This was a tough time for the young church – one of their leaders, James, was executed by King Herod, and Peter was put in prison. The church feared for Peter’s life and fervently prayed to God for him
An angel of the Lord visited Peter in prison one night and Peter’s chains fell off. The angel guided Peter out of the prison. Although at first, Peter thought this was a vision and it wasn’t really happening, once he was outside and the angel left him, he realized that it had really happened, and that he had been freed. Peter proceeded to Mary’s house, where many were praying for him.
Peter was knocking on the outer gate and calling out to let him in. Rhoda came to answer and recognized Peter’s voice. She was surprised and overjoyed – so much so that instead of opening the gate, she excitedly ran into the house and announced that Peter was standing at the gate. No one believed her, thinking that she had lost her mind, or that it wasn’t really Peter, but his angel.
Peter kept knocking, and they eventually opened the gates and were amazed that it really was Peter. Peter explained to them what had happened, and then left.
The situation was such that kings had great power and could basically do whatever they wanted to do on a whim. The same king who had John the Baptist beheaded because of a dance that he liked decides to go after the church. He kills James and intends to kill Peter. Ironically, he imprisons Peter during Passover, when the Jews commemorate being freed from slavery.
Would the church now rise in protest, take up arms and try to free Peter? No, that kind of resistance was already ruled out by Jesus when His followers tried to resist Jesus’ arrest, by saying, “No more of this!” (Luke 22:51). The church turns to the most powerful weapon that they have – prayer. Even though at times it feels like something not so powerful, the church turns to prayer.
When the most optimistic outcome comes true, and Peter is outside of the prison and freed, the church, including Peter himself, can’t quite believe it. This results in the rather comical scene at the house of Mary, the mother of John Mark, where they leave Peter out where he is still in danger, to discuss if the man pounding on the outer gate is really Peter.
The fact that they were so surprised and overjoyed makes one wonder what they were praying for? Had they already concluded that even though Peter’s release would have been the outcome they most wanted, that was most likely not going to happen? So, were they praying for courage and comfort for Peter as he faced his execution? Were they praying for guidance for the church after Peter’s execution?
If it were us, we would probably be praying for all these things. We too, would probably be skeptical of Peter being released, even though we would wish it to be so. And we too, would have been unbelieving and overjoyed once Peter was freed.
Sometimes we just don’t know what exactly to pray for, so we pray for the best outcome, but we also pray in case the best outcome doesn’t happen. This is the nature of prayer. We know that we are commanded to pray, and in prayer, there is power of God behind it. So, anything is possible, even the least likely optimistic outcome. It doesn’t mean the outcome will always be what we want the most, but there is hope. And we have faith that God will move according to His plans, even though for the short term, it might not be the outcome we are hoping for. But every once in awhile, the outcome surprises and overjoys us.
Instead of praying, had the church risen up and tried to free Peter by force, the outcome would have been less than joyful.
When the church is confronted with injustice or persecution, what is our response? There is a lot of pressure today of taking political action or physical demonstration. We’ve seen a lot of this in the past few years, even with some from the pulpit encouraging such action. We have witnessed members of Christ’s church involved in these activities.
There might come a time where the church is called upon to take such actions, but that is not the solution Luke writes about in his two books – “The Gospel According to Luke” and “Acts.” The solution Luke writes about for the church facing problems is prayer.
Even if we don’t quite know what to pray for, the church should pray. Even if the world tells us that “prayer is not enough”, and we may even feel that is the case, Luke tells us to pray.
So how is your prayer life, as individuals and as a church?
(the above is a summary of the message shared by Shun Takano during our worship time on October 10, 2021.)