23 July 2019Acts 12:1-17
“They said to her, ‘You are out of your mind!’ But she insisted that it was so. They said, ‘It is his angel.’” (v. 15)
Psalm: Psalm 10:1-12
This passage begins with the news of the second martyrdom in the book of Acts and the first of one of the apostles. This is not the King Herod (Matthew 2:1) but his grandson Herod Agrippa I who was raised and educated in Rome. He was popular among the Jewish people, and understood the need to stay on the good side of the ruling Sadducean party to stay in power. The arrest and killing of James, the brother of John was a good political move for him and so he decides to go after other key leaders.
Peter is to be his next victim and is arrested during the festival of unleavened bread which echoes Jesus' arrest and crucifixion (Luke 22:1). He is kept in prison to be tried and executed after the festival and so is put under heavy guard. There would have been sixteen soldiers altogether in the four squads and they would have rotated every three or four hours to stay alert. At all times two would have been chained to each of Peter's arms and two on guard outside the door.
On the very night Herod had sent for him, Peter received a visitor. He was woken suddenly and told to get dressed and follow him past the guards and out of the prison. Peter believes all of this to be just a dream and not in fact an actual escape. It is not until the visitor leaves him that he realises he has escaped and he makes straight for a place he knows he will be safe.
We have been told that during his imprisonment that the church had been praying "fervently" (v. 5) for him. Peter makes for the place where the church would have been gathered and knocks on the door. What ensues is similar to the accounts of Jesus' resurrection with a young women bringing news of a miracle and those that hear it dismissing it straight away.
We may want to ask what were they praying for if it was not Peter's escape. Many there seem to think there is no chance that he is free, and if he is there it must be his angel as he is already dead. Is this a lack of faith despite their fervent prayer? Are they praying for his spirit convinced he will end up like James before him? The reaction from the believers when finally Peter is let in shows that this was the last thing they thought they would see. Peter tells again of all that God has done and makes his way to a safe place to continue God's mission in the world.
- Peter's escape was not expected by the church who prayed for him. Are there times when God surprises you with an answer to prayer you hadn't expected? What happened? And what was your response?
- To what extent do we sometimes underestimate what God can do?