In 1936 Berlin was decked out in pristine beauty. With 348 athletes, Germany boasted the largest national team. At the opening ceremonies twenty thousand doves obscured the sky and at the close Hitler could boast that Germany held the most medals overall. He and his Nazi lieutenants had pulled off the perfect propaganda coup, except for the embarrassment of Jesse Owens’ African American speed. With four gold medals, the Ohio State sprinter was the star of the Berlin Olympics with world records in the 100-meter, the 200-meter, and the broad jump.
With the invasions of Poland, Czechoslovakia, and France, Hitler couldn’t risk a direct attack against the Church in Germany in the early stages of World War II. But after the Third Reich’s victory he promised to have wiped out both the Jews and the power of the Church. How does God handle tyrants like Hitler who murder his people?
In the early 40s of the first century, Herod Agrippa I played the same game of using a veneer of public religiosity. He carefully followed the laws of Judaism while he carried out an assault against those Jews who believed that Jesus of Nazareth was the crucified and risen Messiah. In the Acts narrative we have seen him quickly execute James, one of Jesus’ inner circle, but then God stepped in and miraculously snatched Peter from Herod’s grasp. Here’s what happened after God’s angel ushered Peter out of the prison.
“When it became light, there was quite a disturbance among the solders as they tried to figure out what had happened to Peter. Herod made a thorough search but couldn’t find him. After questioning the guards, he ordered their execution. Then he left Jerusalem and went down to stay in Caesarea.
Now he was angry against the residents of Tyre and Sidon. To deal with the animosity, they joined together and presented themselves before Herod having convinced Blastus, the king’s personal attendant, to end the controversy. They needed peace because Tyre and Sidon depended upon the King’s fields for their food.
On the appointed day Herod decked himself in his royal apparel, sat down on his thrown and began to deliver his address. The crowd drowned out his words, crying, ‘This is the voice of a god, not the voice of a man!’ Instantly, the angel of the Lord struck him because he had not given the glory to God and he became eaten with worms and died.” - Acts 12:18-23
We’ve learned that God can take one of the mob who murdered Stephen, forgive him, and make him one of the most powerful proclaimers of the Gospel. We’ve seen that the Lord sometimes allows one of his servants to be arrested and martyred while he miraculously sets free another. We’ve also seen that God doesn’t always step in immediately and strike down those who accept the worship of a crowd. But sometimes he does. In the end God always brings about justice.
In those old newsreels, we've seen Hitler basking in the adulation of massive crowds, but at 3:30 PM, April 30, 1945, both Hitler and Braun were dead. Hitler’s Nazi Party lasted twenty-six years, not a thousand.
LORD, help me trust in the fact that you will deal with those who defy you in the end. Give me courage, like Peter and Paul in the narrative of Acts, not to be intimidated by tyrants but to continue to tell the truth about Jesus and his gift of salvation.
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