George H. Morrison - Devotional Sermons
And as Peter knocked at the door of the gate, a maid came to hearken, named Rhoda. And when she knew Peter's voice, she opened not the gate for gladness, but ran in, and told how Peter stood before the gate--Act 12:13-14
Her Name Meant "Rose" and She Was One Indeed
In visiting a sickroom where there is so much that speaks of suffering one is often met by a single spot of brightness. It is a flower that has been brought by loving hands to gladden and refresh the weary sufferer. The room is darkened to shut out the sunlight which might beat too fiercely on the aching head. The nurse as she moves upon her tender ministry does so with a noiseless footstep. Everything is quiet and subdued, suggestive of days and nights of anguish, save it may be one rose of perfect loveliness that opens its petals beside the sufferer's couch.
In some such way in this chapter of the Acts do we light on Rhoda, and Rhoda means a rose. She blossoms here in the presence of much suffering and glows like a flame of brightness in the gloom. The chapter opens with the death of James and with the imprisonment of Simon Peter. It closes with the tragic death of Herod when he was smitten of God in the midst of his great pomp. And it is in that environment of gloom, with the shadow on it of suffering and death, that we light on Rhoda--that is, Rose--and whose name is fragrant as a rose until this hour. Rhoda is no great lady playing a mighty part. We never hear of her before or after. And yet I think that God has set her here and given her an immortality she never looked for, not for her own sake but for ours, that we might be better because she has been.
A Servant Who Partook in Family Worship
In the first place, then, we shall observe that she shared in the devotions of the family. She was as eagerly interested in Simon Peter as anyone who was in the house that night. It is probable that Mary was in comfortable circumstances and that her home was a roomy and well-appointed one. She was the aunt of Barnabas, and Barnabas was a wealthy man who had had great possessions in the isle of Cyprus. And then we read that on this eventful night there was a large company in Mary's house, and that would point to it as a roomy dwelling, as of one who was in comfortable circumstances. We may take it, then, that in the home of Mary, Rhoda was not an only servant. She was one of several; she held an inferior place; it is likely that the other slaves would all be men. Yet here we find her at worship with the household, taking a share in their unceasing prayers, and overborne by a very tide of gladness when she heard the voice of Peter at the gate.
Mistress and Slave on Their Knees Together
Now there is one thing we must be on our guard against when we think of slavery in the ancient world. We must never carry into our thoughts of Jewish slavery the stories we have read of Greek and Roman slavery. A Roman was often very cruel to his slaves; it was very seldom that a Jew was that. There lingered in Jewry the older and kindlier feeling of the household of patriarchal times. And yet granting all that, as we must grant it if we have an eye for the hand of God in history, do you not think we have here in Mary's household a trace of the growing influence of Jesus? It is only eleven years since the resurrection, yet what a beautiful Christian home is this one. The mistress is still the mistress in the dwelling and the slave has not yet ceased to be a slave. Yet something of a common sisterhood has touched them; in their deepest and dearest they are united now; they have sat at the Table of the Lord together, and together they have prayed through the long night. That is how Jesus handled social problems. He was never a wild and reckless revolutionary. He never came to Mary and said, "You must let Rhoda go: it is against the law of God to have a slave." What He did do was to draw into sweet sisterhood the mistress and the menial at her gate; to fill up the gulf with His redeeming love until you find them on their knees together.
Nevertheless Rhoda Performed Her Common Duties
Once more let us notice about Rhoda that she was not above her common duties. It was her task, as we say in Scotland, to mind the door, and our story tells us that she did it faithfully. In Jewish households, let me say in passing, it was generally a female slave who had this work to do. In our wealthier homes, I know not why, this duty is generally given to a manservant. But even among the wealthiest of the Jews and when every other servant was a man, the office of attending to the door was invariably entrusted to a woman. Even in the High Priest's palace it was so, as Simon Peter knew so bitterly. Was it not the maid who kept the door there who had taunted him into his base denial? How different was that porteress from Rhoda, for she had known him by his voice and spurned him, but Rhoda when she heard it was so glad that she was powerless in the very joy of it.
Rhoda Was Spiritually Liberated and Yet Was Satisfied with Her Menial Tasks
That, however, is by the way. What I want you to note just now is something different. It is how Rhoda, in spite of her new sisterhood, was still active in her menial duty. Do you not think she felt in these eleven years how the spirit of that home was altering? Was she not conscious of a new kindness and regard as for a little sister for whom Jesus died? Yet in spite of that and of the place it gave her and of the new liberties that clustered round it, she was just as faithful to her humble task as in the old days when she was nobody. Whatever her emancipation did, it did not make her fretful at her post. She did not think that she could play the mistress because for her and her mistress the one blood was shed. Rather I think did Rhoda realize now, as she had never realized before, that the very stamp and seal of Christian character is that one should be faithful in the least. It is never a mark of a true Christian liberty that it makes us discontented with our duty. It makes us discontented with ourselves, but never with the task that God has given us. Nay, on the contrary it glorifies that task, treats it as something that can be done for Christ's sake, and never forgets that the Master whom it serves could find a kingdom in a mustard seed.
We Need the Example of Rhoda's Service
Now I think, friends, there are few truths that need to be more pressed home today than that. If we need a great deal more of Mary's love, we need a great deal more of Rhoda's service. I heard of a theatre manager the other day who was talking to a friend about his difficulties. And he said that one of the greatest of his difficulties was this, to get people who would throw themselves into the humbler parts. He could always get actors to take the leading roles and who thought themselves perfectly competent to do it, but what troubled him was to get those who would do well in obscure and insignificant positions. That is a complaint we hear on every hand--a widespread unwillingness to do the lowlier services. And men lay the blame of it on education and on the new ideas that have followed education. But what we want is not less education: we shall never go back, please God, in that direction. What we want with all progress and all emancipation is more of the spirit of the Lord Jesus Christ. Do you think that there ever dwelt upon our earth one with a grander outlook than our Lord had? You recall how He said, "The Son shall make you free," and how He added, "Then are ye free indeed." And yet with all that freedom which was His, that largeness of heart as the sand of the seashore--how lovingly and how patiently He toiled in the lowly ministry of Galilee. That is the spirit we still need if we are to be saved from the perils of today. The boundaries of the past are being trampled on. The fences around the fields are breaking down. And you may depend upon it that with that enlargement there will be growing restlessness and trouble, unless we learn from Christ as Rhoda learned the sacredness of common duty. Samuel on the morning following his call opened the doors of the House of the Lord as usual. Rhoda returned to the duty of the slave though lifted up in Christ to be a sister. And Jesus, knowing that He came from God and went to God, knowing His past and future on the throne, did what? took a towel and girded Himself and washed His disciples' feet.
In Her Gladness She Forgot Her Duty to Open the Door
But that is not the whole truth about Rhoda, though it is true and we do well to ponder on it. The fact remains that though not above her duty, yet she forgot her duty in her gladness. Like a cautious maid she did not open at once. That would have been perilous at such an hour. Someone was knocking and was knocking lustily, and she went to see if it was friend or foe. And it was then she recognized the voice of Peter, and it filled her with such an overmastering gladness that she was back in an instant with the news, and left the door barred in Peter's face. There was something, I take it, in Peter's voice that haunted the memory of those who heard it. And Rhoda knew it well. Had she not heard him preaching? Had she not often let him in before? And Peter would always have a word for her and always a smile of greeting when he passed, all which I have a shrewd suspicion had been the means of leading her to Christ. No wonder that her heart was rent in twain when she heard that Peter was at the point of death. No wonder she was ecstatically glad when she recognized his voice out in the street. And it is one of those touches which none could ever counterfeit and which in themselves are worth a score of arguments--to read that in the delirium of her joy she quite omitted to let Peter in.
The Danger in Our Gladness to Forget the Voices That Call from Without
Now, brethren, joy is a holy thing and gladness is a commanded duty. "Rejoice in the Lord always," says Paul, and, "again I say, Rejoice." There is a vast deal in the Gospel we profess that tends to foster a glad and joyous spirit. It is glad to be loved, and we are loved in Christ with a love that triumphs over sin and death. Yet in all gladness when it is overflowing do we not recognize a certain peril--the peril of forgetting just as Rhoda the voices that are calling from without. People whose lives are uniformly happy are very rarely generous in their sympathy. They do not understand; they have no eyes to see; they have no ears to hear the voice that cries. It takes the touch of sorrow to give that, and the bearing of burdens heavy to be borne, and the shadow that seems to bar the sunshine out and yet is the shadow of the wing of God. I think that God would give us far more happiness if He were only sure that we would use it well. If we would only use it to make others happy we should have it in full measure, running over. But there is something of Rhoda in us all, a tendency to forget for very gladness, and so we can thank God as in the hymn we sang, that our joys are touched with pain.
In closing shall we not notice this of Rhoda, that she was not to be laughed out of her conviction. Let them say what they would of the stranger at the gate, she constantly affirmed that it was Peter. It was very strange they should have disbelieved her, for this was the very thing they had been praying for. By night and day their prayers had been ascending that Peter might be restored to them again. Yet when their prayers were answered and he knocked and Rhoda came running to say that it was Simon, the only thanks she got from that prayer meeting was to be plainly told that she was mad. You see that people who attend prayer meetings can be pretty hasty in their judgments sometimes. It was not courteous and it was not kindly: what is more important still, it was not true. But we do not read that Rhoda lost her temper or left the room peeved because they doubted her. She constantly affirmed that it was so. She couldn't argue and she didn't try to. She showed her wisdom when she didn't try to. It is not for a maid to argue with her mistress, or for a mistress to argue with her maid. But mad or not mad, one thing Rhoda knew, and that was that she had heard the voice of Peter, and I honor her for the firm and steadfast way in which this girl adhered to her convictions. There is another voice that some of us have heard. It is the voice not of Peter, but of Peter's Lord. Long ago it may be, He stood at the door and knocked, and we knew His voice and opened and let Him in. God give us all something of Rhoda' s courage, that we too may be steadfast and immovable, though every man and woman whom we meet with should mock at us just as they mocked at her.
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