Acts 12:6 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. 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.”
This is a remarkable story of how God sent angels to free Peter from jail, so he might go on to be a foundational leader in the development of the early Christian church. Believe it or not, I once heard a Chinese pastor, Brother Jun, tell a similar story. He was a key leader in a network of rural underground churches in China. Once he became known to the Chinese authorities, he was constantly sought and jailed multiple times. He tells of being awakened by angels in the night and walking out of jail undetected. More than once! I’m pretty sure I believe him. This story in Acts lends precedent to such a possibility.
Where my mind goes this morning, besides to Brother Jun, is to John the Baptist. You’ll remember he was also jailed, but was never released or rescued. In fact, he was ultimately beheaded. In some ways the leadership vacuum left by John’s death made the way for Jesus to emerge as a leader in his own right. You may also recall John the Baptist saying of Jesus in John 3:30 “He must increase but I must decrease”. John knew his time to lead would one day end and Jesus would emerge as overall leader, but I doubt he realized at the time just how that was going to come about.
Peter was rescued from jail, but John the Baptist was not. How come?
I suppose one could say both Peter’s freedom and John the Baptist’s death served God’s purposes – even if beheading is a harsh method to bring about needed change. There’s a part of me that wants to believe God would choose another path for John the Baptist, something less violent. But God’s ways are God’s ways. And in case you didn’t know, tradition holds that Peter was ultimately put to death in Rome by being crucified – upside down. So it would seem both men came to violent ends for the sake of the Lord.
Heavenly Father, today’s passage reminds me that your ways are not our ways. Give me faith to trust you when life doesn’t make sense. Amen.