12:9 So he went out and followed him, and did not know that what was done by the angel was real, but thought he was seeing a vision. 10 When they were past the first and the second guard posts, they came to the iron gate that leads to the city, which opened to them of its own accord; and they went out and went down one street, and immediately the angel departed from him.
11 And when Peter had come to himself, he said, “Now I know for certain that the Lord has sent His angel, and has delivered me from the hand of Herod and from all the expectation of the Jewish people.”
12 So, when he had considered this, he came to the house of Mary, the mother of John whose surname was Mark, where many were gathered together praying. 13 And as Peter knocked at the door of the gate, a girl named Rhoda came to answer. 14 When she recognized Peter’s voice, because of her gladness she did not open the gate, but ran in and announced that Peter stood before the gate. 15 But they said to her, “You are beside yourself!” Yet she kept insisting that it was so. So they said, “It is his angel.”
16 Now Peter continued knocking; and when they opened the door and saw him, they were astonished. 17 But motioning to them with his hand to keep silent, he declared to them how the Lord had brought him out of the prison. And he said, “Go, tell these things to James and to the brethren.” And he departed and went to another place.
Picture the scene. A group of believers who know Peter well are gathered at the home of Mary, the mother of John Mark, praying for Peter. (John Mark is the author of the gospel of Mark and not to be confused with John the disciple who wrote the gospel of John.)
It's late at night or early in the morning. Perhaps they have been praying together since the day before or perhaps they have gathered under the cover of darkness out of fear of the authorities. Their time together is interrupted by knocking at the gate. Rhoda goes out to see who is there. This is curious to me. Should she be alone considering the time of night? At any rate she recognizes Peter and in her excitement goes back to tell the others leaving him outside the gate still. It reminds me of the woman at the well who when she realized who Jesus was ran back to the village leaving her water and forgetting the very reason she came to the well in the first place. It shows how excited Rhoda was. Her excitement is soon challenged. No one in the house believes her. Even after she insists they say it can't be. It must be his angel. Strange thing to say but history tells us that the Jews believed every person has a guardian angel, a truth Jesus affirmed. They also believed that when one of these angels took on human form it was the likeness of the person they guarded. The Bible does not affirm this belief.
However the strange part in all this is not their beliefs about angels. The strange part is that they have been praying constantly for Peter yet when their prayers are answered they don't believe it.
Have you ever prayed like that? Have you ever prayed expecting no answer? Have you ever prayed believing the answer was impossible?
I don't like Acts 12. For me it is a sad chapter. It is a turning point. It seems to be the beginning of the end. James is murdered by Herod and it seems to have altered the early believers in a way that they never recovered from. When they finally go outside to see what Rhoda is talking about they find Peter. He comes in and hurriedly shares with them what happened and then he goes into hiding.
This is Peter. The same Peter who would preach in the temple, get arrested, be told never to speak of Jesus again, get released and then go directly back to the temple until he was arrested again. This is the same Peter who lead the church in praying for boldness. The same Peter who wanted to walk on water and drew a sword in the garden of Gethsemane. Fearless Peter has become fearful. Bold Peter has become cautious. In your face Peter has gone into hiding.
It seems the death of James has changed the church. The still pray but their expectations of an answer are lower. They still preach but not in the face of death.
Acts is a humbling read. It illustrates how far from the bold, relentless, gates of hell destroying faith the Christian church has drifted. It shows what could be happening in the world if we were Spirit filled and faith filled. Yet even then the church was not perfect. Revelation describes the first era of Christianity as doing great things but losing her first love, that primal passion that throws caution to the wind.
Peter for the first time since the cross takes the path of self-preservation. Many today applaud what he did as wise. We say he was street smart. We comfort ourselves that we need to choose our moments and battles wisely. What usually ends up happening is that we don't battle at all, especially when it matters most. We spend our passion preaching to the converted and say nothing to the world.
It seems when James died the Church began to die also. Tragedy has a way of taking the good out of us but I have to wonder if it needs to. If God could unchain Peter from between two guards and walk him past two more sets of guards and out through the prison gates could He not continue to protect him from Herod without Peter having to hide?
When I pray do I believe He can actually answer? Am I hiding for the sake of self-preservation? What Church do I belong to: the church of boldness or the church of fear?