“And when he had considered the thing, he came to the house of Mary the mother of John, whose surname was Mark; where many were gathered together praying.” (Acts 12:12 KJV)
Wow, Peter is released from prison by an angel! He comes to Mary's house and finds the saints praying. I am sure there were many glad hearts once they finally saw Peter. Yet I am curious... What were they praying for? Not, why they were worried and thus praying, but the actual content of what specific items were on their hearts. You may say, are you blind? Did you not just read the story of Peter's miraculous release! What do you think the saints were praying for? Yet, I still ask the question because I think Peter's release may have been a line item in their prayers, but I do not think that was the focus of them. Sure, Peter is standing their chain-free and that is awesome, but their seems to be more to this story. The phrase “Thou art mad” in verse 15 begins my curiosity. If Peter's release was the focus of the prayer meeting, then the prayer meeting is over, it is time to celebrate the Lord's victory, and Peter stays. But, Peter leaves... Peter tells his story and I am sure there is rejoicing, but in verse 17 Peter, “...went into another place”. It was not even daylight yet. So again, what was keeping the focus of the prayer meeting?
First clue... The balance of the chapter largely focuses on the activities of Herod. Generally, Herod's death and Peter's release are taught as separate sermons. Are they? They are in the same chapter. I think these devote people are extremely concerned about Herod and the threat that this guy has become. Notice the very first verse of this chapter begins with a description of Herod. Verse 1 uses the term “vex” (KJV) which is to injure or exasperate. Not only do we see him as a dictator who will not even think twice about regulating a food supply (see verse 20), but you have an environment where you realize that you are not able to grow. Not to mention the enormous resistance. They have very specific grievances to lay at the Lord's feet. Now far be it from me to accuse this group of asking specifically for Herod's “death”, but I do want to point out that the story given illustrates Heaven's renewed attention to Herod's activity. When obvious blasphemy of accepting praise only fit for God comes; judgment is readily waiting. We know all to well of blasphemies today that are not so readily judged. This reminds me of how Hezekiah in 2 Kings 19:14-19 lays out the letter from Sennacherib before God. He simply brings the specific assaults that this individual is leveling at God and asks God to review them and to remember the work of God's servants. Much like Hezekiah, I am sure the prayer group that was gathered also requested that God make a name for himself or at least to clarify for anyone watching who the very real God of Heaven is. I believe the resulting attentiveness to Herod's activities where the result of a number of people completely surrendered before the Lord. People who where willing to patiently lay their grievances at God's feet and let what happens; happen.
The second clue is found in verse 23, “And immediately the angel of the Lord smote him...”. Angel? Where did the angel come from? We see a similar situation just prior to the destruction of Sodom in Genesis 18. “And the LORD said, Because the cry of Sodom and Gomorrah is great, and because their sin is very grievous; I will go down now, and see whether they have done altogether according to the cry of it, which is come unto me; and if not, I will know.” (Genesis 18:20-21 KJV) Who's cry? Who lifted up their voices about the grievousness of the sins being committed? When God hears the cry of his people, it is not uncommon for Him to send in an investigative party to validate the claim before executing judgment. Is it possible the prayer warriors gathered the same night of Peter's rescue could have been making their petitions known about the current political pressures?
This also gives us a reminder that prayer is important. The details of the prayer are important. Prayer is not merely something you do with key words in it to bring about a desired result. Prayer is not to be confused with a spell. The meekness you come before the Lord with is genuine. The cares and worries offered are real. Prayer mixes well with scripture in that it gives us an opportunity to see what God's Word says and how others have dealt with similar distresses before us. Prayer is intentional both in speaking and listening. Prayer increases patience as when we lay our cares and worries before God we leave them there until He is ready to act on them. We may claim promises, but we do not even pretend to have the power to dictate authority unless it was specifically granted by His hand. However, when God's hand does move as a result of the petition of His people, it is powerful!
Prayer also causes us to reflect on Solomon's dedication prayer for the temple. “If thy people go out to war against their enemies by the way that thou shalt send them, and they pray unto thee toward this city which thou hast chosen, and the house which I have built for thy name; Then hear thou from the heavens their prayer and their supplication, and maintain their cause.” (2 Chronicles 6:34-35 KJV) Now the temple of God is in our hearts. Not that our hearts are mystically connected, but that God's Holy Spirit has moved in.
“If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land.” (2 Chronicles 7:14 KJV)