Now when Herod was about to bring him out, on that very night, Peter was sleeping between two soldiers, bound with two chains, and sentries before the door were guarding the prison. 7 And behold, an angel of the Lord stood next to him, and a light shone in the cell. He struck Peter on the side and woke him, saying, “Get up quickly.” And the chains fell off his hands. 8 And the angel said to him, “Dress yourself and put on your sandals.” And he did so. And he said to him, “Wrap your cloak around you and follow me.” 9 And he went out and followed him. He did not know that what was being done by the angel was real, but thought he was seeing a vision. 10 When they had passed the first and the second guard, they came to the iron gate leading into the city. It opened for them of its own accord, and they went out and went along one street, and immediately the angel left him. 11 When Peter came to himself, he said, “Now I am sure that the Lord has sent his angel and rescued me from the hand of Herod and from all that the Jewish people were expecting.” – Acts 12:6-11
Several years ago my wife surprised me for a milestone birthday – and I mean really surprised me! Somehow she was able to keep me awake until 12 midnight the day before my birthday. When the clock turned 12:01 a.m. – now it’s my birthday – all of a sudden the doorbell rang. It was three couples, friends of ours, with noisemakers, confetti, and a cheer: “Surprise! Happy Birthday.” I was indeed surprised. But that was only the first salvo. The kicker came later that afternoon – 14 hours later – when we came home from a movie and I was surprised by the “real party.” I was certainly surprised.
I’m wondering if Peter was similarly surprised at his sudden release from prison. I don’t think he was expecting the angel to show up. In fact he wasn’t even sure the angel was real; maybe this was all a vision. But one after another guards were being passed by. Step after step he is closer and closer to complete freedom. It seems that he was in a daze as the angel was leading him and he was being freed from prison.
But free he was – and now on his own, for the angel immediately left him. He’s in the street. He’s free. He is also aware that he has been delivered by the Lord, who sent his angel to free him from the threat of Herod’s harm and the Jewish people’s bad intentions toward him.
This was far more significant than a surprise birthday party. It was even more momentous than being suddenly sprung from jail. This was deliverance from severe danger and great potential harm. There will come a time when Peter will face death himself, and he will not be delivered by an angel or even a friendly official. Tradition says that he was crucified, but requested that he be crucified upside down.
But for now Peter is free. What will he do? Will he sulk back to Jerusalem and not risk proclaiming the name of Jesus any more? Will he play it safe in an attempt to be politically-correct? Will he lay low and hope no one follows up with him about this message of Jesus’ resurrection that he has been sharing?
This story illustrates God’s involvement in the hard places of life. Chains, soldiers, guards, and gates will not prevent God from coming to our rescue. Perhaps you are facing a challenge greater than you can easily escape. Know this: God can get to you wherever you are. Watch for his deliverance. Rejoice in his rescue. It may not be as dramatic as an angel’s visit to a jail cell, but he is still at work in the world.
Far more profound is this: God visited our world and released us from sin, death, and the devil. We’ll never repay him for this, but we can certainly live for him as best we can each day.