It is the folly of the young, and young men in particular, to think they are bulletproof. They often think, act and behave as if life will go on forever and that no matter what they do they will be OK. The news is full of the stories of young men who have died or been seriously injured doing foolish things in the name of “fun.” What they do not understand though is that their life as well as that of every person on earth is in God’s hands.
And it is not just the people of the world who are subject to the will of God in these matters, but also the children of God. A classic example is seen in this section of scripture where God dealt quite differently with two of His people, two who were both members of The Twelve Apostles and yet were dealt entirely different hands with regard to life and death. I am speaking of Simon Peter and James the brother of John.It struck me as I read this first section of Acts 12, how The Lord deals with the lives of people. Some He protects while others He allows to die. We see in the news from time to time about the miraculous way some people cheat death yet others die in circumstances that should not have normally caused death.
James was one of the twelve disciples chosen by Jesus to follow Him in His work and to carry the gospel of Jesus Christ to the people after Jesus had been put to death. James was the brother of the apostle John. In many situations where Jesus went off and took just a few of His disciples, it was usually Peter, John and James. Jesus had also given James and John a “nickname” calling them both Boanerges, which means “sons of thunder.”
From this we could imagine that James was one of the closest of the disciples to Jesus. He was with Jesus at the transfiguration. James was with Jesus when He went into the garden to pray immediately before His arrest. It was only James with John and Peter who Jesus took with him when He raised the daughter of Jairus from the dead.
Knowing all of this then it seems strange that James appears to have died quite early in the work of the disciples when they began to spread the word among the people. The timeframe is not clear and in fact it may have been a number of years after the disciples began the work, but we do see quite a different approach to what The Lord allowed to happen to both James and Peter. The scripture here in Acts 12:1-3 says,
1 About that time Herod the king laid violent hands on some who belonged to the church. 2 He killed James the brother of John with the sword, 3 and when he saw that it pleased the Jews, he proceeded to arrest Peter also. This was during the days of Unleavened Bread.
So what we see here is James is put to death by the sword and Peter is arrested. It is without doubt that the people at the time had an expectation that Peter would also suffer a similar fate, and we see later on that the early church had been praying fervently for his release, but did not seem to have much faith over it and expected Peter would die also.
Simon Peter as mentioned above was also one of the disciples closest to Jesus. In the last chapter of John’s gospel we see that it was Peter to whom Jesus charged the oversight of the work to come.
We know also that after Judas Iscariot had committed suicide, the disciples went through a process to replace him to make up the twelve again for Judas had been allotted a share in the ministry along with the eleven others. Likewise, James had an allotted share in the ministry. However James was allowed to die at the hands of Herod and Peter was arrested and the rest of the church expected the worst for Peter too.
But we then see that Peter is miraculously saved by the intervention of an angel. The scripture here says in verses 7-10,
7 And behold, an angel of the Lord stood next to him, and a light shone in the cell. He struck Peter on the side and woke him, saying, “Get up quickly.” And the chains fell off his hands. 8 And the angel said to him, “Dress yourself and put on your sandals.” And he did so. And he said to him, “Wrap your cloak around you and follow me.” 9 And he went out and followed him. He did not know that what was being done by the angel was real, but thought he was seeing a vision. 10 When they had passed the first and the second guard, they came to the iron gate leading into the city. It opened for them of its own accord, and they went out and went along one street, and immediately the angel left him.
So Peter was saved and taken out of the clutches of Herod and not put to death.
Here we see a distinction between the two, both of whom we can see were very close to Jesus. James is allowed to die, whereas Peter is saved. Both were specifically chosen by Jesus as key members of His disciples to establish the early church after Jesus had died. So the question that this raises is why? Why did The Lord protect and save Peter but allow James to die?
Your Life is in God’s Hands
To answer this conundrum we should consider the scripture in Matthew 10:29-31 where Jesus says the following.
29 Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. 30 But even the hairs of your head are all numbered. 31 Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows.
So not even a sparrow dies unless it is in accordance with the will of the Father. It is clear also that no person dies unless it is in accordance with the will of the Father, for He said here that we are of more value than many sparrows.
And this is the point of this teaching and the difference between James and Simon Peter. The work that James had been called to do was complete. Whatever the extent of the work was, it was done and thus in accordance with the will and plan of God, James died.
However Peter still had work to do. His time had not yet come and the work that he was yet to do still needed to be done. Thus Peter survived and was miraculously released from prison to continue to carry on the work of spreading the gospel of Jesus Christ to Jews and Gentiles alike.
In the end it was the will of God to take James and to leave Simon Peter. And as the heading of this post says, your life is in God’s hands just as it was for the lives of those two great apostles of the first century AD.
So don’t ever question or succumb to questions of life and death. Why it is that some people live and others die. Or why it is that some are miraculously saved and others die in freakish circumstances. Nor be drawn into discussions raised by those who are not followers of The Lord when they make stupid statements like, “If God is a god of love why do people suffer, or children or good people die.” People die because it is their time to die as appointed by God. It is He who sets the time clocks for each individual and ascertains when their time will run out.
Let me give just two more scriptures to finish off this post. First we see in the book of Acts 17:26-27 that God has allotted the periods of time and the boundaries of this life.
26 And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, 27 that they should seek God, and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him.
What we see in this scripture is that God has allotted these times now for the specific purpose of giving people the time to seek Him out and to find Him. That is the purpose of Christianity, that we should seek God through Jesus Christ, and FIND Him.
And finally we see one instance where The Lord showed mercy to someone and extended their life. King Hezekiah had fallen ill and Isaiah the prophet came to him telling him that he would die. But the king prayed to God that He would intervene and remember how Hezekiah had walked before God uprightly and we see the response of The Lord in 2 Kings 20:5-6.
5 “Turn back, and say to Hezekiah the leader of my people, Thus says the LORD, the God of David your father: I have heard your prayer; I have seen your tears. Behold, I will heal you. On the third day you shall go up to the house of the LORD, 6 and I will add fifteen years to your life. I will deliver you and this city out of the hand of the king of Assyria, and I will defend this city for my own sake and for my servant David’s sake.”
Hezekiah was given an additional fifteen years added to his life, which is a clear indication that our lives and the time of our death is indeed in God’s hands. So too we are just like Hezekiah, James and Peter. Our life is in God’s hands and the time when we will die is in His hands too. So like everyone on the planet, your time is up when God says it’s up.
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