The genesis of this lesson is a
little unusual. When I reviewed our previous study on the book of Acts, I found
a rather good study on the subject of intercession. It would seem appropriate
to update this a bit, but I found myself copying more than updating. As a
result we are taking a different tack. While the subject is entirely serious,
it has its comic elements. Those elements will form the core of the lesson for
this last episode in the life of Peter.
Acts 12:1-19 NASB
Now about that time Herod the king laid hands on some who belonged to the
church in order to mistreat them. (2) And he
had James the brother of John put to death with a sword. (3) When he saw that it pleased the Jews, he
proceeded to arrest Peter also. Now it was during the days of Unleavened
Bread. (4) When he had seized him, he put him
in prison, delivering him to four squads of soldiers to guard him, intending
after the Passover to bring him out before the people. (5) So Peter was kept in the prison, but prayer for him was being
made fervently by the church to God. (6) On
the very night when Herod was about to bring him forward, Peter was sleeping
between two soldiers, bound with two chains, and guards in front of the door
were watching over the prison. (7) And
behold, an angel of the Lord suddenly appeared and a light shone in the cell;
and he struck Peter's side and woke him up, saying, "Get up quickly."
And his chains fell off his hands. (8) And
the angel said to him, "Gird yourself and put on your sandals." And
he did so. And he *said to him, "Wrap your cloak around you and follow
me." (9) And he went out and continued
to follow, and he did not know that what was being done by the angel was real,
but thought he was seeing a vision. (10) When
they had passed the first and second guard, they came to the iron gate that
leads into the city, which opened for them by itself; and they went out and
went along one street, and immediately the angel departed from him. (11) When Peter came to himself, he said, "Now
I know for sure that the Lord has sent forth His angel and rescued me from the
hand of Herod and from all that the Jewish people were expecting." (12) And when he realized this, he went to the house of Mary, the mother of John who was
also called Mark, where many were gathered together and were praying. (13) When he knocked at the door of the gate, a
servant-girl named Rhoda came to answer. (14)
When she recognized Peter's voice, because of her joy she did not open the
gate, but ran in and announced that Peter was standing in front of the gate. (15) They said to her, "You are out of your
mind!" But she kept insisting that it was so. They kept saying, "It
is his angel." (16) But Peter continued
knocking; and when they had opened the door,
they saw him and were amazed. (17) But
motioning to them with his hand to be silent, he described to them how the Lord
had led him out of the prison. And he said, "Report these things to James
and the brethren." Then he left and went to another place. (18) Now when day came, there was no small
disturbance among the soldiers as to
what could have become of Peter. (19) When
Herod had searched for him and had not found him, he examined the guards and
ordered that they be led away to execution.
Then he went down from Judea to Caesarea and was spending time there.
Perhaps things were different in those days, but I suspect
most of us would not sleep soundly the night before our execution. Peter,
Why the Last Day?
Concealed in this passage is the fact that Peter was
probably in jail for about seven days. The expression, "days of Unleavened
Bread", denotes a period of seven days in which the devout Jew did not eat
bread with yeast in it. Herod evidently was waiting until this period was over
to execute Peter. So God had seven days in which to rescue Peter from jail —
and he picked the last one. Why?
One reason would be to teach the church to pray without ceasing –
and never give up. So many of us do not persist in prayer; it is a lesson that
must be learned in each generation.
Similarly, this long period would be something which would test —
and therefore strengthen — Peter's faith.
One reason which you might not guess at first: Peter is a man of
action. He is now chained up and given plenty of opportunity to do something
abnormal: think. The man of action is forced to become a man of contemplation.
It's a step towards maturity.
Peter Can Sleep
I suppose that experts on the subject of getting to sleep
would probably not recommend spending your night chained up, with a guard on
either side of you, knowing that your head was going to be cut off the next
morning. Herod, after all, had beheaded James just before this incident starts.
Peter can't even roll over and sleep on his side. Why is it that Peter can
Peter sleeps because he trusts the Lord — even in life or death
Peter can sleep because he has thought the matter through; to be
absent from the body is to be present with the Lord.
Peter can sleep because he knows the master of sea and sky, and
has seen his power displayed.
The Angel's Conduct
Angels seem to be a funny species. Peter thinks he's
dreaming, or seeing a vision, when the angel arrives. But we might note a
couple of things about the angel’s behavior which should have alerted Peter to
The angel is in a hurry. You can picture him kicking Peter in the
side and telling them to get up as if he was dealing with the lazy schoolboy.
This is a very businesslike angel. He gets Peter out of jail,
then out of the site of the jail, and leaves.
There is nothing dreamlike here. But Peter state of mind is
such that until the angel departs, he thinks he's having a vision. Some people
are really hard to convince.
If you want to see the center of the comedy here, look at
Rhoda. If we had to cast this as a play, I would want Lucille Ball playing the
part of Rhoda.
Why Answer the Door?
If someone knocks on the door of my house in the middle of
the night, we have to undo four different locks to get them access into the
house. We don't live in a particularly violent or tough neighborhood; it's just
the reasonable precautions of living in America in the 21st century. Things
were quite a bit worse then. Opening the gate — or at least answering the knock
— is not particularly normal behavior in the dark of night before the invention
of the electric light bulb. There are scary things out there that go bump in
the dark. If you're going to answer the gate, you don't send a woman to do the
That's the normal state of affairs. In this instance, you
would also have to consider the possibility that the knock at the gate with
came from the authorities who were persecuting the church. A quick glance out
of the top story window and hit the back door would be very useful.
So why did the servant girl answer the gate? I suspect it's
because of the habit of hospitality. The household would be accustomed to
receiving guests; Rhoda was probably doing something she had done a hundred
Why Didn't She Open the Gate?
In every two-person comedy there are two players: the
schlemiel and the schlemozzle. The schlemiel is the guy who is always spilling
the soup. The schlemozzle is the guy spilling the soup on. Peter is the
In a sense, Rhoda’s response was quite normal. She had good
news; she was going to share it. If you remember the woman at the well in
Samaria, her first reaction was to share the good news of Christ with her
fellow Samaritans. Rhoda is doing much the same thing.
What makes it funny is that she leaves Peter at the gate,
knocking. St. Francis had an interesting observation concerning such things. He
was once asked what he would do if he was gardening and someone came up and
told him that the Lord Jesus had returned. His reply simply was that he would
finish his gardening, and then go see the Lord. It is important for the
Christian to remember to do the task at hand, no matter what the state of our
emotions might be.
"They" Opened the Gate
Apparently Rhoda had a reputation before this incident. The
group of believers in the house evidently thinks that she's having a blonde
moment. So they tell her she's nuts.
Then we see one of the most common — and often comic —
reactions of human beings. They experienced the perils of, "it could
be." Since they are quite convinced that Peter, in bodily form, is still
in jail there is the question of just exactly who Rhoda heard at the gate. No
good explanation presents itself, so some investigation must be made. But the
answer could be something really spooky. So what we get is a vision: a crowd
full of people, each telling the other, "You go first." Think of Don
Knotts leading Tim Conway to the gate.
Believers Who Didn't Believe
One of the reasons that you are encouraged to read the
Scriptures on a daily basis is so that you will see, regularly, the wonders and
the glory of God. This is most necessary for our education. We would otherwise
conclude that God had little interest in us, no interest at all in doing great
things while where around, and otherwise was generally boring. As these folks
discover, none of this is true.
Just Been Praying For
Faith is not the same thing as magic. Some people approach
their prayers with the idea that if they just chant the right formula God will
give them what they want. That's an attempt at magic; that's not faith. Those
who act in true faith know that it is not there incantation but the power of
God which does the work. Perhaps as important, God does his work in his own way
— usually ignoring or going counter to our own advice. One can imagine the
church praying that Herod would be merciful towards Peter and not lock him up
too long. God is open to our pleas; however, he does things his own way.
These people did not believe; they wanted, instead. We are
often like that. We approach our prayers with the idea that God probably isn't
going to do what we ask, but would be nice if he did. We really don't expect
any results, though. We're like the kid and the Volkswagen commercial — you
remember, the one wearing a Darth Vader costume. You remember the shock when he
focuses his hands on the car — and it starts? You have an idea of how these
Invite Him In
If you accept the idea that they thought this was Peter's
guardian angel, you would think they would invite him in. After all, Abraham
entertained angels. On the other hand, angels are scary. Their first words are
usually, "fear not." We usually make the assumption that the
Christian life is supposed to be boring. Dullness is our usual fare. When
something comes along that is not boring and dull in the matters of God, we are
in unfamiliar territory and we act like it.
Did you notice that they're still astonished after they
invite Peter in?
At the Wrong House
Peter, to his credit, does not get angry. Instead he tells
his story in a simple and direct manner – probably glancing over his shoulder
all the time, wondering when the local Gestapo will arrive. After all, it's not
like he was greeted with stealth. He takes the reasonable precaution of asking
them to tell the other apostles about his release; reasonable, because his
presence might reveal where they are meeting. He then leaves for another
location — and even years later, Luke, writing this account, isn't going to
tell you where he went.
This is fitting. Peter does not presume upon the favor of
God. He's been released jail, but that doesn't mean he can go out and struck
that fact in front of the local authorities with impunity. Christ commanded him
that when he was persecuted it was to flee to the next city. We don't know what
that city was, but flee he did.
There's a lesson there for us. Indeed, the whole quality has
one big lesson for us. That lesson is that we presume upon God far too much:
We presume that he won't act. Even though we ask him in prayer to
do something, we have this attitude that it's not likely to happen. That is not
how he told us to pray.
We presume that because we are in the right, God will not allow
anything evil to befall us. Yet he tells us, in this world we will have
We presume that he will do what we ask in our own way. This
underestimates the wisdom and power of the Almighty most quickly.
So ends our study of the life of Peter. If we had to pick
one lesson from his life, it might be this: God will take the material we
provided him and make greatness of it — if we will let him. Neither our past,
nor our personality, nor our pride is a barrier to what God can do – if we will