1999-08-07 - Stunned Faith
Acts 12:5-16 So Peter was kept in the prison, but prayer for him was being made fervently by the church to God. And on the very night when Herod was about to bring him forward, Peter was sleeping between two soldiers, bound with two chains; and guards in front of the door were watching over the prison. And behold, an angel of the Lord suddenly appeared, and a light shone in the cell; and he struck Peter's side and roused him, saying, "Get up quickly." And his chains fell off his hands. And the angel said to him, "Gird yourself and put on your sandals." And he did so. And he said to him, "Wrap your cloak around you and follow me." And he went out and continued to follow, and he did not know that what was being done by the angel was real, but thought he was seeing a vision. And when they had passed the first and second guard, they came to the iron gate that leads into the city, which opened for them by itself; and they went out and went along one street; and immediately the angel departed from him. And when Peter came to himself, he said, "Now I know for sure that the Lord has sent forth His angel and rescued me from the hand of Herod and from all that the Jewish people were expecting." And when he realized this, he went to the house of Mary, the mother of John who was also called Mark, where many were gathered together and were praying. And when he knocked at the door of the gate, a servant-girl named Rhoda came to answer. And when she recognized Peter's voice, because of her joy she did not open the gate, but ran in and announced that Peter was standing in front of the gate. And they said to her, "You are out of your mind!" But she kept insisting that it was so. And they kept saying, "It is his angel." But Peter continued knocking; and when they had opened the door they saw him and were amazed. (NAS)
This is a little bit longer than typical devotional passage. But I think it captures the essence of a general problem with Christians and their faith. Now, Peter has been taken prisoner by the political opportunist Herod Agrippa. James has recently been martyred by Herod after being taken prisoner. Here is a good example in this passage. The church went to their knees and prayed long and hard for Peter's release. The depth of prayer is described as fervent.
A miraculous visitation of an angel frees Peter from the fortress where he was scheduled to die the following day. His chains were released and the guards never saw Peter as he walked with the angel through the halls and courtyard. No one noticed as the door opened and the apostle walked free.
It is a little amusing that Peter stands in the middle of the street and thinks about what just happened. He is still very close to the prison. Peter knocks quietly on the door of the house where the prayer meeting is being held on his behalf. Rhoda hears the knock and asks who it is. When she hears Peter's voice, she is so thrilled that she forgets to let poor Peter in! Instead she goes running to the people praying and tells them the news they have been interceding in prayer to hear.
Instead of whoops and cheers, she is greeted with disbelief. It can't be Peter she is told. It must be his angel. This poor girl brings the very news they were pleading with God to hear, and when God answers exactly as they have requested they do not believe. Even when they finally opened the door and saw Peter standing there, they were amazed. Why do we do this? Surely we know that God is capable of great and marvelous things. Is it simply that our finite minds can not grip the supernatural reality of Jesus' ability and His willingness to help His children? Or, is it a painful streak of unbelief?
James 4:2 admonishes the audience that they do not have because they do not ask. These Christians were asking. Verse 3 warns us to ask with the right motives. The motives of the people gathered seem to be to save Peter's life that he could return to them. Perhaps a tiny facet of selfishness, wanting a friend and teacher to be able to stay with them, but not improper. Many there had been eyewitnesses of Jesus' miracles. Many of us have seen things that can only be explained by supernatural intervention by God. And still there are times we simply can not believe that God has given us what we have asked Him to provide.
There is a line from old hymn that goes:
I believe, help now my unbelief. I walk into the unknown trusting all the while.It is the unknown - the realm that God dares to share with us that throws us. We believe that He can do it. We also know that the answer may be no. That does not change the fact that we believe. In many instances we are simply so blown away - taken aback - that the infinite God of Creation has not only heard us, but done ask we have requested. We see ourselves as trivial, or insignificant when we are the ones He came to bleed and die for on the cross. Not that we should be haughty or expectant. But let's try to let go of that unbelief that God might actually want to help us. It is another step of maturity to ask in faith believing - and to look with an excited expectancy that God is often willing and able to provide.
Lord Jesus - help us to grow in the knowledge that You do have our best interests at heart. Teach us that You are not only willing to hear our petitions, but to fulfill them just as we have asked. Help us to learn that expectant hope. This hope is not unlike the hope that we have in Your return for us. A hope that says I hope it is soon, not I hope it happens. Build in us an aire of expectation and excitement about the things that You are doing in us and around us. Amen.