God-Soaked World Bible Guide – Day 40
April 14, 2017
Friday, April 14– Acts 12:1-19
12 About that time King Herod laid violent hands upon some who belonged to the church. 2 He had James, the brother of John, killed with the sword. 3 After he saw that it pleased the Jews, he proceeded to arrest Peter also. (This was during the festival of Unleavened Bread.) 4 When he had seized him, he put him in prison and handed him over to four squads of soldiers to guard him, intending to bring him out to the people after the Passover. 5 While Peter was kept in prison, the church prayed fervently to God for him.
6 The very night before Herod was going to bring him out, Peter, bound with two chains, was sleeping between two soldiers, while guards in front of the door were keeping watch over the prison. 7 Suddenly an angel of the Lord appeared and a light shone in the cell. He tapped Peter on the side and woke him, saying, “Get up quickly.” And the chains fell off his wrists. 8 The angel said to him, “Fasten your belt and put on your sandals.” He did so. Then he said to him, “Wrap your cloak around you and follow me.” 9 Peter went out and followed him; he did not realize that what was happening with the angel’s help was real; he thought he was seeing a vision. 10 After they had passed the first and the second guard, they came before the iron gate leading into the city. It opened for them of its own accord, and they went outside and walked along a lane, when suddenly the angel left him. 11 Then Peter came to himself and said, “Now I am sure that the Lord has sent his angel and rescued me from the hands of Herod and from all that the Jewish people were expecting.”
12 As soon as he realized this, he went to the house of Mary, the mother of John whose other name was Mark, where many had gathered and were praying. 13 When he knocked at the outer gate, a maid named Rhoda came to answer. 14 On recognizing Peter’s voice, she was so overjoyed that, instead of opening the gate, she ran in and announced that Peter was standing at the gate. 15 They said to her, “You are out of your mind!” But she insisted that it was so. They said, “It is his angel.” 16 Meanwhile Peter continued knocking; and when they opened the gate, they saw him and were amazed. 17 He motioned to them with his hand to be silent, and described for them how the Lord had brought him out of the prison. And he added, “Tell this to James and to the believers.” Then he left and went to another place.
18 When morning came, there was no small commotion among the soldiers over what had become of Peter. 19 When Herod had searched for him and could not find him, he examined the guards and ordered them to be put to death. Then he went down from Judea to Caesarea and stayed there.
Points of Interest:
- There’s a lot happening in this section, much of it brutal and challenging from the perspective of the faith community. The King Herod in this chapter is Herod Agrippa, grandson of the tyrannical Herod the Great and both brother-in-law and nephew (don’t ask) to Herod Antipas, who was complicit in the deaths of Jesus and John the Baptist.
- Murder and tyranny run in the family, and this Herod is suppressing followers of Jesus, executing the James that was in the original company of twelve apostles, and imprisoning Peter, another one of the twelve.
- One more contextual note: Jews are mentioned a couple of times in this passage. Our author’s language isn’t particularly precise. Everyone in the passage (angel maybe aside) is Jewish. Herod is a Jewish government official in bed with the Roman oppressors. Peter and his friends and supporters (including the dead James and the living James, Jesus’ biological brother who was leader of the church in Jerusalem) are all Jewish followers of Jesus. And the people the author calls Jews are the majority Jewish culture in and around Rome, Jews that don’t follow Jesus and aren’t interested in spiritual sects that distract from their hope of getting the Roman government off their backs.
- Peter’s Jedi-like, angel-assisted prison break is nothing short of miraculous. It’s the big and hard-to-imagine, so-good-you-had-to-be-there-to-believe-it event at the center of this account. Even Peter finds it hard to believe at first
- I love the very personal window into this first cohort of Jewish followers of Jesus that included Peter, both Jameses, all the Marys, and the overjoyed but also confused and overwhelmed maid named Rhoda. They seem like they live dramatic and unpredictable lives in these first years of the establishment of a Jesus-centered faith community in Jerusalem.
- Peter and friends have a really interesting perspective. They live under the ultimate rule of one of the world’s largest ever imperial powers, Rome, one that just a few years ago had crucified their teacher and God-in-the-flesh, Jesus. They’re now being persecuted by a sellout of their own ethnicity, the brutal and corrupt and unpredictable Herod. One of their leaders has been executed by Herod and another has just escaped imprisonment. But with each great thing they see God doing, they rejoice and are encouraged. They seem to be really focused on the good they see God doing, rather than all the bad in the world that God doesn’t seem to be doing anything about, at least from their perspective.
Prayer for your church – Pray that you and others in your church would cultivate the attitude this community had, not ignorant to the corruption and brutality of the world and many of its leaders, but also not focused on it as your primary reality. Ask God for help to see every good thing God is doing and to celebrate each bit of that whole-heartedly.
Spiritual Exercise – This week our spiritual exercise will focus on hearing an invitation from the Spirit of God to a joyful life and welcoming the power of the Spirit of God to that end. What good has God done in your life, in your faith community, or in the world in recent days, as far as you can tell? Take some time to thank God for that and to celebrate it. Ask God to do more good and surprising things in your life and in and around your church, and ask for power to notice and celebrate this.