There are many different kinds of stories in the Bible. Stories of faith, stories of great miracles, stories of redemption, and stories of courage to name a few. Sprinkled among these mighty pillars are stories of humanity. Little glimpses of life that remind us that faith is not always easy. There is one story I always get a chuckle from because it reminds me of me.
This story unfolds in the 12th chapter of Acts. Stephen had been killed for his faith. The political and religious leaders were getting bolder in their persecution of the followers of Jesus. The church was spreading to other countries and cities. Herod, trying to gain favor with the religious establishment, joined the persecution. He arrested many and had James killed. When he saw that this pleased the religious leaders, he threw Peter into prison, intending to make an example of him as well. The night before Herod’s gruesome plan Peter miraculously escaped the prison with the aid of an angel. It wasn’t until Peter was safely on the street that he fully realized what was happening to him. While all of this was taking place, some had gathered in a home to pray for Peter. And that’s where we see a story that reminds us that these were people just like you and me.
Luke reports, “And when he (Peter) 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. When he knocked at the door of the gate, a servant-girl named Rhoda came to answer. 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. They said to her, “You are out of your mind!” But she kept insisting that it was so. They kept saying, “It is his angel.” But Peter continued knocking; and when they had opened the door, they saw him and were amazed.” (Acts 12:12–16, NASB95)
The first thing that makes me chuckle is the picture of Peter standing outside even after Rhoda recognized him. Her joy pushed aside the reasonableness of letting Peter inside the house. Joy will do that. Joy should do that. Joy is like the explosion of emotion a lifelong Cubs fan will have when they finally win the World Series. (ed note: one year later the Cubs did win the series!!!) Now, imagine that joy running smack dab into the middle of a prayer group. Not just any prayer group, but one that is fearful and worried about Peter’s fate.
The second thing that makes me chuckle is the raw reality of answered prayer. The folks meeting in the house were probably praying for Peter and asking God to intercede. Their faith may have been shattered by recent events. Isn’t that where most of us live? We know God can do something, but we wonder if He will. Then, when their prayers are miraculously answered, they have a difficult time seeing it. Rhoda seems out of her mind with joy. She’s just a servant girl after all. Perhaps she did see something but it was just Peter’s ghost. It couldn’t really be Peter. It’s impossible to escape from Herod’s iron grasp. And all the time Peter was standing outside banging on the door.
This sliver of a story from Peter’s arrest is more than just comic relief. It reminds us that God answers prayer even when our faith is imperfect and unable to see past the impossible. It reminds us that our expectations and presumptions can blind us to reality. We see failure and hopelessness because those are our expectations. The prayer meeting folks did not expect Peter to make it out of Herod’s grasp alive, yet there he was but they couldn’t grasp it. God’s answer to the fervent prayer of my heart could be staring me in the face and I can’t see it. We’ve all done this, it’s like searching for something that is right under our noses yet unable to see it. O Lord, open the eyes of my heart to truly see you and your answers to the cries of my heart.