God’s Word for You
Acts 12:18-19 Four executions
by Pastor Timothy Smith on Tuesday, May 5, 2020
18 At daybreak there was no small disturbance among the soldiers about what, after all, had become of Peter. 19 But after Herod had a search made for him but did not find him, he cross-examined the guards and then ordered that they should be executed. Then Herod went down from Judea to Caesarea, and he stayed there.
The new squad of guards would have come on duty at six in the morning. The first thing they would have done was check the prisoner(s), and finding Paul’s cell empty, Luke reports “no small disturbance.” This is a low-key (litotes) way of saying that the prison was in an uproar. “Sound the alarm! Release the dogs!” (I don’t know if the Romans had guard dogs, but that’s what they always did in Hogan’s Heroes). The soldiers on duty were responsible for Peter’s imprisonment. The custom was simple: Whatever sentence awaited the prisoner fell on the guards after his escape. The soldiers would have been killed in whatever manner was convenient.
But four executions did not solve Herod’s problems. He had a public relations nightmare in the palm of his hands. Herod was the one who had Peter arrested. Herod was the one who had “stretched out his hands to persecute” the Christians. Herod was the one who had James killed. Herod was the one who ordered extra security, bringing not one but four quaternions of soldiers on duty. Herod was the one who had planned to bring Peter out after the Passover “before the people.” Now there was no Peter to bring out, and Herod was the one who looked like a fool.
The people of Jerusalem had been sent a message. The Christians were being looked after by God himself. God takes no pleasure in fools (Ecclesiastes 5:4). Herod had only one recourse: He left town. He headed north (“down” means downhill from Jerusalem, regardless of the compass direction) and arrived in Caesarea.
I’m probably an old softie, but my heart goes out to those four soldiers who died. They couldn’t object; they knew the rules. Roman soldiers faced death every day, and some of them volunteered for this kind of duty so that their family would be taken care of or so that their children would become citizens, etc. But these four guys still took the blame and the blade. When we stand before God on Judgment Day, we must admit, “That’s right. I’m a sinner, and the price for my sins is everlasting, excruciating, eternal suffering and punishment.” But we have a Savior from our sins. We trust in him, knowing that the punishment that should be in store for us was already endured by Jesus in our place.
Pastor Timothy Smith