“God’s anonymous: Rhoda”
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus.
In a small town in Texas, or so the story goes, a bar began construction on a new building to increase their business. And just as soon as a local church found out about it, they started a campaign of petitions and prayers to block the bar from opening. However, much to their dismay, work continued and the tavern was eventually completed.
Then, just a few days before it was going to open, there was a tremendous thunderstorm in the middle of the night. Lightning hit the structure and burned it to the ground.
The members of the church were delighted--no one was hurt and the tavern was gone.
Until, a few weeks later, they received notice that the owner of the bar was suing them for five million dollars! He said their prayers were directly responsible for the burning of his building, preventing him from making a living. Having no choice, the church hired a lawyer to help them fight the suit, arguing that the loss of the tavern was nothing more than pure coincidence.
Finally, after both sides presented their arguments before the judge, the judge remarked, “I don’t know what to make of all this, but it seems to me that here we have the owner of a bar who believes in the power of prayer, and a church that does not.”
So it was in the words of our text, from the book of Acts chapter 12. I’ll begin with this: “About that time Herod the king laid violent hands on some who belonged to the church. He killed James the brother of John with the sword, and when he saw that it pleased the Jews, he proceeded to arrest Peter also. This was during the days of Unleavened Bread. And when he had seized him, he put him in prison, delivering him over to four squads of soldiers to guard him, intending after the Passover to bring him out to the people. So Peter was kept in prison, but earnest prayer for him was made to God by the church” (Acts 12:1-5).
If you were here last week, you’ll remember that no sooner had Jesus died, rose again and ascended into heaven, the church began to grow. What started as a group of 120 quickly grew to three thousand, and then five thousand. As the Bible says in Acts chapter 2: “And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved” (Acts 2:47).
But along with great growth came great persecution. Stephen was stoned and Saul ravaged the church, dragging both men and women off to prison (Acts 8:3).
Which takes us to chapter 12, where it says, “About that time Herod the king laid violent hands on some who belonged to the church” (Acts 12:1).
Who was Herod? It wasn’t Herod the Great, the one who killed the baby boys of Bethlehem. He died some thirty years before.
Instead, this was Herod Agrippa, the son of Aristobulus and the grandson of Herod the Great. (Don’t worry, that won’t be on the test!) In time, with quite a lot of help from his good friend and emperor Claudius, he became a very rich and powerful man.
And wanting to do all that he could to snuff out this heretical sect called “Christianity,” he began to dismantle it piece by piece. As it says in verse 2: “He killed James the brother of John with the sword.”
Who was James? He was one of Zebedee the fisherman’s sons, as in “Grant that one of these two sons of mine may sit at Your right and the other at Your left when You come into Your kingdom,” and “Lord, should we call down fire from heaven to destroy them?,” as in an eyewitness to the Transfiguration, as in “Stay here and keep watch with Me, while I go over there and pray”--that James. He was a leader of the church, a pillar of the church, one of the best and most faithful of all of Jesus’ disciples.
So wanting to make his intentions perfectly and unmistakably clear, Herod put him to death by the sword.
Then if that wasn’t enough, as it says in verse 3, “He proceeded to arrest Peter also…And when he had seized him, he put him in prison, delivering him over to four squads of soldiers to guard him” (Acts 12:3-4).
Herod was on a roll and there wasn’t anything anyone could do to stop him.
Except pray. Constantly pray. Fervently pray. As it says in verse 5: “But earnest prayer for him was made to God by the church.”
Now please bear in mind that Peter had already been arrested two times before, and each time, within hours, he once again walked free.
So if you were Herod, what would you do? Let’s just say he wasn’t about to take any chances. Not only did he hand him over to four squads of soldiers, (that’s sixteen soldiers by the way!), even while Peter was sleeping, he was chained to two soldiers, one on his right and the other on his left, as sentries stood guard at the door.
Talk about maximum security!
Now imagine, for a moment, that you’re Peter, chained between two guards, sitting on the floor. Your good friend and fellow disciple James was already dead, and there was no question whatsoever that within hours, maybe days at best, that you too would be dead. After all, if God didn’t deliver James from the evil hands of Herod, why would He deliver him from his sentence of death?
Escape was impossible and death was inevitable.
But what did the church do? Hope against hope, it remembered the words of its Savior who said, “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened to you” (Matthew 7:7), and “If two of you agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them by My Father in heaven” (Matthew 18:19), and “Whatever you ask in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours” (Mark 11:24).
So they gathered together and prayed.
In the words of Bible commentator John Stott: “On the one side was the authority of Herod, the power of the sword and the security of the prison. On the other side, the church turned to prayer, which is the only power which the powerless have.”
Then what? God answered that prayer with a yes! Verse 7: “And behold, an angel of the Lord stood next to him, and a light shone in the cell. He struck Peter on the side and woke him, saying, ‘Get up quickly.’ And the chains fell off his hands. And the angel said to him, ‘Dress 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 followed him” (Acts 12:7-9).
Can you notice that Peter hardly even believed it either? First, the Bible said the angel didn’t simply nudge him. It said it struck him on the side to wake him up. Then it said that Peter thought it was a vision. He didn’t even think it was real.
But as the chains fell off and as he passed through the first guards and the second guards and even the main iron gate leading into the city, then it began to dawn on him that it really was happening after all!
So now that he’s suddenly and miraculously free, where’s he going to go? He was, after all, a convict on the loose, a man on the run!
The Bible says, “He went to the house of Mary” (Acts 12:12). Which Mary?
Not Mary the mother of Jesus or Mary Magdalene. This Mary was the mother of John Mark, the one who wrote the gospel of Mark, cousin of Barnabas, companion of St. Peter and friend of the apostle Paul.
And apparently, not only was she a good woman and a remarkable Christian woman, she was also a reasonably wealthy woman whose home was big enough to host the church. As Luke wrote, “He went to the house of Mary…where many were gathered together and were praying” (Acts 12:12).
So there he was, deep in the night, out in the dark, excited, worried, constantly looking over his shoulder and probably more than a little afraid, when he knocked on the door. And that’s when, out of the blue, we meet a girl, a servant girl, named Rhoda.
Now we really don’t know anything about her except that she was young, probably between the ages of 10 and 12, and she was a servant. And among her many responsibilities and chores was to answer the door. It was up to her to know just who to let in and who would be better to leave out. So off she went to answer the door!
Then what? Luke wrote, “Recognizing Peter’s voice…” (Acts 12:14).
She recognized his voice! At some point, and we don’t know how or when, she had heard him speak. She heard him preach. And she believed.
There was just one problem. She left him standing outside the door! The Bible says, “In her gladness,” (she was so shocked and overjoyed), “she did not open the gate, but ran in and reported that Peter was standing at the gate” (Acts 12:14).
So now, let me ask you once again, if you were praying for Peter’s release and suddenly, miraculously, he was standing outside your door, what would you say? What would you do?
They said, in verse 15, “You are out of your mind!” In other words, “You’re crazy, girl, mad as a hatter! It’s stupid. It’s impossible. There’s not a chance in the world. I mean, after all, just because we were praying for Peter’s release, doesn’t mean…
“Well, maybe it does!”
And sure enough, just as soon as they opened the door, there was Peter safe and sound, and really hoping to come inside!
So what lessons can we learn? I’ll leave you with two. The first is this--God answers prayer. No matter how crazy or impossible it might seem to you or to anyone else, God answers prayer.
That is, after all, what Paul wrote to the Philippians. He said, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and petition with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:6-7). And Jesus said in the book of Luke, “Pray and never give up” (Luke 18:1).
And one more thing--just as the church thought Rhoda was “out of her mind,” there will be those who’ll think we’re out of our minds too, crazy for our unwavering faith in the knowledge and truth of Jesus.
So just like Rhoda, be steadfast and unmovable even when the world thinks we’re out of our mind.
It was just a small group Bible Study. At the time, Bob Lewis was serving a church in Tucson, Arizona when he asked the question, “What is something that you would like to believe God for in prayer, but you just think is impossible?”
After each member answered the question, it finally came back to him. He said, “I think it would probably be impossible for my dad to become a Christian.”
You see, his father, Tom, had lived all of his life with absolutely no interest in religion. After all, life was good. He sold insurance and his wife, Billie, was the personal assistant to the lieutenant governor, and then to a state senator. While other children were cared for by full-time moms, Bob and his two brothers had live-in maids who cleaned the house, washed their clothes and fixed their meals.
But by the time he was ten, he knew something was terribly wrong. His dad began to drink heavily and his mom and dad yelled at each other all the time. As a teenager, he was embarrassed when he brought friends home and his intoxicated father stumbled through the house.
Christmas Eve was a disaster. As tensions rose, drinking started and the screaming began. Then three frightened and confused boys watched as Christmas collapsed in ruin.
Years passed, and then came the night of his Bible study and his “impossible” prayer. You see, that very night, his father and mother had gotten into another terrible fight. His father was drunk and decided to leave the house. When she grabbed his shoulder afraid to let him drive, he pushed her away and slammed the door.
But what he didn’t know was that, just as he left, she stumbled backwards, broke her neck on a marble coffee table, and fell to the floor. When he found out what happened the next morning, he had a heart attack.
And all that happened the very same night Bob prayed his “impossible” prayer. And reeling from two possible losses, his father and his mother, he boarded a plane with a heavy heart. Would his dad live? Would his mom? What was God doing?
And while his mother lived, he sat and talked with his father in his hospital bed, and he told him about Christ and forgiveness and eternity. And to his complete surprise, the impossible happened. His father believed.
When he died, nine months later, he said, “There’s nothing I wish I would have said to you, Dad, because I said it. I have no regrets. I am healed, and now, so are you. Rest in peace.”
How is all this possible? Because we have a Savior, Jesus, who not only hears, but answers our prayers.
We could never thank You enough, dear Father, for the grace You show each day of our lives. Help us to rest, calmly and confidently, in You, for Jesus’ sake. Amen