God on the sidelines?



Scripture: Acts 12:1 About that time King Herod laid violent hands upon some who belonged to the church. 2 He had James, the brother of John, killed with the sword. 3 After he saw that it pleased the Jews, he proceeded to arrest Peter also. (This was during the festival of Unleavened Bread.) 4 When he had seized him, he put him in prison and handed him over to four squads of soldiers to guard him, intending to bring him out to the people after the Passover. 5 While Peter was kept in prison, the church prayed fervently to God for him.

Observation: Jesus had 12 primary disciples, but 3 of those 12 he brought particularly close – Peter, James, and John. Our passage today tells us that James was arrested and killed. Then Peter was arrested in a similar fashion. One would have expected a similar outcome for Peter, but that’s not what happened. Peter would survive his arrest.

Application: Why? Why did James die but not Peter (at least not yet)? They were both beloved apostles. They were both important to the development of the early church. They were both eyewitnesses to Jesus’ death and resurrection. So why the difference?

It’s our human nature to want to make sense of things. We want life to be understandable. Predictable. Rational. We want to believe there are concrete, observable, unchanging rules that apply to life – so that if we follow the rules we can be assured of the outcome.

But life isn’t like that is it?

There are many things in life that simply can’t be explained, particularly when it comes to our God. God acted so that Peter escaped prison, but did not do the same with James. We don’t know why and I suspect it’s futile to try (though I’m sure there are those who will). There have been times in my life when I’ve felt disappointed with God. God acted in ways that didn’t make sense to me or, more frequently, God appeared to have stayed on the sideline rather than intervene.

And I don’t know why…

Prayer: Heavenly Father, life can seem so arbitrary. You can seem so arbitrary. Why this and not that? Give us grace to make peace with this difficult reality, trusting in your mercy. Amen.

One thought on “God on the sidelines?

  1. I love that your blog wrestles with this! It is a worthwhile question that sanitized devotionals cant cope with. It is not fair!!! There is absolutely no indication that James deserved this death or that Peter didn’t. And yet this is not some crap shoot either.

    If we are focused on ourselves, this story challenges us because it is so unfair. But ACTS is not a story about James, Peter, our us… Oh yes, they are involved, as are we, but Luke tells Theophilus that book 1 was about everything Jesus BEGAN… leading us to see that book 2 is THE REST OF JESUS’S STORY as played out in the lives of the people of the church. This is the advancement of the Gospel, not James’s personal loss and Peter’s personal gain, but the world wide invasion of the LOVE of God. James played a role in it which cost him his life at this point. Peter’s turn would come soon enough. But the Gospel is where the focus should be.

    I find it extremely important that with all the disciples facing such danger AND legal sanction AND public scorn/shame, when the church prays they don’t ask for God’s protection or to be kept safe (these are the things my brothers and sisters at church pray for as part of EVERY prayer ever uttered in our communal midst), but instead, and in the face of all this danger etc, the church of ACTS prays asking God to MAKE US BOLD! (Acts 4:29-31).

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