Just Trying to Make Other People Happy
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.
King Herod who is mentioned here is the grandson who had all the infants of Bethlehem put to death. He was also the nephew of Herod the Tetrarch who had John the Baptist put to death. He had been raised in Rome where he spent the family fortune on living like a prince and getting in tight with Caius Caesar who went on to become Caligula. He took over the leadership of Rome after the death of Tiberius and gave his friend the territory of the Jews and beyond.
This murder of James would have been at the zenith of Herod’s career and why he decided to begin this persecution of the Christians, we don’t know. However, one must assume it was instigated by the Jews who continued to be enemies of the new church. By responding to their request, he made them happy. This is the first time that we see the persecution of a Christian being done at the hands of the secular government authority. Stephen was stoned by “religious” people. The resultant power must have been intoxicating for Herod because he saw that it pleased the Jews and went after Peter as well.
Luke doesn’t gloss over the difficulties the fledgling church was facing. James is the very first apostle to be put to death. Interestingly, it is his brother John who is the last to die. These are the two who had the conversation with Jesus about who would sit on his right or on his left. Here we see the fulfillment of Jesus’ words that they would drink from the cup together with him. They would all suffer for the sake of the Gospel.
Why James was chosen at this time we can only speculate. More than likely he was quite prominent in leading the work in Jerusalem. Why else pick him? What began was a pattern of persecution which fell on those in the most prominent positions of leadership in the church, and this was done to keep the religious leaders happy.
Making others happy resulted in power which was intoxicating to Herod. This was done at the expense of the apostles. Herod had enjoyed the response of James’ death so much he just thought he’d go after Peter too!
Sometimes we can be motivated in life by a desire to make other people happy. We want their words of affirmation and applause. It makes us feel good. But is that really what ought to be motivating our activity?
James didn’t compromise the Gospel to save his own neck. He served the Lord with boldness and this didn’t make people happy. The contrast in this story is the faithfulness of the apostles as compared to Herod. Herod just wanted people to like him, he wanted them to be happy. James and Peter were willing to die for what was right.
We live in an era where people are simply famous for being famous, not for what they’ve accomplished. Instead of celebrating real heroes, we celebrate stars of reality shows who have never really accomplished much of anything in their lives. They have worked hard to make people happy. As a society we have become drawn in a rather voyeuristic way into the lives of these individuals and we watch them, hoping it makes us happy.
But where are the people who really stand for something? What do we do with them?
In the era of early Christianity — we killed them. Might we also be killing them today? Maybe not physically, but do we destroy the emotions and life of true followers of Christ because what they say and do makes us uncomfortable? They’re not trying to make us happy, they’re trying to point us in the direction of Christ. True worship was a sacrifice for those who loved God. We have made worship about us being happy. When what happens at church doesn’t conform to making us happy, we are ready to destroy the leader — sometimes killing him/her off with our words and actions.
I’m afraid our world is filled with Herods and what it really needs are more James’ and Peters. When Peter was arrested the church began to pray and God thwarted Herod’s plan. God is more powerful than what the world has to offer. Don’t give in to making the world happy. Join with the church in prayer and stand firm and bold in the good news of Jesus Christ.
Lord, may the desire of my heart be to live in faithfulness to you. Amen.