PETER IN PRISON
T. Pierce Brown
As we examine the story of Peter’s imprisonment in Acts 12:10-17, there are many lessons of value to us today. First, we need to realize that the church may expect to be attacked by its enemies as long as time lasts. Second, we need to know that the church can carry on even with the loss of leaders who seem to be indispensable. Third, we need to learn that God does not always interfere to save his people from death. Death may be of greater value than life at a given point. Fourth, we must recognize that many things that seem calamities may be used of God and turned into blessings. Fifth, the prayer of faithful children of God may be one of the best weapons to fight persecution and difficulty.
As we see the attitude of Peter in prison, we are reminded of Richard Lovelace’s statement, “Stone walls do not a prison make, nor iron bars a cage.” Because Peter was imprisoned unjustly for God’s service and glory, it was not really a prison to him, but a sanctuary where the power and presence of God was manifested.
There are many kinds of prisons and bonds that are more real and binding than his bonds were. Bondage to sin and vice of any kind are far worse. Paul said, “Know ye not that to whom ye yield yourselves to obey, his servants ye are whom ye obey?” (Romans 6:16). We may be brought into bondage by troubles, difficulties, vicissitudes, fretfulness and fears of problems with no solutions.
While the children of God are awake in the house of Mary praying for his release, and the children of the Devil are awake, guarding him to prevent his escape, Peter sleeps. Of course a person has to sleep sometimes. In theGardenofGethsemanehe slept because his flesh was weak (Mark14:38). In the prison of Herod he may have slept because his faith was strong. It suggests, though it does not prove, the following truths: First, Satan’s power is limited. He could cause Peter to be cast into prison, but could not prevent the intercession of saints on his behalf. Nor could Satan prevent the ministration of angels on his behalf. Hebrews1:14suggests they are ministering spirits sent forth to do service for the sake of those who inherit salvation. Neither could Satan prevent his deliverance from the difficulties in which he was found. As with the three Hebrews in the furnace of fire, Daniel in the Lion’s den or Job in his affliction, God did not keep them out of the difficulty, but delivered them from it.
Second, it suggests the eventual defeat of Satan’s plans and purposes. From the Garden of Eden where he was told, “It shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel” (Genesis3:15) to Revelation20:10where we find, “And the Devil that deceived them was cast into the lake of fire and brimstone” we are shown that Satan is doomed. This should help us to have the serenity, sense of security and peace that Peter seemed to have. We need to know at all times that “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble” (Psalm 46:1). We need to be aware of our precious promise that “All things work together for good to them that love God” (Romans8:28).
When we consider their prayer for his release and their subsequent response when it happened, I think of what might have happened had we been there. I can hear these comments, “There is no hope. If we only had someone or some way to influence and plead with Herod, we might get him out.” “There is no hope unless we can find some way to sneak in and overpower or bribe the guards.” “There is no hope, but let us pray for his strength and comfort. Let us pray for the guards that they may not be too harsh. Let us pray for God to bless the means that are being used to minister to him. If we should happen to pray for his release, let us make sure we say, `If it be thy will,’ for it is certain that he cannot get out.”
The reason I suggest that they may have felt like we seem to on many occasions is that if they prayed for his release they were like the men who prayed for rain, but did not take an umbrella. When he was released and they were told that he was standing at the gate, they did not believe it (Acts12:15). Even in the days of miracles, they may have felt as many of us do. “God only works according to his set laws, so when a person is sick it is improper to pray for God to heal the person. We can pray for God to bless the doctors, nurses, the medicine, and almost everything besides the patient. We can pray, `Bless the means’ for God now does everything by `means’ and not directly. If we prayed for him it would be asking for a miracle.” Even though we admit that the days of miracles have ceased, and that God works according to law, we need to know that He also makes those laws and we do not always know what they are. We can know the laws for our spiritual guide, for He has revealed them, but do you think you know all of God’s laws of health, or physical laws? The law of gravity makes an airplane fall, but the law of aerodynamics makes it rise. You may not know which one is the strongest at a given moment.
Even if they did not seem to have the kind of faith that would commend itself to us, they prayed earnestly (v. 5). The Greek word here suggests both fervency and persistency. There is no specific rule about how long, how often or how persistently we should pray for what we want. But the principles taught seem to indicate that we should continue until we receive what we ask for, provided we ask in faith, not in a nagging or demanding way, and as long as we have indication that it is according to the will of God. If we, like Paul, ask only three times and find reason to conclude that God’s grace is sufficient without granting the specific answer for which we sought, then we should stop.
They were united in prayer. Although it does not lessen the value of the effectual fervent prayer of an individual (James5:16), it pleased God to give special assurance of the value of united prayer. In Matthew 18:19 Jesus said, “If any two of you shall agree on earth as touching any thing they shall ask, it shall be done for them of my Father which is in heaven.” United prayer helps check selfishness, for we find common interests that binds us closer. It helps prepare us for the answer. We are often like little children who ask for a car when they can not yet ride and care for their bicycle. Probably we have prayed for more faith when we do not use what little we have.
There are both objective and subjective values to prayer. The objective value is that prayer moves the arm that moves the world, as James Montgomery said. Moses saved the nation by prayer. Hezekiah got fifteen more years of life. Elijah got both drought and rain (James5:17-18). The subjective values are many. The gratitude, confession of sins, humility, submissiveness and all the other attributes we should develop as we pray help to get us in a position to use the answer when it comes.
Although God used a miracle to get Peter out of jail, and did these miracles to confirm the word and give positive proof of the divinity of Christ and the reality of the facts of the gospel, He has not ceased to act simply because He has ceased to perform those kinds of miracles. When Jesus said in John 14:12, “He that believeth on me, the works that I do he shall do also, and greater works than these shall he do,” He was not speaking of greater miracles. He was speaking of greater things. To be delivered from the bondage of Herod is great. To be delivered from the bondage of Satan is greater. Through prayer and faithful obedience, we can be used in that task. Are you willing to practice both?