Life of Peter, by N.E. Rhodes Jr. — No. 30
THE IRON GATE
In our last chapter we were discussing the miraculous answer to prayer by which Peter was delivered from prison. The question has been raised whether prayer today really is answered by God’s supernatural intervention in the course of nature or is simply beneficial as a form of autosuggestion that acts as a good mental and spiritual therapy. My answer to this question is one of which I am very convinced. Whatever happens in answer to prayer has to be supernatural. People are always asking me if I believe in the possibility of miracles. When I ask them what they mean by “miracle” they usually cite an instance like a withered arm made whole or a dead man raised. To such a question I can simply plead ignorance. Having seen neither I cannot say for sure. Since I believe the accounts of such instances given in the New Testament I have to testify to the fact that I believe it has happened in history. But to confine the question to withered arms and resurrected corpses does not actually face the question of the possibility of miracles at all. A miracle to me means a supernatural intervention to change the course of nature in some way beyond our comprehension. By this definition every answered prayer is a miracle. Either nature takes its course or its course is changed. If nature takes its course after we pray then it would have anyway whether we prayed or not. If prayer changes anything at all then it changes the course of nature. If God answers prayer at all then you have a supernatural Being interfering with the course of nature because someone prayed.
Is Prayer the Infallible Answer?
Is prayer then the infallible answer to our problems? Is God? Is prayer unfailingly dependable? Is God? But what of those times we prayed to avoid a great grief and it came anyway? What of those times we prayed for blessing and sorrow came instead? What of that time we prayed for the life of a loved one and got bereavement? How can evil come to us when we prayed for good? Are we claiming to have asked for bread and got a stone? Are we saying that we asked for a fish and got a serpent? Are we denying point blank the plain promise of Jesus in Matthew 7? But in spite of Matthew 7, many people still feel that they did receive evil when they asked for good. They insist that they asked in faith. It was not a selfish prayer for the satisfaction of their lusts. Why, then, did sorrow come instead of blessing? How does one explain it? It may be that blessing did come, but in our present state we are unable to identify it as such. I remember reading a story one time about a man whose small boat was wrecked on a lonely island. He managed to salvage from the wreckage a few necessities for maintaining life. With great labor he managed to build a fairly presentable camp. Among the things salvaged from the wrecked boat was a small Bible. He began to read this Bible a great deal and was convinced that he could be rescued through prayer. He prayed fervently, sincerely, and with faith. He continued his prayer late into the night sitting beside his small campfire. Finally he fell asleep. He was awakened by an uncomfortable sensation of intense heat and found that while he slept his campfire had spread and caught his camp ablaze. He barely managed to roll free and save his life but he had to watch helplessly while all the items he had salvaged from his boat went up in flames. This then was the answer to his prayer. He had asked for blessing and instead he had lost those items essential to keep him alive. He had asked for bread and God had given him a stone. He flew into a wild desperate rage and cursed and howled like a mad man, vowing he would never pray again. So intense was his fit of anger that he fell and hit his head against a stone. He was rendered unconscious by the blow. When he awoke he found himself on a tramp steamer headed for home. Amazed, he asked the man caring for him, “How did you happen to find me. Do you regularly stop at that island I was on?” “No,” the man replied, “We have never stopped there before. But tonight we saw the big signal fire you built and so went to investigate it.”
Prayer is Our Only Hope
Whether we always understand the answers or not, prayer is our only hope. I remember another story of a man who was fond of mountain climbing. He had hired a guide to lead him up a steep and lofty peak in the Alps. Going up the mountain they were shielded from the full blast of the wind by the mountain itself. When they reached the top however they found the wind sweeping across the summit of the mountain with a terrible force. The guide seized the man and pulled him down to his knees. “Do not attempt to stand up in this strong wind,” he warned. “At this altitude you are not safe except on your knees.” It is just as true that when we climb to the summit of Christian adventure we are not safe except “on our knees.”
But let us return to Peter as the angel leads him out of the prison. After passing the sleeping guards they come at last to the iron gate. They have managed to overcome the other obstacles, but this one must have looked formidable indeed to Peter. How would they ever get through? We read in Acts 12:10, “opened to them of his own accord: and they went out.”
Like Peter we sometimes come to the end of a path and there is nothing more we can do. Then something is done for us. So often I have come to an iron gate, I am shut in. Every way is closed before me. Then suddenly, in some unexpected direction a door opens and I step past the iron gate into a new hope. God is always doing for us the unexpected thing when we trust him and walk with him. He is always with us, even when we stand baffled and helpless before an iron gate.
But we have spent all the space we will give to Peter’s life. Our next chapter will turn our thoughts toward Peter’s message. We shall next be studying his two epistles. It is here that we shall discover from his own pen what all these great adventures with God taught him and what he consequently has to pass on to us. May I suggest that you read those two epistles before proceeding on with me to a study of their central thoughts.