James was dead and Peter was in prison.
Herod resumed the persecution of the church. The season of undeclared peace was over.
Across the city, behind closed doors, the church went into earnest and urgent prayer.
There wasn’t much time; Passover was coming to an end and so was the life of Peter.
James was dead and Peter would soon follow. They waited, their prayer seemingly unanswered. Confused and without direction, their faith began to wane; the situation was hopeless.
In prison, Peter is sleeping! He has come to terms with his impending death. Suddenly an angel awakens him. “Quick! Get up.” The chains fell off. He has quick clear instructions. “Get dressed, put on your sandals. Put on your coat and follow me.”
Peter thought it was a vision. In the street away from the prison, the angel left.
Then came the sudden realization: it was not a vision. “It is really true!” He had not expected to be delivered.
Meanwhile at Mary’s house many had gathered for prayer. This was the night before Peter’s trial and execution. Their hearts, and therefore their prayers were not expecting Peter’s deliverance; they were comforting and resigning themselves to his death and their loss.
It is late when they are disturbed by the knock on the door.
A servant is sent to check. She recognizes Peter’s voice and overjoyed, she runs back announcing, “Peter is at the door!”
She is told, “You are out of your mind.” She insists. Finally they conclude, “It must be an angel.”
The possibility that in might be Peter does not enter their minds.
Peter’s persistent knocking finally convinces them.
This was the last thing they expected. We do not know what they prayed, but their earnest prayers had not the faith that included Peter’s deliverance from Herod.
Their prayers had summoned an angel to loosen Peter’s chains, open the door to his cell, move unseen past the guards and out to the streets through the now open prison door, but at the last moment they almost failed to open the door needed to receive the answer to their prayers.
This often seems to be our experience - we pray earnestly, but without expectation. We do not truly believe that our prayer will be answered, and when it is, we are surprised and awed, rather than quietly grateful.
“Lord, thank you that you answer all prayer, even if it is with a, “No.”
And forgive us, Lord, for expecting a, “No!”