Acts 12-13

Whose voice would you recognize in the dark?

Acts 12-13 isn’t particularly memorable, plot wise, but all the humor and weirdness of Acts shows up plenty. (If you’re scoring at home, this Acts-reading thing is going to go on for a while; we’re not at the halfway point yet.) We’ve got prisons and preaching and weird deaths and just flat-out humor all mixed together in stories you probably haven’t heard before.

Acts 12 is bookended by King Herod, the Hebrew King of Judea who had John the Baptist beheaded back in the gospels and by some accounts interrogated Jesus before sending him back to Pilate in the Passion narrative. Stuff plays out differently for him in Acts 12.

Herod was a politician who governed by watching the polls. He started persecuting Christians, saw his favorability numbers go up, and ramped things up by killing one of the apostles – James, the brother of John, who along with Peter and John was in Jesus’ innermost circle. The crowds LOVED that, so he arrested Peter next, with plans to finish him off after Passover. “Peter was kept in jail, but the people of the church were praying earnestly to God for him.” (12:5).

Prison security appears not to have been a strength of this age. Not for lack of trying, honestly. Peter was tied with chains between two guards while other guards were on duty at the prison gate, so it wasn’t like a total sieve in there. But, as happens throughout Acts, angels intervene. This time Peter is pretty sure he’s just dreaming, as the angel says “Hey! Get up!” and the chains fall off and he gets dressed and follows the angel out of jail, past the guards, through an opened gate, and down the street. And then Peter wakes up.

So he runs to the place where his friends were holed up, and he knocks on the door, and a servant named Rhoda comes to answer it. “She recognized Peter’s voice and was so happy that she ran back in without opening the door and announced that Peter was standing outside.” (12:14) And they argue about it, while Peter stands outside, a wanted man, continuing to knock on the door in the dark of night.

I mean, c’mon. That’s a cartoon-level funny scene.

Then, in one of the more random lines in Acts, when they *finally* let him in, he says “go tell James” [not the dead one] and then “he left and went somewhere else.” No context on where, or why, or how far away, or how long. That’s how the story ends.

There are a couple other points in this section, but let me circle back to Rhoda. I go to the same drive-thru coffee place every morning. The staff are pretty consistent. And I cannot for the life of me identify most of the regulars there by voice alone. And the PA system is not bad. There are any number of people I care deeply about who can call me, and were it not for caller ID, I would have no idea who they were. Maybe I’m particularly bad about that. But it makes me wonder how much time Rhoda must have spent listening to Peter, to be able to pick out his voice from the other side of the door in the middle of the night.


So Herod gets mad at all this and has all the guards killed and decides to go spend time out of town in Caesarea. Also no context on why – was he scared that Peter and the angels would come after him? Was he just going on vacation?

While he’s there, he gets mad at the people of Tyre and Sidon, and they come to make peace. He puts on a show for them, so much so that they say “this guy is so impressive that he must be a god!” And immediately God strikes him down. “He was eaten by worms and died,” it says. Not because *he* said he was a god, but because the people around him said he was a god. If you live by the court of public opinion, you die by it, apparently.


So Acts 13 cuts to Saul and Barnabas trekking around, and they go to the island of Cyprus. On the far side of the island, they encounter a magician who tries to undercut them by talking them down to the governor. The magician is a guy named Bar-Jesus (which means “son of Jesus”), but also called Elymas. Saul also gets called Paul here, showing two can play at the multiple-name thing, and Saul-Paul curses the magician and he goes blind immediately. And there’s a poignant half a line here: “he [Elymas] walked around trying to find someone to lead him by the hand. (13:11) That, my friends, is loneliness.

The governor, no Herod, sees this and buys in to what Saul/Paul is saying immediately.

Paul and Barnabas travel on and get to Pisidia and go to the synagogue, where the local leaders say, “Friends, we want you to speak to the people if you have a message of encouragement for them.” Cue a 25-verse mega-sermon, at the end of which everyone invites them back, so that the entire town packs the synagogue the following week to hear these guys. The local synagogue leaders get jealous, so Paul and Barnabas go to the Gentiles, who welcome them. Then the local leaders get those guys stirred up too, and Paul and Barnabas get thrown out of the region. They roll with it and move on. And the report back home leaves everyone “full of joy and the Holy Spirit,” even though it sounds to me like a series of rejections.


Look, I’m not saying there’s a tidy devotional point in these two chapters; I certainly don’t claim that the author had one in mind. But I can’t get the question out of my head about how Rhoda recognized Peter’s voice, and maybe it wasn’t that he had a lisp or anything. 

Maybe the voices we recognize in the dark are the ones that speak a word of encouragement to us. Maybe the voices we recognize are the ones who can leave us full of joy. 

And maybe the reason the magician in Cyprus goes from being super influential to someone who can’t find anyone to lead him around in his darkness is that his message was the opposite of encouragement and he didn’t think he needed to offer encouragement to anyone else. So when he’s in the proverbial dark, nobody recognizes his voice. Maybe Herod gets eaten by worms and dies for the same reason – he was so focused on himself that he didn’t care to encourage anyone else.

If part of what we are shooting for is to be full of joy, even when the externals of the story aren’t so great, then we could do worse than be encouraging at every turn. It shapes us for the better, and people might remember your voice fondly. Even if they forget to let you in out of the dark for a minute sometimes.

One response to “Acts 12-13”

  1. […] because it’s the one time we spend time in my favorite book, Acts (even though we skip the most entertaining parts). But even though it maintains the upbeat tone of Easter Sunday (unlike the Christmas season, […]

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