Sovereign Lord of His Church


By Pastor Roger Eng, March 13, 2022

TITLE: Sovereign LORD of His Church (Acts 11b-12)

  1. Sovereign in Scattering Acts 11:19 (NLT), Meanwhile, the believers who had been scattered during the persecution after Stephen’s death traveled as far as Phoenicia, Cyprus, and Antioch of Syria. They preached the word of God, but only to Jews. 20 However, some of the believers who went to Antioch from Cyprus and Cyrene began preaching to the Gentiles about the Lord Jesus. 21 The power of the Lord was with them, and a large number of these Gentiles believed and turned to the Lord. 22 When the church at Jerusalem heard what had happened, they sent Barnabas to Antioch.

Acts 11:23 (NLT), When he arrived and saw this evidence of God’s blessing, he was filled with joy, and he encouraged the believers to stay true to the Lord. 24 Barnabas was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and strong in faith. And many people were brought to the Lord. 25 Then Barnabas went on to Tarsus to look for Saul. 26 When he found him, he brought him back to Antioch. Both of them stayed there with the church for a full year, teaching large crowds of people. (It was at Antioch that the believers were first called Christians.)

• Antioch of Syria is now the new World Headquarters of Christianity. It took more than a decade for many believers to migrate/settle 300 miles north. Believers were safe there and took on their own identity as Christians! Which means “Christ-ones,” or “Belonging to Christ.” • Antioch was the 3rd largest city in the Roman Empire and a perfect launching pad for worldwide Christian missions. • Barnabas (who is from Cyprus) encourages the work there and finds Saul to come and co-pastor “the large crowds of people.” • God sovereignly scattered His church and planted it in Antioch, Syria. It is filled with refugees, irregulars, pilgrims in a barren land. Result?
• V. 24 –that many people are brought to the LORD.

  1. Sovereign in Famine Acts 11:27 (NLT), During this time some prophets traveled from Jerusalem to Antioch. 28 One of them named Agabus stood up in one of the meetings and predicted by the Spirit that a great famine was coming upon the entire Roman world. (This was fulfilled during the reign of Claudius.) 29 So the believers in Antioch decided to send relief to the brothers and sisters in Judea, everyone giving as much as they could. 30 This they did, entrusting their gifts to Barnabas and Saul to take to the elders of the church in Jerusalem.

• God in His sovereignty warns the church through the prophet Agabus of a coming famine. • The Christians, out of their own free will, took an offering to meet the needs of the Jerusalem Church. Everyone gave as much as they could! • Generosity is another characteristic of the early church we should emulate.

  1. Sovereign in Death. Acts 12:1 (NLT), About that time King Herod Agrippa began to persecute some believers in the church. 2 He had the apostle James (John’s brother) killed with a sword.

• James was the 1st apostle martyred. • Why is God allowing the death of one of His leading apostles? • Only a Sovereign God knows. • Tertullian said, “The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church.” • James, John, and Peter were in the inner circle of disciples, so Herod seems to be going after the heads of the early church. • The Herod in Acts 12 is Herod Agrippa – the grandson of Herod the Great. Agrippa ruled Judea/Samaria. He sometimes acted more Jewish to please the Jews and keep the peace. He would regularly go to the Temple for worship and he would publically read from the Torah. This Herod beheaded James.

  1. Sovereign in Rescue, Acts 12:3 (NLT), When Herod saw how much this pleased the Jewish people, he also arrested Peter. (This took place during the Passover celebration.) 4 Then he imprisoned him, placing him under the guard of four squads of four soldiers each. Herod intended to bring Peter out for public trial after the Passover. 5 But while Peter was in prison, the church prayed very earnestly for him. 6 The night before Peter was to be placed on trial, he was asleep, fastened with two chains between two soldiers. Others stood guard at the prison gate. 7 Suddenly, there was a bright light in the cell, and an angel of the Lord stood before Peter.

• When Herod beheaded James, his poll numbers went up – so he went after Peter’s head too. But, because of the Passover, he had to wait a week. • The church prayed “earnestly.” • One Puritan author said, “The angel fetched Peter out of prison. But it was prayer that fetched the angel.”

Acts 12:7 (NLT), The angel struck him on the side to awaken him and said, “Quick! Get up!” And the chains fell off his wrists. 8 Then the angel told him, “Get dressed and put on your sandals.” And he did. “Now put on your coat and follow me,” the angel ordered. 9 So Peter left the cell, following the angel. But all the time he thought it was a vision. He didn’t realize it was actually happening...11 Peter finally came to his senses. “It’s really true!” he said. “The Lord has sent his angel and saved me from Herod and from what the Jewish leaders had planned to do to me!”

Acts 12:12 (NLT), When he realized this, he went to the home of Mary, the mother of John Mark, where many were gathered for prayer. 13 He knocked at the door in the gate, and a servant girl named Rhoda came to open it. 14 When she recognized Peter’s voice, she was so overjoyed that, instead of opening the door, she ran back inside and told everyone, “Peter is standing at the door!” 15 “You’re out of your mind!” they said. When she insisted, they decided, “It must be his angel.” 16 Meanwhile, Peter continued knocking. When they finally opened the door and saw him, they were amazed.

• Peter is asleep. The angel wakes him. • This is a good image of salvation. God’s divine rescue is by grace alone, not by our works.
• They did not seem to believe God answered their prayers! • God is sovereign in grace, even when our faith is small. • Peter is a fugitive and hides from danger. • Peter is bold, but runs from danger when it is the prudent thing to do.

  1. Sovereign in Glory. Acts 12:20 (NLT), Now Herod was very angry with the people of Tyre and Sidon. So they sent a delegation to make peace with him because their cities were dependent upon Herod’s country for food. [Herod shut down his famine relief to these cities] The delegates won the support of Blastus, [they bribed him] Herod’s personal assistant, 21 and an appointment with Herod was granted. When the day arrived, Herod put on his royal robes, sat on his throne, and made a speech to them. 22 The people gave him a great ovation, shouting, “It’s the voice of a god, not of a man!” 23 Instantly, an angel of the Lord struck Herod with a sickness, because he accepted the people’s worship instead of giving the glory to God. So he was consumed with worms and died.

• Herod Agrippa’s death is recorded by a Roman historian, Josephus. Josephus places this event in Caesarea, in the amphitheater.

• Josephus says, “On the second day of the spectacles, clad in a garment woven completely of silver so that its texture was indeed wondrous, he entered the theater at daybreak. There the silver, illumined by the touch of the first rays of the sun, was wondrously radiant and by its glitter inspired fear and awe in those who gazed intently upon it. Straightway his flatterers raised their voices from various directions—though hardly for his good—addressing him as a god. “May you be propitious to us,” they added, “and if we have hitherto feared you as a man, yet henceforth we agree that you are more than mortal in your being.” The king did not rebuke them nor did he reject their flattery as impious. But shortly thereafter …He was gripped in his stomach by an ache that he felt everywhere at once.” • Josephus says that Herod died 5 days later.

• I suspect this was highly staged event with special effects (silver wardrobe) timed perfectly for the sunrise, to transform King Herod into a god, an antichrist.

• Psalm 115:1 Not to us, O LORD, not to us, but to your name goes all the glory.

• This is a warning to all the antichrist tyrants at loose in the world today. God will stop you.


  1. Sovereign in Word. Acts 11:24 (NLT), Meanwhile, the word of God continued to spread, and there were many new believers. 25 When Barnabas and Saul had finished their mission to Jerusalem, they returned, taking John Mark with them. (John Mark wrote The gospel of Mark)

• Luke’s conclusion: When the Word spreads, the Church spreads!

• John Stott, “The chapter opens with James dead, Peter in prison, and Herod triumphing; it closes with Herod dead, Peter free, and the Word of God triumphing.

• Matthew 24:35, “Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will not pass away.”