I was reading this chapter and thinking about what it teaches us about God. And then I got a text on my phone. Here’s what it said: “This is Sara with Owens Bonding. I’m calling regarding Michael. He is currently in the Sedgwick County Jail and asked me to call you for help.”
No kidding. I was reading the Bible about a miraculous escape from jail – and a close call for Peter – and I got a request from someone who needed bonded out of jail! The only problem was that I didn’t know this Michael who was in jail. I know where Sedgwick County is. It’s where I grew up in Kansas. And I am sure I knew a Michael or two over the years there.
But I was pretty sure I didn’t know this Michael. You’ve got to be pretty good friends with a guy if he puts you on the list of people to call when he lands in jail. But you never know.
So I replied to Sara with Owens Bonding: “Hi Sara. I am not sure I know Michael. What’s his last name?” She sent his last name. I didn’t know anyone by that name. Before I could reply, Sara wrote, “He said this was his mom’s number. … He probably just got it wrong. Sorry to bother you.”
I was off the hook, and Michael was still in jail – praying for an angel, I suppose. Or he was at least racking his brain, trying to remember his mom’s phone number.
Jail is not a place anyone wants to be. If an opportunity comes along in which a person can get out of jail, he or she is likely to take it.
We should take note of a few things about Peter’s stay in jail. He couldn’t call the bail bondsman, of course. As a matter of fact, there was no conceivable way Peter was going to get out of that jail. He was guarded by four squads of soldiers – 16 in all, according to some commentators. Peter slept between two soldiers. Peter was bound with chains. More soldiers stood guard at the door to the prison.
King Herod didn’t want Peter to escape. Maybe he knew of the previous escape of the apostles from prison. (That was our passage from last week – Acts 5.) The high priest actually sent officers to the prison to bring out the apostles. But when they got there, the apostles were gone! What an embarrassment. I suppose Herod knew of this and was determined not to let this happen to him. So he appointed the utmost security measures.
Meanwhile, there was nothing Peter could do. He was hopelessly captive. Or was he?
Listen again to how this passage reads: “And when (Herod) had seized him, he put him in prison, delivering him over to four squads of soldiers to guard him, intending after the Passover to bring him out to the people. So Peter was kept in prison, but earnest prayer for him was made to God by the church.”
The dramatic measures taken by Herod – who seized Peter, put him prison, delivered him over to four squads of soldiers to guard him – was met by the church. In prayer. “But earnest prayer for him was made to God by the church.”
Perhaps we do not take our prayers seriously enough. Perhaps what this chapter teaches us about God is that God listens to prayer. We’ve already seen in Acts how the early church lived in prayer. This new temple of God was every bit the house of prayer Jesus commanded it to be (Mark 10:17).
After Jesus ascended into heaven, the disciples returned to Jerusalem. “All these with one accord were devoting themselves to prayer” (Acts 1:14). After the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, the church devoted itself to the apostles’ teaching, the fellowship, the breaking of bread, and “the prayers” (Acts 2:42). After the disciples were first confronted by the Jewish leaders, they went to their friends and together they prayed. And the house shook with their prayers (Acts 4:31).
And when the Samaritans heard Philip preach and after they accepted the gospel, Peter and John came to them from Jerusalem. Peter and John prayed for them that they would receive the Holy Spirit (Acts 8:15). And Peter got his vision of Gentile inclusion into the kingdom of God when he went up on a roof in the town of Joppa to pray (Acts 10:9).
And now James had been martyred for the faith, and Peter was in maximum security prison – his death sentence merely a formality at that point – and the church did what the church does. It was not powerless. It was not hopeless. It was not faithless. The church prayed.
The church knew nothing of bail bondsmen. It had no clout to pull political strings. It had no capacity to stage a jail break. All the church had were its prayers to God – the Creator and the Redeemer – and the one who proclaims “liberty to the captives” (Luke 4:18). And those prayers were enough.
And wouldn’t you know it? Peter was detained in jail during the Feast of Unleavened Bread, which led up to the Passover. The timing was impeccable. The imagery is amazing. It’s like God wants us to take time to marvel in these moments. Peter was not a free man. He was in chains.
Fifteen-hundred years earlier, in Egypt, God established the Passover for a people who were not yet free. They were to celebrate a special meal – because God was about to do something miraculous. The doors were to be flung wide open. But God’s people were to be ready – “with your belt fastened, your sandals on your feet, and your staff in your hand. And you shall eat it in haste. It is the Lord’s Passover” (Exodus12:11). And the people of God walked out of Egypt in the fullness of freedom.
And the early church was praying to God for another Passover. They were praying for freedom and life for their brother. God responded. The angel went to prison. He struck Peter on the side as he slept between those two guards, in those chains. “Get up quickly,” the angel said. And the chains fell from Peter’s hands. “Dress yourself and put on your sandals.” And Peter walked out of that jail in the fullness of freedom.
And in the background, the church was praying. Are we a praying church?
The church still was praying when Peter knocked on the door that night. He kept knocking and knocking and knocking. This was no angel of death, no bearer of bad news who descended on God’s people that night.
This was a member of the church of earnest prayer.
A challenge for your day: Spend some time praying for freedom – for yourself, for your family, for your friends, for your brothers and sisters in Christ. This could be freedom from addiction, persecution, temptation, bad habits, bad thoughts, spiritual oppression, fear, sickness or disease, or anxiety. You know what to pray about. Let the Holy Spirit guide your prayers.