Monday, May 14, 2012

Acts 12:21-23 & The Eyes of The Flesh

Our Lord is continually working through the events of our lives and those around us to bring about His purposes. It is one of the great privileges of being His children that we are granted the ability to see the world around us through the eyes of faith. We stand upon His promise that all things work together for the good of those who love Him and are called according to His purpose and so we trust in His providential care.

Of course throughout the history of the world our Lord has also intervened in such dramatic fashion that even those who are not believers have taken notice. The obvious examples are the dramatic deliverance of the Hebrew’s from Egypt, the miraculous conquest of Canaan, the humiliation of the priests of Baal by the prophet Elijah, and of course the miracles and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Sadly, rather than submit themselves to God those who are hardened in sin will deny the significance of such events even when the events themselves are undeniable. Indeed, they almost must do this in order to continue to deny the glory of God that is manifested around them. As an extreme example we recall the Pharisees who attributed the great signs done by Christ as having been performed through the power of Beelzebul. They could not deny the power of the miracles so they suppressed the inevitable conclusion that they pointed to. They therefore blasphemed against the Holy Spirit.

Not every example of this is as dramatic as that of the Pharisees but there are some others that stand out in my mind. Ever since I was an undergraduate working on my history degree I have been struck by a particular occurrence of God’s judgment that was recorded both in the Bible and by the ancient Jewish historian Josephus. Luke records this event in the life of Herod Agrippa when God judged him publicly for his arrogance.

On an appointed day Herod put on his royal robes, took his seat upon the throne, and delivered an oration to them. And the people were shouting, “The voice of a god, and not of a man!” Immediately an angel of the Lord struck him down, because he did not give God the glory, and he was eaten by worms and breathed his last.
(Acts 12:21-23 ESV)

In his book The Antiquities of the Jews, written around 94 A.D., the ancient historian Josephus writes the following non Biblical description of the same event (emphasis added).

“Now when Agrippa had reigned three years over all Judea, he came to the city Cesarea, which was formerly called Strato's Tower; and there he exhibited shows in honor of Caesar, upon his being informed that there was a certain festival celebrated to make vows for his safety. At which festival a great multitude was gotten together of the principal persons, and such as were of dignity through his province. On the second day of which shows he put on a garment made wholly of silver, and of a contexture truly wonderful, and came into the theater early in the morning; at which time the silver of his garment being illuminated by the fresh reflection of the sun's rays upon it, shone out after a surprising manner, and was so resplendent as to spread a horror over those that looked intently upon him; and presently his flatterers cried out, one from one place, and another from another, (though not for his good,) that he was a god; and they added, "Be thou merciful to us; for although we have hitherto reverenced thee only as a man, yet shall we henceforth own thee as superior to mortal nature." Upon this the king did neither rebuke them, nor reject their impious flattery. But as he presently afterward looked up, he saw an owl sitting on a certain rope over his head, and immediately understood that this bird was the messenger of ill tidings, as it had once been the messenger of good tidings to him; and fell into the deepest sorrow. A severe pain also arose in his belly, and began in a most violent manner. He therefore looked upon his friends, and said, "I, whom you call a god, am commanded presently to depart this life; while Providence thus reproves the lying words you just now said to me; and I, who was by you called immortal, am immediately to be hurried away by death. But I am bound to accept of what Providence allots, as it pleases God; for we have by no means lived ill, but in a splendid and happy manner." When he said this, his pain was become violent. Accordingly he was carried into the palace, and the rumor went abroad every where, that he would certainly die in a little time. But the multitude presently sat in sackcloth, with their wives and children, after the law of their country, and besought God for the king's recovery. All places were also full of mourning and lamentation. Now the king rested in a high chamber, and as he saw them below lying prostrate on the ground, he could not himself forbear weeping. And when he had been quite worn out by the pain in his belly for five days, he departed this life, being in the fifty-fourth year of his age, and in the seventh year of his reign… “
(Josephus: Antiquities of the Jews. Book 19, chapter 8, translated by William Whiston)

When I first read this account as a young Christian studying history I rejoiced that there was such a clear confirmation of the historical accuracy of the New Testament. As I have grown in my faith, however, I no longer primarily think of this in an apologetic context. Now when I reflect upon this record by Josephus I am mostly struck and saddened by the hardness of men’s hearts that they could witness such an event and so profoundly miss its significance. How could everyone there not fall down on their face in repentance after seeing this? How could this not trigger a tremendous revival? Of course, the Bible gives us the answer to these questions. Sin separates us from God and clouds all of our vision. Our every experience and interpretation apart from Him is in some sense a selfish form of denial. What a privilege it is that through our savior Jesus Christ we have been given His Spirit so that we may see through the eyes of faith! Let us pray that by His grace we do not miss all that He does to glorify His name in our lives even now so we may praise Him in all things.

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