In our study of Acts chapter twelve, we get to see an example of how God takes care of his people. In chapter eleven, Peter began to take the gospel to the Gentile (non-Jewish) people and this upset the religious establishment leading to his being jailed.
It was about this time that King Herod arrested some who belonged to the church, intending to persecute them. He had James, the brother of John, put to death with the sword. When he saw that this pleased the Jews, he proceeded to seize Peter also. This happened during the Feast of Unleavened Bread.
As the church was expanding, opposition grew in Jerusalem as it was believed that this threatened the government as well as the Jewish religious establishment. The King Herod that is mentioned is the same one that ordered the killing of all male children two years old and younger in the area of Bethlehem after the birth of Jesus. The James that was put to the sword was one of the first disciples that Jesus called. As Herod saw that the Jews were happy about him killing Christians, he even arrested Peter during the Feast of Unleavened Bread. This feast is where the Jews remembered that God delivered them out of Egypt. Because of the festival, Peter was not tried immediately but was put in jail until the end of the celebration.
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. So Peter was kept in prison, but the church was earnestly praying to God for him.
Herod would not offend the Jews by having a trial during the holy feast so Peter sat in prison. He must have been really intent on killing Peter as sixteen men were assigned to make sure he did not escape. Meanwhile the group of believers were praying for him.
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. 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.
What a rescue! It is amazing that Peter could be sleeping while he was chained between two soldiers on the night before his scheduled trial and execution. God sent an angel and the chains fell off of Peter. This is also a beautiful picture of salvation as we are chained to sin but released through Jesus Christ. It can also be a comfort in that it is yet another example of how God takes care of his own people. Herod had his big plans for Peter but God had other plans and he is in control. The same is true for us today as the God of Peter's day is the same God of today!
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. 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.
It must have seemed like a dream to see God working in this way. Even so, Peter was obedient to the working of God and followed the angel out of the prison. This is a good example for us as we too may be in situations that just seem like a dream but in fact are God in action. We have to learn to watch, listen, and act whenever prompted. Peter could have not believed and just sat in the cell which would have led to him being killed the next day. There are missed opportunities and consequences to not listening and watching for God's work in our lives.
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. Then Peter came to himself and said, 'Now I know without a doubt that the Lord sent his angel and rescued me from Herod's clutches and from everything the Jewish people were anticipating.'
Peter was sort of dazed as they simply walked past the guards. When they came to the gate it just opened by itself as they passed out into the city. After the angel was gone, Peter came around and figured that he couldn't have done this by himself and so came to appreciate what the Lord had done. It seems that we sometimes walk around in a daze not seeing what God is doing in and around us. We think that our efforts are so important and many even walk around in a daze not appreciating what Jesus has done for them on the cross. We need to slow down, watch and listen to appreciate God working in our lives.
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.
So, after Peter realized that it wasn't a dream, he went to a house where many of the disciples were gathered and they were praying. The interesting thing here is that they weren't at a fancy building or temple but were simply at a believer's home.
Peter knocked at the outer entrance, and a servant girl named Rhoda came to answer the door. When she recognized Peter's voice, she was so overjoyed she ran back without opening it and exclaimed, 'Peter is at the door!' 'You're out of your mind,' they told her. When she kept insisting that it was so, they said, 'It must be his angel.'
This is a very strange passage in that, in verse 12, we were told that they had gathered at this house and were praying. But, when God answered the prayer, they did not immediately believe it. We are not told exactly what they were praying but, as we can see, they were not prepared for God's answer. They, as well as us today, should expect our prayers to be answered and not be surprised when God works. Jesus himself encouraged us to pray and to believe that they will be answered.
But Peter kept on knocking and when they opened the door and saw him, they were astonished. 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 brothers about this,' he said, and then he left for another place.
What a lesson we have here in that, when God is at work in your life, you should tell others about it. After being rescued from prison and the death penalty, all Peter asks of those that were gathered is for them to tell others of what God had done. As Christians, that should be us every day as well as we see God at work in our lives. Maybe it is not God rescuing us from prison every day but, if we are watching we will see God at work in our daily lives and every day is an opportunity to tell others about what God is doing.
In the morning, there was no small commotion among the soldiers as to what had become of Peter. 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 a while.
It seems that Herod was always at odds with God's plan. At Jesus' birth, he had the little children killed because he couldn't find Jesus and now he has the guards killed because he can't find Peter. You would think that maybe he would stop and realize that something bigger than himself is going on but he doesn't. The same can probably be said of us at times as God is at work and we don't take notice and we may even get frustrated, like Herod, and do bad things. That is why we must be always in prayer and looking for God at work in our lives.
He had been quarreling with the people of Tyre and Sidon; they now joined together and sought an audience with him. Having secured 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. On the appointed day Herod, wearing his royal robes, sat on his throne and delivered a public address to the people. They shouted, 'This is the voice of a god, not of a man.' 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.
Things must have been looking pretty good for Herod as he had killed some of the disciples and then some of his enemies came to him to ask for peace. He gave a big speech and the crowd loved it and even lifted him up as a god. But, God is a jealous god and does not share his position with anyone and so Herod was killed by an angel of the Lord. We all probably know of someone that is openly hostile to Jesus Christ but it seems like they are still prospering in the world. This passage can serve to remind us that God is in control and he will take care of those who elevate themselves to God's throne.
But the word of God continued to increase and spread. When Barnabas and Saul had finished their mission, they returned from Jerusalem, taking with them John, also called Mark.
No matter what rulers tried to do or the people they arrested, God's word spread. That was true then and it is also true today as there are many countries where the leaders try to keep the people from hearing the gospel but God is still in control and working there.