"God often lays the sum of His amazing providences in very dismal afflictions; as the limner* first puts on the dusky colors, on which he intends to draw the portraiture of some illustrious beauty." -- Stephen Charnock
First, a brief summary of Acts 12
In the beginning of the chapter:
Herod is in charge and the church is persecuted.
James is dead.
Peter is in prison.
In the end of the chapter:
Peter is free.
Herod is dead.
God is in control and the word of God spreads.
Acts chapter 12 paints a portrait in the life of the early church. When the painting begins, it looks as if it will be no masterpiece. The wicked ruler Herod finds popularity in persecuting the church of God. He has James (an apostle, the brother of John) executed and then proceeds to arrest Peter. He expected to lavish on Peter the same fate when the Passover season was finished. As Peter languished in jail, the church prayed for him. Suddenly an angel appeared. Peter awoke, his chains fell off and they quickly exited the prison unnoticed. Neither Peter nor the church could believe it, but both rejoiced profusely.
Circumstances change. Guards were executed. Herod went to Caesarea to get away from it all. He finds opportunity to make peace with Tyre and Sidon, and offers a stunning public oratory, of which the people shout, "This is the voice of a god, not of a man." Suddenly Herod is struck down by God and dies. The enemy is defeated. God's providences shine through and the word of God spreads and grows.
Though we watch such portraits painted time after time, too often we forget that it is God who is painting and not Herod. No matter how often it appears that a Herod is having his way, remember it is God who rules and that all things work together for good to them that love God. Let the dusky colors be first put on, only remember there is yet illustrious beauty to come forth!
* a painter