FAITH AND UNBELIEF
"Still shaking his head, he went to Mary's house, the Mary who was John Mark's mother. The house was packed with praying friends. When he knocked on the door to the courtyard, a young woman named Rhoda came to see who it was. But when she recognised his voice -- Peter's voice -- she was so excited and eager to tell everyone Peter was there that she forgot to open the door and left him standing in the street." Acts 12:12-14 (The Message).
Peter was free but vulnerable. How long would it take for the Roman guards to rouse from their stupor and realise that Peter had disappeared? He had to get off the street and quickly. A lone man wandering around in the dark would be suspect, to be sure. Of course, there were no electric street lights and many dark corners, but daylight would soon reveal the fugitive when the soldiers were sent out to comb the neighbourhood, and they would be ruthless in their search.
Peter made a beeline for Mary's house knowing he would be safe there for a short while. Although he did not know it then, many of his friends were assembled there, praying up a storm for his release. His urgent knocking was answered by a young servant girl who was obviously very much part of the praying.
Luke adds a human touch and a little humour to his story. Rhoda recognised Peter's voice and was so ecstatic about the miraculous answer to their prayers that she left him outside and rushed into the prayer meeting with the news that Peter was free. Unlike the "holy books" of other religions, little incidents like these link us to the sheer humanness of the story. This is God's story, but it is about people just like us.
"But they wouldn't believe her, dismissing her, dismissing her report.’You're crazy,' they said. She stuck by her story, insisting. They still wouldn't believe her and said, 'It must be his angel.' All this time poor Peter was standing out in the street knocking away." Acts 12:15-16 (The Message).
It seems strange that the believers were praying for Peter's release but, when it happened, they could not take it in. One wonders what they were expecting to happen. Perhaps they had some prescribed notion of how it would happen instead of letting God do it His way. Aren't we just like that? Instead of letting God be God, we tell Him what to do and how to do it and then we put our faith in our expectation instead of in God to do what He wants to do His way.
So much of our disappointment with God is tied to our expectations of what He will do and the way He will do it instead of putting our trust in Him and His wisdom and love. How often I hear this statement: "I'm trusting God for...." instead of "I'm trusting God," period.
Somehow we have the capacity to turn faith into unbelief when we limit God to our way of thinking and our way of doing things. What if, instead, our heartfelt confidence in the will of God frees Him to act when, how and where He chooses so that our insignificant concerns become a part of the bigger picture of His kingdom?
"Finally they opened up and saw him -- and went wild! Peter put up his hands and calmed them down. He described how the Master had gotten him out of jail, then said, 'Tell James and the brothers what happened.' He left them and went to another place." Acts 12:16-17 (The Message).
Having told his story and concluded their mission to pray him out of jail, Peter left Jerusalem, putting distance between himself and the murderous intentions of Herod. From here on, Luke turned his attention to Paul and his commission to take the gospel to the whole Roman Empire. Peter appears briefly in Acts 15, but for the rest, Paul and his companions are the focus of the missionary enterprise.
If we take a step back for a moment and take in the ebb and flow of the infant church, it's a story of vulnerable human beings caught up in the cosmic war between God and His arch-enemy, the devil, with human beings the prize. There is suffering and victory, death and life, pain and joy, but all the while the church inches her way across the empire, person by person, city by city, through the courageous witness of men and women who were not afraid to pay the price for their faith in a living Saviour.
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