(1) Now about that time Herod the king stretched forth his hands to vex certain of the church.
(2) And he killed James the brother of John with the sword.
(3) And because he saw it pleased the Jews, he proceeded further to take Peter also. (Then were the days of unleavened bread.)
Peter was on death row for his faith. Because he was imprisoned during the Passover (the time of unleavened bread), his execution was not immediate, but as far as Herod (Agrippa) was concerned, it was certain. In response to the crisis, the church held an all-night vigil, burned candles, and alerted the media in order to raise awareness of Peter’s plight. Oh, and thankfully, they had their lawyers on speed dial. (They has Sprinticus.) No. That likely would have been our response today, but for Peter “…prayer was made without ceasing of the church unto God for him” (Acts 12:5).
My response to crisis says a lot about my faith. If my first response is to fear and worry, then I am relying on myself to answer my needs. If my first response is to turn to others – not for prayer, but for help – then I’m relying on others to resolve my crises. But if my first response is to turn to God then I am looking to Him to deal with my problems.
Does faith often feel weak in the face of crisis? Sure it does. When we’re in the middle of calamity, the calamity appears a lot closer to us than God does, so it seems much bigger. But God honors even the tiniest bit of faith (Matthew 17:20). If you need more faith in times of trouble, pool your faith with that of others and pray with other believers. That’s exactly what the church did in Peter’s case.
The answer to our prayers is not always immediate, but it is always timely. Scripture does not say how long Peter was in jail, but we can infer from the narrative that the church started praying as soon as Peter was incarcerated, and that it was at least a few days before the angel of the Lord rescued him. God released him at a time when it would have maximum effect.
(7) And, behold, the angel of the Lord came upon him, and a light shined in the prison: and he smote Peter on the side, and raised him up, saying, Arise up quickly. And his chains fell off from his hands.
(8) And the angel said unto him, Gird thyself, and bind on thy sandals. And so he did. And he saith unto him, Cast thy garment about thee, and follow me.
Peter got dressed, and the angel took care of the rest. All the impossible obstacles were removed. Peter was not just chained between two guards. In Roman times that meant he was chained to two guards. No problem for God. God saw to it that the guards were out cold and He took Peter’s chains off. Next, Peter and the angel had to go through two wards to get to the outside. Again, no problem for God. A bright, shining angel, in the dead of night got Peter through a heavily guarded prison without anyone noticing. Now they faced a locked iron gate. As if the lock was not obstacle enough, the gate was probably something that took more than one person to open. Not a problem for God. God just opened it and no one said a word.
Our Lord answers our prayers beyond the scope of our comprehension, so it’s no wonder Peter thought he was seeing a vision! It wasn’t until he found himself outside the prison that it really dawned on him what had happened (Acts 12:11). It’s also no wonder that the church was surprised that Peter showed up at the door that morning (12:12-16).
(13) And as Peter knocked at the door of the gate, a damsel came to hearken, named Rhoda.
(14) And when she knew Peter’s voice, she opened not the gate for gladness, but ran in, and told how Peter stood before the gate.
Poor Rhoda is remembered as the girl who forgot to answer the door (12:13-4), but praise God we have a God Who never forgets to answer our prayers!