The word of the day is “delivered.” When we observe the deplorable events of our times, it is easy to be discouraged. We lament the state of immorality, injustice, insincerity, and impiety of our nation and our world. And we wonder what the Almighty could do to advance the Gospel, bring the lost to Christ, and preserve the church in peace and security. Unrestrained evil is what we see if we view the world through earthly eyes. Yet, if we look at our times with eyes of faith, we see God’s hand at work in everything.
Today in our reading of Acts 12:1-11, we learn of the miraculous escape of St. Peter from prison. Luke, the historian of Acts, reports that four squads of soldiers guarded him, and on the way out of the prison, he and his guiding angel passed “the first and second guard posts and came to the iron gate that leads to the city which opened of its own accord, and they went out” (OSB vs. 10). By this miracle, we learn that the Lord is almighty, and His power is unstoppable. And we consider that what He did for Peter, He can do for us, by our faith in Him.
Peter Cannot Be Kept in Prison
How many times did they try to lock Peter up? The first time was when the high priest and his officials arrested the apostles put them in the “common prison.” No matter. At night an angel opened the prison doors and let them out (OSB Acts 5:21). Then the authorities detained Peter and the apostles again and put them on trial. But as they could find no legitimate charges against them and because they feared the people, the court let them go.
After that, Herod, the king, set about destroying the church. He executed James, the brother of John, by the sword (OSB vs. 2). Then for the third time, he put Peter in prison again. But this time, Herod took drastic measures to keep Peter locked up until the “Days of Unleavened Bread” of the Passover were over, and he could deal with the apostle (vs. 2-3).
Luke reports that four squads of soldiers guarded him. The Greek word denotes a set of four soldiers (Strong’s #5069, 249). Two of the group were chained to the prisoner, and the other two kept watch outside. Moreover, there were four of these groups of four guards. Watches were three hours long, and one set would be on duty while the others slept. This routine happened day and night. Furthermore, Luke reports that there were two guard posts and an iron gate that Peter passed on the way to freedom. By these vigilant measures, the king thought that the apostle had no way of escape.
Peter Realizes He Has Been Delivered
However, the Lord sent an angel to free the apostle from the chains that bound him to his guards and whisk him past the guard posts and the iron gate (Acts 12:7-10). Until the iron gate to the city swung open, Peter thought he was dreaming. But in the street, the apostle realized that he was freed. He said, “Now I know for certain that the Lord has sent His angel and has delivered me from the hand of Herod and all the expectation of the Jewish people” (OSB vs. 11).
The term “delivered” is derived from the words “to take out” and means to remove, to rescue or to release (Strong’s 1807, 90). Certainly, Herod meant to kill Peter to please the Jews in the city just as he had executed James. The term “expectation” (Strong’s #4329, 213) refers to the anticipation of the people that Herod would carry out his intention. Thus, Peter was indeed saved from death.
In this narrative, we find that no earthly power can contradict the will of God and the power of the Holy Spirit. Thus, today’s study teaches us where to focus our attention if we are to trust in God’s providence.
Imagine that we are there watching Peter being detained and thrown in prison. We are impressed with the measures that the guards have taken to keep the apostle locked up. If we concentrate on them, we will begin to doubt that he can ever be released. However, if we recall the greatness of the Almighty’s power and grace, then we will look at his bonds with disdain. We will have faith that God will accomplish His good will and deliver his servant from death.
St. John of Kronstadt on Seeing God’s Hand
St. John of Kronstadt said, “A man becomes spiritual insofar as he lives a spiritual life. He begins to see God in all things, to see His power and might in every manifestation.” If a believer sees God’s Almighty hand in all things, then, as St. John said, “Always and everywhere he sees himself abiding in God and dependent on God for all things” (Kronstadt 1984, I.5).
On the other hand, St. John says, “But insofar as a man lives a bodily life… he does bodily things; He doesn’t see God in anything, even in the most wondrous manifestations of His Divine power. In all things, he sees [only] bodily and material [things]. Everywhere and always, “God is not before his eyes” (Kronstadt 1984, I.5).
In summary, we despair because we look at the course of this world through earthly eyes. But faith sees God working invisibly and powerfully even in the most difficult and seemingly hopeless circumstances and in otherwise upsetting events.
Kronstadt, John of. 1984. My Life in Christ Translated by E. E. Goulaeff. Kindle ed: Holy Trinity Monastery.