Acts 12 has become a very interesting chapter for our family this year. We read it with new eyes. For in some details, it was very much what we faced this spring - oh, there were differences, of course, but there were many similarities. So many that whenever we have told our story, people's eyes get big and they say, "oh, like Peter in Acts 12!" It is for us a very special piece of Scripture right now.
But this last week, we were in a meeting and the speaker began to read from Acts 12.
1 Now about that time Herod the king laid hands on some who belonged to the church in order to mistreat them.
2And he had James the brother of John put to death with a sword.
3When he saw that it pleased the Jews, he proceeded to arrest Peter also Now it was during the days of Unleavened Bread.
4When he had seized him, he put him in prison, delivering him to four squads of soldiers to guard him, intending after the Passover to bring him out before the people.
5So Peter was kept in the prison, but prayer for him was being made fervently by the church to God.
6On the very night when Herod was about to bring him forward, Peter was sleeping between two soldiers, bound with two chains, and guards in front of the door were watching over the prison.
7And behold, an angel of the Lord suddenly appeared and a light shone in the cell; and he struck Peter's side and woke him up, saying, "Get up quickly " And his chains fell off his hands.
8And the angel said to him, "Gird yourself and put on your sandals." And he did so. And he said to him, "Wrap your cloak around you and follow me."
9And he went out and continued to follow, and he did not know that what was being done by the angel was real, but thought he was seeing a vision.
10When they had passed the first and second guard, they came to the iron gate that leads into the city, which opened for them by itself; and they went out and went along one street, and immediately the angel departed from him.
11When Peter came to himself, he said, "Now I know for sure that the Lord has sent forth His angel and rescued me from the hand of Herod and from all that the Jewish people were expecting."
And then I saw it. The verse we all just read through and go on to the miraculous story.
1 Now about that time Herod the king laid hands on some who belonged to the church in order to mistreat them. 2And he had James the brother of John put to death with a sword.
3When he saw that it pleased the Jews, he proceeded to arrest Peter also Now it was during the days of Unleavened Bread.....
We read through that verse so fast that I doubt we see it. We rejoice in the miraculous freeing of Peter. But, do we even stop enough to see that he had James the brother of John put to death with a sword?
It is hard to read right now. Hard to wrap my mind around it... why? One gets an angel, a surprising release, walking into a group praying for them, seeing the shock and joy on their faces, a quick get away to a safe place.
The other gets put to death with the sword.
Just doesn't seem right. Hard to struggle through right now as the recipients of the amazing freedom from the brink of death. Because our hearts love our brothers.... the "James's" who did not get the answer we got.
So next time before you read through the amazing story of Peter's release and Rhoda the servant girl in Acts 12, take a moment to stop in verse 2 and realize that they killed James with a sword. And God stood by. The same God who worked the miracle for Peter. He let them kill James. And this group gathered for prayer in the house where Rhoda served knew that. Their hearts rejoiced for Peter, but it was not the rejoicing of absolute delight and a cocky victory. It was the rejoicing of those who also mourn and know the times and the danger they lived in.
Difficult to read. Difficult to know. But I have lived in enough places in different countries to know that it is not that uncommon. I remember the first time when I was only 8 that I heard that a missionary had been killed. I did not know him, but I was staying with a family who did know him. I stood quietly as the man of the family we stayed with buried his head in his hands and waited for the call... and when it came, it was the story of James, not of Peter, and this man wept. Since that day, I've stood by and watched that scene play out more times than I ever thought I would. The problem with being connected to a world wide family is that we are connected. When we suffer, we all suffer.
But at times, I catch myself in the middle of a very normal day with my very normal family activities, and I stop. Why were we given Peter's answer and not James'? I don't think I will even know the answer to that question, but now, even if I hear on the news of deaths, I pause to wonder. And grieve. Because I caught a glimpse of what the families of James's are asked to walk through. And I wonder - why did we get Peter's answer? Why didn't they?
I don't understand it all right now, but seeing this verse this last week brought me a strange comfort. This vast difference in answers was going on even from the early church. There are Peters and there are James. There is both mourning and rejoicing.
One day, it will all be over, and we will all be together. At times, I think God is wrong in Revelation where He says there will be no more tears... I think there will be a few tears of happiness when we all see each other again after all we've been through. To have walked through it all, and be in a place of no more suffering... I think there will be tears of happiness as we run back into each other's arms. Together with no more goodbyes... nor more fears... no more danger... just joy.