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Peter in Prison

Acts 12

King Herod has Peter arrested, thrown in prison and plans to execute him in public. The disciples pray for Peter and God sends an angel to rescue him.

Copyright Gavin Owen 2004

Mary opened the door and stepped into the room. She hadn't seen it this full of people since Jesus and his friends had met there to share their last supper. That was more than ten years ago and so much had happened since then. The enemies of Jesus had arrested him, nailed him to a cross and left him there to die. But he didn't stay dead, God brought him back to life! Mary and the disciples had seen him with their own eyes and a few weeks later they'd watched as he rose up into the sky and disappeared amongst the clouds, returning to heaven. From there, ten days later, he'd sent the Holy Spirit to them and with the power of the Spirit the church had been born in the city of Jerusalem as thousands of people became followers of Jesus in just one morning. After that there was no stopping them, the church grew and grew as more and more people became believers every day.

The enemies of Jesus were not pleased! They thought that killing Jesus would put an end to the belief that he was the Son of God and the only way to heaven. They were wrong and now the more people who believed in Jesus the angrier they became and the angrier they became the more trouble they stirred up. Hoping to calm them down, King Herod arrested James, one of the leaders of the church, and had him killed with a sword. Now the other leaders were meeting to discuss what to do next.

Peter, who was in charge, stood up and raised his hands to silence his friends. “Brothers,” he began, “We all know what happened to James and we know that Herod won't stop there. None of us is safe, but sharing the Good News about Jesus is too important for us to hide away or stay quiet, so please, be careful out there.” Then he sat down and they spent the rest of the evening praying for protection.

But the very next day, as Peter was walking through the streets of Jerusalem telling people about Jesus, he was grabbed by a squad of guards and dragged off to Herod. When the king saw that they'd captured the head of the church he was delighted.

“Marvellous!” he gloated, “We'll make an example of you.”

“What are you waiting for?” Peter challenged him, “Kill me now! My spirit will be in heaven before my body hits the floor.”

“Not so fast,” Herod scolded, “We'll wait until the Passover festival has ended. I want everyone to see what happens to those who follow Jesus. Guards! Take him away and lock him up in the safest cell in the safest prison in the city and place four squads of four soldiers to make sure he doesn't escape.”

When the rest of the church heard what had happened to Peter they gathered in small groups in houses across the city and began to pray. They prayed and prayed that God would rescue their friend, but as the days of the Passover festival went by Peter remained behind bars.

Soon it was the night before Peter was to be put on trial, and still he was in prison. He was sitting in his cell, chained to a guard on each side of him, when the sun began to set and Peter and the guards fell into a deep sleep.

Then, in the middle of the night, a tiny point of light appeared in the corner of the cell. It got bigger and brighter and then a voice whispered in the silence.

“Peter! Wake up!”

But Peter didn't stir. The voice came again.

“Peter! Wake up!”

But still Peter slept.

Then, like a rumble of thunder, the voice shouted, “Peter! Wake up!”

Peter opened his eyes and cried out in alarm. There, leaning over him, shining like a star, was an angel. “I must be dreaming!” he thought.

“Quick! Get up!” the angel commanded.

Peter was about to point out that he couldn't get up because of the chains, but before he could speak they just fell from his wrists. He looked anxiously to his left and his right, expecting the guards to seize him, but they were still asleep! How could they sleep in this bright light and with all this noise?

“Get dressed and put on your shoes,” the angel went on and Peter did as he was told. “Now wrap your cloak around you and follow me.”

The angel pointed at the door and Peter heard the bolts on the outside sliding back by themselves. They stepped out of the cell and found themselves face to face with another guard and this one had his eyes open. Peter froze, waiting for the guard to raise the alarm, but he didn't move, it was as if time had stopped. The angel led Peter along corridors and around corners until they came to the prison entrance. The heavy iron gate swung slowly open without making a sound and Peter hurried through it and ran to the end of the street. He turned to thank the angel for his help, but there was nobody there, he was all alone.

Standing in the cold night air, Peter realised he wasn't dreaming, this was real, he was free! He had to tell someone! He wasn't far from Mary's house, so he set off at once, scurrying from one shadow to the next in case someone at the prison had realised he was gone and sent soldiers to find him. Arriving at the house, Peter knocked on the door and after a few moments a woman called out, “Who's there?” Peter recognised the voice, it was Rhoda, Mary's servant girl. “It's me!” he hissed. “Peter?” she asked. But instead of opening the door, Peter heard Rhoda running away from it.

Inside the house Mary and some of the church leaders were praying for Peter when Rhoda burst into the room.

“It's Peter!” she cried out, “He's at the door!”

“Don't be silly, dear,” said Mary, “Peter's in prison, that's why we're praying for him.”

“No!” Rhoda protested, “He's not in prison, he's here, outside the front door.”

Mary and the others could see that Rhoda meant what she said, but they still didn't believe her. “It can't be Peter,” they told each other, “it must be his guardian angel.” By now Peter was wondering what was going on and he began to hammer on the door. Inside the house everyone had the same thought, angels don't usually knock! They rushed to the door and flung it open and when they saw Peter they just stood there in amazement.

“There's no time to explain,” Peter began, “Just tell everyone I'm safe. I have to get out of town for a while, but don't worry, I'll be back.”

The next morning, when Herod discovered that Peter had escaped he was beside himself with rage. “Someone is going to pay for this,” he fumed, “Bring me the soldiers who were supposed to be guarding him!” Herod questioned the guards, decided it was all their fault and had them put to death. Then he declared that what he really needed was a holiday and he set off for the seaside at once. It was the last holiday he ever took. Not long after that, God decided that he wouldn't put up with Herod's wickedness any more and the Bible says he sent an angel to make him sick and the king was eaten by worms and died.

Nothing, not even King Herod, could stop the Good News from spreading. From Jerusalem to Judea, from Judea to Samaria, from Samaria to the ends of the earth, so that today the name of Jesus is known far and wide and wherever his name is known his followers can be found.