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Bible openThe three-year Lectionary that many Catholics and Protestants hear in public worship gives us a great variety of Holy Scripture.

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

My series Forbidden Bible Verses — ones the Lectionary editors and their clergy have omitted — examines the passages we do not hear in church. These missing verses are also Essential Bible Verses, ones we should study with care and attention. Often, we find that they carry difficult messages and warnings.

Today’s reading is from the English Standard Version with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

Acts 12:12-17

12 When he realized this, he went to the house of Mary, the mother of John whose other name was Mark, where many were gathered together and were praying. 13 And when he knocked at the door of the gateway, a servant girl named Rhoda came to answer. 14 Recognizing Peter’s voice, in her joy she did not open the gate but ran in and reported that Peter was standing at the gate. 15 They said to her, “You are out of your mind.” But she kept insisting that it was so, and they kept saying, “It is his angel!” 16 But Peter continued knocking, and when they opened, they saw him and were amazed. 17 But motioning to them with his hand to be silent, he described to them how the Lord had brought him out of the prison. And he said, “Tell these things to James and to the brothers.”[a] Then he departed and went to another place.

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Last week’s post discussed Peter’s dramatic escape from prison. An angel of the Lord appeared in his cell in the middle of the night before his trial, where he was chained to two of Herod Antipas’s guards — one on each side. The angel told Peter to wake up and stand. When he stood, his chains fell from him.

The broken chains were real. Matthew Henry mentions that a soldier kept them for many years as a religious relic. They were then given to an empress by the name of Eudoxia. Wikipedia says that the Venerable Bede, an early historian, wrote about them:

According to a letter quoted by Bede, Pope Vitalian sent a cross containing filings said to be from Peter’s chains to the queen of Oswy, Anglo-Saxon King of Northumbria in 665, as well as unspecified relics of the saint to the king.[103]

The angel then led Peter out of the prison, past the guards and out of the gate, which opened by itself. Once they turned a corner onto a street familiar to Peter, the angel vanished. Peter thought he was receiving a vision during this time until he realised that he was a free man.

He went to the house of a lady named Mary, the mother of John Mark, where people were praying for Peter’s safety and freedom (verse 12).

Mary was related to Barnabas. Barnabas was the Levite in Acts 4:36-37 who gave all of his assets to the church in Jerusalem. In Acts 9, he convinced the disciples in Jerusalem that they should accept the converted Saul of Tarsus, their greatest persecutor — later Paul — into their church.

John Mark wrote the Gospel of Mark. We will read more about him and Barnabas in Acts. They were cousins who spread the Gospel message together. Barnabas also worked with Paul. These are the references to John Mark and Barnabas.

Of Mary, John MacArthur tells us that she (emphases mine):

was wealthy. She had a maid, Rhoda, she had household servants, it was large enough to have prayer meetings and gatherings. Her son, whose surname was Mark, is the same Mark who wrote the gospel of Mark and he was a companion and buddy of Peter and got most of his information for the gospel of Mark from Peter. Of course, the Holy Spirit gave it to him, but it comes out of experiences that he had in the time of Peter. And so here’s the house of Mark. Incidentally it’s the same John Mark that accompanies Saul and Barnabas on the missionary journey at first and is finally sent home and later restored.

Matthew Henry surmised that there was a 24-hour prayer vigil at Mary’s house for Peter:

They were many that were got together for this work, as many perhaps as the room would hold; and first one prayed, and then another, of those who gave themselves to the word and prayer, the rest joining with them; or, if they had not ministers among them, no doubt but there were many private Christians that knew how to pray, and to pray pertinently, and to continue long in prayer when the affections of those who joined were so stirred as to keep pace with them upon such an occasion. This was in the night, when others were asleep, which was an instance both of their prudence and of their zeal. Note, It is good for Christians to have private meetings for prayer, especially in times of distress, and not to let fall nor forsake such assemblies.

Peter knocked at the gate, and Mary’s servant Rhoda went to answer (verse 13). MacArthur gives us the meaning of Rhoda:

The name means Rose.

Henry outlines the danger of a call in the middle of the night with Christians in jeopardy in Jerusalem:

A damsel came to hearken; not to open the door till she knew who was there, a friend or a foe, and what their business was, fearing informers.

He also thought that Rhoda was probably a Christian, as St Luke — the author of Acts — named her:

Whether this damsel was one of the family or one of the church, whether a servant or a daughter, does not appear; it should seem, by her being named, that she was of note among the Christians, and more zealously affected to the better part than most of her age.

She was so thrilled to hear Peter’s voice that, instead of opening the gateway door to him, she ran inside the house to tell everyone (verse 14).

Everyone told her she was out of her mind (verse 15). When she persisted, they said it was Peter’s angel, meaning his tutelary angel, a Jewish belief. MacArthur explains:

They believed that every Jew had an angel of his own, a guardian angel, and that angel could materialize in the form and the face of that person.

Henry points out that angelos was also frequently used to mean messenger. He adds that there was also a common belief that before someone died, a spirit in their likeness appeared presaging death.

Imagine Peter’s anxiety about having to wait while Rhoda and Mary’s household were discussing all of this. Peter was known throughout Jerusalem and was in grave danger should anyone see him in the street.

MacArthur points out the irony:

And what are they doing in there having an all night prayer meeting for Peter and she says your prayers are answered. He’s at the gate. And meanwhile Peter’s going, “Where did she go? Open the gate.” Standing in the middle of the road and she’s in there having a debate. And you know this is what’s so humorous here is because they’re so typically like the Christians today who pray with all the zeal in the world but none of the faith to believe. You know you hear a guy give his testimony and you know the Lord answered my prayer. Well shock! But anyway verse 15, “They said unto her, You’re crazy.” Now isn’t that unbelievable. Oh God get Peter out of Jail. Peter’s here! Oh you’re crazy. He’s in jail. I’m glad God answers the prayer of zeal as well as the prayer of faith. I think sometimes mine are mostly zeal and not always faith.

Finally, they opened the door of the gateway and let him in (verse 16). MacArthur points out:

“And when they had opened the door they saw him and they were astonished,” which shows you how much faith they really had.

As in, more zeal than faith.

Peter motioned with his hand for everyone to be quiet, that he wanted to stop by and tell them about the angel freeing him (verse 17). He specifically asked them to tell James — the Lord’s brother, the author of the letters of James in the New Testament — as well as the rest of the disciples. Then, Peter left.

Henry thought that Peter either went in to pray in thanksgiving with them before departing or he instructed them to do so while he left Jerusalem in great haste. He did not have much time.

Henry tells us Peter was wise to seek safety:

Note, Even the Christian law of self-denial and suffering for Christ has not abrogated and repealed the natural law of self-preservation, and care for our own safety, as far as God gives an opportunity of providing for it by lawful means.

MacArthur says:

We don’t know where he went, but wherever he went we know what he did just because the kind of person he was. He wound up stirring up trouble everywhere and wound up getting crucified upside down. But nevertheless he departed and went another place and that’s the fade out of Peter. Good-bye Peter, that’s him. Brief appearance in Chapter 15, but that’s all. He goes off.

I wrote about his letters to his flock in 1 Peter and 2 Peter. These are available near the bottom of my Essential Bible Verses page.

Early writings of the Church says that Peter and Paul — along with Peter’s wife — were martyred on the same day in Rome. Cruelly, the Romans forced Peter to watch his wife’s martyrdom. His last words to her were:

Remember the Lord.

If you missed reading about Peter’s ministry when I originally posted the following, you might enjoy these entries:

John MacArthur on St Peter

John MacArthur on Peter’s leadership qualities

More from John MacArthur on Peter’s leadership journey

Next time — Acts 12:18-19

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