ACTS 12: 5-10. So Peter was kept in the prison, but prayer for him was being made fervently by the church to God. On the very night when Herod was about to bring him forward, Peter was sleeping between two soldiers, bound with two chains, and guards in front of the door were watching over the prison. And behold, an angel of the Lord suddenly appeared and a light shone in the cell; and he struck Peter’s side and woke him up, saying, “Get up quickly.” And his chains fell off his hands. And the angel said to him, “Gird yourself and put on your sandals.” And he did so. And he said to him, “Wrap your cloak around you and follow me.” And he went out and continued to follow, and he did not know that what was being done by the angel was real, but thought he was seeing a vision. When they had passed the first and second guard, they came to the iron gate that leads into the city, which opened for them by itself; and they went out and went along one street, and immediately the angel departed from him.
The book of Acts was written by Luke, the writer of the the third Gospel of the same name. It is full of adventure and fascinating stories, and whether you’re an adventure lover or not, it’s a wonderful place to strengthen your faith. This story is no exception, but did you ever wonder why God led Luke to insert this story right here? It seems to be just kind of placed in the middle of an ongoing narrative. Chapter eleven ends with positive news of the spreading of the Gospel, and some of the adventures of Saul (Paul’s previous name) and Barnabas. Chapter 13 continues their journeys, but stuck here in the middle is this story? Why?
There could be a number of reasons, but first I’d like tell you about a trip I took this week. I traveled to a place I’ve been before, though I don’t particularly like to go there. I didn’t have to go, I just did. I know most of you have been there , although I didn’t run into you on this particular trip. I’m never happy to be there, and when I leave, I tell myself I’m not going back. Sometimes it seems like it’s a long way off, but it’s amazing how quickly you can get there…it’s called “the dumps”. I was “down in the dumps” this week. I knew you’d recognize the place once I told you about it. We’ll come back to this in a bit.
Maybe the reason Luke placed this story where he did is because he’s trying to emphasize just how corrupt this Roman Government was. Maybe he wanted to show how difficult and dangerous it was to follow Christ in Luke’s day, and the suffering that was involved. Perhaps he wanted to show how the church operates when it’s working as God designed it…with extreme faith.
But there’s another possibility—encouragement. Perhaps God wanted the readers of Acts to know what it’s like to be encouraged when they find themselves in extremely difficult circumstances, as Peter did.
If you read all of Chapter 12, you see that Herod had just recently had James, the brother of John, executed. Now Peter is thrown into prison. It seems that Herod is doing all in his power to kill the leaders of the church and to stop the spread of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. It’s a hard time to be a Christian. Verse four tells us that when Peter was put in prison there were four squads of soldiers to guard him. The King James uses the term “quaternions”. That means there were 4 groups of 4…16 soldiers guarding him. Verse six says he slept between two of them, bound by two chains.
And then comes verse five: So Peter was kept in prison, but prayer was being made earnestly to God for him by the church. And right smack of the verse we find the conjunction “but”. I read this verse in at least a half dozen translations and every one of them used this conjunction. So Peter was kept in prison “but”. This tiny little three letter word means big things…it means the story isn’t over.
Peter was kept in Prison, so what did the church do? They went to their knees. It wasn’t a last resort and it wasn’t an act of final desperation…it was their first reaction. Luke, through the power of the Holy Spirit, tells us this story for a reason. It was the only reasonable reaction to have and it’s the best place to turn to when it seems our world is crumbling.
I love the way Dr. Thomas Constable puts it in his commentary: “Prisons are no match for prayers”. What a powerful statement; think about it. Financial problems are no match for prayers…sickness is no match for prayers…grief is no match for prayers…the feeling of extreme helplessness is no match for prayers.
Preparing this study kind of made my trip to “the dumps” this week seem trivial. But trivial or not, go there I did and I needed help…we all do. I am so thankful I know the road out…prayer.
I hope you have a blessed week! Bobby