At this point in the story of Peter’s release we may be saying to ourselves, “What a perfect example of prayer! How wonderful!” Yet the irony of the story is that, although this is a great example of what true prayer should be, it was nevertheless also prayer that was somehow largely unbelieving. Unbelieving? Can prayer that is truly prayer to God, involves the whole church, is earnest and specific, also be unbelieving? Apparently. Because when Peter was delivered and came and knocked at the house door, nobody in the prayer meeting was willing to believe that it was Peter.
We can understand what happened, because we have all been in prayer meetings in which everybody is trying to concentrate and something disruptive occurs. The telephone rings, for example. Whoever is praying keeps praying; everybody else tries to concentrate. But everybody is also aware that the phone is ringing, and they are all wondering who is going to get up and answer it. That is what happened here. The Christians were praying, “Oh, Lord, please deliver Peter. We need Peter. We don’t want Peter to be executed the way James was executed.”
Knock. Knock. Knock.
“Please save Peter. Please save Peter.”
Knock. Knock. Knock.
People began to glance around. Wasn’t somebody going to do something about that knocking? Mary owned the house, so I suppose she looked up and saw the servant Rhoda. Mary probably indicated to her that she should go to the door. Rhoda did. She recognized Peter by his voice, but was so overjoyed and shocked that she went back to the group without even opening the door. She interrupted the prayer meeting, saying, “Peter is at the door!” (v. 14).
How could it be Peter? Peter is in prison. Why would we be praying for God to save Peter if Peter is at the door? So the others said to her, not very charitably: “You are out of your mind! I don’t know who you saw out there. And besides that, you are interrupting our prayer meeting. Sit down over there and let us pray.”
But Rhoda kept insisting that it was so. Obviously Rhoda had seen something that looked like Peter. So they said, “Well, Peter must already be executed then. He’s dead, and it’s his ghost (or angel) come to bid us good-bye.” They did not really believe that God was going to deliver Peter.
But Peter kept on knocking. And Peter didn’t knock like a ghost, especially after he had been kept waiting outside, being the impatient man he was. I imagine that by this time he was banging on the door. Eventually of course, they opened the door. And Peter came in and told his story. Many people pray like that, not praying in faith, and not expecting God to answer their request.
I also have this additional qualification from the story. I have pointed out that these early Christians were not strong in believing that God would answer their prayer, even though they were praying rightly. But in spite of their unbelief, God nevertheless did answer them. They did not believe that God would deliver Peter, but God did deliver him in answer to their prayer. The point is obvious. If their prayer was effective, though unbelieving, why should our prayers not be effective also? They were the same kind of people we are. The Bible says of Elijah, “Elijah was a man just like us.” But he prayed that it would not rain, and it did not for three and a half years (James 5:17).
The questions for us are: Do we really pray? Do we pray to God? Do we pray with other Christians? Do we pray fervently? And do we have specific requests in mind?