Have you ever been around a child learning to count? My kids, at that very early stage, would often skip numbers in the teens, “11, 12, 13…15, 16, 17…” It was humorous, but we would stop them and say, “You missed 14…let’s try it again.” After practice, they learned.
In the previous post, I suggested that the question, “How should we count our blessings?” is crucial to our study in this series of posts. Today, two men in Acts 12 help us that perhaps we need to relearn how to count our blessings.
The author of the New Testament book of Acts, a history of beginning of the Christian church, in chapter 12, verse 19-23, tells the story of an event that had nothing to do with the church. Because this episode does not further the narrative of the church, we could ask why the author included it. To attempt to answer that, we first need to know what the details of the story. I encourage you to read it for yourself. The summary is that King Herod (learn more about him in the previous post here) receives accolades from some people comparing him to a god, an angel of God strikes him with sickness, and Herod dies.
It seems the reason Luke included this story at this spot in his narrative is to contrast the two men in the story. In the previous post, we heard how Herod murdered James the disciples, imprisoned Peter and was power-hungry. Now in verses 19-23, we just read that he was arrogant.
What about the other man in our story, Peter? How does he act? Let’s go back and read verses 6-18, noticing how he handles his situation. Again, I encourage you to read them for yourself, because it is a delightful, even humorous story. While the church is praying for Peter, an angel visits in prison, frees him, and Peter thanks God. Under cover of night, he hurries through the city to the home where the church is praying, and they are shocked, and overjoyed.
Now do you see why Luke included that last bit about Herod in verses 19-23? If not, let me point out a contrast that I think might give us insight into Luke’s reason for mentioning Herod’s death. Think about the contrast between these two men:
Peter, the leader of the church, is imprisoned. The church prays, an angel of the Lord shows up and Peter is rescued.
Herod, the king of the land, gives a speech. The people praise Herod, liken him to God, an angel of the Lord shows up and Herod is killed.
Why such a different result? Both men held leadership roles; Peter in the church, Herod as king. In both cases an angel of the Lord shows up, but the result is totally opposite. Why? Think about to whom these men give the credit? Remember our question from the previous post, How should we count our blessings? See how these men answer that question:
Look at Peter’s words in vs. 11, “I know without a doubt the Lord sent his angel and rescued me.”
Compare that with Herod in vs. 22-23, “Herod did not give praise to God.”
I want to be clear. Stories are descriptive, not prescriptive. They describe what happened at a particular time. They do not prescribe what will happen every time. In telling this story, Luke isn’t trying to say that if we simply praise God, like Peter, our lives will be great, and we’ll get out of any mess we’re in. Peter would go on to be crucified upside-down. Luke also isn’t trying to say that if we don’t give God credit where credit is due him that he’ll strike us dead. Some evil people prosper.
It does, however, seem that Luke wanted us to see this contrast: both men had the opportunity to give credit to God. Peter did. Herod didn’t. Peter was freed and his ministry flourished, while Herod was killed. It reminds us of a principle:
How you count your blessings can make a huge difference in your life.
Maybe we’ve seen blessings in our lives, and we’ve forgotten that God is the source of all we are and all we have!
So let’s remember that all we have is a blessing from God: our jobs, and our bodies and minds that enable us to work, our abilities, talents, personalities and our gifts are all to his credit. He made us. He gave us life. He is good and he gives good gifts.
James, the brother of Jesus, the leader of the church who is mentioned in verse 17, reminds that we need to learn to count our blessings the right way! He says, in James 4:7,
“Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Grieve, mourn and wail. Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up.”
When we remember to be grateful, when we remember who gives good gifts, we give credit to God, who is the proper one who should receive credit. How many of our parents worked hard to teach us to say, “Thank you,” and to write thank you notes for gifts that were given to us? How many of you work with your children or grandchildren on that? It is a really important way to recognize that when we receive a gift, it is not something that was owed us, not something we earned. It is a gracious gift. Thus we show honor and gratefulness to the one who gave us something.