“What happened to his chains?”
I looked into the big brown eyes of the 3rd grader asking the question. I was teaching Sunday school and the lesson was from Acts 12: 1-19. It’s a potent portion of scripture, 19 verses showing God’s sovereignty amidst persecution, the faithfulness of the early church in prayer, and the unwavering trust Peter had in his Lord and Savior.
As we read together about God’s angel rescuing Peter from prison and imminent death, the little boy reached his hand across the table and tapped mine, a question tumbling out his youthful mouth.
“But…what happened to the chains? Did they break or fall off?”
“Well, it says they fell off.”
Now behold an angel of the Lord stood by him, and a light shone in the prison; and he struck Peter on the side and raised him up, saying, ‘Arise quickly!’ And his chains fell off his hands. ~ Acts 12:7
“Yes, I think you’re right. God must have broken the chains first, then they fell off Peter.”
One of the blessings of teaching Sunday school is the discovery of the many beautiful diamonds of Truth in the rich, deep mine of God’s Word. Our church teaches expositionally (through the Bible), as do the Sunday school lessons. Our class is about half-way through the books of Acts, and I’ve learned as much as the kids about the early church and God’s Word.
That Sunday I was excited to teach about Peter’s miraculous escape from Herod’s chain-happy clutches. After all, Peter was chained to two guards with two more standing watch at his cell door. Herod assigned him four squads of soldiers. That’s four companies of four men each – 16 armed men.
Talk about tight security!
King Herod was taking no chances on Peter escaping again, and the situation looked hopeless. Peter was surrounded and outnumbered. But with God, all things are possible.
The night before Peter’s trial, an angel of the Lord was sent into the dark cell, and “a light shone in the prison…” Though I’ve never been shackled inside prison walls, I have been surrounded by darkness. What I learned was that – like with Peter – even in our darkest time, God is there. He never leaves us or forsakes us, and His light obliterates the darkness we might otherwise drown in.
We also talked about Peter’s strong faith and trust in God because “that night Peter was sleeping.” (6) The angel arrived to find Peter sound asleep. Seven heads shook an emphatic ‘NO’ when I asked if they could’ve slept chained to two guards the night before a trial for their life.
Despite the grim situation he faced, Peter had to be woken up by the angel. He had faith in God’s hand in his life. Shackled inside the walls of King Herod’s prison, did Peter pray David’s beautiful 23rd Psalm to quiet his soul?
“Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; For You are with me…”
And Peter wasn’t alone. Nearby, his brothers and sisters in Christ – the early church – were interceeding on his behalf through prayer. Not a quick, “please keep Peter safe, Lord” prayer, but instead they were in constant prayer.
Peter was therefore kept in prison, but constant prayer was offered to God for him by the church. ~ Acts 12:5
After the angel lead Peter out of the prison and through the iron gates of the city, Peter went immediately to his friends’ house, “where many were gathered together praying” (12). Our first and last response to life emergencies and the trials we face is to give everything to our Heavenly Father in prayer. The early church was faithfully living out 1 Thessalonians 5:17, to “pray without ceasing.”
We finished the lesson, prayed, and the kids started a craft with praying hands and a paper chain. After they finished coloring, I stapled the chains to the paper praying hands, thankful that through faith in Jesus, the chains of this life are broken.