One of the most delectable stories from the early church is the one about the angel who springs Peter from prison. Love that story. It’s full of wow’s.
As the story begins (Acts 12) one of Peter’s closest friends, James, is arrested by Herod and has his head cut off. Peter, likely to face the same fate, is thrown in prison…and he falls asleep. Even though he’s in handcuffs and with sixteen soldiers making sure he doesn’t run for it. An angel appears in the cell, and although there is a dazzling light and Peter’s handcuffs clank onto the stone pavement, the guards apparently don’t notice as Peter gets up and puts on his street clothes.
They (Peter and the angel) walk down the corridor passing two guard posts and no one seems to notice that the huge steel gate swings open on its own. Peter suddenly comes to his senses and realizes this isn’t a dream; it’s the real deal. He ponders a minute, then heads for the home of John Mark’s mother where he will discover the reason behind the miraculous events of the last twenty minutes. Even though it’s the middle of the night, the church has gathered and is praying “very earnestly” for him.
As intense as were their prayers you have to acknowledge they had a faith deficit. Peter kept banging on the gate because these intrepid intercessors had a hard time believing God had actually answered their prayers. When they were finally convinced, the story says “they were amazed.” And you’ve got to love Luke’s last line of the story: “At dawn (back at the jail) there was a great commotion among the soldiers about what had happened to Peter.” ‘Ya think?
I read this story more times than I can remember before I caught what is doubtless the most significant truth recorded here. Peter was arrested and through a miraculous intervention he was released to continue his ministry. James was arrested for the same crime and died at the hands of the Roman government. The sole difference between the two narratives is that Peter had a church praying for him; there is no such record about James.
James’ story might have been entirely different had there been a praying church. I am determined that will never be said of my church. Some of our church family are captives, too. Captive to drugs. Captive to impure habits. Captive to pornography. Captive to greed or jealousy or temper. Or a myriad of other captors. By God’s grace I want to make sure none of them ever has to face their captivity without a praying church on their team. Join me?
By Don Jacobsen