I was reading some time ago and I came across in interesting passage in Acts. In Acts 12:1-3, I read: “Now about that time Herod the king stretched forth his hands to vex certain of the church. And he killed James the brother of John with the sword. And because he saw it pleased the Jews, he proceeded further to take Peter also. (Then were the days of unleavened bread.)” As I read further on in the text, I discovered that although James was killed, Peter was delivered from prison in a miraculous way! It was at that point I started asking myself questions: Why was James killed and Peter delivered? Did Peter have more faith than James? Did the church pray for Peter’s deliverance and failed to pray for the deliverance of James? What was the difference between Peter and James?
Now before I go on, I think it would be well to caution that it is usually bad hermeneutics to formulate any doctrine or principle based solely on the Book of Acts. The reason is because Acts is a record of the beginning of the church. There are things that happen in the “beginning” that don’t need to be and can’t be repeated! The doctor may have had to slap our butts to get us to breathe the first time, but after that, there was no need for a continuous butt-slapping! So, there were things that happened in Acts, at the inception of the church that have not been and really have no need to be repeated. For instance, there are some who teach today, based on Acts, that we should tarry or wait for the coming of the Holy Spirit. But the reason the disciples waited, per Jesus’ instructions, in the Book of Acts for the coming of the Holy Spirit was because, prior to that time, the Holy Spirit had not come to dwell within men. In Old Testament times, the Holy Spirit would come upon a person to empower them, but after the task was completed, the Holy Spirit would leave. In the Gospel of John, Jesus promised that after he had left, the Holy Spirit would come, not only to be with the disciples, but to be “in” them. So, the waiting on the Day of Pentecost was for the fulfilling of that promise. However, there is no need for the believer to “wait” anymore for something that has already happened! The Holy Spirit came to indwell within believers on the Day of Pentecost, but He did not leave! He’s still here! So, there is no need to wait for someone who is already here! The Holy Spirit is NOT the Second Blessing or some additional blessing from God for the believer. He is essential and fundamental to the believer’s relationship and standing with God. In fact, the Apostle Paul wrote in Romans 8:9: “But ye are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit, if so be that the Spirit of God dwell in you. Now if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his.” (KJV) Having or being indwelt by the Holy Spirit is not optional or additional; it’s basic and essential! Every believer has or is indwelt by the Holy Spirit! If the Holy Spirit is not in them; they are not a believer or they are not saved at all! But, I digress, so let me get back to my point! I just brought that out to illustrate the danger of formulating doctrines or principles solely from the Book of Acts.
Was it a matter that Peter had more faith than James? I think not! I think it was just a matter of God’s sovereign will! There are those who teach today that faith can overcome any obstacle and that faith has the power to overcome any negative situation. But, faith cannot and will not, change, circumvent, or subjugate God’s sovereign will. Now, we need to understand that when it comes to the will of God, there is God’s sovereign will and there is God’s permissive will. We could look at it this way; God’s sovereign will is God’s overall and unchanging purpose. God’s permissive will is the minor flexible details of His sovereign will. God’s permissive will is subject, to a certain extent to our faith and our actions, but God’s sovereign will is steadfast, unchangeable and uninfluenced by our faith or actions.
The killing of James and the deliverance of Peter was a matter of God’s sovereign will. And in like manner, there are things that happen in our lives that are beyond the scope of our faith and actions. They are beyond our ability to influence by our faith or actions! I know there are some who teach today that people can control what happens to them by their faith, but that’s not completely true! Often those same people will use Hebrew 11 as a “proof-text” to validate their point. They cite the first thirty-five (35) verses as proof of over-coming faith. There is a summation of “over-coming” faith in Hebrew 11:33-35a, where the author wrote: “And what shall I more say? for the time would fail me to tell of Gideon, and of Barak, and of Samson, and of Jephthah; of David also, and Samuel, and of the prophets: Who through faith subdued kingdoms, wrought righteousness, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, Quenched the violence of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, out of weakness were made strong, waxed valiant in fight, turned to flight the armies of the aliens. Women received their dead raised to life again. . .” I stopped at 35a because that’s where most of the “faith-teachers” stop! But beginning at 35b, we have, as Paul Harvey used to say, the rest of the story! Beginning at 35b, the rest of the chapter reads: “. . . and others were tortured, not accepting deliverance; that they might obtain a better resurrection: And others had trial of cruel mockings and scourgings, yea, moreover of bonds and imprisonment: They were stoned, they were sawn asunder, were tempted, were slain with the sword: they wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins; being destitute, afflicted, tormented; (Of whom the world was not worthy:) they wandered in deserts, and in mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth. And these all, having obtained a good report through faith, received not the promise: God having provided some better thing for us, that they without us should not be made perfect.” (Heb. 11:35-40 KJV) Were the believers cited in the first 35 verses more faithful than the others cited in the last five verses? No! Not according to the text! All were faithful; but some were delivered and some weren’t!
The difference between Peter and James was that, through His sovereign will, in Acts 12, Peter was delivered like those in Hebrews 11:1-35a, but James was numbered among “the others” mentioned in Hebrews 11:35b-40. But in the end, the difference between Peter and James was not of any real ultimate importance, because (for the record) Peter was eventually killed also! By the way, whether or not we are presently delivered or healed from some affliction or disease is not of ultimate importance in the grand scheme of things (It is to us because, naturally, we want to be delivered and healed). In the end, we will all leave this world! Faith might heal us of a disease or illness presently, but faith cannot and will not cancel our eventual death! Because of his prayer, repentance and faith, God’s permissive will added fifteen years (15) to King Hezekiah’s life (1 Kings 20:1-6; Isaiah 38:1-5), but after that, Hezekiah died! What was the difference between Peter and James? James died then; Peter died later! What is the difference between believers who are healed and those who are not? It’s a matter above all of our pay-grade! It’s a matter of God’s sovereign will! From a purely human point of view, the only difference is; some die now and some die later, but eventually; we all will die!