12 It was about this time that King Herod arrested some who belonged to the church, intending to persecute them. 2 He had James, the brother of John, put to death with the sword. 3 When he saw that this met with approval among the Jews, he proceeded to seize Peter also. This happened during the Festival of Unleavened Bread. 4 After arresting him, he put him in prison, handing him over to be guarded by four squads of four soldiers each. Herod intended to bring him out for public trial after the Passover.
5 So Peter was kept in prison, but the church was earnestly praying to God for him.
6 The night before Herod was to bring him to trial, Peter was sleeping between two soldiers, bound with two chains, and sentries stood guard at the entrance. 7 Suddenly an angel of the Lord appeared and a light shone in the cell. He struck Peter on the side and woke him up. “Quick, get up!” he said, and the chains fell off Peter’s wrists.
8 Then the angel said to him, “Put on your clothes and sandals.” And Peter did so. “Wrap your cloak around you and follow me,” the angel told him. 9 Peter followed him out of the prison, but he had no idea that what the angel was doing was really happening; he thought he was seeing a vision. 10 They passed the first and second guards and came to the iron gate leading to the city. It opened for them by itself, and they went through it. When they had walked the length of one street, suddenly the angel left him.
11 Then Peter came to himself and said, “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.”
12 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. 13 Peter knocked at the outer entrance, and a servant named Rhoda came to answer the door. 14 When she recognized Peter’s voice, she was so overjoyed she ran back without opening it and exclaimed, “Peter is at the door!”
15 “You’re out of your mind,” they told her. When she kept insisting that it was so, they said, “It must be his angel.”
16 But Peter kept on knocking, and when they opened the door and saw him, they were astonished. 17 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.
18 In the morning, there was no small commotion among the soldiers as to what had become of Peter. 19 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.
Then Herod went from Judea to Caesarea and stayed there. 20 He had been quarreling with the people of Tyre and Sidon; they now joined together and sought an audience with him. After securing the support of Blastus, a trusted personal servant of the king, they asked for peace, because they depended on the king’s country for their food supply.
21 On the appointed day Herod, wearing his royal robes, sat on his throne and delivered a public address to the people. 22 They shouted, “This is the voice of a god, not of a man.” 23 Immediately, because Herod did not give praise to God, an angel of the Lord struck him down, and he was eaten by worms and died.
24 But the word of God continued to spread and flourish.
Barnabas and Saul Sent Off
25 When Barnabas and Saul had finished their mission, they returned fromJerusalem, taking with them John, also called Mark.
There is a lot of action and a lot of characters in these 25 verses. There were the Romans, ruling over the region in this text, and reliant on local Monarchs to rule on their behalf. There was a king, Herod, who though Jewish, was loyal to the Roman empire. There were the Jewish people, living in a land ruled by the King, but ultimately under Roman control. And there was the church, new followers of Jesus, including both Jewish and non-Jewish, also including some of the apostles.
Early in this text there was a power play by Herod. He and his bosses (the Romans) saw Jesus and his followers as a political threat. The church claimed Jesus as their long-awaited, rightful, anointed, King of the Jews. Herod decided to kill one of the leaders. Not the top leader, but one that was known. He chose James. When he got a positive reaction from the Jewish people, he stepped up his game and went for Peter, the leader of the church to this point. The church earnestly prayed for Peter, his release and life, and miraculously, Peter escaped from jail. When he appeared at Mary’s home where they had been praying, no one could believe it was him. That’s ironic!
Finally, Herod (Herod Agrippa I, there were several Herods in the Bible) left town, probably humiliated by Peter’s escape, and retreated to Ceasarea. There he fell to a swift and fatal illness. And the "Word of God continued to spread and flourish.” Here marks the end of the first half of Acts. Luke now transitions from this early church narrative with Peter as the head, to the spreading of churches with Paul (Saul) as the leader.
I’m struck by the human nature present in this story. Herod was living an insecure and threatened life, though he had an immense amount of power. The Jewish people and religious leaders refused to see the Messiah right in front of them, and encouraging the deadly tactics of Herod. The church, though fervently immersed in prayer, and witnesses to many miraculous happenings, still struggled to have faith in God. Power and authority didn’t matter here. Those with power didn’t have the right answers. Years of studying the scripture or following God didn’t matter. They still couldn’t see what God was doing. And even those who had grasped the weight of Jesus, still didn’t always have faith that God could do what God said he would do. I don’t know about you, but I can relate to all of them.
Who can you relate to in this story? What prevents you from having complete faith in God?
Wesley Covenant Prayer
I am no longer my own by yours. Put me to what you will, rank me with whom you will. Put me to doing, put me to suffering. Let me be employed for you or laid aside for you, exalted for you or brought low for you. Let me be full, let me be empty. Let me have all things, let me have nothing. I freely and wholeheartedly yield all things to your pleasure and disposal.
And now, glorious and blessed God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, you are mine and I am yours. So be it. And the covenant now made on earth, let it be ratified in heaven. Amen.
Scripture taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version ® NIV ®. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2014 by Biblica, Inc.®. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.