Acts 12 1 – 19 Peter’s miraculous escape from prison
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 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 round 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. 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.
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.’
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.. Peter knocked at the outer entrance, and a servant named Rhoda came to open the door. When she recognised Peter’s voice, she was so overjoyed she ran back without opening it and exclaimed, ‘Peter is at the door!’
‘You’re out of your mind,’ they told her. When she kept insisting that it was so, they said, ‘It must be his angel.’
But Peter kept on knocking, and when they opened the door and saw him, they were astonished. Peter motioned with his hand for them 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.
In the morning, there was no small commotion among he soldiers as to what had become of Peter. 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.
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This rather entertaining story of Peter’s escape from prison carries a strong message. It is this: God’s wisdom is different from the world’s wisdom, and we can trust God’s wisdom to prevail.
Let’s start with Herod. The Jewish community approved of him, because he supported them, and appeared to be (and perhaps actually was) a devout man himself. For example, when Caligula, the Roman Emperor, wanted to erect a statue of himself in the temple in Jerusalem, Herod persuaded him against the idea.
The followers of Jesus were gaining more and more converts from Judaism, and were posing a strong challenge to the Jewish leadership. Herod killed James, and when he saw that this met with the approval of orthodox Jews, he arrested Peter, with the intention of having a show trial after Passover. This would, of course, have found Peter guilty, and sentenced him to death.
These were the actions of a worldly ruler, clever, ruthless, and determined to retain his position as king. This is the wisdom of the world in action.
How did Peter respond to arrest?
With complete trust in God, that’s how.
It’s the night before his trial. When he’s found guilty, he’ll be executed. He’s chained between two soldiers. What does he do? He goes peacefully to sleep. He doesn’t attempt to prepare a defence to whatever charges may be brought against him. He doesn’t fret. He doesn’t worry. He has put himself completely into the hands of God and trusts him totally.
In fact, he’s so much at peace that the angel who rescues him has to strike him on the side to wake him, and says ‘Quick, get up!’. Even then, Peter thinks he’s having a vision! It’s only when the angel leaves him, and he finds he’s still out of gaol that he realises he’s been rescued by God. His confidence in God is so great that instead of going immediately to a place of safety, he goes to the house of Mary, the mother of John Mark. He knows that the believers will have gathered there to pray for him, and he wants to show them that their prayers have been answered.
How did the believers receive Peter? They had been praying earnestly for him. There was a knocking on the door. Rhoda went to the door and heard Peter’s voice. Leaving the door closed, she ran into the assembly and called out the joyful news. And the brothers and sisters didn’t believe it! They didn’t believe the answer to prayer, even when one of their own number shouted it out loud! How would they ever believe the promptings of the Holy Spirit?
In this instance they were constrained by the wisdom of this world, and as a result they were in chains.
Peter trusted in God, and was aware of the Holy Spirit – that is why he could confuse the reality of his escape with a vision. When the Holy Spirit spoke to him, it was as real as daily life to him. Peter lived by the wisdom of God. Chains, iron doors and guards were no barrier to the power of God to set him free. God had much more work for Peter to do, and Peter was ready to do it!
Thank you for the guidance of your Holy Spirit. Please help me to listen better and to be more obedient.
In Jesus name, Amen