From my several years of political activism and engagement, I met a number of people in politics who are among the finest folks I’ve ever known. However, the stereotype so often associated with the political characters of the world has been sadly earned by a majority of those working in this arena. And the King Herod of today’s passage would fit easily into that devious latter category of rascals.
This Herod – the grandson of the Herod in the birth narrative of Jesus – was allowed powerful authority under the Romans. He had distant Jewish blood connections and was always insecure about his position in the eyes of the populace. So he was playing his cards on both sides of the equation – pleasing the Romans and pleasing the Jews.
Keeping the peace is what most pleased the Romans, and he could do this by also pleasing the Jews with a growing persecution of the church. James, the brother of John, was executed by this vain king, and seeing how much it pleased the people, he determined to repeat the deed in a bigger way with Peter. Fortuitously intervening for Peter was the Passover season – so he would be stuck in prison until these days had passed. Things looked grim – very bad indeed. The church was praying, but the circumstances seemed to be surely insurmountable. Extra guards were standing watch – probably because some in the Sanhedrin had remembered that this Simon Peter fellow somehow escaped prison in the past and was preaching to the crowds when everyone in authority thought he was under lock and key.
Our story today records how Peter was miraculously delivered through the agency of an angel on the evening prior to his trial and certain execution. Awakening from what seemed more like a vision than a real-life situation, Peter discovered himself outside the prison and down the street. He proceeded to the home of John Mark’s mother – probably the single most prominent location of the church in Jerusalem – and knocked on the door.
In what is among the most humorous passages of Scripture, the people do not believe the servant girl’s report that Peter is actually at the door. But weren’t they praying for this very reality? Well, maybe; or maybe not. It may well be that they were likely praying for Peter to have courage and strength in his hour of trial and martyrdom. He shares the whole incredible story with the church and leaves for another location – leaving James (the brother of Jesus) as essentially the predominant single leader in the Jerusalem church. And the passage concludes with an account, not of Peter’s demise, but rather that of the arrogant King Herod Agrippa I.
Let us take away two major thoughts of application today:
1. We should pray in faith that God is able to accomplish ANYTHING!
So often when we pray, we do so without any honest or real expectation that the prayer is actually going to be answered – especially when the circumstances are not favorable. God does not always choose to intervene and overturn the natural flow of life circumstances. In fact, it is probably true that he most often allows the natural course of events to transpire. Yet there is no shortage of those occasional incidents where, against all odds and explanation, God miraculously steps in and accomplishes incredible things. He is able to do that, and we should pray fully believing that it could very well transpire – that we might even witness miraculous interventions.
2. We should pray in submission to God’s will, recognizing that not every prayer is going to be answered in the way we would most desire.
If God always answered prayers the way we desired, none of us would ever die – we’d always recover from any ills and circumstances. God is going to accomplish his will; and that will sometimes involves even the tragic loss of life of people who love the Lord. It is humanly inexplicable. We have seen such sadness even in the Christian community of Hagerstown this very week. But we must trust God in these matters that He is one who does all things well in the bigger picture of eternity. It our text today, James the brother of John is martyred, though God has an extensive future ministry for Peter.
Are you getting a better sense for why prayer should indeed be our first IMPULSE?
Peter’s Miraculous Escape from Prison – Acts 12:1-25
12 It was about this time that King Herod arrested some who belonged to the church, intending to persecute them. 2 He had James, the brother of John, put to death with the sword. 3 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. 4 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.
5 So Peter was kept in prison, but the church was earnestly praying to God for him.
6 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. 7 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.
8 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. 9 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.”
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.
Then Herod went from Judea to Caesarea and stayed there. 20 He had been quarreling with the people of Tyre and Sidon; they now joined together and sought an audience with him. After securing the support of Blastus, a trusted personal servant of the king, they asked for peace, because they depended on the king’s country for their food supply.
21 On the appointed day Herod, wearing his royal robes, sat on his throne and delivered a public address to the people. 22 They shouted, “This is the voice of a god, not of a man.” 23 Immediately, because Herod did not give praise to God, an angel of the Lord struck him down, and he was eaten by worms and died.
24 But the word of God continued to spread and flourish.
Barnabas and Saul Sent Off
25 When Barnabas and Saul had finished their mission, they returned from Jerusalem, taking with them John, also called Mark.