My Thoughts. . .

Monday, March 04, 2019

There is a passage in Acts 12 that is unusual.  James has already been executed and Peter is next in line if King Herod Agrippa has his way (vv.1-4).  An angel awakens Peter and they miraculously leave the prison.  Peter goes to a familiar home where saints meet in large numbers and knocks on the outer door (vv.12-13).  Rhoda answers the door but does not open it.  She is referred to in Greek as a paidiske.  Strangely, this word is rendered in different ways as 1) KJV: “damsel,” 2) NKJV: “girl,” 3) ASV, RSV, NRSV: “maid,” 4) NASV NIV, NLB2, IEB: “servant girl,” and 5) Message: “a young woman.”  According to two Greek-English Lexicons, Strong and Vine, the word means “slave.”  Rhoda is Mary’s slave.

Mary is identified as the mother of John Mark (v.12).  Since she had at least one slave, and her house is large enough for “many” people to assemble in, it indicates she is far from poor.  John is Mark’s Semitic name and Mark is his Greek one.  Mary was either Barnabas’ aunt or sister.  Whereas Barnabas sold land and gave a contribution to the Lord, Mary offers her spacious house as one of the places for some of the twelve to fifteen thousand members to meet (Acts 2:46; 4:36-37; 12:12).

Luke informs us that Herod was going to “bring” Peter “before the people after Pentecost.” This event took place at night on the first day of the week.  Christians are praying throughout the city in their house to house meetings.  Luke refers to all of these as “the church” not “churches.”  Perhaps, because singing, giving, preaching, and communion are not mentioned, some fail to understand that this is what we would designate as a “Sunday worship assembly.”  Today, each of these “house to house” meetings would be known as separate congregations, identified by their street sign as the church in that specific location.  Why does it seem impossible for us to understand how one eldership can be over twelve to fifteen thousand members meeting in multiple locations?   Could our culture and traditions blind our view?  Perhaps Peter goes to Mary’s house on Sunday night because it was the nearest assembly to the prison where he had been held.

Luke tells us that Rhoda “recognized Peter’s voice(v.14).  Apparently, Peter had visited there often enough that the slave girl could tell who it was by his speech?  Some believe this is the house, with its upper room, where Jesus and the apostles observed the Passover meal.  We’re not told whose house was furnished for that event, but neither Mary nor Mark are strangers to the apostles.  If they did meet there, it may explain the young man mentioned only by Mark who was with the apostles when Jesus was arrested (Mark 14:50-52).  It is also interesting that at the cross Luke informs us of the names of several women and then refers to “other women” being present (Luke 24:10).  There are several with the name “Mary” mentioned in scripture who supported Jesus and the apostles in their work (Luke 8:2-3).   Mark’s mother may have been one of them.

Rhoda apparently became excited by hearing the voice of the one they were praying for.  In her exhilaration she announced that Peter was at the gate (v.14).  Luke tells us that “prayer was offered to God for him by the church (v.5).  One would assume that this news would provoke numerous “Praise the Lord” statements.  Wrong.  Rhoda’s announcement did not cause a stampede to the door!  Not one person shouted, “Our prayers have been answered!”  Not one.  Their response was, “You’re crazy!(V.15 Message).  So much for prayers!  She wasn’t insulted to silence but repeated her claim.  Rather than belief, an alternate explanation, “It must be his angel” was given.  Out of fifteen translations, only one renders the word “angel” as “messenger” (v.14 YLT).   The explanation by Commentaries of that short sentence is: 1) it was a human messenger.  2) it was Peter’s guardian angel.  3) Or it was a real angel who had come to inform them of Peter’s demise.  Like some today, they would have been wrong on all three counts.  Peter’s persistence moved them to open the door and they were “astonished(v.16).  Maybe part of that shock was created by their unbelief being shattered.  Jesus had taught, “ask in prayer, believing, you will receive” (Matthew 21:22).  Here is a case where prayer was answered in spite of doubt being exhibited.

Mary’s house may have been larger than the average, but twelve to fifteen thousand people could not have squeezed into it.  Peter command them “Go, tell these things to James and the brethren(v.17).   Luke informs us that Peter “departed and went to another place(v.19).  It must have kept them busy going to all the different houses where that mega church was meeting.  What is interesting is that it was night time and Peter had been asleep prior to his miraculous release (v.6).  Troas wasn’t the only congregation that met at night (Acts 20:7-11).  Persecution was being waged against the church.  Most of the time, Sunday would have been like our Monday.  It would have been a busy day.  Night time meetings would have been more expedient.

Peter’s reference about James is interesting.  He is mentioned by name, but the apostles are lumped in with “the brethren(v.17).  One might wonder why none of the other apostles are referred to?  This happens again when Paul arrives in Jerusalem for the last time.  Luke states that Paul “went in with us to James, and all the elders were present (Acts 21:18).  Were the apostles on vacation?  Was their presence no longer important?  Paul mentions in the Galatians letter that “certain men came from James . . . but when they came, he (Peter) withdrew and separated himself, fearing those who were of the circumcision(Galatians 2:12).  It seems that James takes precedent over the apostles and elders.  Those coming from James puts fear in an apostle’s heart causing him to be hypocritical (Galatians 2:11-15).  When the Gentile issue was being discussed in Jerusalem, James gives his opinion on how to solve the problem and it was accepted.  His introduction settled the matter, not Peter nor Paul’s statements (Acts 15:6-21).  Because James was Jesus’ brother, did this put him in a special category in the church?  Maybe not, but these passages are unusual.

When messengers from Mary’s house arrived at the meeting place frequented by James, was their response equal to the earlier astonishment found at Mary’s residence?  When Peter knocked on the doors of other houses where saints were assembled, did he receive the same reception?  If so, and if we mimic their doubtful prayers, let us be thankful.  Why?  Because God is greater than our doubts and still answers them!