Wednesday, May 19, 2010
Prayer: James killed, Peter set free?
Jon Bloom writes well on the DGM blog:
Luke says it so quickly, so matter-of-factly: "[Herod] killed James the brother of John with the sword" (Acts 12:2). In the flow of the story this little phrase sets the stage for Peter's dramatic prison rescue by the angel. So that's what we remember. When Peter later wrote, "The Lord knows how to rescue the godly from trials" (2 Peter 2:9), this is the sort of rescue that easily comes to mind.
But the night that James sat in prison the angel didn't come. I'm sure he prayed for an angel. He knew God could send one if he wanted to. An angel had already rescued him and the other disciples once before, in chapter 5. But this night there was no bright light, no chains falling off, no sleeping guards. Just desperate prayers and fitful dozing—if he slept at all.
In the morning James was still in jail when the dreaded voice of the captain of the guard shouted, "Bring out the prisoner!" There was an anxiety-filled, prayerful walk to the place of execution. There was a pronouncement of guilt. Possibly there was an offer of pardon in exchange for recanting, followed by a refusal. There was a raised sword. There was a wince of fearful anticipation. No deliverance.
Or was there?
Jesus allowed the sword to fall on James as intentionally as he opened Peter's prison door. So the death of James is as crucial for us to remember as the rescue of Peter. Why did God let James die?
This question is relevant because at some point most of us will find ourselves facing death, pleading for deliverance, and not receiving what we think we are asking for. And it points to a difficult lesson that all of Jesus’ disciples must learn: Jesus often has different priorities than we do. What may feel desperately urgent to us may not be urgent to him—at least not in the same way.
Remember how Jesus slept in the boat during the storm? The disciples panicked at the fear of drowning and cried out, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” (Mark 4:38). He calmed the storm and then said to them, “Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?”
Jesus’ lesson was clear: you’re afraid of the wrong thing. Don’t fear what or who can kill your body, but fear and trust me because I rule over storms and death (Matthew 10:28). Jesus knew that there were more dangerous “storms” ahead for the disciples, ones that would kill them. They needed to know whom to fear.