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Like most of us, the apostle Peter made his share of mistakes. He certainly showed an undeniable lack of faith on more than one occasion. We have only to remember the time that he, along with Jesus and the other disciples, was crossing the Sea of Galilee and the huge storm came up. We remember how Peter and the rest of the disciples frantically woke Jesus, who was sleeping peacefully in the ship, to tell him they were all going to drown (Matthew 8:23-25). And then, of course, there was the time Peter loudly proclaimed he would never desert Jesus, only to deny him and flee within a matter of hours (Luke 22). It’s no wonder Jesus called Peter “you of little faith” on more than one occasion.
But it is amazing to see the difference the strong indwelling of the Spirit of God makes when it comes into even those of “little faith.” In the Book of Acts, after the apostles and many others received the Spirit of God (Acts 2), we see an interesting change. Acts 12 tells us that after killing the disciple James, the brother of John, King Herod Agrippa had Peter arrested, intending to put him on trial.
We need to think about how Peter must have felt in this situation. He had been arrested during the Passover season – the anniversary of the death of Jesus – and the awful fate of his Master must have been very present in his mind, especially after James had just been killed. But notice the details of how Acts describes Peter’s dramatic rescue from prison:
The night before Herod was to bring him to trial, Peter was sleeping between two soldiers, bound with two chains, and sentries stood guard at the entrance. Suddenly an angel of the Lord appeared and a light shone in the cell. He struck Peter on the side and woke him up. “Quick, get up!” he said, and the chains fell off Peter’s wrists. Then the angel said to him, “Put on your clothes and sandals.” And Peter did so. “Wrap your cloak around you and follow me,” the angel told him. Peter followed him out of the prison, but he had no idea that what the angel was doing was really happening; he thought he was seeing a vision (Acts 12:6-9).
Now think about everything we know about Peter from the Gospels – his frequent lack of faith and propensity to “crumble,” as well as his obvious fear. Given the dire circumstances of his imprisonment and the fate that likely awaited him, we would presume that Peter was probably lying sleepless in his cell – worrying over his situation and his possible martyrdom. But Peter was sleeping.
Even after the rescuing angel “turned the light on” in his cell, Peter continued to sleep, and we can almost hear him snoring peacefully. Acts tells us that the angel even had to poke him in the side (the Greek word pataxas means “striking” – not a gentle nudge) to wake him, and Peter had apparently been sleeping so soundly and deeply that even when he was awakened, he was still unsure of what was happening.
Can we even compare the Peter who woke the sleeping Jesus in terror in the storm on the Sea of Galilee with this Peter who likely faced death and yet now slept peacefully like his Master? Clearly, the powerful indwelling of the Spirit of God had transformed Peter, and his story can be an inspiring one to us all if we can recognize the amazing change that enabled this example of Christian faith under persecution.
We need not doubt for a minute that Peter was humanly concerned regarding his circumstances and aware of the danger he was in. In that ancient culture, guards were usually given the penalty awaiting prisoners they allowed to escape, and Acts tells us that when Peter was not found in his cell Herod had his guards executed (Acts 12:19).
Peter had every reason to be afraid. But just as the light that shone in his cell was not of his making, Peter was doubtless “reflecting” additional faith he had been given, and he knew that God would deliver him if it were not against his will. With that truth in mind, Peter was sleeping well – even when he was sleeping in Herod’s cell.
If we find ourselves anxious or losing sleep regarding the outcome of difficult or potentially dangerous situations in our own lives, we can remember the example of Peter. Like the formerly fearful apostle, we too can come to the faith that deals confidently with times of uncertainty and trouble. Like Peter, we too can develop the faith needed to sleep soundly.