It was about this time that King Herod arrested some who belonged to the church, intending to persecute them. He had James, the brother of John, put to death with the sword. When he saw this pleased the Jews, he proceeded to seize Peter also …
Then Peter came to himself and said, “Now I know without a doubt that the Lord sent his angel and rescued me from Herod’s clutches and from everything the Jewish people were anticipating.” (verses 1-3, 11)
The trio of Peter, James and John is so familiar to us from the Gospel stories. We see them alone with Jesus at the bedside of Jairus’ daughter, then in the glory and cloud on the Mount of Transfiguration, and again with him agonizing in the garden on the night of his betrayal. These three, partners in fishing, were privileged to be in the inner circle of experience with their Lord.
Peter, James and John. Each, called by the Master. Each, part of his plan. Each, witnesses of the resurrection, called as messengers of the Good News. Each, set aside for his glory.
Yet the story plays out differently in each life. Markedly. Peter wakes up to the wonder of being rescued out of Herod’s iron grip, having been miraculously led by the angel past the first, then the second, guard and out into the city through the prison’s iron gate, which swung open of its own accord, welcoming him into freedom. What a waking! What wonder! What glory!
So remarkable is the story that those gathered in an upper room prayer meeting, interceding for Peter’s release, can’t even believe it when the answer is given. Luke, knowing the story’s impact, takes most of the chapter to tell it, devoting seventeen verses in all.
James’ story is much shorter. It takes one mere verse to tell. “Put to death with the sword” – that’s the concise way Luke puts it.
I know which story I’d prefer. No question. The miracle is the storyline I’d choose. Yet ultimately my own choice and preference is not what will prevail. “Your kingdom come, your will be done,” I’ve often prayed. Do I mean it? Will I embrace the story that he himself writes? Will I submit to him for his glory?
I am reminded that Peter himself had earlier grappled with the tension of different stories played out in different ways. At the breakfast fire on the beach, having received his own renewed commission to take care of Jesus’ sheep, he turned and looked at John, the other member of the triumvirate, and asked, “Lord, what about him?” To which Jesus had replied, “If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you? You must follow me” (John 21:21-22).
“Follow me.” That’s the key. Trusting him to work according to his own choice, not mine.
Whether the story takes seventeen verses or one, it’s all to his glory.
(These words of a chorus I learned years ago are my prayer today:)
Live your life in me, O my Lord. Fit me to the image of your own. Live your life in me until all that’s left to see is your love, your glory alone.
Pray: Several times today, pause to pray once again: “Your kingdom come, your will be done.” Tell him you mean it.