Now Herod was angry with the people of Tyre and Sidon. So they came to him in a body; and after winning over Blastus, the king’s chamberlain, they asked for a reconciliation, because their country depended on the king’s country for food. On an appointed day Herod put on his royal robes, took his seat on the platform, and delivered a public address to them. The people kept shouting, “The voice of a god, and not a mortal!” And immediately, because he had not given the glory to God, an angel of the Lord struck him down, and he was eaten by worms and died.
But the word of God continued to advance and gain adherents (Acts 12:20-24).
Acts reads like Luke had a scoop on current day news in the Middle East — economic sanctions, trade imbalances, peace delegations, despotic posturing, mass demonstrations, muddling of the lines between religion and the state, and blasphemy in the public square. Herod Agrippa had persecuted the infant Church, murdered James, the brother of John, and imprisoned Peter. Now he received praise that should be reserved only for Almighty God.
“God is not mocked” (Gal 6:7). He gave Herod his just due. In one of the most ironic endings in all of Scriptures, a corrupt political leader fed on praise from parasitic sycophants while he was literally eaten away on the insides by parasites.
The political madness dominated the public’s attention, but the crowd as usual was looking in the wrong direction. Luke noticed something else going on. All the while, “the word of God continued to advance and gain adherents” (Acts 12:20-24).
Because God is in charge, the faithful Church flourishes in times of persecution. Torture, fire and sword cannot defeat the Spirit of God. Meanwhile, Herod, in his royal robes, is revealed to be a worm-eaten “empty suit.”
But the 21st Century Church is far different than the nascent Church of Acts 12. We have organizations, institutions, projects and workforces that make us as dependent upon the Herods of our time as the people of Tyre and Sidon were dependent on Herod Agrippa.
Few Christian colleges and universities in the U.S. could exist without federal student aid. There aren’t many Christian hospitals and clinics left, but those that remain depend upon government healthcare programs that contain provisions that sharply limit or exclude the practice of faith. Many international mission projects in disaster relief, healthcare, and education to the developing world depend on government grants and contracts that have similar restrictions. Labor laws increasingly hamper the ability of Church organizations to require adherence to the tenets of the faith as a condition of employment.
As government control tightens, will Christians grovel to Herod or worship God and live by his Word to its promised end? That is the stark choice, but for the faithful it is no choice at all. “This is the victory that conquers the world, our faith” (1 John 5:5).
“O taste and see that the Lord is good. Happy are those who take refuge in him” (Ps 34:8).
Under the mercy of Christ,
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