First Reading: Acts 12:1-11
In the Dark Times
1 About that time, King Herod moved violently against some in the community. 2 He had James, the brother of Jesus, killed with a sword. 3 When he saw the execution pleased the leaders, he wanted to move against Peter in the same way, but it was Passover. So he arrested Peter and put him in a cell that was guarded by sixteen soldiers, divided into four rotations. Each rotation of four each would guard Peter at one time. Herod intended to put Peter on public trial after Passover. 5 But, while Peter sat in prison, the community prayed a lot to God for him.
6 On the night just before Herod was going to put Peter on trial, the apostle was sleeping between two soldiers. Peter was held with two chains. And his door was guarded by the others. 7 Suddenly, one of the Lord's angels appeared. And a light spread throughout the cell. The angel shook Peter's side and said, "Quick! Get up!" The chains fell from Peter's hands. 8 Then the angel said, "Get dressed and put on your sandals." After Peter did this, the angel said, "Put on your jacket and follow me." 9 Both of them left the cell. Peter followed the angel, but he really didn't believe what the angel was doing. He thought he was seeing things! 10 After they passed the first guards, then the next, they found the iron gate to the prison that opened itself for them. They left the prison. On a street outside, the angel suddenly disappeared.
11 Finally, Peter came to his senses. "Now I know the Lord sent me a angel," he said. "The Lord saved me from Herod and the people who would condemn me."
1 About that time, King Herod threw (his) evil-making hands (upon) some from the assembly. 2 He killed James, brother of Jesus, by the sword. 3 Having seen it please the Jews, he intended to take Peter – but (this) was the days of Unleavened Bread -- 4 whom, having also arrested, he put under guard, having given him over to four sets of four soldiers to guard him, planning after the Passover to lead him before the people (for a public trial and condemnation). 5 Thus, so Peter was under guard. But there was prayer fervently being made by the assembly to God concerning him.
6 When Herod was about to led (Peter) before (the people), on that night Peter was sleeping between two soldiers, having been bound with two chains and guard before the door keeping watch. 7 Look! An angel of the Lord (suddenly) stood by and light shone in (the cell of) the building. Having shook the side of Peter, he raised him, saying, "Stand up in haste." And the chains fell from his hands. 8 The angel said to him, "Belt (your undergarments) yourself and put on your sandals." So he did. And he said to him, "Throw on (your outer garments) and follow me." 9 Having exited, he was following and he did not know that the event (done) by the angel was true. He thought to see a vision. 10 Having passed the first guard and the second (one), they came upon the iron gate, the (one) passing into the city, that opened to them by itself, and, having gone out, they came to the first street, and immediately the angel left him. 11 Peter, having come to himself, said, "Now I truly know that the Lord sent me his angel and delivered me from the hand of Herod and the (evil) expectations of the people of Jews."
12:1 "King Herod" was Herod Agrippa, the grandson of Herod Antipater. Like his grandfather, he ruled all Palestine with some autonomy under the Romans. He replaced the Roman governor over Judea and consolidated all the smaller regions his uncles ruled. While his rule was short (41-44 A.D.), the consolidation did fuel later nationalist feelings among the local population and led to the Great Jewish Wars (60-70 A.D.)
12:3 "the days of Unleavened Bread" was Passover.
12:4 "having given him over to four sets of four soldiers to guard him" Four guards would keep watch for three hours, followed by the other groups in succession. 12:6 described two soldiers in the cell with Peter, while the other two stood watch just outside the door.
After the change in policy concerning the baptism of Gentiles and the beginning of foreign missions by Paul, the focus of Acts returned to Jerusalem. But, the political climate had changed. The emperor Caligula appointed one of his close friends to rule Palestine: Herod Agrippa, grandson of Herod the Great. To consolidate power and the approval of the local leaders, Herod moved against the followers of the Nazarene. James, relative of Jesus and the bishop of Jerusalem was executed. Herod would try to move against Peter next.
The story of Peter's miraculous escape is straight forward. On the night before the public trial, an angel appeared and freed the apostle from a heavy guard. The timing of the trial and the organization of the soldiers only heightened the narrative. The morale of the narrative was clear: God could do the impossible. Even in the face of great evil.
The time when the situation seems the darkest and hope seems to be slipping away is the moment for faith. The prayer of the community was proof of their faith. Can we do no less?
Think of a dark time in your life. How did God help you through? How did you respond: with faith or doubt? Pray to God for his help now.