Tucked within the confines of Acts 12 is a telling description of the Apostle Peter’s true character; a portrait of his internal constitution. To appreciate the notation about the great apostle one needs to understand the broader context.
King Herod was rounding up the Christian leaders in Jerusalem, putting “violent hands on some” (Acts 12:1). James, one of the leading apostles, and the brother of John, was put to death “with the sword” (Acts 12:2). King Herod made the observation that this really appealed to the Jewish populace, so he then had Peter, another leading apostle, arrested and thrown into prison, “delivering him over to four squads of soldiers to guard him” (Acts 12:4). One can almost see King Herod’s henchmen wiping James’ blood off of the sword so as to ready it for Peter. But note Acts 12:6 and following:
Now when Herod was about to bring Peter out (to be executed), on that very night, Peter was sleeping between two soldiers, bound with two chains, and sentries before the door were guarding the prison. (Acts 12:6)
Of course, the passage goes on to explain how an angel of the Lord came and rescued Peter. My problem is that I am stuck on the detail that with all that was at stake, with all of the tension and angst that was no doubt swirling around the city of Jerusalem, with the smell of death in the air, Peter was, well, sleeping. He was not merely nodding off, like the evening when he and James and John were found by Jesus dozing in the Garden of Gethsemane. The sleep written of in Acts 12:6 is of a different kind, a deeper kind, an “infant-in-her-crib” kind. Peter was in a deep, contented, quiet slumber.
But how could this be? Why is it that the Apostle Peter could, with all that is at stake, be so utterly restful and at peace? Perhaps his own words, penned by his own hand at another point in his illustrious life, can help us. First Peter 3:13-17 provides some insight, but especially verses 14 and 15. Consider these:
But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, but in your hearts regard Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you. . . .
The preceding is taken from the wonderful English Standard Version of the Bible. But I also like the nuance provided by the New Living Translation: worship Christ as Lord of your life. A key to understanding what Peter is driving at is this: if Jesus Christ is your ‘everything,’ then you need not fear anything.
Is Jesus Christ your everything? Do you regard the Lord Jesus as holy, set apart, worthy of your heart’s affection?
Notice that I am tying the Apostle Peter’s utter rest and peace while chained between two guards as directly connected with his own willingness to establish in his life Jesus Christ as the holy and singularly qualified master. I have not mentioned that Peter’s sleep came from reading the Bible or prayer or going to church or being a Level Five Leader or anything of the like. Those are all critically important. But they are means to an end, not the end in themselves, despite our evangelical Christian value-system that seemingly elevates structure over relationship. It is the relationship that made the difference. Peter was confident in Master Jesus, and so he slept when the whole world was crashing around him.
Maybe no one is readying a sword with which to shred your body. But perhaps you have an enemy in the office. Or maybe you have to deal with a bully at school. Or maybe your husband has just told you he does not love you anymore. Or perhaps your best friend just committed suicide. Or maybe your whole department just got laid off, including you. Or maybe the tumor has returned.
We all have our moments when we are chained to something potentially awful. The question is, “How are we responding?” Do we fall apart? Or, like the ancient apostle, can we rest?
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“Write This Down…” provides a restatement of selected points or observations from various teaching venues at which Pastor Matthew speaks. The preceding material is from Pastor Matthew’s devotional entitled, “Asleep in Chains,” a message for junior and senior high students and faculty presented in chapel on September 12, 2011, at Park Christian School.