From his admission that he didn’t have silver and gold to give a beggar we know that Peter did not have a lot in terms of material possessions but there were some things that he possessed that he could count on night and day, week in week out, whether life was tough or a little easier.
Peter wrote that what he possessed in Christ was an inheritance that can never perish spoil or fade.” (1 Peter 1:4)
Acts 12:1-19 reveals some of the things Peter possessed that we see in this story.
1. The Peace of God
Peter seems to have been able to sleep peacefully in a very uncomfortable place. When Peter wrote in 1 Peter 5:7 that we should, “Cast all your anxiety on him (that is Jesus) because he cares for you.” I have no doubt that he was speaking from his own experience. Otherwise how is it that faced with a trial the next day, which could end up with his execution could sleep?
Those three words, “Peter was sleeping” in v 6 are a great encouragement to me because they show how it is possible for a man to become more and more like Jesus. There was a time when under threat from soldiers, Peter had attacked them with a sword, there was a time when he tried to protect himself with words of denial, there was a time when fear of drowning made him question the quality of Jesus’s care for him and his friends. But now faced with death, just like Jesus slept in the boat Peter can sleep in peace in the midst of a storm of persecution.
When someone dies, they often leave a legacy. The legacy Jesus left his followers is found in John 14:27 “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.”
Peace is our legacy too. It is Paul who shows us what we should do to receive the peace we have been promised. Philippians 4:4-7 “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”
2. Praying friends
Whilst Peter slept peacefully his friends were up all night praying.
a) They prayed together
They could no doubt have prayed as individuals about the situation in the privacy of their own homes but there is something powerful that happens when Christians get together to pray. That is why for our next Pray for a Day by praying we will be scheduling more corporate sessions of prayer as well as giving people space to pray individually.
b) They prayed earnestly
The word used for earnestly (v5) is the same word used for the way Jesus prayed in the garden of Gethsemene. It contains the idea of something stretched out to the limits, like a muscle would be during intensive training in the gym. They weren’t repeating platitudes they were out to win a battle for the continuance and existence of their church. They were praying until they got answers.
They were urgent because they recognised the seriousness of their situation. They were in a crisis situation. I read a pastor’s comment on this story on the internet which challenged me.
“We have an example in this text of the local N.T. Church in Jerusalem in prayer during a time of crisis in their church. And we can see also in this text that their prayer was miraculously answered. Anytime a church is not experiencing souls being saved on a regular basis should be considered a crisis time.”
Honesty, leads me to admit that on that basis we have a crisis.
c) They prayed specifically
The church was earnestly praying for Peter. They concentrated on the matter that was on their minds. In other words rather than praying; “Lord bless all the sick we need to pray for and all those people we know who are ill,” The Church in Jerusalem didn’t pray; “Lord be with all who are in prison tonight,” they prayed for Peter who was in prison.
3. The Plan and Purpose of God
Peter had seen the crucifixion transformed into resurrection. He had seen the Church’s most ardent opponent, Saul turn to Christ and become a passionate believer. He had seen the Jerusalem Church struggling under persecution not only survive but spread into Samaria and far beyond so he knew God had a plan.
Personally, perhaps he remembered the promise of Jesus that when he was old, he would have to be guided by others. Peter wasn’t yet that old. If he believed the promise of Jesus then he could be assured that God had something other in mind for him than his death the next day.
But trust must always be accompanied by obedience. Peter was given instructions by the angel which he had to obey and whilst the angel kept the soldiers asleep and opened iron doors, Peter had to get up and walk in order to get out. This is a picture of what needs to happen to us all when we find Satan wants to prevent us from fulfilling the ministry to which the Holy Spirit has called us. We must like Peter do the things He asks of us in order to be free. God so often opens doors for us which we fail to go through.
This was not the first time Peter had escaped from prison. In Acts 5:18 – 20 he had been with the other apostles and an angel had let them out with the instruction to go back to the Temple and continue preaching. However just because God had repeated a miracle Peter did not assume that he should immediately go back into the public eye as he had done before.
It is very important that we do not try to relive past experience. God very often wants to do a new thing in a new day.
Also we must leave our vindication to God as well as our survival. Peter may have relished the thought of showing up Herod but this time the right thing to do was to go in hiding for a period. Had Peter been impetuous, as in the old days, he could have triggered the wholesale slaughter of Christians. As it happened God dealt with Herod Himself, once and for all. Peter didn’t have to engineer anything.
Peter was Peter and there will never be another one like him.
We may find ourselves in vastly different circumstances to him, yet the wonderful truth is that we can possess what he possessed. The peace of God that passes all understanding is our inheritance too. It is found through powerful prayer, through trusting in God’s plans and not our own and it is being prepared to obey.
1. What strikes you about the story?
2. What is your experience of the peace of God?
3. How much of a worrier are you? What do you worry about the most?
4. What is your reaction to the pastor’s statement that if we are not seeing people coming to faith regularly there is a crisis and we should be praying earnestly in response?
5. Who do we need to pray more intensely for at this time, in terms of them coming to faith in Christ?
6. Peter’s trust in God was accompanied by a willingness to obey him when God’s plans seemed to be following a different pattern. What assumptions do we make about how we should act when God has moved powerfully in our lives? What are the new things God is calling us to today?