Herod Causes Trouble
1At that time King Herod caused terrible suffering for some members of the church. 2He ordered soldiers to cut off the head of James, the brother of John. 3 When Herod saw that this pleased the Jewish people, he had Peter arrested during the Festival of Thin Bread. 4He put Peter in jail and ordered four squads of soldiers to guard him. Herod planned to put him on trial in public after the festival.
5While Peter was being kept in jail, the church never stopped praying to God for him.
Peter Is Rescued
6The night before Peter was to be put on trial, he was asleep and bound by two chains. A soldier was guarding him on each side, and two other soldiers were guarding the entrance to the jail. 7Suddenly an angel from the Lord appeared, and light flashed around in the cell. The angel poked Peter in the side and woke him up. Then he said, “Quick! Get up!”
The chains fell off his hands, 8and the angel said, “Get dressed and put on your sandals.” Peter did what he was told. Then the angel said, “Now put on your coat and follow me.” 9Peter left with the angel, but he thought everything was only a dream. 10They went past the two groups of soldiers, and when they came to the iron gate to the city, it opened by itself. They went out and were going along the street, when all at once the angel disappeared.
11Peter now realized what had happened, and he said, “I am certain that the Lord sent his angel to rescue me from Herod and from everything the Jewish leaders planned to do to me.” 12Then Peter went to the house of Mary the mother of John whose other name was Mark. Many of the Lord's followers had come together there and were praying.
13Peter knocked on the gate, and a servant named Rhoda came to answer. 14When she heard Peter's voice, she was too excited to open the gate. She ran back into the house and said Peter was standing there.
15“You are crazy!” everyone told her. But she kept saying it was Peter. Then they said, “It must be his angel.” 16But Peter kept on knocking, until finally they opened the gate. They saw him and were completely amazed.
17Peter motioned for them to keep quiet. Then he told how the Lord had led him out of jail. He also said, “Tell James and the others what has happened.” After that, he left and went somewhere else.
18The next morning the soldiers who had been on guard were terribly worried and wondered what had happened to Peter. 19Herod ordered his own soldiers to search for him, but they could not find him. Then he questioned the guards and had them put to death. After this, Herod left Judea to stay in Caesarea for a while.
God sees us and cares about the circumstances in which we are living. Peter was in prison for the third time, where he was awaiting trial and almost certain death. He may have been recalling this very moment when years later he wrote, “The Lord watches over everyone who obeys him, and he listens to their prayers. But he opposes everyone who does evil” (I Peter 3:12).
God intervened. The chains dropped from his wrists, the jail bars shook, and iron gates opened under the hand of God. It is curious, though, how often in this story Peter is told to do his part. Even in the midst of God orchestrating a miraculous escape he reserves a part for Peter. If God was going to do a miracle, why not do everything? Why ask Peter to do anything at all? Peter puts on his clothes and shoes, walks out of the prison in his own strength, then within yards of the prison gate he is left to carry on without the aid of a visible escort. It is amazing how God often chooses to involve us in his activity. He asks us to do the ordinary while he accomplishes the extraordinary. We are not passive bystanders; we are active participants in the activity of God!
Peter is not the only one doing his part; the church is doing their part as well. The turning point in this story is the phrase, “but prayer.” We can never afford to underestimate the power of a praying church. Prayer remains our one and only resource as a church, not merely our last resort. What about you? What is your part in God’s activity? What has he asked you to do?
Almighty God, Through Christ alone you break our chains and give us freedom. You invite us to be active participants in your activity. We are ready now to do our part to join you in what you are doing to bring freedom and healing to others. In the name of Jesus our liberator, Amen.