The Conflict of the Ages (continued)
Someone tersely put it: 'The men that have turned the world upside down have come hither' (17:6). "Now about that time Herod the king ..." You see? That is the explanation. Out of this baptism of the passion of the Lord into which the Church has been brought, the fire is spreading; but the enemy is moved - deeply moved. Herod 'puts forth his hand' - and there is a hand behind that hand - "to afflict certain of the church. And he killed James ..." he proceeded further. I would like to say with all those fragments, because there is a message in every one of them. Herod is carried on by his own momentum. Have a little success, and see what it will do for you!
However, we turn away from that for a moment to the other side - the aspect of this that we may call a drama indeed, that of the sovereign Kingship of the Lord. It is all summed up in three things: "Herod ... put forth his hands to afflict ... an angel of the Lord smote him ... but the word of God grew and multiplied" (12:1, 23, 24). That is tremendous, is it not? We begin the story with Herod putting forth his hands; we end the story with Herod eaten of worms and giving up the ghost. You begin with the Church a victim and martyr; you end with the Word of God growing and multiplying. This is the story of another King. It is the story of two kings pitting themselves against each other. It is, as I said at the beginning, the microcosm of this long history of the conflict between the forces of evil and those invincible forces of the Spirit, which always triumph in the long run.
But here a pressing question arises. When you think of the beginning - that he killed James with the sword, and when he saw that it pleased the Jews, he proceeded further to take Peter also - the question that clamors for an answer is: Why does God allow this kind of thing? Why did He not intervene before James was killed with the sword? Why did He not stop this thing before Peter was thrown into prison? Ah, that is another key to another large history, is it not? The mystery of God's permissive will: God allowing His servants, His so useful servants, to be killed or cast into prison; allowing the Church to suffer like this. Why does God allow it?
The answer lies deep down within the cup. If you get deep enough into the cup, you will find the answer. Let me put it the other way - it is deep within the Cross. God' in the mystery of His will and His ways, uses the Church as He used Israel, to draw out the evil forces to their own destruction. 'God moves in a mysterious way ...' Is it the Church, or is it the forces against it, that are destroyed eventually? You see the answer in history. It is here in this chapter, in representation. Here you have Israel in Egypt. What a tremendous extending of Pharaoh - drawing him out, drawing him to the limit of his own resources to give an answer through the magicians, and then going on and going on, further and yet further, all Pharaoh's resources are exhausted, and then God smashes him. The sum total of his whole resource is broken and destroyed - and God has used a suffering people to draw it all out.
(continued with # 9)