Are You With Me? | Charles Auld
Peter’s miraculous escape from prison
1 It was about this time that King Herod arrested some who belonged to the church, intending to persecute them. 2 He had James, the brother of John, put to death with the sword. 3 When he saw that this met with approval among the Jews, he proceeded to seize Peter also. This happened during the Festival of Unleavened Bread. 4 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.
5 So Peter was kept in prison, but the church was earnestly praying to God for him.
6 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. 7 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.
8 Then the angel said to him, ‘Put on your clothes and sandals.’ And Peter did so. ‘Wrap your cloak round you and follow me,’ the angel told him. 9 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. 10 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.
11 Then Peter came to himself and said, ‘Now I know without a doubt that the Lord has sent his angel and rescued me from Herod’s clutches and from everything the Jewish people were hoping would happen.’
12 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. 13 Peter knocked at the outer entrance, and a servant named Rhoda came to answer the door. 14 When she recognised Peter’s voice, she was so overjoyed she ran back without opening it and exclaimed, ‘Peter is at the door!’
15 ‘You’re out of your mind,’ they told her. When she kept insisting that it was so, they said, ‘It must be his angel.’
16 But Peter kept on knocking, and when they opened the door and saw him, they were astonished. 17 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 other brothers and sisters about this,’ he said, and then he left for another place.
18 In the morning, there was no small commotion among the soldiers as to what had become of Peter. 19 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. 20 He had been quarrelling with the people of Tyre and Sidon; they now joined together and sought an audience with him. After securing 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.
21 On the appointed day Herod, wearing his royal robes, sat on his throne and delivered a public address to the people. 22 They shouted, ‘This is the voice of a god, not of a man.’ 23 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.
24 But the word of God continued to spread and flourish.
Barnabas and Saul sent off
25 When Barnabas and Saul had finished their mission, they returned from Jerusalem, taking with them John, also called Mark.
Are you with me?
Luke’s account of Peter being led out of prison by an angel is quite a story! Chains falling off, walking past guards and through gates – and then standing knocking at the door of his friends’ house for ages because they didn’t let him in! What on earth was going on?
The book of Acts is Luke’s account of the growth of the Church, anchored in history. His factual description of Herod’s death later in the chapter agrees with another historian, Josephus. As part of that historical account, Luke tells us that Peter escaped miraculously from prison. We are given a strong indication as to how that could have happened: his friends were praying earnestly for his release.
This story shows that nothing human beings can do will be able to prevent the spread of the Gospel. It can only be held back, but not crushed. The Gospel message that Jesus died to pay the penalty for humankind’s sin, and that everyone has the opportunity to return to a relationship with God through faith in him – that has continued to spread through the centuries and throughout the world, in spite of opposition.
Though wickedness puts obstacles in the way of the Gospel spreading, prayer can help remove those obstacles. We have a God who hears his people’s prayers and who does intervene. As William Temple once said, and as many others can verify from their own experience: ‘When I pray, coincidences happen and when I don’t, they don’t.’
Many political decisions are taken that we know cannot be part of God’s will, and we can feel quite powerless. But there is power in prayer. We pray ‘your will be done’ whenever we say the Lord’s Prayer, and we can earth that in our everyday lives through specific prayers: for Christians to rise to positions of influence, and for leaders to have the wisdom to follow God’s ways.
But we can also unintentionally obstruct the spread of the Gospel. For example when God does answer a prayer, instead of making it clear to others that we are thanking God for this outcome, we might try to simply explain it away. So they don’t realise that God has been at work.
Will you start praying earnestly for God’s will to be done, here in Bristol, and when you see signs of him working in power, will you be ready to acknowledge that this is God at work? Jesus asked his disciples at a key point in his life: ‘Are you with me?’ He’s asking us that same question today. How will you answer?