Every family has a sleep walking story or two. Those stories get told at family gatherings where members feel safe; they can celebrate belonging enough to recount the events with laughter rather than shame. My family has old sleep walking stories from when we were children as well as new ones now that our family has expanded to include in-law daughter and sons. Sorry, I can’t tell those stories now though they bring a smile to my face just thinking about them and anticipating the family get togethers this fall.
Perhaps you have never experienced sleep walking, but we all know what it is like to do automatic driving. We have gone down the same road so many times that we no longer see the passing scenery or the pilots of neighboring missiles zipping down the highway at ten miles over the speed limit. As we shut off the ignition at home we wonder how we got there.
Peter slept. The night awaiting execution in a cell where his good friend James’ life had ended with a sword was not enough to keep him awake. Luke carefully points to the calendar as well. The Passover 10 or 11 years before had brought him the greatest shame he had ever experienced. Somewhere in that decade Jesus’ recall recorded in John 21 had wiped away all shame. Maybe placing his hands on another sinner who thought he had no hope gave him the opportunity to recount his own “unforgivable” past that could not block the power of God’s love. He slept shamelessly, freed from worry. The church would survive without him. The Holy Spirit would see to that. He was about to experience the transition from this life to the next … that last journey held joyfully anticipated mysteries. Even prison shackles could not disrupt his sleep.
Acts celebrates many prayer and prison stories. Prayer tuned the saints’ lives for kingdom purposes and opened their eyes to what God planned for them (spoiler alert, chapter 13 will start with another prayer meeting). Prayer revealed open doors. So did prisons. They were free in every location, so incarceration just provided another context for the Holy Spirit to do His work. They expected imprisonment for the gospel. The sharp contrast between the light of the gospel and darkness of sin around them guaranteed jail time. They worked toward overthrowing the darkness rather than overthrowing governments.
Peter did not know he was free until he reached the street. The angel’s job, girding up his cloak and lacing his sandals didn’t arouse him. The street did. Once awakened his first thought was to go to a prayer meeting at a saint’s house. Just a bunch of saints praying in one of the sister’s residence. The leaders were not in attendance; the saints followed the Spirit’s lead in prayer. Peter wanted to be there to share the testimony of divine deliverance.
Then Peter just left and “went to another place”. We only see the apostle one more time in Acts 15 when he reminds the church of the day the Lord opened the door to the Gentiles. Then he faded away. The lead apostle acknowledged James and the brothers took the visible leadership positions now. And the church multiplied.
Meanwhile soldiers died for losing their charge. The penalty for the prisoner became their own as was customary for the day. (Humm, this sounds similar to Jesus’ own death for letting us go free.) Herod would die more slowly than they did. Due to his pride the Roman vassal received an angelic visitation as did Peter. He died of some intestinal worm disease. Josephus said it took him four or five days to succumb to their infestation. I doubt he slept very much.
Acts 12 ends quietly. Luke simply gives the plans for a 400-mile trip by Barnabas, Saul, and John Mark – the one nourished on prayer in his mother’s house. The two evangelists had finished their mission to deliver financial aid to the Jerusalem church, so they went back to their disciples in Antioch. While Peter would only get one more mention in Acts, the Spirit was about to do an amazing new thing through these three men even though they did not know it at the time.
Peter didn’t mind. His sleepiness was not lethargy … it was contentment that his whole life belonged to the Lord. The Lord could use him in accordance with His purposes. To live or die was the Lord’s good pleasure. The Lord’s plan would be achieved in startling and unexpected ways, and the Lord alone would be glorified. No wonder he slept. Psalm 127:2 had never been truer.
I think I need to pray.
Sometimes I sleep walk and sometimes I just can’t sleep. I sleep walk when my life has become automated with little appreciation for the work You want to do today and little anticipation for what is to come. Have mercy. How many angels have I missed?
You are calling me to a peaceful existence in a turbulent world. A place where I can find rest in prison or in the prayer meeting. A place where I can trust Your divine leadership plans and step aside to whatever work You have next for me. A place where I can finish one task and then go home with friends.
I wonder what awaits the church in these troubling times. I know You have something mighty in store for the church on behalf of the world. I look forward to laboring with others in whatever small or big place You have for us. You will get all of the glory.
We will find our rest in You without fear of sword, gut worms, or of being without value in Your body. You have promised to lead us. We will follow.
Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done.
In Jesus’ Name,