About ten years after the birth of the Church, Herod Agrippa I, the grandson of Herod the Great, was the King appointed by Rome to rule Judea. Wanting to please the majority of his subjects, the unbelieving Jews, he persecuted the Church. An important example is recounted in Acts 12:2-5, “Then he (Herod) killed James the brother of John with the sword. And because he saw that it pleased the Jews, he proceeded further to seize Peter also. Now it was during the Days of Unleavened Bread. So when he had arrested him, he put him in prison, and delivered him to four squads of soldiers to keep him, intending to bring him before the people after Passover. Peter was therefore kept in prison, but constant prayer was offered to God for him by the church.”
Jesus’ inner three Apostles while He was on earth were Peter, John and James, so naturally they were recognized leaders in the Church. Now one of the three was dead, and Peter (the unofficial leader) was in jail destined for the same fate-no wonder the Church was in constant prayer for Peter!
By this time the Church numbered over five thousand—–imagine the intensity and quantity of prayer offered for Peter over the eight days of the feast! Did they do any good?
A look at Acts 12:6-11 will tell us, “And when Herod was about to bring him out, that night Peter was sleeping, bound with two chains between two soldiers; and the guards before the door were keeping the prison. Now behold, an angel of the Lord stood by him, and a light shone in the prison; and he struck Peter on the side and raised him up, saying, ‘Arise quickly!’ And his chains fell off his hands. Then the angel said to him, ‘Gird yourself and tie on your sandals,’ and so he did. And he said to him, ‘Put on your garment and follow me.’ So he went out and followed him, and did not know that what was done by the angel was real, but thought he was seeing a vision. When they were past the first and the second guard posts, they came to the iron gate that leads to the city, which opened to them of its own accord; and they went out and went down one street, and immediately the angel departed from him. And when Peter had come to himself, he said, ‘Now I know for certain that the Lord has sent His angel, and has delivered me from the hand of Herod and from all the expectation of the Jewish people.’” Yes the Church’s prayers did great good! But so far only Peter knows it.
What happened next? Acts 12:12-14 “So, when he had considered this, he came to the house of Mary, the mother of John whose surname was Mark, where many were gathered together praying. And as Peter knocked at the door of the gate, a girl named Rhoda came to answer. When she recognized Peter’s voice, because of her gladness she did not open the gate, but ran in and announced that Peter stood before the gate.”
So what was their reaction? Acts 12:15-17 “But they said to her, ‘You are beside yourself!’ Yet she kept insisting that it was so. So they said, ‘It is his angel.’ Now Peter continued knocking; and when they opened the door and saw him, they were astonished.
But motioning to them with his hand to keep silent, he declared to them how the Lord had brought him out of the prison. And he said, ‘Go, tell these things to James and to the brethren.’ And he departed and went to another place.”
They prayed, which was good. But they didn’t believe that God would answer (note the three phrases in italics above), which was bad. God answered anyway, which was good!
Why did God do it in spite of their lack of faith?
- God was not through with Peter yet;
- Their prayers were in line with God’s intentions;
- God probably appreciated their love and concern for Peter and their wanting to do something to save him.
Why didn’t the Church have faith that God would answer? I don’t know for sure, but I would suggest that they were focused on:
- Rome’s awesome power behind the Kingship of Herod;
- The cruelty of Herod as evidenced by his murder of James;
- His intention to murder Peter also;
- The fact that Peter was already in prison, waiting for his execution;
- The fact that the Jews were pleased by James execution and eagerly awaiting the execution of Peter.
They should have been focused on God and His miracle working power that they had witnessed over and over.
I am afraid that I and most other Christians are guilty of similar surprise when God answers our prayers. Hopefully their experience will motivate us to focus on God and not on the problems or obstacles so that God will be pleased with our trust and confidence in Him.