George H. Morrison - Devotional Sermons
Peter and the Angel
And behold, an angel of the Lord came upon him, and a light shone in the prison; and he smote Peter on the side, and raised him up, saying, Arise quickly. And his chains fell off from his hands--Act 12:7
Plotting Versus Praying
At the time when Christianity was spreading and getting its first welcome in the pagan world, Herod Agrippa I, grandson of Herod the Great, began to persecute the disciples in Jerusalem. James, one of the three whom Jesus had drawn closest to Him, was sent to be with Christ (which is far better); and then to conciliate the Jews, who were mightily annoyed at Peter's traffic with the Gentiles, Herod had an arrest laid upon Peter also. Now Peter had broken prison before. It would never do that that should happen again. Sixteen soldiers were thereupon sent off to watch him, between two of whom (taken in turn) Peter was chained. Everything looked very black for Peter then. His execution after Easter seemed inevitable. The king was against him, and the guard of soldiers, and the thick walls and bolted gates of the prison. What could a little band of well-wishers effect in the teeth of great worldly powers like these? Had they been faithless, they would have taken to plotting; but being faithful, they took to praying instead. We can often accomplish a great deal more by prayer than by all the plots and plans that seem so clever. For on the night before his execution Peter was sleeping and dreaming perhaps of heaven in the morning, when suddenly the ward was filled with light, and Peter stood up to find himself at liberty. The angel of the Lord had come to him; it all seemed like a dream to Peter. They passed out under the open sky, and after going through one street, the angel left him. And then the passage closes in the house of Mary, and I am sure that no one in that house of Mary would ever doubt the power of prayer again.
No Squandering of Divine Power in Any Miracle
First note, then, that there is no squandering of divine power in any miracle. When Peter rose up, his chains fell from his hands. It took the power of heaven to do that. And as he passed from the first ward to the second and through the iron gate into the street, the way was opened by divine assistance. Peter was powerless to achieve his liberty, and God did what Peter could not do. Still, there were many things that Peter could do, and heaven did not interfere in these. He had to gird himself and bind on his own sandals and cast his garment about him and step out. God was ready to do His proper work, but nobody but Peter must do Peter's. Now, the point I want the reader to observe is the economy of power in Bible miracles. That is one mark of the authentic miracle in contrast with the cheap marvels of a corrupted Church. At Cana, Jesus used the water pots and called on the servants who were standing there. In raising Lazarus the stone had to be rolled away, but no word of Jesus made the stone remove. At the feeding of the thousands on the hillside, the provisions of the young lad were taken, and the food was distributed by human hands. No one could have supplied the wine but Jesus; no one else could have brought Lazarus to life; no one could have fed the famished thousands--if these things are to be done, Jesus must do them. But there, as here, there is much that man can do. There are helping touches that human powers may give. And in the very heart of every miracle where the divine power is most signally in exercise, we find that these human powers are employed. That is the spiritual side of the old proverb that God helps those who help themselves.
Angels Depart When Their Work Is Done
Next, note that the angels depart whenever their work is done. The angel led Peter out of the prison ward; he was too dazed to grope his way in the dark corridors. And then they passed on through one street together under the first flushing of the Easter sunrise. Meanwhile the chill air was striking on Peter, he was coming to himself in the still street. He heard his own footfall echoing in the stillness; he recognized this house and that. It took the swift walk through one street to do it--swift, for I don't think that angels ever lag. But by the time one street was traversed, Peter was cooled and steadied, and forthwith the angel departed from him (Act 12:10). Now, sometimes the angels leave us, for our sin. It would stain the whiteness of their wings to walk with us. We live so meanly and have such unworthy thoughts that we are not fit company for angels. But there is another doctrine of the departing angel. They leave us as they left Peter, for our good. It would be very sweet to walk beside an angel. We should be certain never to take the wrong turn. We should move on through all the streets of life with never a tremor, under that angel guidance. But then--why has God given us our faculties? And what is our reason for, and what our will? You may depend upon it these would never waken, nor grow into their strong and godlike fulness if the white wings were always on ahead. If manhood is to come, childhood must go. There is no liberty where the angel is. It is where the spirit of the Lord is that there is liberty. So we all pass out of that angel street, to think ourselves alone in the chill morning But we are not alone, for God is with us; and we shall reach the door we are seeking as did Peter.
Even Our Gladness May Become a Hindrance
Last, note that even our gladness may become a hindrance. When Samuel heard the voice of God in the sanctuary, he got up in the morning and opened the Temple doors. But when Rhoda heard the voice of Peter, she left the door shut in Peter's face. Was she afraid to open at that hour? Like the sister in Comus, she was too innocent to fear. She opened not the door for gladness. It was her joy that kept her from her duty. Joy, then, may sometimes hinder duty. Do we ever read of joy hindering faith? When the disciples were gathered together within closed doors and suddenly the risen Jesus stood in their midst, Luke tells us that they believed not for joy (Luk 24:41-45). Now, joy is a serious and holy thing. Christ wants us all to be sharers in His joy. But remember there is a joy that sometimes hinders duty, and there is a joy that sometimes hinders faith. May not that be the reason why in our spiritual life God sometimes has to take our joy away? It is so supremely essential that we do our duty; it is so imperative that we believe. Perhaps some mother, glancing at this page, thinks of the child she used to call "my joy." It may be a little plainer to her now why the flower was transplanted to the brighter garden.
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