Now about that time Herod the king stretched out his hand to harass some from the church. Then he killed James the brother of John with the sword. And because he saw that it pleased the Jews, he proceeded further to seize Peter also. Now it was during the Days of Unleavened Bread. So when he had arrested him, he put him in prison, and delivered him to four squads of soldiers to keep him, intending to bring him before the people after Passover. (Acts 12:1-4)
Killing A Man Made Them Happy
Abraham was promised three things from God: a nation of people from his loins, the land of promise where they would dwell and a Seed that would bless the entire world. Centuries later, the Hebrew’s were saved from Egyptian bondage by the hand of God becoming the nation of Israel. This nation was the apple of God’s eye. They were the people given the written law beginning with the Ten Commandments and instructions concerning righteousness, truth and mercy. The glory of the Lord dwelt in their presence. Isaiah would describe them as the vineyard of the Lord.
It would not be long before Satan had his way with the people of God. Sin brought the nation to destruction with only a remnant coming out of the slavery of Babylon. The nation never returned to idolatry but the character of God’s people changed dramatically. When Jesus was born in the city of Bethlehem, the hearts of the Jews were filled with arrogance, pride, hatred and envy. It was hard to recognize the earlier nation of holy people who loved the Lord with all their hearts, souls and minds. Through envy, the Jews cried out to their Roman masters, “Crucify Him, crucify Him.” Filled with hatred against Jesus, the Jews murdered the Son of God. This would be the beginning of a long standing hatred of the nation of God against the church of God.
In the early days of the church, Stephen would feel the brutal wrath of Jewish fury. Enraged against his accusations against them, the Jews dragged the innocent man out of the city and stoned him to death. Their lust for blood was wet. Herod Agrippa the king decided to do harm against the church and he took James, brother of the beloved John, and killed him with the sword. Albert Barnes wrote, “This was the principle on which he acted. It was not from a sense of right; it was not to do justice, and to protect the innocent; it was not to discharge the appropriate duties of a magistrate and a king, but it was to promote his own popularity.” And the Jews loved it. The nation of God’s people loved it when Herod killed an innocent man.
The history of Israel is filled with wars and destruction of untold numbers of people. What the Jews failed to learn was the righteousness of the Lord was not the same as their righteousness. When the Lord destroyed the city of Jericho, it was because of the righteous act of God’s punishment upon rebellious people. What the Jews did to Jesus and Stephen and later rejoiced in the death of James was a misguided zeal of human hatred. The death of an innocent man pleased the Jews. Their hearts were so hardened with sin they could not see the hatred that replaced the love of God. Any nation or people that are happy in the death of a human being have lost the focus of God’s righteousness.
Sin is terrible. The consequence of sin is disgusting. God is the righteous judge who will render His own punishment upon those who rebel against Him. The people of God have no reason to rejoice in the death of those who live in sin. James was a man who was innocent and the Jews were pleased Herod murdered him. When the guilty suffer, there is no joy in their death. Let the children of God shine as examples of humility showing the grace of God in their actions toward others. Let us rejoice but let us rejoice in truth alone. Now that is a great story.
The most malicious kind of hatred is that which is built upon a theological foundation. (George Sarton, History of Science, 1927)