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A Practical Commentary On Holy Scripture by Frederick Justus Knecht D.D.

[Acts 12:1–25]

HEROD Agrippa, grandson of that Herod who had caused the little children of Bethlehem to be slaughtered, was now reigning in Judæa. Wishing to find favour with the Jews, he began to persecute the disciples of Jesus; and having put James the brother of John to death, he caused Peter to be arrested and thrown into prison.

As it was the time of the Jewish Passover, Herod gave the apostle in charge to four files of soldiers, that they might guard him till after the festival time, when he meant to put him to death publicly. But prayer was made unceasingly by the infant Church for Peter.

Now, on the night preceding the day on which he was to be put to death, Peter, being bound with two chains, slept between two soldiers. The other soldiers kept watch at the door of the prison. And behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to Peter, and a bright light shone all around. The angel struck Peter on the side and awakened him, saying: “Arise quickly!” He did so, and the chains fell from off his hands. Then the angel spoke to him: “Gird thyself, and put on thy sandals and follow me!” Peter obeyed, not knowing, however, whether it were a dream or a reality.

Going out, they passed through the first and second ward or watch, and came to the iron gate leading to the city, which opened of itself before them. But when they came out of the prison yard, and had passed along one street, the angel disappeared.

Then Peter, coming to himself, found it was not a dream, and exclaimed: “Now I know in very deed that the Lord hath sent His angel, and hath delivered me out of the hand of Herod, and from all the expectation of the people of the Jews.”

He then went to the house of Mark, where many Christians were assembled in prayer. When Peter knocked at the door, a young girl named Rhode came to listen. On hearing and recognising Peter’s voice the girl was so delighted that she forgot to open the door, and ran in haste to tell the others. But they supposed that she had lost her mind. Yet she insisted that Peter was really at the gate. Then they said that it must be his angel.

Meanwhile Peter continued knocking. When the door was at length opened, and they saw that it was indeed Peter, every one was struck with amazement. Their wonder increased when they heard how the angel of the Lord had delivered him from prison.

When morning came, and Peter was not be found, the guards were filled with consternation. And well they might be, for Herod, hearing of Peter’s escape, caused them all to be put to death.

Herod himself did not long escape the punishment which his impiety and cruelty deserved. He had gone to Cæsarea and was seated on his throne in kingly state, to receive some foreign ambassadors. He delivered an oration which drew from the people the wildest acclamation. They said he spoke as a god and not as a man. This absurd and senseless flattery was very acceptable to the tyrant. He was well pleased to be considered as a god. But immediately the angel of the Lord struck him with a terrible and loathsome disease, and he expired in fearful torments. “But the word of the Lord increased and multiplied.”

God’s protection of His Holy Church. Herod and the Jews thought that by putting her head to death they would deal a death-blow to the Church of God. But God confounded their wicked plans by miraculously freeing Peter from prison on what was meant to be the last night of his life, and when everything was made ready for his execution. Every precaution had been taken to prevent his escape; he was actually chained to two soldiers; a guard stood before the door of his prison, and a little further off there was placed a second guard; and the iron gate which led into the outer street was firmly barred and bolted. The unbelieving Jews were looking forward with jubilation to the coming morning, when the apostle whom they so bitterly hated was to be put to death; they never even thought of his rescue and escape as a possibility! However, man proposes, but God disposes. The Lord God exercised His almighty power, the chains fell from Peter’s hands, the iron gate was thrown open, and Peter, guided by an angel, passed out of the prison into the city, without anyone being able to stop him! This great miracle increased the number of believers, and was the cause of the further extension of the Church.

The power of prayer. Peter’s wonderful deliverance was the fruit of the common and persevering prayer of the Christians. The captivity and approaching death of its Supreme Pastor was a terrible trial to the infant Church. The faithful, however, did not give themselves over to sadness and discouragement, but prayed earnestly and confidently to the Lord of the Church to help them in their distress. The Christians of Jerusalem sent the sad news of the danger which threatened their common father to all the other Christian communities at Samaria, Joppe, Damascus, Antioch, and so forth; and everywhere the faithful joined together to pray in common for the head of the Church. The whole Church was on her knees supplicating Him who had said to her: “Lo, I am with you all days, even unto the consummation of the world.” Scripture says that the faithful prayed without ceasing. They prayed by day and by night, and did not lose hope although the days were running by without, apparently, bringing help. Then—in the middle of the very last night—Peter was set free and given back to the sorrowing Church. When the need is greatest, God is nearest!

The sins of Herod Agrippa. Herod sinned grievously, 1. by mercilessly persecuting the Church of God; 2. by allowing divine honour to be paid him, without protest. Although he was a Jew and knew the true God, yet, blinded by a senseless pride, he complacently accepted the blasphemous flattery that he was a god and not a man! This filled the measure of his sins, and the punishment of divine justice overtook him. Hardly had he accepted the blasphemous adulation before he was seized with the most intense physical pains, and died after five days of terrible agony. Thus Almighty God proved to him and his flatterers that he was no supernatural being, but a truly miserable mortal man.

Sharing the guilt of the sins of others. The Jews, by expressing satisfaction at the murder of St. James, made themselves participators in Herod’s sin, and incited him to proceed to violent measures against the prince of the apostles.

Guardian angels. It is evident that the very earliest Christians believed in guardian angels, this being proved by the words which escaped from the lips of those assembled in the house of Mary, the mother of Mark: “It is his angel!”

The depravity of paganism. The pagans of the Roman Empire had, at this time, sunk to such a depth of depravity that they paid divine honour not only to the emperors who were dead, but also to those who were living, and even to the favourites, dancers, and wrestlers of the emperor, no matter how debased and immoral they were.

APPLICATION. You should learn from the example of the first Christians how great a duty it is for all the faithful to pray for their bishops and priests, and especially for the supreme head of the Church, our Holy Father the Pope. Our present Holy Father (Pius X.) is also surrounded by enemies. He is outraged, calumniated, hated, robbed of his possessions and liberty, and is virtually a prisoner. He needs the prayers and assistance of all his children.








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