Tuesday, March 13, 2018

The Acts Of The Apostles. Day 42, The Believers Rejoice About Peter's Escape/Herod Executes The Guards

An angel freed Peter from prison during the night and he made his escape unnoticed by anyone, not even the sixteen soldiers Herod set to guard him. Peter thought at first he was just dreaming until he found himself standing outside the gates in the cool night air. This is when he said to himself, "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." (Acts 12:11)

We discussed yesterday that Peter doesn't mean all the Jewish people, just those in authority who have decided to be enemies of Christianity. Peter is an apostle to the Jews, his own people, and he loves them. A great number of them are now his brothers and sisters in Christ. But there is a certain faction that opposes the church in the same way they opposed Jesus of Nazareth, and it is this group that would rejoice to see Peter dead.

Luke tells us what Peter does when he realizes he is actually free from prison. "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." (Acts 12:12) This is the same Mark who wrote one of the four gospels.

"Peter knocked at the outer entrance, and a servant named Rhoda came to answer the door. When she recognized Peter's voice, she was so overjoyed she ran back without opening it and exclaimed, 'Peter is at the door!'" (Acts 12:13-14) I've always loved this humorous passage. Have you ever been so happy you don't know what to do? Rhoda certainly was! She immediately believes it's actually Peter outside the door, but she's so happy she forgets to do what she normally does when someone comes knocking.

What happens next is humorous too because it is so like us to be astonished when our prayers are actually answered. How many times do we pray earnestly about a certain thing while at the same time not really believing God is going to come through? During the entire Passover Week while Peter languished in prison these believers have been calling out to God to help him, yet when God actually does help him they can't believe it. "'You're out of your mind,' they told her. When she kept insisting that it was so, they said, 'It must be his angel.'" (Acts 12:15) If the Bible weren't true we wouldn't find so many of its characters struggling with doubts or making poor decisions or getting caught up in the clutches of sin. If the Bible were a book of fiction I believe all its characters would appear at their noble and unwavering best, but instead we find them displaying their faults for all the world to see. They do this because they know the power to do anything worthwhile for the kingdom of God has to come from God Himself. As the Apostle Paul once said, "But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us." (2 Corinthians 4:7) We are like plain old clay jars used for everyday (and sometimes unclean) purposes. But the power that makes us clean, that makes us able to accomplish things for the Lord, comes only from Him.

"But Peter kept on knocking, and when they opened the door and saw him, they were astonished." (Acts 12:16) The Lord has answered several prayers for me over the past few days. I'm just as astonished as Peter's friends were, astonished that the Most High God would bend down from heaven to hear the prayers of someone as weak and mistake-prone and doubtful as I often am. If I were Him I wouldn't give me the time of day. I can't explain why God loves me. I can't explain why God loves anyone. I just know that He does, so much so that He was willing to pay any price to redeem us. A God who loves us in this sacrificial way isn't going to turn a deaf ear to our prayers.

"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." (Acts 12:17) This is not the Apostle James. We learned yesterday that Herod has already beheaded him. This is James the brother of Jesus, a leader in the church at Jerusalem and the author of the Book of James. He didn't believe in Jesus until after the resurrection when Jesus met with him privately (1 Corinthians 15:7) but now he is willing to risk his very life to proclaim the gospel of his brother (and now his Lord) whom he previously scoffed at and ridiculed.

Luke doesn't tell us where Peter goes, but it's imperative that he gets out of Jerusalem as fast as he can. Herod will have him hunted down like an animal if he doesn't. The intense humiliation and overwhelming rage Herod experiences when he discovers Peter is missing causes him to execute sixteen of his own soldiers. "In the morning, there was no small commotion among the 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." (Acts 12:18-19) The guards who stood outside Peter's cell can't explain why he isn't there. The two guards who slept while chained to him have no idea why the chains are still hooked to them but not to Peter. Herod doesn't believe they don't know what happened. He probably thinks someone paid them a great deal of money to "lose" Peter, although if this were the case it's not logical to believe they would still be at the prison come morning. No, they would have been far away by morning, far from Herod's clutches. Herod can't put his finger on what is wrong at the prison. All he knows is that the sixteen men he placed in charge of Peter have failed to hold on to him and he decides the penalty for this should be death.

This is one of those stories that has an unexpected ending. The man who was supposed to meet his death has instead been set free. Those who were supposed to guard and eventually execute him have met their own deaths. As we will learn tomorrow, the clock is quickly winding down for Herod and his time on earth is about to be cut short. Out of all these characters, only Peter's situation looked hopeless, but God was on his side. With God on our side nothing can ever be hopeless. The God who loves us so much that He considered no price too high to pay will most certainly, for the sake of His Son in whom we believe, be willing to hear our prayers.

We close today with a link to a song that I feel goes wonderfully with our passage today. It speaks about the love of a God who loved us when we were at our worst, so much so that He searched high and low for us and pursued us with His love until He had us safe in His arms.
Reckless Love

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