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John the Baptist Beheaded April 29, 2018

Posted by flashbuzzer in Books, Christianity.
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Here are my thoughts on Matthew 14:1-12.

Summary: In this passage, Herod Antipas arrests John the Baptist, as John:

  • is tremendously popular
  • confronts his sinful marriage to Herodias.

Herod is later aroused on his birthday by the lewd dancing of Herodias’ daughter, Salome. He promises to fulfill her wishes, and her mother prompts her to request the murder of John. John is then executed.

Later, when Herod hears about Jesus, his guilty conscience leads him to believe that John has been resurrected in the person of Jesus.

Thoughts: Here, we see that John the Baptist died violently. Ryle offers some thoughts on this point:

If ever there was a case of godliness unrewarded in this life, it was that of John the Baptist. Let us think for a moment what a remarkable man he was during his short career, and then think to what end he came…Truly there was an event here, if there ever was one in the world, which might make an ignorant person say, “What is the good of serving God?”

This is a challenging passage, as it forces us, as believers, to plumb the depth of our loyalty to God. We may be willing to endure some of the trials that stem from following Him, but are we willing to suffer for Him to the point of death? Can we truly look past this life and focus on the promise of a reward in the next life? We know that God calls us to exercise a simple, childlike faith; can we maintain a childlike trust in Him when our instincts toward self-preservation are challenged? These questions do not have facile answers.

This account also highlights the character flaws of Herod Antipas. He did not want his dinner guests to view him as a weakling, and so he sacrificed an innocent man. Now while Herod’s actions made him a convenient target, we should ask ourselves: can we follow the example of John the Baptist and act rightly in the face of opposition? Can we live out our convictions even when our righteousness has a cost? Perhaps we should respond to this passage with humility, asking God for His wisdom and strength to avoid the trap that Herod set for himself.

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The Escape to Egypt October 13, 2017

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Here are my thoughts on Matthew 2:13-18.

Summary: In this passage, an angel of the Lord commands Joseph to flee to Egypt with his family – as Herod is planning to kill Jesus. Joseph obeys this command – thereby fulfilling a prophecy in Hosea 11:1.

The Magi fail to return to Jerusalem after worshiping Jesus in Bethlehem; when Herod realizes that they have disobeyed him in that regard, he is filled with rage. He then orders an infanticide in Bethlehem and its environs – thereby fulfilling a prophecy in Jeremiah 31:15.

Thoughts: Here, we see that Herod sought to kill Jesus – as he viewed Jesus as a threat to his reign. Ryle offers some thoughts on this point:

Do we think that Christ’s cause depends on the power and patronage of princes? We are mistaken. They have seldom done much to advance true religion; they have far more frequently been the enemies of the truth…There are many people like Herod. Those who are like Josiah and Edward VI of England are few.

Ryle’s thoughts spurred me to learn more about Edward VI of England. Perhaps Ryle and his contemporaries extolled Edward’s virtues because he:

  • was a passionate Protestant
  • died tragically.

In any event, Ryle makes an accurate assessment of the divide between politics and true religion. As modern-day believers, we should not trust in our political leaders to advance the kingdom of God. While we should still pray for them – as that is an act of obedience on our part – we must ask God how we, given our relatively limited sphere of influence, can advance His kingdom.

Herod’s Death July 31, 2016

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Here are my thoughts on Acts 12:19b-25.

Summary: In this passage, King Herod traveled to Caesarea, where he resolved an ongoing dispute with the people of Tyre and Sidon. When he addressed them, they shouted that he was divine. Since he accepted this praise, God struck him down; in contrast, the kingdom of God continued to thrive – with the assistance of Barnabas and Saul.

Thoughts: Here, we see that Herod suffered an untimely demise. Calvin offers some thoughts on this point in his commentary on verse 23:

What is certain is that even while he was alive he was wasting away with rottenness and an offensive smell, so that he was not only suffering pain but was a laughing-stock to everybody. God chose a punishment of great ignominy for repressing this proud man’s cruelty…But by the worms and putrefaction that devoured him and broke out of his body, he was treated as he deserved.

I am curious as to how the people of Tyre and Sidon – along with Blastus – responded to God’s judgment of Herod. If they were unbelievers before God struck him down, did this dramatic event spur them to investigate the truth of the Gospel message? Did they even ascribe his death to the God of Israel? Had they even heard of the God of Israel before this dramatic event? Why did they praise Herod as being divine when he addressed them?

Peter’s Miraculous Escape from Prison July 29, 2016

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Here are my thoughts on Acts 12:1-19a.

Summary: In this passage, King Herod began to persecute the church in Jerusalem; in particular, he executed James – the brother of John. He also imprisoned Peter, planning to execute him after the Passover feast; this spurred the church to pray earnestly for Peter. On the night before his execution, God sent an angel to free him from prison. He then went to the house of Mary – the mother of John Mark – and recounted this miracle to the astonished believers who had gathered there to pray for him. In the morning, King Herod executed the prison guards for their ostensible negligence regarding Peter.

Thoughts: In verse 5, we see that believers prayed fervently for Peter. Calvin offers some thoughts on this point in his commentary:

When we see our brothers persecuted by the wicked for preaching the Gospel, we must not be lazy and unmoved by their danger, or we shall be cheating them of the love we owe them and treacherously abandoning the confession of our faith. If we have common cause with them and especially if they are fighting for our safety, we forsake not only them but also Christ and ourselves.

While this passage demonstrates that God will overcome all of the obstacles that sinful men place in His path, it also demonstrates that earnest prayer plays some role in this regard. It is clear that when believers are persecuted, God calls their brethren to pray earnestly for them – as that action will bring more glory to Him when He defeats the persecutors. As a believer in a First World country, this passage is a helpful reminder for me to pray for my brethren in nations where religious freedom is not protected by laws.

I certainly hope to meet the servant girl Rhoda in the next life and learn more about her. If she was a believer before the events described in this passage, then how did she hear the Gospel message? Was she confident that God would perform a miracle and free Peter from his impending execution? Did she join the believers at Mary’s house in praying fervently for Peter? How did she respond to Peter’s account of the miracle that God performed? Did she help spread the Gospel message in Jerusalem and bring others to faith after the events described in this passage?