In the Kingdom, all honour and glory and praise goes directly to the one who is the source of all life, God alone. We are united in our common humanity, each of us made equally in God's image, each of us rescued from the violent empires of the world and the empires within by Jesus our only true King. Peter had no need to receive praise or use such adoration for his own gain. As a child of God, his eternal value had already been affirmed, and his authority came from Jesus, not human acclaim.

But in the world's system, power and authority must be earned. Once acquired, it must be kept by violent force or manipulation. This is a it was for Herod, the tetrarch and puppet-authority of Rome who had presided over one of Jesus' trials on the day of his execution.

Herod had rebuilt the temple in Jerusalem, a political act intended to impress and appease the people who were being oppressed Rome. It was the courtyard of this impressive fifteen story building that Jesus and the crowds had occupied in the week before his execution (see Occupy the Temple in Luke 19). It was near this courtyard that Peter had preached his first sermon, on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2) when 3000 heard the news of the Just Kingdom and received Jesus as their King. Now, Herod is tracking down the most influential of these new communities, and commanding them arrested and killed. Like the temple he built, he does so to impress, appease, and control the people.

The first to die by Herod's hand is James. He is the first of the original twelve Jesus Followers to be officially executed. Next he arrests Peter. Herod had a high opinion of his own power, but Peter sleeps in prison on the night before he is likely to be executed. The community prays for his release from prison, though they had just lost a brother the same way very recently. Their confidence is in the hand of God's will, to whom they appeal, not Herod's authority.

Peter is miraculously freed from prison as he slept and returns to the praying community.

Herod responds in the only way he knows how, the violence and control of empire. He has Peter's guards killed.

Shortly after, Herod dies as he responds to worship in exactly the opposite way to which Peter had responded in Acts 10. When called a god, he has no argument. The only true authority, the one that breaks chains, removes walls, and builds his temple in the hearts of the poor, struck Herod down dead.

Such is it in the Kingdom of God. While rebels who deign to call themselves kings plot to kill the righteous, those righteous sleep soundly as God works justice for them. While the world appeals to earthly authorities to act on their behalf, God's community recognizes the work of the one true authority in the world, and participates in the justice and peace of the coming Kingdom. We resist the rebels of the world, no matter what title or rank they may give themselves. God's Kingdom and will shall be done on earth, no matter how the corrupt nations may plot and strive.

May all glory and honour go to the only wise King. Amen.

v2 – First recorded death of a disciple (the 12)
v7 – Peter was set free from prison, but later Paul was not. To each God acted according to his own design and purpose.
vv14-16 – Funny
v24 – No matter the circumstance within or outside in the main culture, the gospel continued to move.
v24 – Barnabas and Paul return WITH JOHN MARK, after a year of ministry
 (Click here to read Acts 12)  

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