Conversations With Peter: Let’s just walk out of prison in the middle of the night.

We’ve come to the last full conversation with Peter in the book of Acts.  From here, the book of Acts focus’ on Paul’s missionary journey, but there will be actually one more brief “chat” with Peter before we finish this series.  To give you a little more context, this moment is roughly 10-11 years after the crucifixion of Christ.  I believe that a lot of Christians assume  that all of this happens within the first couple years or even months after Pentecost, but history and tradition tells us that time has gone by and the church has grown, and as shown by chapter 11, been going through its own growing pains.  This conversation is one that blows my mind, it’s almost like a SciFi episode, more a Star Trek “beam-me-up-Scotty” moment then anything.  (Sigh, I think I just really dated myself there).   There’s some comedy in here to.   Moments of “what the heck just happened” that, now that I think about it, will truly make you laugh.  I’m sure Peter, upon reflection, or maybe when he read this letter laughed at the memory, or maybe he was laughing during the whole event while it was playing out, but it shows that even in what seems like our darkest hour, GOD will find a way to rescue us, and possibly even make us laugh.  Let’s take a look.

Acts 12:1-5

 It was about this time that King Herod arrested some who belonged to the church, intending to persecute them. He had James, the brother of John, put to death with the sword. When he saw that this met with approval among the Jews, he proceeded to seize Peter also. This happened during the Festival of Unleavened Bread. After arresting him, he put him in prison, handing him over to be guarded by four squads of four soldiers each. Herod intended to bring him out for public trial after the Passover.

So Peter was kept in prison, but the church was earnestly praying to God for him.

The last conversation left Peter explaining his actions before a leadership board as to why he was communing with Gentiles and not only justifying his actions but changing the whole focus of The Believers mission. GOD was directing them literally to reach the world.   Peter was the one who broke the ground, but it would be Paul who would build on it and expand the ministry.   It was due to religious persecution that The Believers left Jerusalem and fled to the surrounding regions, Saul (who would become Paul) was one of the biggest persecutors of the church, however GOD saw/knew his potential and changed his heart and he converted.   The persecution didn’t end however.   It actually became official.   It started out only as persecution by the Jewish religious and political leaders, and in chapter 12 we see it become an actual governmental persecution.  King Herod, the appointed Roman head of state gets into the mix and arrests Christians, James, the brother of John and the other best friend of Jesus, is arrested and executed.    When Herod sees this is acceptable to the Jews, he arrests Peter and probably has plans to do the same to him.   He views Peter as such a threat that he places him under guard with 4 squads of 4 soldiers guarding him 24 hours a day.  So, 16 men guarding him, probably working 8 hour shifts, Herod was feeling threatened by a bunch of fishermen turned missionaries.  You’re probably asking yourself now: “Kevin, not seeing the humor in this, in fact it seems pretty tragic”.  Your right it is tragic.  It seems hopeless.  One of Peter’s best friends has been executed, he’s in jail on around the clock guard and it seems hopeless.  It does seem hopeless, but I believe that’s when CHRIST shines brightest, when it seems hopeless, HE brings hope because the church responded the best way they could:  They prayed, and they prayed earnestly and GOD responded.  If we don’t pray, if we don’t ask then will GOD respond?  IF we don’t care enough to pray for the needs of others we deny ourselves our blessing, as well as a blessing for those we pray for.  The church earnestly interceded for Peter, and its effort was rewarded.

Acts 12:6-11

The night before Herod was to bring him to trial, Peter was sleeping between two soldiers, bound with two chains, and sentries stood guard at the entrance.Suddenly an angel of the Lord appeared and a light shone in the cell. He struck Peter on the side and woke him up. “Quick, get up!” he said, and the chains fell off Peter’s wrists.

Then the angel said to him, “Put on your clothes and sandals.” And Peter did so. “Wrap your cloak around you and follow me,” the angel told him. Peter followed him out of the prison, but he had no idea that what the angel was doing was really happening; he thought he was seeing a vision. 10 They passed the first and second guards and came to the iron gate leading to the city. It opened for them by itself, and they went through it. When they had walked the length of one street, suddenly the angel left him.

11 Then Peter came to himself and said, “Now I know without a doubt that the Lord has sent his angel and rescued me from Herod’s clutches and from everything the Jewish people were hoping would happen.”

Here’s the part I find humorous.   Not that an angel would appear, believe it or not, I find that completely possible.  Whether or not you believe in angels is completely irrelevant to me.  The Bible states that spiritual beings are real, so I’m going to go with it, but the part that I feel is funny is the whole exchange between Peter and the angel.   Now, picture this set up:  He’s in a dungeon, in chains, sleeping between two guards and there are guards outside his cell, not to mention the other soldiers in the prison.  An angel appears in a burst of light and pretty much pokes/kicks him in the side, says “get up” and his chains fall off.  To me, that’s almost Monty Python like funny.  He tells him to get up, get dressed, put your sandals and cloak on, because they’re getting out of there.   Peter thought he was dreaming. They get out of the prison, and they’re a block away before the angel disappears and Peter finds himself out of jail and on the street.      Peter realized he’s been freed, it’s not a dream.  In his most hopeless moment, GOD responded.  I’m sure Peter had made peace with GOD and prepared for death, but I’m sure he also had hope and I believe he knew that his friends were praying for him and GOD responded in a huge way.   GOD literally pulled him out of jail, freed him from a hopeless situation because GOD had more for him to do.   In the midst of our hopeless situations, GOD intervenes, and, to be honest, in that intervention, there are probably moments in which you just have to laugh at how GOD does it.  Maybe not immediately, but upon reflection you’re like: “Did that really happen that way?”  I know it’s happened to me quite often.   Your moment when GOD rescues you from the hopeless situation may not be as dramatic as Peter, you may not be in jail physically (at least I hope you’re not in jail), but each of us when we are in a moment of hopelessness feel like we cut off and bound in chains, it’s that moment when we reach out and accept the freedom that GOD brings us that we are truly freed.   Could Peter have chosen to stay in the jail?  Maybe.   Could he have thought this was all a dream and given up and just rolled over?  Possibly.   But he didn’t, he went with the un-explainable and was freed from his hopeless situation.  THAT’S WHAT GOD OFFERS US.   Freedom from the hopeless situations.  Oh, but there’s more to this story, because Peter doesn’t just disappear and head for the hills.

Acts 12: 12-19 

12 When this had dawned on him, he went to the house of Mary the mother of John, also called Mark, where many people had gathered and were praying.13 Peter knocked at the outer entrance, and a servant named Rhoda came to answer the door. 14 When she recognized Peter’s voice, she was so overjoyed she ran back without opening it and exclaimed, “Peter is at the door!”

15 “You’re out of your mind,” they told her. When she kept insisting that it was so, they said, “It must be his angel.”

16 But Peter kept on knocking, and when they opened the door and saw him, they were astonished. 17 Peter motioned with his hand for them to be quiet and described how the Lord had brought him out of prison. “Tell James and the other brothers and sisters about this,” he said, and then he left for another place.

18 In the morning, there was no small commotion among the soldiers as to what had become of Peter. 19 After Herod had a thorough search made for him and did not find him, he cross-examined the guards and ordered that they be executed.

This, to me is another one of those Monty Python type comedy moments.   Peter’s realization that he’s freed spurs him to go and meet with  his friends, because he doesn’t want them to worry.  He want’s to let them know that GOD had set him free and he was heading out-of-town, both for his safety, and probably theirs as well.   He gets to the house of his friends (who were gathered in prayer for him), knocks on the door and waits.  A servant girl goes to answer the door.  In my mind’s eye, I can see her say “who is it” and Peter identifies himself and upon hearing and recognizing his voice, she’ so excited she forgets to open the door and runs back to the others and excitedly tells other Peter is at the door.  Now, personally, I can understand the others in the room thinking this girl is crazy.  She’s babbling about Peter being at the door, but she didn’t let him in, if she had seen him, wouldn’t she have brought him with her?  When they hear him knocking, I can imagine that everyone actually came to answer the door.  Can you imagine the reaction when they actually saw him?  Relief, joy, ecstatic laughter in one moment.    Peter is finally able to shush them up, and explains what happened and instructs them to tell the other church leaders that weren’t at this particular prayer meeting what had happened, and then he was off into the night, like a super spy on to the next place that GOD had for him.   Can you imagine the feelings in the room at that moment?   Not only had they seen an actual answer to their prayers, but a confirmation that GOD is able to do anything.   Did that end the persecution.  Nope.  Will there be more?  Yup.   In fact, as I said, Peter would be martyred in AD 67 or 68 crucified upside down as tradition holds.   Life still happens, problems still come and tragedy will still be a part of that.   It may seem unfair and unjust, but we still live in a sinful world and Satan, the enemy still wishes to destroy us.   WE, as Christians however, are to continue to live for the higher standard that CHRIST has set for us.   Why?  Because the alternative is hopelessness.  Living by faith may seem ridiculous and pointless for those that don’t believe, but it gives a hope and direction.  Peter understood that, the early church understood that, and I hope, if you’re reading this, you understand this.  Faith in GOD is unexplainable and may seem pointless, but it’s not, believe me, it’s not.   The point is hopefulness and a joy that can’t be explained.   It’s not life devoid of tragedy, but a hope and a strength through the tragedies that come our way.  GOD has promised in Hebrews 13:5 Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said,“Never will I leave you;never will I forsake you.”[a] .  GOD has said never.  And Never means never.   

The end of chapter 12 gives the final epilogue of Herod.  In the end, the man who persecuted Peter would himself die, eaten by worms.   Historians all agree that it would be a somewhat painful death.

This is the end of our conversations with Peer, as I said, there is one more brief chat that will look at.  That, however is for another day.

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