When Peter realized this, he went to the house of Mary, the mother of John whose other name was Mark, where many were gathered together and were praying. 13 And when he knocked at the door of the gateway, a servant girl named Rhoda came to answer. 14 Recognizing Peter’s voice, in her joy she did not open the gate but ran in and reported that Peter was standing at the gate. 15 They said to her, “You are out of your mind.” But she kept insisting that it was so, and they kept saying, “It is his angel!” 16 But Peter continued knocking, and when they opened, they saw him and were amazed. 17 But motioning to them with his hand to be silent, he described to them how the Lord had brought him out of the prison. And he said, “Tell these things to James and to the brothers.” Then he departed and went to another place.
18 Now when day came, there was no little disturbance among the soldiers over what had become of Peter. 19 And after Herod searched for him and did not find him, he examined the sentries and ordered that they should be put to death. Then he went down from Judea to Caesarea and spent time there. – Acts 12:12-19
Have you ever had a momentary reprieve from a difficult situation? Sometimes it comes in the face of a loved-one’s death. Someone will tell a joke. It may be off-color, or even at the expense of the deceased loved-one. People will laugh, feel a bit guilty, and then laugh a bit more. Suddenly the whole mood changes. There is a breath of fresh air. The weight of the world is no longer on everyone’s shoulders. You all know there will be time to get back to the serious work of grieving. But for now you just need to laugh. Maybe it’s during a difficult medical procedure. I’ll leave it to you to fill in the blanks on what that might be and how it might become a light moment. You get the picture, right?
There is such a moment in this account of Peter’s imprisonment and release. First the heaviness: Peter is chained between two guards in the dark depths of the prison. Chains fall off. Gates open. Peter is freed, but not out of danger. He is exposed to the whole world and vulnerable to being re-arrested.
So he goes to the place he expects to find safety. He goes to the house in which the people were gathered to pray. He knocks on the door and when the servant answers, she – in her excitement – does not open the gate, but leaves Peter standing outside while she goes inside and tells everyone Peter is outside!
That’s funny enough. But the comedic relief is not yet on full display. The people who have been praying for Peter’s release argue with the servant girl: It can’t be Peter. It must be his angel. Never mind that they’ve been praying for him. No doubt they were praying for his deliverance. And now he’s there and they deny his presence.
It reminds me of the story of the church that prays that a nearby strip club be closed down. When it fails, the strip club owner sues the church which puts the church in the unenviable position of defending itself, saying in essence, “Our prayers did not shut down the strip club.” And the strip club arguing that is exactly what did happen. The judge says, “Let me get this right: the church is denying the power of prayer while the owner of the strip club is arguing for the power of prayer??!” Gotta love it. Almost as much as this scene.
Make no mistake about it, however, this is only a momentary reprieve. The enemies of the Gospel are no lightweights. They will require the death of those who were charged with keeping Peter in prison. Peter will go to Caesarea and spend time there, before going on to other adventures of mission faithfulness. But God granted them all a momentary reprieve.
I wonder if the answers to our prayers sometimes stare us in the face and we miss it. God hears and answers prayers. Next time that happens, open the door! Rejoice in his deliverance! Give thanks to the God of life, salvation, rescue, and redemption. That’s what he’s done through his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.