We are all under a death sentence. Dying from birth, as they say. Most people decide not to look at it that way but ponder how they can live best. Intentionally living the best puts the person into one of two paths (often both): eat and drink for tomorrow we die or preparing for a heavenly reward.
Where Peter comes into the story this time is that he had been on a course of living a life with a lot of purpose for several years by the time he was arrested by Herod. He had a very unique mission given to him by Jesus to, “Strengthen [or confirm] your brothers” and “freed my sheep”. But he had also been told very plainly that he would die a martyr’s death with an emphasis that he would be out of control. Getting arrested after one of his best friends is beheaded must have looked like the scenario he had been told about. This makes a passive role inherently for this first scene but in the context of a non- passive life in all of the right ways.
5 While Peter was kept in prison, the church prayed fervently to God for him.
You don’t have to be a pope to be in community. When I was going through a divorce and severely depressed I was freshly getting integrated into a healthy church and bible study that loved me warts and all. In that dark season I knew God’s grace in the context of the prayers of my spiritual family.
6 The very night before Herod was going to bring him out, Peter, bound with two chains, was sleeping between two soldiers, while guards in front of the door were keeping watch over the prison. 7 Suddenly an angel of the Lord appeared and a light shone in the cell. He tapped Peter on the side and woke him, saying, “Get up quickly.” And the chains fell off his wrists. 8 The angel said to him, “Fasten your belt and put on your sandals.” He did so. Then he said to him, “Wrap your cloak around you and follow me.” . 9 Peter went out and followed him; he did not realize that what was happening with the angel’s help was real; he thought he was seeing a vision.
This is profound. God puts us in places where nothing is in our hands and in other places where things are in our hands but in context of cooperation with Him. Like Mary carrying Jesus saying, “Be it done unto me according to thy word.” The latter applies to Peter here and he is given a hint if you remember where Jesus told him what to expect as shown below from John 21:18-19.
18 Very truly, I tell you, when you were younger, you used to fasten your own belt and to go wherever you wished. But when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will fasten a belt around you and take you where you do not wish to go.” 19 (He said this to indicate the kind of death by which he would glorify God.) After this he said to him, “Follow me.”
There is a contrast in terms of him being ordered to get up quickly, and fasten his belt himself. But the “follow me” part work as more than just following and angel. He is following the Lord who sent the angel.
10 After they had passed the first and the second guard, they came before the iron gate leading into the city. It opened for them of its own accord, and they went outside and walked along a lane, when suddenly the angel left him. 11 Then Peter came to himself and said, “Now I am sure that the Lord has sent his angel and rescued me from the hands of Herod and from all that the Jewish people were expecting.”
Orders given on how to respond and orders carried out. Again we see Peter pushed in his thinking out of a box like the recent posts about sharing the gospel with the gentiles but even better: Peter is experiencing faith in Jesus even beyond even rightfully assumed expectations of Jesus.
Can I think of experiencing something like that? I think it may be true of my conversion (or I may say reversion) to the Catholic Church. It has been nearly a year since I was received into the Catholic Church but I can remember stretching my mind beyond many of my Protestant assumptions (e.g. Catholics worship Mary, they don’t value the Bible enough, they overemphasize the papacy, salvation by works etc.). But systematically things unfolded that showed me God can work in layers that I could not see and I was thinking far too small.
12 As soon as he realized this, he went to the house of Mary, the mother of John whose other name was Mark, where many had gathered and were praying.
Remember what I said about the prayers of the saints and community? Peter experienced faith in the context of community like we are all called to. He wastes no time.
13 When he knocked at the outer gate, a maid named Rhoda came to answer. 14 On recognizing Peter’s voice, she was so overjoyed that, instead of opening the gate, she ran in and announced that Peter was standing at the gate. 15 They said to her, “You are out of your mind!” But she insisted that it was so. They said, “It is his angel.” 16 Meanwhile Peter continued knocking; and when they opened the gate, they saw him and were amazed.
Nothing profound here, but I think that is hilarious. Peter was a holy man but he had a history of a temper! I guess one practical tip is that if you don’t hear a response the first time you try to engage in fellowship, keep knocking! The bookends of this story are community and community for a reason. We are quirky people individually called to walk with quirky fellowship. Whether we are in a passive state or participating state, let’s remember to intentionally believe big and love widely. To do both will pay off in openness to miracles, community and eventually a noble passage to the next life.