Peter's Jailbreak: A meditation and retelling of Acts 12:5-19
A meditation and retelling of Acts 12:5-19 Introduction: It’s amazing to me how involved angels seemed to be in the early church. This is at least the third time Peter has encountered one: the first was after Jesus’ ascension (since the story in John of Peter at Jesus’ empty tomb didn’t indicate that he encountered the angels there). The second time was when an angel had helped Peter to escape prison once before, in Acts 5. Historians date that escape in the same year as Pentecost. Given that, I’m not sure why Peter was so surprised to find himself delivered this time, though it was estimated to be about twelve years later. Perhaps it wasn’t the deliverance that surprised him necessarily, but simply the fact that he felt he was having a vision. Maybe there was a dreamlike quality to this encounter because it was in the middle of the night. Still, though, James the brother of John, one of Jesus’ core three disciples, had just been martyred publicly by the sword, to the delight of the Jewish mob (Acts 12:1-3). It certainly looked like Peter might die the next morning, too, and Jesus himself told the disciples that they could not expect to escape persecution (Matthew 24:9, Mark 10:30). Despite all this, Peter slept so peacefully that the angel had to strike him to wake him up. Either he was not bothered by the prospect of death, or perhaps he expected that he would escape somehow, given Jesus’ prophecy that he would not be martyred until he was an old man (John 21:18). Since the story mentions that the church was praying for Peter constantly (Acts 12:5), perhaps it was their prayers that dispatched the angel to free him. We’re not told the exact cause and effect, though this seems to be the implication—even though they, too, were pretty shocked to see him when he showed up (Acts 12:14-16). This Mary was mother of John Mark, who wasn’t one of Jesus’ original apostles, but instead was Barnabas’s cousin (Colossians 4:10). Barnabas and John Mark both traveled with Saul, later called Paul (Acts 12:25). At this point, Saul and Barnabas were in town (Acts 11:30), and since Mary was Barnabas’s relative, it’s possible they were staying with Mary when Peter showed up. Saul’s conversion was estimated to be not quite a decade before this, though it would be around another six years before he went on his first missionary journey—so I wonder if the other believers were still getting used to him. Neither Barnabas nor Saul are mentioned in the story, though. Why in the world did the believers in Mary's home suppose it was more likely that it was Peter’s angel at the door (presumably his guardian angel, as mentioned in Matthew 18:10) than Peter himself? Were their encounters with angels in the early church really so common as that? Perhaps… an angel again appeared at the end of the chapter, to strike down Herod for his arrogance (Acts 12:23), which presumably meant Peter could return to the city freely. Later, an angel also appeared to Paul during the tempest at sea (Acts 27:24), and the writer of Hebrews mentions that sometimes we can entertain angels without knowing it (Hebrews 13:2). At least the early church didn’t consider encounters with angels nearly so unusual as we might today. Fictionalized Retelling: “Seize him!” Herod’s soldiers surrounded me even as I was in the middle of my sermon to the assembly of the Jews before the Temple. I had no hope of escape. My listeners scattered, and I turned a resigned expression upon my captors. Even as they shackled my wrists and led me away, I marveled somewhere in the back of my mind at how much had changed, in how short a period of time. These were the days of Unleavened Bread, leading up to the twelfth Passover since Jesus had been crucified. Nearly twelve years ago, I had denied Him. I’d feared for my own life, that I might share his fate. Now, even though my brother in the Lord, James, had been publicly executed by Herod only days before, a fate Herod surely intended for...
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February 04, 2022
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