Uniform 11.01.16: God Releases the Captive


Acts 12:1-11

Peter was in jail, bound by chains, surrounded by guards, and in danger of being executed. He was in those dire circumstances because of his faithfulness to Christ.

Many Christians around the world experience persecution because of their faith. According to one report, some 100 million Christians worldwide live under conditions of serious risk for practicing their faith. We should pray for and seek ways to help our sisters and brothers who face persecution. We should also pray for and pursue liberty for those of other faiths who are persecuted for their religious beliefs. Nobody is free until everybody is free.

It seems to me that one of the reasons that people are persecuted for their faith is because of others’ expectations of them. That is, people expect them to be different than they in fact are. Or at least they expect them to be whatever it is they think they are. Perhaps people are often persecuted because of a stereotype of what they are, not because of what they actually are. So Christians, Muslims, Hindus, and others are persecuted because of what people think Christians, Muslims, and Hindus are, not because of who they in fact are.

Christians in America aren’t persecuted and we shouldn’t insult those who are by claiming otherwise. So I hope that I don’t make an inappropriate comparison when I suggest that sometimes people place us in a kind of captivity by their expectations of us. They categorize and stereotype us. They sometimes lump us all together and assume that we’re all like the worst of us.

In the 1996 film Michael, John Travolta plays an angel of that name. When some tabloid reporters come to investigate reports of an angel living in Iowa, they are taken aback at Michael’s behavior. Michael asks them if they expected a halo and an inner light and such and when they say they did, he leans forward and says, “I’m not that kind of angel.”

I’m a Baptist. Sometimes I cringe when someone is quoted in the media because he is regarded as a “Baptist spokesperson.” I want to announce, “I’m not that kind of Baptist.” I’m a Christian. Sometimes people who speak for Christians don’t speak for me at all. I’m not that kind of Christian.

But sometimes people will lump us together and label us “a threat.” And so we are held captive by other’s expectations, suppositions, and suspicions. We’re confined to a small space and expected to stay there.

Some scholars think that one of the reasons that Luke wrote Acts was to try to convince the Roman authorities that the developing Christian movement was not a threat. And it wasn’t, at least not in the ways that people thought it was. But in another sense it was: empires don’t do well with things like love, grace, and mercy. Neither do a lot of people.

So if we’re going to be looked down on, despised, and feared, let’s try to live so that we’ll be looked down on, despised, and feared for attitudes and behaviors that best befit followers of the One who came with great grace, much hope, and radical forgiveness. If they’re not going to like us, let them not like us because we live in ways that would, if enough of us followed them, turn the world upside down. It’s better to be looked down on for who we really are than for who they think we are.


1. What are some ways that we can help those who are being persecuted for their faith?
2. What can we learn from Peter’s attitude and behavior?
3. God directly intervened to rescue Peter from danger. How does God intervene to deliver us when we’re in trouble?
4. Put yourself in Peter’s place. When the angel told you to get up and go, would you? Why or why not?
5. Are there any ways in which people try to hold you captive through their assumptions about Christians? If so, how? How can you live so as to be sure that, if you are going to be mistreated, it will be because of who you really are in the Lord?

Reference Shelf

No Option but Prayer

The church responds to this crisis with the only means at its disposal—prayer. Legal maneuvering, peaceful public protest, a daring commando rescue attempt, and other such responses that modern readers might think of are not within the realm of possibility for the first-century church. In the current social climate, where Christians no longer feel totally powerless against the state, prayer might be a last resort or, at best, a tandem strategy that accompanies other, more practical responses to hardships. First-century Christians had no option but prayer.

J. Bradley Chance, Acts, Smyth & Helwys Bible Commentary (Macon GA: Smyth & Helwys, 2007), 197.

Peter’s Exodus

In an aside, the narrator notes that the arrest of Peter occurred during the PASSOVER (v. 3). This detail is important for several reasons. First, it accounts for the reason Peter did not immediately suffer the same fate as John; Herod wished to avoid a tumult of the people (see v. 4). This setting also parallels this deliverance scene with the passion of Jesus, which also occurred during the festival of Unleavened Bread (Luke 22:1, 7). (By now, the reader has noted the frequency with which the experience of the church parallels the experiences of Jesus.) Finally, the setting creates the biting irony of Peter in chains during the very festival that celebrated the deliverance of Israel from bondage in Egypt (see Pervo 1990, 41). This should not be surprising to the readers since Luke in his first volume had already described the passion of Jesus as an “exodus” (Luke 9:31).

The Passover setting, then, is very important in understanding the next scene, the deliverance of Peter from prison (vv. 6-11). The Exodus imagery continues, particularly in Luke’s choice of language: the night before (v. 6; Exod 12:12); Get up quickly (v. 7; Exod 12:11); put on your . . . sandals (v. 8, Exod 12:11); the Lord has rescued (v. 11; Exod 18:4, 8-10). As in the Cornelius episode, everything is directed “from above” by an angel of the Lord who gives specific instructions to Peter even on how to dress himself. Peter’s passivity is emphasized by the fact that he thought what was happening was another vision (cf. chap. 10), not realizing the reality of the situation. He does at least respond again to the call, Follow me (v. 8). Clearly, this is the story of Peter’s divine deliverance from bondage (like the Israelites), not his escape.

Mikeal C. Parsons, “Acts of the Apostles,” Mercer Commentary on the Bible (Macon GA: Mercer University, 1995), 1102

Michael Ruffin is husband to Debra and father to Joshua (Michelle) and Sara (Benjamin). A graduate of Mercer University and Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, he has previously served as a pastor and as a university professor. He lives on the Ruffin Family Farm in Yatesville, Georgia. You can visit and communicate with him at MichaelRuffin.com. He is the Uniform Series Curriculum Editor.


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