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God’s peculiar providence

OPINION by Pastor Chuck DeVane, Special to The Sentinel-Record | September 10, 2022 at 4:00 a.m.

About that time Herod the king laid violent hands on some who belonged to the church. He killed James the brother of John with the sword, and when he saw that it pleased the Jews, he proceeded to arrest Peter also.

-- Acts 12:1-3, ESV

At the end of Acts 12, two men are dead. Another survives, at least for the time being, in spite of faithless prayers. The tale is both profound tragedy and peculiar triumph, all told in the context of a spreading gospel, all controlled by the hand of God.

The 1689 London Baptist Confession declares, "God, the good Creator of all things, in his infinite power and wisdom, upholds, directs, determines, and governs all creatures and things." This is the definition of providence, the bedrock belief that God is sovereign, active, and in control.

Christians take bitter and sweet comfort in this fact. When tragedy strikes, we acquiesce it was just God's will, God's providence, and somehow good will come out of it. When triumphs are won, we give glory to God and praise Him for His smiling providence.

In this incident in the book of Acts, and in the providence of God, a good man named James loses his life. This is not just any man. This is the Apostle James, brother of John, son of Zebedee, member of the inner circle of Jesus (along with his brother, John, and Simon Peter). This is a man who put his trust in God and the gospel, who followed Jesus for three years, and who had been living for Jesus for another dozen or so, shepherding the church, spreading the gospel, spending time with family and friends.

Suddenly, James' time was up. It was not cancer or another disease that got him. It was not a sudden fall or some other kind of accident. He was "killed ... with the sword." In other words, this Herod (Agrippa I) had James' head cut off, like his uncle Herod (Antipas) had done to John the Baptist, like his grandfather Herod ("the great") had done to baby boys in Bethlehem, like Islamic terrorists have done in a fairly recent spate of Christian martyrdom.

This was a tragedy. This was unfair. This was merciless. This horrified his wife, children, and fellow Christians. This happened under the evil eye and cruel hand of Herod. And, this happened under the watchful eye and providential hand of God.

Herod had the same fate planned for Peter. He curried favor with the Jewish religious establishment by executing James; therefore, his political stock would only rise higher if he did the same to Simon Peter. However, Peter escaped. He lived another two decades or so, preaching the gospel, planting churches, writing a couple of inspired epistles.

This was a triumph. This was a miracle, for there is no other explanation. This was just, the release of the innocent. This thrilled Peter's wife, children, and fellow Christians. This was a complete escape from Herod's evil intentions. And this, too, happened in accordance with the providential plan of God.

There is tragedy and triumph in the providence of God. Faith in God and the gospel does not necessarily spare from one and guarantee the other. We must understand both as part of a bigger, redemptive plan.

Trust in God and His providence, especially in the provision of His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, for our salvation. It is only by God's grace, through complete faith and trust, in the life, death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus that we can be forgiven of sin and have everlasting life. The death of Jesus is the greatest tragedy in the history of the world, but it also serves up the greatest triumph, His resurrection, and ours, if we trust the gospel.

Trust in the gospel, then whether you live life short or long, the main thing is that your life matters, and eternity will envelop all the tragedies and triumphs on earth. What do you think James and Simon Peter are doing right now? The respective lengths of their earthly lives (which were both short) no longer matter, the trials and tribulations that caused them pain no longer hurt, and the only thing that remains is unbridled joy in the presence of the glory of the Lord.

Chuck DeVane is the pastor of Lake Hamilton Baptist Church. Call him at 501-525-8339 or email [email protected]

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