While Peter was sleeping, the Lord suddenly sent His angel to bring Peter out of the prison. There are some humorous elements in this story, and one of them is that Peter was sleeping so soundly that the angel had to poke him in the side to wake him up. I suppose Peter was one of those people who sleep deeply. So the angel had to poke him quite hard, saying, “Peter? Come on, Peter. Peter, it’s time to get up. Peter, we’re getting out of here. Peter, come on.” Peter does, of course. But even then he is so groggy that he thinks he is dreaming. Peter does not really come to himself until he is outside the prison.
There are a number of lessons from this first phase of the story that teach us to trust God and yet not presume on Him. We can think about three of them profitably.
1. Peter’s deliverance came at the last possible moment. Peter had been arrested some time before and had been kept in prison during the weeklong Feast of Unleavened Bread. He could have been delivered on any one of those previous nights, but he was not. It was only on the last night before he was to be brought to trial and executed that the angel came.
Many of us get into situations from which we also need deliverance, but we are not willing to wait for it. I find that it is usually at the very last minute that God intervenes to do something for us. Take knowing the will of God, for example. We would like God to reveal His will in advance, because we think we could do a better job of serving Him if we could plan carefully. But God usually doesn’t bow to our wishes at that point. He does not reveal His plan to us until what we would call almost the last minute. He lets us wait, often, I am sure, with the very good purpose of leading us to trust Him and accept His will in advance, whatever it may be.
2. The experience of Peter, who was delivered from prison, must be balanced with that of James, who was not delivered. These were both chief apostles. Yet Peter was delivered and James was executed. Why? The story does not give us the answer to that question. You say, “Well, there must have been more for Peter to do. That is why he was spared.” No doubt! But notice that we are not told what Peter did after this. There are no more stories about him such that we could point to them and say, “Well, God obviously spared Peter to do so-and-so.” The Bible is silent at that point. We must remember that God is sovereign in our lives and does what He will do. He chooses one to glorify Him by his or her life. He chooses another to glorify Him by his or her death. It is not for us to make that determination.
3. The story illustrates the nature of spiritual deliverance through the Gospel. Peter’s case was hopeless, humanly speaking. He was in prison, surrounded by guards. He was asleep. He was condemned to die. His case pictures us in our sin. We are chained by sin and are unable to escape. We are even asleep in sin, insensitive to it until God sends His Holy Spirit to break our shackles and free us. We are condemned to die eternally.