After leaving prison, Peter was now out on the streets of Jerusalem in the middle of the night. He had been delivered from prison, but he knew that he would have to leave the city since those who had arrested him would certainly arrest him again. Should he leave at once? Peter was unwilling to leave without relating his deliverance to those he knew would be concerned for him.
His best bet was to go to the house where everybody usually met, the house of Mary, the mother of John Mark. Mary must have had a large home, and it was probably in this home that the disciples had gathered on the Day of Pentecost when the Holy Spirit had come on them. Peter did not know the believers would be there now praying, though we do, because earlier in the story we were told they were (v. 5). It was so we might understand that Peter’s deliverance was given by God in response to these prayers. Verse 5 says, “So Peter was kept in prison, but the church was earnestly praying to God for him.”
This is a great lesson about the importance of prayer. Sometimes people who have not lived with the Lord a long time (or perhaps have not studied the Bible’s teaching about prayer carefully) say, “Why should Christians pray? If God is sovereign, as we believe He is, won’t God do what He wants to do anyway? If God wants to save John Smith, won’t God save John Smith? How can it matter if I pray for John Smith to be saved or not, if he is going to be saved anyway?”
Or again, other people say, “God is omniscient. He knows what we need. Why should we have to pray at all?”
These are valid questions, but they have a good answer. The answer is that, although God is sovereign and does things in His own sovereign way, God nevertheless does what He does through means, one of which is prayer.
Witnessing is another. It is true that God can save anybody He chooses even without us. But He has chosen to do it through the vehicle of human testimony. Because of this it is proper to say, “If God is going to save John Smith, God will save John Smith.” But it is not proper to say that God will save John Smith anyway, apart from your witness to John Smith, if God has determined that it is by your witness that He will save him.
When we apply this to prayer we can say, as James does, “You do not have, because you do not ask God” (James 4:2). We do not get something because we do not ask for it. By contrast, we do get something else because we do. Why is that? It is because God has ordained the means as well as the ends. So when He ordains an answer to prayer He also ordains that the answer be obtained through the channel of prayer, which is the case here. Somebody says, “Well, God would have saved Peter anyway.”
It is not quite right to put it that way. God had determined to save Peter and certainly would save him. But the problem with the statement “God would have saved Peter anyway” is the word “anyway.” God had determined to save Peter, but the way in which God had determined to save Peter was in response to the prayers of the Christians who were praying. So you cannot say “anyway.” Without their prayers Peter would not have been saved. But he was saved through their prayers, because that was the way God had determined to save him.
So the story is a lesson about prayer’s importance first of all. Not only that, it is a lesson about the nature of prayer. Verse 5 gives us four points, the first of which we begin to look at today.
1. The Christians were praying to God. Someone may object, “That is hardly worth mentioning, because, after all, aren’t all prayers offered to God?” Well, no, all prayers are not addressed to God. Our questioner might reply, “Well, yes, I can understand that the heathen somewhere out in the jungle or on a remote island might be praying to trees or mountains or idols, that sort of thing. I mean the prayers of educated people.” But that is not what I am talking about.
Someone else might say, “You must be thinking of those branches of the church that pray to saints.” That is not what I am talking about either. I am talking about many normal prayers uttered by supposed Christian people in Christian assemblies, and I am suggesting that many of them are not really offered to God. Perhaps that is true of many of your prayers as well.