Pastor Dan Borgelt
(If you listen to audio, be sure to scroll down for video at bottom of this page)
“Those are words that, if we’re honest with ourselves, probably every single person in this room has asked God at one point in time… Why me?
Maybe you’re here this morning, and you have experienced the tragic loss of a loved one and it led you to ask the question… “Why me?”
Or maybe you’re here this morning, and it wasn’t a life or death matter, but you just feel like you’ve experienced more misery, or more hardship, or more tribulation in your life than you really deserve, or you really earned–than you think God should’ve allowed you to experience… and it led you to ask the question. “Why me?”
Or perhaps you’re here this morning, and you’ve asked the question “Why me” from the opposite end of things… you actually feel like God has blessed you, has spared you, has cared for you… greater than you deserve, in a certain instance, or over the course of your life, and it has led you to ask the words, “Why me?“… why have you treated me so well, and spared me when you haven’t others?
Either way. We’ve asked the question…“Why me?”
And today in our passage of Scripture, as we continue through the Book of Acts, we come to Acts chapter twelve, and we find two Biblical characters, two guys who were early leaders in the church… who both loved God and wanted to honor Him with their lives, but who seemingly get treated very differently by God.
And quite frankly, I couldn’t blame either one of them, if they would have asked the words… “Why me?”
I want to invite you to our passage of Scripture together this morning… as I said, it’s found in the Book of Acts, which is the fifth book in the New Testament. I’d LOVE to have you take a Bible and turn there with us to the Book of Acts–whether it’s your own or one of the ones we provide for you in the pew.
Fifth book in the New Testament, the Book of Acts chapter twelve.
If not we’ve got the Scripture on the screen behind me… we’ll pull it up for you. So here we are in the Book of Acts, chapter twelve starting in the very first verse.
Let’s look at these two characters and see how God treats them in a seemingly very different way.
It’s entitled in most of your Bibles something like, “Peter’s Miraculous Escape From Prison“… as we got a glimpse of earlier in our children’s message. The Scripture says this,
Peter’s Miraculous Escape From Prison
12:1 It was about this time that King Herod arrested some who belonged to the church, intending to persecute them.
So Luke, who’s writing this, his early account of the church… he comes along and he tells us that a man named King Herod… now when we think of a king we think of somebody who’s like the absolute top authority. But in the Roman Empire that wasn’t the case. The emperor was the top authority, but the kings were in charge of various regions of the empire empire and they were appointed directly by the emperor.
So, King Herod was sort of like the second in command, the second tier of authority, if you will…. and for all practical purposes, he was in charge of the daily events of his area, his region. He got to decide how people were treated in his area on a day to day basis.
And so it tells us that this king, King Herod, his name was Herod Agrippa… decides that
“he’s going to arrest some who belong to the church”.
Now, “some”… we don’t know exactly who he’s arresting, we don’t know exactly how many, but he decides to come along and he arrests some of them for the purpose of persecuting them.
We don’t know why he’s motivated to arrest them, to persecute them yet–we’re going to see that in a second, but this is what he’s decided to do.
He comes along and in verse two the Scripture says,
2 He had James, the brother of John, put to death with the sword.
We might be asking ourselves, “Who is James?“…besides the fact that we know he had a brother named John, because Luke just told us that.
Who is James?
So if we go all the way back to the Book of Matthew, Chapter four we look at verse twenty-one the Scripture tells us this.
21 Going on from there, he saw (that is Jesus saw) two other brothers, James son of Zebedee and his brother John.
So now we’re talking about the guys who Luke is talking about in Acts chapter twelve.
22 They were in a boat with their father Zebedee, preparing their nets. Jesus called them, and immediately they left the boat and their father and followed him.
This was a key moment in Jesus’s life as He’s beginning his ministry, and he’s decided to gather together twelve disciples who are going to be his best friends, whom he’s going to train in the matters of the Kingdom of God.
And among the twelve, two of them are a man named John and his brother James. James might have been the older brother since he’s listed first, we don’t know for sure, but he’s called James.
So this James guy is, of all the people that Jesus could have chosen to follow him out of the twelve that he chose, he’s one of them.
And not only that, but most people agree that John, his brother, was Jesus’s best friend. So not only was he chosen by Jesus to be one of the twelve. But he was the brother of Jesus’s best friend. And this is the guy that King Herod Agrippa decides to put to death at the sword.
When he saw that this pleased the Jews.
So now we have an understanding of why Herod’s about the business of putting these Christians in jail and having them killed–it’s a political move.
He not that invested personally in the church one way or the other… but he’s a political figure, and as we know, sometimes, they tend to do things that might just make people happy… that might make them more popular. And so we discover that that is why he does this.
He saw that this met with approval among the Jews, he proceeded to seize Peter also.
Now you might not recognize the name James, but if you’ve been hanging out with us here at Kirkmont for the Acts Series, you would recognize the name Peter… because Peter is the leading figure in the early church at this point.
He’s been involved in almost every chapter of Scripture we’ve looked at so far. Peter, John, and James, the brother of Jesus, at this point are probably the three biggest leaders of the early church.
So what you have is really kind of this movement of Herod… he goes from James to Peter, and I think it’s on purpose.
Now we have to realize that when James is put to death at the sword, this is the first time that one of the original twelve disciples was martyred for their faith. They had been mistreated… Peter had been mistreated in the past… other people have been killed for their faith, but James is the first of the twelve disciples who gets killed for their faith.
And now, Herod realizing, and thinking… “Hey. .. the whole James thing seemed to go over pretty well… people kind of like that.; let’s step it up a little bit and let’s go for the top dog of the church. Let’s go get Peter.”
And he has Peter thrown in prison.
So their circumstances are very, very similar. And yet the outcome.. very, very different.
This happened during the Festival of Unleavened Bread. 4 After arresting him, he put him in prison, handing him over to be guarded by four squads of four soldiers each. Herod intended to bring him out for public trial after the Passover.
5 So Peter was kept in prison, but the church was earnestly praying to God for him.
6 The night before Herod was to bring him to trial, Peter was sleeping between two soldiers, bound with two chains,
So, some time has passed by… we don’t know if it’s a night, or couple nights, or a few nights; but either way what we can gather is that this is now the night before he’s about to be brought to trial.
So Peter has every reason to believe this is his last night here on earth. He’s going to be put to death tomorrow.
He’s bound with two chains, and sentries stood guard at the entrance. 7 Suddenly an angel of the Lord appeared and a light shone in the cell. He struck Peter on the side and woke him up. “Quick, get up!” he said, and the chains fell off Peter’s wrists.
8 Then the angel said to him, “Put on your clothes and sandals.” And Peter did so. “Wrap your cloak around you and follow me,” the angel told him. Peter followed him out of the prison, but he had no idea that what the angel was doing was really happening; he thought he was seeing a vision.
So in other words, Peter thinks he’s having some sort of an out of body experience–a dream if you will, whereby God is showing him in this dream a miraculous escape.
Now you thought you had a dream that you woke up from and were disappointed to find out it wasn’t true. Could you imagine, had Peter woken up from this and it was just a dream, “Hey, I showed you what it would have looked like, and how it could have felt to be escaped from prison…”
This is sort of Peter’s state of mind; he’s sort of in this trance, he thinks this is a vision, sort of an out of body experience… however you want to get your head around it…that’s what the Scripture is telling us.
Then in verse ten, it says,
10 They passed the first and second guards and came to the iron gate leading to the city. It opened for them by itself, and they went through it. When they had walked the length of one street, suddenly the angel left him.
11 Then Peter came to himself and said, “Now I know without a doubt that the Lord has sent his angel and rescued me from Herod’s clutches and from everything the Jewish people were hoping would happen.”
So here we are, two leaders in the early church… both of them who seemingly loved God with all their heart, soul, mind, and strength… wanted to serve the Kingdom of God. We have no Biblical indication to think that one of them has committed some erroneous sin that God would want to punish them for… they for all practical purposes seem to be on the same level, on the same par,
and yet, God allows one to be put to death with the sword… and one is miraculously freed from prison.
And I could not blame either of them for asking the question,
James asking the question, “Why is this happening to me?” Peter asking the question, “If that happened to James, why are you freeing me?”
We could not blame them if they asked that question. And truthfully we could heap all other kinds or types of questions on this. There are all types of scenarios that flow out of this. Which seem sort of difficult to respond to, and to handle.
Now if we want to try to answer the question, “Why me?” from the text, our mind goes to the subject of PRAYER… because that’s a subject that Luke, clearly involves in this passage of Scripture.
He makes sure that we know that while Peter is in prison, the Church, repeats on two occasions, “the Church is earnestly praying to God for them.” They were gathered around praying for him.
So we cannot deny that Luke is including a component of the miraculous power of prayer. And that part of the reason why Peter has escaped from prison and freed from prison, is because of the power of prayer.
That is certainly something we are supposed to take away from this chapter… but can that serve as the only answer? Can that stand alone, in answering the question,
“Why does God free one, and allow the other to be put to death?
Certainly it can’t … because that would beg the question, ‘What about James?” Was no one praying for James. Had they forgotten to pray for James? Are you telling me that one of the leading leaders, one of the leaders of the early church, one of the twelve disciples is in prison, and at risk of having his life come to an end… and no one thought of praying for him?
Are you telling me that James didn’t think to pray for himself? Are you telling me that Jesus who called him into a relationship with him, himself who was seated at the right hand of God the father, forgot to intercede to the Father on his behalf.
“No one prayed for James…”… right? …”and people prayed for Peter, and that’s why it happened.”
That’s doesn’t hold up.
Of course the other problem with that would be, we would naturally be asking the question, well what about all the scenarios in my life where two people are put in very similar difficult circumstances. And the number of times of which the person who had a bunch of people praying for them, and was not spared, was not delivered.
And there are other occasions where someone doesn’t have a bunch of people praying for them, and maybe they did indeed NOT even think to pray for themselves. And yet they were freed.
What about that? How does prayer stand up to that?
It doesn’t completely suffice in answering the question, “Why me?”
And a lot of other scenarios that would piggyback off of this scenario. I mean there are some people who experience “the James thing”, and then kind of “the Peter thing”.
Then some people who experience sort of the Peter scenario, and then only to experience the James scenario.
That’s something that happened, I think, in Amanda and my life. In the last few years, I think we’ve sort of experienced the Peter thing… and then experienced the James thing in our life. Let me tell you what I mean by that.
A few years ago, we felt like God was calling us to start the adoption process… through the country of Ethiopia. We felt like he was calling us to adopt two children from Ethiopia.
And quite frankly we put it off for a year or two after we felt like he was prodding us to do that. Because the money was just intimidating, and we didn’t have it. We thought his timing must have been wrong.
And so eventually though, a couple of years after God was sort of prompting us in that direction, we had had a recent miscarriage, and I think we finally just decided to sort of submit to God’s will in our life.
So we started the process, making it known to our friends and family, knowing that we didn’t really have the means to finish the process.
And, you know, that within forty eight hours or so my sister called us up, and she said, “I saw that you’re starting the adoption process.,” I said, “Yes.” And she said, “Do you know that I’ve been thinking about you guys and adoption, and that if you ever did, we would want to help you, we would want to support you in that process.”
And, she said, “I just haven’t been wanting to bring it up because of the miscarriage… it just seemed insensitive, but if you’re ready to move forward we want to help you out.” And she said, “What’s your immediate need?”
I said, “Well, to get started, there’s a three thousand dollars payment to our agency… and I mean we’re stuck from the get go. And she said, “I’ll make that happen.”
And we hung up the phone, and we were just thinking, “Oh my gosh.. God is clearly providing for us.” And this happened time and time again.
The closest we’ve ever experienced, to God’s miraculous hand in our life, seeing Him, just provide for us, like God did for Israel with manna in the desert on a daily basis.
And this happened time and time again. We would get a thousand dollar check from a family member right when we needed the money; but probably the biggest incident that happened, happened several months later.
We were up against a five thousand dollar road block… that’s what we owed our agency and it was just this, insurmountable amount to us at that time.
But, for the past few years leading up to that, I had been volunteering for a role in our denomination… I had been serving in this role, as a volunteer.
And my time came to an end, right as we were owing this money. And our denomination came to me and said, “You know when we asked you to do this, we didn’t realize how much work this was going to take.” And so they said. “We would like to give you a ‘thank you’.”
Now when I heard that I wasn’t even thinking about the adoption process. I was thinking, ‘Fifty dollar Applebee’s gift card’… you know… like, “We’re going to dinner tonight!” … or something like that. Or maybe a hundred dollar check; but they give us a check for…, well, you just tell me how much… “Five thousand dollars”… that’s right.
So… here we were, God is treating us like Peter.
And then last May, our agency called us up, and said, “You know what, we can no longer afford to operate in Ethiopia. We regret to inform you that we are closing our adoption process through the country of Ethiopia.”
And in effect… “All of the time, and all of the money that you’ve spent on the process, are now gone, and wasted.”
And the biggest thing for Amanda and I in wrestling with this was, “Why would you bless us so, only for this to be ‘The End’. Why would you treat us as Peter, only to eventually treat us as James?
And you know others have experienced similar circumstances, maybe you here in this room. And others have experienced the opposite. They’ve been treated as James, but eventually treated as Peter.
Perhaps you’ve heard of a group of men, most notably known by the name of Jim Elliot, he was one of them. As a group of men, who went to Wheaton College in 1945, and eleven years later in 1956, they felt God was calling them to go be missionaries, to a specific tribe of people in Eastern Ecuador, in a Tropical Rainforest, and to minister to this group of people.
And this tribe of people were known to be extremely violent. And also known to have never really heard the Gospel of Jesus Christ as a result.
So they felt like God was calling them to take their wives and their young families and move, and try to share the Gospel with this tribe that was notorious for killing people with their spears, and for their violence.
So they moved, and they relocated to a point where they were at a safe distance, but close enough that they could reach them. And they began by taking their plane, and flying it towards where the tribe was, and dropping, sort of, “Care packages”, if you will.
So that they would start to associate the plane, with their care and their provision and their love for them as a tribe. And eventually, these five men finally decided it was time… they felt like they had warmed up with them enough, that it was time to land the plane get out of the plane and to make personal contact with them.
And the very first time that they got out of the plane, and tried to make contact with them, the tribesmen speared all five of them to death.
And I couldn’t blame any of those men, if while it was happening, if they hadn’t said something like,
“Why would you put this upon our heart for this to be the end of it?”
And I certainly wouldn’t have blamed their wives, and their children if they had all just packed up and gone home, and said, “Well… this must be a James incident.”
But you know what? … what happened in history is that their wives, and their families, and other friends, came alongside and supported them, and they stuck it out.
And eventually through the Divine Providence of God, He gave them the opportunity to communicate with them safely… they were able to communicate to them a message… could you imagine this, a message of forgiveness.
The tribe’s hearts were softened by the Spirit of God… they gave their life to Jesus Christ. And this group of white people and this tribe became family.
Later we’re going to see a video clip, about how some of this comes to an end. But just imagine being a child, growing up with this tribe, knowing that one of these men around you, is the man that probably took your father’s life.
See, this began as a James Story, but it ended up as a Peter Story.
And so God has all of these miraculous ways, and all these different ways of working, and we could have multiple questions about, “Why Me?” … And why does this happen… why does it start with James and become Peter, or vice versa… Or why one or why the other, but we’re here for answers, more than we are for questions, right?
And I think the answer lies in the idea that we as a church here in America have completely lost our way when it comes to understanding what it means to be blessed by God.
We’ve completely lost our understanding of what it means to have God treat us fairly, to care for us, to bless us. We have adopted and embraced the mentality of the world’s blessing around us and therefore we haven’t a clue anymore, when we have been blessed, or when we haven’t been blessed.
We don’t even understand that anymore, because our mindset is completely adrift from God’s.
You think about this passage from our mindset here in America… we are trained to read it and say, “James was obviously treated unfairly… Peter was obviously the recipient of God’s blessing.”
Many of us, if I had preached that message, would have never ever questioned that–it seems so obvious to us that that’s the way it is, we’re hard wired that way.
But just Paul in his Epistle… does he say later in the New Testament, “Oh by the way to die is to be cursed by God?” Does he say, “To die is somehow to not be treated fairly by God?” Does he say, “To die is not to be blessed by God?”…or does he say, “To die is…” what??? …
Philippians 4:21 For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.
He says those words because he has a perspective that many people in the Church have forgotten even though it’s one week since Easter… and that is he has an Eternal Perspective… he understands the power of the resurrection, and the beautiful Glory of Eternal Life; and the promise of eternal life and therefore he views God’s treatment of him through that lens.
But most people in the church have completely forgotten about that.
We review God’s treatment of us through the lens of the world around us. Our understanding of being blessed is no different than the world around us.
- We want to have a spouse that’s good looking and doesn’t argue with us just like the world wants.
- We want to have a house that’s big enough so we never have to worry about how much room we have, just like the world does.
- We want to have a car that others envy that we don’t have to worry about breaking down from point A to point B… just like the world does.
- We want to have children who are smart, and good looking, and successful — just like the world does.
We want all of the same blessings that they do, and we haven’t ever really asked ourselves, “Is that what it means for God to bless us?”
There are folks in the Bible, maybe you’ve heard of the stories: Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, in the book of Daniel, chapter three. The Scripture tells us, starting verses sixteen through eighteen.
The context is, these are three men who want to honor God with their lives, and they’re being forced to consider that idea of worshipping a human king. And they refused to do that and the king basically says, “Okay if you refuse I’m going to put you in a fiery furnace and you will die.”
And you thought YOUR religious freedoms were being challenged… And so they say this,
16-17 Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego replied to him, “King Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you in this matter. If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to deliver us from it, and he will deliver us from Your Majesty’s hand.
Now let’s just pretend that the verse ended there, the whole passage ended there, that that was the essence of their response. What they would basically be saying is,
- We believe in a God that can miraculously deliver us.
- We believe in a God who will treat us like Peter. And as long as he does we will keep worshipping him and praising him; we will be faithful to him.
- We’ll honor him, we won’t regret having honored him because he will deliver us like he does Peter.
But that’s not the end of their response. They also say,
18 But even if he does not, we want you to know, Your Majesty, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up.”
In other words, “We will continue to be faithful to him regardless of whether he spares us or whether he doesn’t. We won’t worry about that… God gets to treat us how he will, he will have mercy on whom he will have mercy, and he is our God regardless of the outcome.”
And the thing is, that we have too many people in the Church who view God’s blessing through the lens of this world, and not through an eternal_heavenly_perspective.
Too many people in the church who want to go to heaven some day and they, quite frankly, want to have heaven today too.
And not enough people in the church who have the heart and the spirit of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego… that say, “God has done all that he needs to do for me by saving me through his Son Jesus Christ. ..
This life is his… and he can treat me as he will…and I will continue to honor him with my life.
I want to play this video clip for you as I promised. It’s from The End of the Spear–that’s the name of this movie.
There are a lot of movies and books that surround this whole story, but this is the scene whereby the son of one of the men who was killed by this tribe has grown up.
They’re still in relationship with this tribe, but by now the tribesmen have become brothers and sisters in Christ… and he learns who the precise man was, that took his father’s life. And the whole subject of forgiveness and stuff as just round up and this.
We’ll let you watch it.
This message this morning isn’t necessarily a topic about forgiveness per se, but we can’t deny that forgiveness isn’t wrapped up in it… that if we are clinging to this world’s view of being blessed by God, and without an eternal perspective, then those people who have taken something near and dear to us, away… will be very difficult to forgive.
And as we transition. And as we come to this table we are reminded that this table is indeed a sign and a seal of God’s covenant of grace… His covenant of forgiveness.
For by his body in which it was broken, and his blood which is shed, we experience the full measure of that forgiveness. And as a result of it we have the promise of eternal life, so we are able to say to God, with complete confidence, “You can treat me in this life, and allow whatever circumstance you want to happen to me in this life… as you will, because I am forgiven, the grave will not contain me,.it cannot hold me, and I will go to a place that you are preparing for me, even as we are gathered here this morning.
I want to invite our elders who are so helping to serve to come forward and just time.
And as they do, I want to let you know that if you happen to be new with us here at Kirkmont, that this is not a table that we claim ownership of. And certainly, I’m not the host of it. And by that I mean you are welcome… regardless of whether this is your first time here or not, to come to the table and join us for Communion, to participate in these elements.
We ask only that you have placed your faith and your trust in Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior.
And if that’s you, you are invited to participate on the table together.
I would remind you that on the night that Jesus was betrayed, that Jesus, having given thanks for the bread, he then broke the bread and in plain view of his disciples, saying to them,
“This bread represents my body, which is broken for you.”
And then he invited them to do this and remembrance of him.