Rhoda: The joy of answered prayer (Acts 12:1-19)

 Read passage on Bible Gateway

Just before you read this post, I’d like you to pause and think about something: What do you expect to happen when you pray? Maybe think of a recent occasion when you asked God for something to happen. What did you expect to happen as you offered that request to Him?

The passage above is fairly lengthy but the subject of this post, Rhoda, appears in just verses 13-15. I find her to be a good example of one of the lesser known characters who grace the pages of Scripture but whose lives can teach and challenge us.

The church had been growing in influence and reach across Jerusalem, Judea and beyond. Persecution had been part of the story (see Acts 8:1-4) with many believers having been scattered across the known world. These people had taken the gospel with them and God had advanced His kingdom through this dispersion. The apostles had stayed in Jerusalem (Acts 8:1) but the persecution had not gone away. We read in Acts 12 that Herod had arrested and killed James (v2). This had gone down well in some quarters and so in a bid to continue to please opponents of the church, and at the same time strengthen his own position, he had seized Peter (v3). His intention was, no doubt, to hold some sort of trial and then have him killed too. However, his plans were put on hold while the Passover was celebrated (v4) and he held Peter in prison.

Meanwhile, the church gathered to pray.

The church decided that it was not going to simply give Peter up and see him suffer the same fate as James. And so the church gathered to pray. Prayer was a characteristic of the life of the early church (for some examples see Acts 1:14, 2:42, 4:31) and so it was an obvious response to the news that Peter had been arrested. This time their prayer was characterised by there being many gathered to pray (v12) and that ‘prayer for him [Peter] was being made fervently’ (v5).

As the church pray, God, in His sovereign wisdom and plan, organises a prison break which involves an angel of the Lord waking Peter up by thumping him in the ribs (v7), freeing him from the chains which held him (v8), telling him to dress (v8) and leading him out of the prison (vv9-10). Peter thought he was seeing a vision (v9) and it takes him a while to realise that what is happening is real!

Peter thus finds himself at a bit of a loose end as he hadn’t made any plans for the evening! It is interesting to note that he knows that the church will have gathered to pray and so he heads for the house where they will be meeting (v12). Peter knocks on the door and Rhoda, a servant-girl, comes to answer (v13). She immediately recognises Peter’s voice (v14) and runs back in to tell the gathering that Peter has arrived. She is so overcome by joy at hearing his voice that she forgets to do the thing she went to the door to do which was to open it!! There is such an exuberance and delight in her reaction: ‘because of her joy she did not open the gate’ (v14). Instead, she rushes back to the others who were still praying, and excitedly and breathlessly announces that their prayers have been answered since Peter was now stood at the door.

The church’s reaction is somewhat different. After Rhoda has interrupted their fervent prayer to say that Peter is free they dismiss her as being mad and ‘out of your mind’ (v15). When she continued to insist that she was telling the truth they decided that as it couldn’t be Peter it must be his angel (v15).

The reaction of the church is informative and provides a challenge for us. Initially, they react with disbelief. The God they are petitioning is All-powerful. They believe this otherwise they would not be praying! However, they are not prepared to accept that He would answer the prayers they were at that moment praying. They instead quickly moved to dismiss Rhoda, the person who had reported the miracle. They question her state of mind (v15) and are more ready to believe that she is unreliable than that God is totally reliable. When she continues to insist that this is the case they move to trying to explain away what has occurred buy claiming that is must simply be the appearance of Peter’s angel (v15).

How often we do the same. We hear of the miraculous and can be so quick to dismiss the reporter as unreliable or emotional or caught up in the moment. And then when the reports keep on coming we quickly move to explain it away with some theologically sound argument that leaves little room or need for God or His intervention.

Rhoda provides us with a lovely contrast to this attitude. Her faith is based in a miracle-working God and so when she sees the answer to her prayers she reacts joyfully! She displays unbridled joy when she hears Peter’s voice and then when her report is met with disbelief she continues to insist that this is the case.

Meanwhile, Peter is at the door and still knocking! It is sobering to think that the reluctance to accept the intervention of God in a situation can leave someone in the position of having found it easier to get out of a heavily guarded jail than to get into the church meeting.

So, let me ask you again, when you pray what do you expect to happen? And I wonder how you will respond when you next hear of an answer to prayer or when you next see the evidence of God having transformed a situation? Will your immediate reaction be anywhere close to Rhoda’s outburst of joy?

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