Now when Herod was about to bring him out, on that very night, Peter was sleeping between two soldiers, bound with two chains, and sentries before the door were guarding the prison. 7 And behold, an angel of the Lord stood next to him, and a light shone in the cell. He struck Peter on the side and woke him, saying, “Get up quickly.” And the chains fell off his hands. 8 And the angel said to him, “Dress yourself and put on your sandals.” And he did so. And he said to him, “Wrap your cloak round you and follow me.” 9 And he went out and followed him. 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 the second guard, they came to the iron gate leading into the city. It opened for them of its own accord, and they went out and went along one street, and immediately the angel left him. 11 When Peter came to himself, he said, “Now I am sure that the Lord has sent his angel and rescued me from the hand of Herod and from all that the Jewish people were expecting.”
12 When he realized this, he went to the house of Mary, the mother of John whose other name was Mark, where many were gathered together and were praying. 13 And when he knocked at the door of the gateway, a servant girl named Rhoda came to answer. 14 Recognizing Peter’s voice, in her joy she did not open the gate but ran in and reported that Peter was standing at the gate.15 They said to her, “You are out of your mind.” But she kept insisting that it was so, and they kept saying, “It is his angel!” 16 But Peter continued knocking, and when they opened, 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 brought him out of the prison. And he said, “Tell these things to James and to the brothers.” Then he departed and went to another place.
18 Now when day came, there was no little disturbance among the soldiers over what had become of Peter. 19 And after Herod searched for him and did not find him, he examined the sentries and ordered that they should be put to death. Then he went down from Judea to Caesarea and spent time there.
God Protects (Sometimes)
God is about God’s work and we are his creation. To keep Peter alive was beneficial for his work, but only for the time being. Peter, so we hear, was crucified upside down in Rome eventually. Before this passage James was executed. God does not rescue people from harm all the time. He does not always keep his followers safe. However, in some instances he decides to rescue his followers because it is in the best interests of all involved.
Peter’s story is less about Peter and his friends and more about what God is able to do when he mobilizes his power. God is not compelled by the moral imperatives that we construct. We believe that it is right and good that no-one should suffer. We believe that all god people should be free to live and go about their lives as they choose. God sees a greater god that sometimes comes through suffering and he sees a greater good that sometimes comes through imprisonment.
Peter’s release shows how important the message was that Peter carried. If all the disciples were dispatched to be with God in quick succession, who would communicate their eye-witness account of the death and resurrection of Jesus. God wants the story to be told and so he releases Peter to keep spreading the good news. Peter is glad to serve God and is surrendered to God’s will. If by living or dying a disciple serves God, they are open to either option. Paul puts it well in Philippians when he writes that ‘to live is Christ and to die is gain.’ In this way of thinking James may have had the better end of the deal when he died by the sword and was ushered into the presence of God.
We do not have a faith that thinks in these terms. We have a faith that chooses ease and comfort. We miss on seeing God work powerfully because we live in ignorance and cowardice. Stories like this open us up to possibilities we have forgotten.
Lord, we were created for your pleasure. Use us in life or death in ways that you see fit.
- What happened to James?
- What happened to Peter?
- How have you processed the difference?
- Why do we solve for comfort in our world?
- What would God do if we were open to both miracle and death?