(Adapted from an article that appeared in “Knowing the Scriptures”, Nov. – Dec. 1935)
Peter therefore was kept in prison; but prayer was made without ceasing of the Church unto God for him. And when Herod would have brought him forth, the same night Peter was sleeping between two soldiers; bound with two chains; and the keepers before the door kept the prison. (Acts 12:5-6)
There is something characteristic about the circumstances in which Peter appears in this incident: “the same night Peter was sleeping between two soldiers.” Luke, who records the fact, has also recounted in his gospel how this same disciple slept on the Mount of Transfiguration. It seems strange that Peter should sleep when a subject of such surpassing interest was being discussed, when Moses and Elijah met with the Savior and spoke with Him about the great event which would terminate their own dispensation, when “they spake of His decease which He should accomplish at Jerusalem.” (Luke 9:31) And yet how very up-to-date the situation is, for we who live in an atmosphere that is literally charged with the imminence of the great event which will make the end of our age, are no more alert and no more watchful than Peter and his companions were.
And then Mark writes of an occasion also where Peter slept. It was the Garden of Gethsemane. The gathering sorrows which the Savior had to bear alone had driven Him to seek from a few of His own, a little fellowship in His rejection. “And He cometh and findeth them sleeping.” (Mark 14:37) Again history is seen repeating itself. For our Lord’s rejection is not over yet. The stigma that attaches itself to His Name may still be felt. The opposition of a hostile world must still be braved, or there is the alternative of lapsing into an unfaithful and compromising inertia.
But while these two failures on Peter’s part may be censured by those who will, the incident recorded in the Scripture quoted above shows an altogether different side of Peter’s character. This time there is attached to his slumber an unquestioning trust, an implicit faith in God, an unwavering confidence in prayer which commands our admiration. “Peter therefore was kept in prison, but prayer was made without ceasing of the Church unto God for Him.” There is the secret of the prisoner’s peace of mind. Think of the eloquence of the word “but.” Ranged on one side of it is all the power of a selfish and antagonistic monarch and on the other side only a handful of humble believers. They had prayer, and behind their prayer they had God and that was all they needed.
Some of Peter’s best learned lessons were taught him while he lay in prison. Without this experience, he could never have written in his first epistle, “Beloved, think it not strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you as though some strange thing happened unto you.” (1 Pet. 4:12) What force is added to his words by his own experience of the fiery trial. Or who knows but that one of God’s purposes in allowing Peter’s faith to be tried was that he might be qualified to write: “That the trial of your faith, being much more precious than gold…might be found unto praise and honor and glory at the appearing of Jesus Christ.” (1 Pet. 1:7)
Probably the truth which impressed Peter most was the same truth that Martha and Mary learned – that God is never in a hurry. It seems clear that Peter had endured the privations of imprisonment for a considerable time. We may also be sure that his brethren had been constant in their supplication on his behalf. And yet God almost allowed the very morning of Herod’s intended crime to dawn before He effected His servant’s deliverance. But deliverance did come, and surely with it there came to Peter’s soul the understanding that “God’s time is best” for the testing of his faith resulted in its strengthening.
This trustful calm has almost become a lost art. We know more of the bustle of a restless spirit than the sleep of an unquestioning trust. Let us remind ourselves that God is still on the Throne—that He still has an interest in our supplications, and that He is still able to make our extremity His opportunity.