Peter Delivered: Part 6 of 7
by John Lowe
(Laurens SC, USA)
Whose surname was Mark;
“Whose surname” (last name, family name) was of Greek derivation, for he was called Mark. It does not mean that he had two names, as we do, both of which were used at the same time; but he was called by one or the other, the Greeks probably using the name Mark, and the Jews the name John. He is frequently mentioned afterwards as having been the companion, fellow-worker, and confidant of Paul and Barnabas in their travels. Compare the following verses:
• Acts 12:25— And Barnabas and Saul returned from Jerusalem, when they had fulfilled their ministry, and took with them John, whose surname was Mark.
• Acts 15:39— And the contention was so sharp between them, that they departed asunder one from the other: and so Barnabas took Mark, and sailed unto Cyprus;
• 2 Timothy 4:11— Only Luke is with me. Take Mark, and bring him with thee: for he is profitable to me for the ministry.
Where many were gathered together praying
This was on the night, before the day on which Peter was to be put to death. The facts of the case show that the meeting was held at night, possibly to avoid persecution. In times of persecution, the Christians met secretly, and in small groups. It was the last of the days of unleavened bread; their last chance, so they planned to pray all night. They were assembled in Mary’s house for the sole purpose of praying for the release of Peter; and there were some in other places, for one place could not hold them all (see verse 17). This should be a lesson for us, that when dangers increase around us and our friends, we should become more fervent in prayer. While life remains we may pray; and even when there is no human hope, we may pray; and when we have no power to heal or deliver, we may pray; because God may still intervene on our behalf, as he did here, in answer to prayer. Peter’s miraculous release was proof that their prayers succeeded; so true is that observation in James 5:16: “Confess your faults one to another, and pray one for another, that ye may be healed. The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much.”
13 And as Peter knocked at the door of the gate, a damsel came to hearken, named Rhoda.
And as Peter knocked at the door of the gate
The door was kept shut and was probably locked, because they feared the Jews, that they might be the next to be hauled off to prison. Peter stood at the door and knocked.
“Door of the gate” is the small outside door, providing the entrance from the street, and opening into the courtyard, or into the house. It was probably a small door or gate formed inside a larger one. Hence the Jews distinguish between "the door", and "the gate.” Sometimes the outside door is called a “wicket.” Compare:
• “(and the six hundred men girded with their weapons of war, who are of the sons of Dan, are standing at the opening of the gate)” (Judges 18:16).
A damsel came to hearken
“A damsel” or “maid” heard Peter’s knocking and came to the door to listen, and to try, if she could, to know who it was, a friend or a foe, before she opened the door. The Christians gathered in Mary’s house were in danger simply because they were Christians, so they would be very careful of who they allowed in. It was night and past the time for visiting friends and neighbors, therefore, the damsel would be cautious and not immediately admit Peter. The term damsel was used when referring to a young female slave, as well as of a young girl or maiden in general. The narrative implies that she was more than a mere menial servant, if a servant at all. The chore of opening the door to strangers was commonly assigned, as it was even in the high priest’s palace, to a female slave (see Matthew 26:69, 71). It is the duty a doorkeeper to go to the door and listen when anyone knocks, and find out who they are and what their business is before opening the door. At a time when being a Christian put one in danger, a knock at the door in the dead of the night would create a sense of terror, and it would be natural to listen carefully to ascertain whether there was more than one person, and then to ask who was there and what was his business.
“Rhoda” means a “rose” in the Greek language. It was not unusual for the Hebrews to give the names of flowers, etc., to their daughters. For example, Susanna means a lily; Hadessa, a myrtle; Tamar, a palm-tree, Deborah, a bee; Margarita, a pearl; Dorcas, an antelope. The mention of the name of a slave shows St. Luke’s care in ascertaining details, as far as his opportunities allowed.
14 And when she knew Peter's voice, she opened not the gate for gladness, but ran in, and told how Peter stood before the gate.
And when she knew Peter's voice
Peter may have responded to her question, “Who is it?” with, “I am Peter.” Immediately, she knew (or “recognized”) Peter's voice. This is evidence of Peter's intimacy with the family of Mary, as does his assertion in 1 Peter 5:13, "Greet Marcus my son." She had probably heard his voice many times, preaching to the church and conversing with Mary’s family. We know that his speech was the cause of his being recognized on a previous occasion: “And after a while came unto him they that stood by, and said to Peter, Surely thou also art one of them; for thy speech betrayeth thee (Matthew 26:73).
She opened not the gate for gladness
Now, I find the rest of this passage comical; they have been praying for Peter and asking God to intervene and cause him to be released from prison. Peter has been released in a miraculous manner, he is overjoyed and wants to tell his friends the good news. He has located those friends and knocked on their door, but instead of letting him come in, the servant recognizes his voice and is so excited that she leaves him on the threshold and runs off to tell the others that Peter is outside.
We are told why she didn’t let Peter in—“She opened not the gate for gladness”—she was excited and overjoyed, perhaps to the point of being ecstatic. The slave, it would seem, had shared the anxiety and borne her part in the prayers of the Church; and the eager desire to tell the good news that their prayers had been answered overpowers her presence of mind. It’s the same reaction the disciples had when they recognized Jesus when he appeared to them after His resurrection: “And while they yet believed not for joy, and wondered, he said unto them, Have ye here any meat? (Luke 24:41).
But ran in, and told how Peter stood before the gate
The servant girl ran inside the house and quickly told them that Peter stood before the gate. In the meantime, Peter is on the other side of the door wondering why they won’t let him in.
15 And they said unto her, Thou art mad. But she constantly affirmed that it was even so. Then said they, It is his angel.
And they said unto her, thou art mad.
They seem to have regarded his rescue as so difficult and so hopeless, that they supposed that only a deranged person would say such a thing—that Peter was at the gate. And yet this was the very thing for which they had been so earnestly praying. When it was announced to them that their prayers were answered, they reasoned that the messenger, that announced it, was insane. Christians are often surprised even when their prayers are answered. They are overwhelmed and amazed at the success of their own petitions, and are slow to believe that the very thing for which they have asked God could be granted. It shows, perhaps, with how little faith they pray, and how slow they are to believe that God can hear and answer prayer. I am afraid I’m talking about myself now. We should persevere in our prayers, and we should place ourselves in a waiting posture to catch the first indications that God has heard us.
They thought the girl must be out of her mind, since they no longer believed that Peter’s release was possible—he would be killed in the morning. Perhaps they had stopped praying for his release, and were now praying for themselves, that their faith might be increased and they would be strengthened and enabled to go through the trial that lay ahead. And for Peter, they may now be praying that he might be strengthened and made steadfast, and kept faithful to the end; and bear, by his sufferings and death, a glorious and honorable testimony for Christ.
“Thou art mad”, one of them said, for what you said is "too good to be true."
But she constantly affirmed that it was even so;
But she insisted on it and constantly repeated it, saying over and over—“Peter is at the gate.” How much better it would have been to have gone at once to the gate, rather than to have a full-fledged hullabaloo on the subject. Peter was forced to remain knocking while they debated the matter. Christians are often engaged in some useless controversy when they should move along in order to catch the first signs of divine favor, and open their arms to welcome the proofs that God has heard their prayers.