Acts 12:6-11 The night before Peter was to be placed on trial, he was asleep, fastened with two chains between two soldiers. Others stood guard at the prison gate. 7 Suddenly, there was a bright light in the cell, and an angel of the Lord stood before Peter. The angel struck him on the side to awaken him and said, “Quick! Get up!” And the chains fell off his wrists. 8 Then the angel told him, “Get dressed and put on your sandals.” And he did. “Now put on your coat and follow me,” the angel ordered. 9 So Peter left the cell, following the angel. But all the time he thought it was a vision. He didn’t realize it was actually happening. 10 They passed the first and second guard posts and came to the iron gate leading to the city, and this opened for them all by itself. So they passed through and started walking down the street, and then the angel suddenly left him. 11 Peter finally came to his senses. “It’s really true!” he said. “The Lord has sent his angel and saved me from Herod and from what the Jewish leaders had planned to do to me!”
Here’s an interesting question that I’ve been thinking on: how do we expect God to save us? Before you answer: “through Jesus,” what I mean is: “yeah, but how do we experience that on our side of the fence?” I have noticed that the answer to this question differs greatly from experience to experience, tradition to tradition. (Tradition being simply the experiences of many in a community enshrined in that communities lore)
Some Christians think we experience this through one day babbling in a language we don’t understand (and unless you do, you’re not ‘in’). Some are expecting a ‘Damascus road’ experience and therefore live life feeling like they’ve never quite arrived. Some others feel that it’s the confidence that comes from theological correct-ness and hence, ironically, risk falling into the view that Jesus is once our saviour and continually Lord when he is in fact both.
So, this question matters.
Also, like most who approach this subject, I’ll include a disclaimer: I’m not claiming to put forward any hard ‘formula’ or anything like that, but rather my own experience reflected back to me thru the biblical text thus granting me clarity unable to be reached through mere human means.
Now meanwhile, I have been loving reading thru the book of Acts and have recently come across chapter 12 and there’s the apostle Peter in prison. As I was reading thru this several thoughts really struck me and I began to wonder if God was trying to tell me something.
Let me deal with them one by one. Hopefully, the end result will be biblical, encouraging and applicable particularly as we face the new year.
- Peter was in prison.
Aren’t we all? I mean that’s the fall in a nutshell. People kind of sense that there is something wrong with the world and that we are ‘imprisoned’ in some way. It’s why people make movies like the matrix (just see it and you’ll know what I mean), chase after distractions like non-stop gaming, have an unrealistic view of relationships like pornography, feel the need to self-medicate like with drugs and alcohol, expect fulfilment from their kids like ‘beauty pageant mums’ and get super nervous when you talk about objective truth.
Genesis says that stuff’s gone wrong. But the ramifications are ongoing in our everyday lives.
Have you ever felt imprisoned in your mind?
It’s one of the scariest experiences I can think of.
If you look closely earlier on in verse 4 it says that King Herod put Peter under the guard of 4 times 4 soldiers. That’s 16 dudes guarding one apostle Peter. This is classic ‘Bad guy’ stuff. Herod’s not just guarding Peter, he intimidating him. As I read this text the first thought that came into my mind was ‘This is a picture of Satan.’ No, Satan does not put roman soldiers around us but as a friend of mine once said: Satan is after your mind and I know a heck of a lot of people who have spent a heck of a lot of time being controlled by a heck of a lot of fear(s).
I instantly recognised from my own experience, the big, scary, fearsome guards that begin to ‘draw their sword’ at me every time I decide to step forward in faith. Sometimes they have gotten the better of me and I have cowered back in fear.
And then ‘that’ voice starts; “see, I told you couldn’t do it, you’re just a fake, a liar and a fraud.” -Ever had to deal with that voice?
If you have (and by the way –spoiler alert-) I have news for you, Look at the end of the story. Look at the truth.
Ultimately, all those guards couldn’t do a thing to stop Peter walking right out of that prison as he followed God’s messenger.
Which leads me on to thought 2.
- Peter’s predicament matters to God
Again, earlier on it says that the church was praying fervently for Peter’s release. (v5) so yes what a wonderful passage this is on the power of fervent prayer. However, who put the urge in them to pray?
Come to think of it, where do you get the impulse to pray?
The point is that what Peter is going through really matters to God. But this is because Peter matters to God. That is, it’s not simply that the cultural ‘war effort’ and church expansion is faltering and God somehow needs one of his top agents off the bench and back ‘into the game.’
We know from Paul’s conversion that God can recruit a pretty successful evangelist in a pretty short space of time!
No, Peter personally matters to God. We matter to God. You, actually matter to God. The reason why God breaks into any ‘prison’ and rescues anyone at any time anywhere is because and only because he loves them. (Read Exodus recently?)
Please see the significance of this, because if we don’t we’re doomed to a lifetime of works theology which ironically seals us off from really knowing him. God is absolutely, incomparably, ferociously……beautiful. He is the most beautiful person you’ll ever know. “He is the thought of which no higher thought can be ever thought.” –Anselm
Until he’s beautiful, you can’t find him trustworthy. Until you know him as trustworthy your obedience will never be joyful. If you’re obedience isn’t joyful, you’re not worshipping him no matter how many songs you sing.
But he’s beautiful. The God of the universe is concerned about one lonely human being. No one would have even dreamed of that in the religious/cultic atmosphere of the day, much less make it up.
Peter matters to God. You matter to God. Why do we assume that God would never assign an angel to us when unto us he already gave his only Son?
- The Chains fell off
The angel struck him on the side to awaken him and said, “Quick! Get up!” And the chains fell off his wrists. 8 Then the angel told him, “Get dressed and put on your sandals.” And he did. “Now put on your coat and follow me.
The angel doesn’t free Peter from prison he frees him from his chains. The doors do not fall off. The chains do.
Please notice the difference between how evil works, and how God works. When Herod wants Peter to be in a certain place, he chains him to his agents (the soldiers). When God wants Peter to escape, he sends a message to follow. Notice how only the latter includes a choice.
The angel walks out of the prison. The doors open for the angel. Otherwise the angel would have disappeared way, way sooner than the city street. So, question: what if Peter never followed him?
I wonder if this story is in the Word of God at least partly because Peter did end up following him? Because this is faith. Faith, from our immediate perspective is not the inability to turn away but the choice to follow. It is only after and experience of consistent faith choices that we realize that God is in fact holding us in his hand.
Just. Keep. Choosing. Faith. Choosing God.
Your reasons to are better than you may think, and some day it will all make sense. Which leads me to my favourite thought:
- ‘That’ realization.
(V11) Peter finally came to his senses. “It’s really true!”
This is extraordinary.
It’s extraordinary because it denotes that everything else felt like a dream to Peter. He thought it was a vision. Everything that has gone before this verse (and that includes following the angel out into the street) has in some regard seemed to Peter like unreality in some way.
This tells me that every step he has taken up to this point has been on a kind of ‘Spiritual auto-pilot’ not really 100% sure of what is going on but stepping on anyway, following God’s (via the angel) command.
Often it is the darkness of doubt, even to the point of things feeling like they are all just a dream which exposes the absolute bedrock of who we are and what is in our heart. After this experience, Peter knows deep down in his heart that his ultimate spiritual ‘fallback point’ is obedience to God’s word, whether it feels real or like a dream. How wonderful is that moment, so beautifully described in the NLT “It’s true!”
Tim Keller says that being Spirit filled is having your head screwed on straight. He’s saying that there’s a realization that happens. When we are filled with the Spirit we all od a sudden perceive Spiritual things: ‘Oh wow! God is actually there,…..and he cares……for me….Woah!!!’
Have you had that experience? If you have, cherish it, it’s the greatest gift. If you haven’t keep pursuing God, keep knocking for the door WILL be opened. It’s coming.
Faith comes before confidence.
You can’t walk on water without getting out of the boat.
If 100% confidence came before faith, faith would not be faith but……confidence!
- One last thing:
Perhaps in my life, the most special thing that this text clarified to me is this: God is well advanced in the act of saving Peter before Peter is aware of it.
I love journaling. As I look over my journals which I do not do anywhere near enough, I see that well,…. in so many areas God is well advanced in his saving activity in Peter’s life before Peter is even aware of what he is doing!!
What might God be doing in your life, that you are not even aware of yet?
What prayer is being answered concerning you right now that you are not even aware of yet?
What are you doing in faith, waiting for an answer? It’s coming in fact it may have already happened (what about all those believers in Damascus who never felt the wrath of Saul due to God’s intervention?) you just don’t perceive it yet.
But clarity is coming, in the mean time…..just follow.
Just follow his voice.
Walk past the guards in your life put there by the evil king, if you’re walking towards God, they can’t ultimately stop you.