Touched by an angel

Acts 12 has always been a favorite part of the story from the early church for me. Peter’s miraculous escape from prison makes for Liberation of St. Peter by Bartolomé Esteban Murillo, 1667exciting reading!

Daily devotional writer Dale Vander Veen recently helped me appreciate the story even more when he pointed out how Peter and then, at the end of the chapter, Herod are both “struck” by an angel (12:7 & 23). The same word is used to describe what the angel does to both these two men. But the results are completely opposite: Peter is freed and lives; Herod falls ill and dies. We don’t know whether it’s the same angel, but my guess is that it is.

Picture the scene: Peter is sitting in prison, awaiting trial before Herod. The church is praying. Peter thinks he’s isolated, on his own, but “suddenly an angel of the Lord appear[s] and a light [shines] in the cell. [The angel strikes] Peter on the side and [wakes] him up. ‘Quick, get up!’ he [says], and the chains [fall] off Peter’s wrists” (12:7). “And,” writes Dale Vander Veen, “the rest is history. Peter is escorted out of prison, a free man.”

At the end of the chapter, pompous Herod is sitting on his royal throne, addressing his fawning subjects. Herod thinks he’s untouchable, in a class of his own. The people begin shouting, “‘This is the voice of a god, not of a man.’ Immediately, because Herod [does] not give praise to God, an angel of the Lord [strikes] him down, and he [is] eaten by worms and die[s]” (12:22-23). “And,” to again quote Dale, “the rest is no history – at least no history for Herod!”

I have a theory about all this. I cannot prove it, but neither can I disprove it. I not only think that it’s the same angel in both 12:7 and 12:23, but I think he strikes both Peter and Herod in exactly the same way. Yes, the results are polar opposite, but the point of contact itself might have been identical. Allow me to explain…

Herod has set himself up against God. He makes himself the arbiter of truth, persecuting those who disagree with him (see 12:1). He even decides who lives and who dies (see 12:2, 19). And, as if that’s not enough, he welcomes the praise of the people who call him a god. In short, he has completely rejected the one true God, putting himself in God’s place. Therefore, when an agent of the one true God comes in physical contact with Herod, he is appalled by it. It’s like his body rejects like, just as our bodies reject foreign cells or contaminants. Herod is so anti-God that any touch he receives from God feels like poison – consciously or subconsciously, he rejects it. And because God is the God of life, to reject God ultimately leads to death, if not sooner, then later.

Peter, on the other hand, is an apostle of Jesus Christ, spreading the Good News throughout the known world. He loves God and wholeheartedly desires to keep in step with the Holy Spirit to which his two letters attest. Therefore, when an agent of His God comes into physical contact with Peter, it brings life and vitality. His heart, soul, mind, and body welcomes any form of contact with God – whether through the Word, prayer, or even a physical touch. The touch Peter receives is a blessing, not a threat and certainly not a foreign contaminant. Consciously and subconsciously, Peter invites God to work in his life, which brings life, both now and for eternity.

So I cannot help but wonder whether the angel used the same touch on two completely opposite men, resulting in completely opposite reactions – one resulting in sickness and death, one resulting in freedom and life.

Through His Holy Spirit, Jesus seeks to touch people with His love and grace. Yes, the touch may seem painful at first when it brings a realization of sin. But His presence is ultimately meant to bring life for today and forever. He died on the cross and then defeated death by rising on the third day to bring us freedom and life. He longs for us to hear His invitation and draw near to Him. Pray for God to touch you and that when He does, He finds a receptive, welcoming heart.

Do we deserve this such life-giving and faith-building touches from God? No. Because of our sin, we do not. But I am reminded of Someone else who was struck by God. Isaiah prophesied:

“Surely he took up our infirmities
and carried our sorrows,
yet we considered him stricken by God,
smitten by Him and afflicted.
For the transgression of my people
he was stricken.”

When we are in Christ, the touch of God is not deadly, but life-giving. His presence is not something to be feared, but something we eagerly welcome.

Dale’s devotional ended with this blessing: May God “strike you today with just the right amount of force to remind you of his deep, stricken, unfailing love for you.” Then, when we experience His presence, His touch through the Word, sacraments, prayer, creation, and fellowship with others, we will welcome it, and find life, and are nourished in our faith until He welcomes us with His loving embrace when we see Him face to face.

This is an abridged version of a message I gave at Trinity CRC.
You can watch the whole thing
here. Artwork found at Wikipedia.
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