Posted: 11 Jan 2011 11:00 PM PST
IT IS WORTH COMPARING THE TWO italicized passages (Neh. 2; Acts 12:1–19).
The same God is behind both situations, of course. In both situations, a lone servant of God faces the challenge of building up and strengthening God's people in the teeth of opposition from some pretty hostile customers. Both men are in danger, in part for political reasons, though Peter's danger is the more immediate. Both are unflinching in their loyalty to the living God and to the mission to which each is called.
Thereafter the stories diverge. Having won the ear of the emperor, Nehemiah finds himself on the imperial frontier. He has a certain paper authority, but the locals are set on giving him a hard time. He proceeds step by step, wisely, winning the support of the local Jewish leaders, securing the supplies needed for building the wall, dismissing the opponents and all their wiles. For Nehemiah there are no miracles, no mighty displays of power, no angels in the night. There is only a great deal of risky and courageous work.
By contrast, Peter's situation is much more restricted. He has been arrested and is in prison awaiting execution. Since James has already been killed, Peter has no reason to think he will escape the executioner's sword. In a strange apparition that he mistakes for a dream, Peter is rescued by an angel; the chains fall away from him, the doors open of their own accord. Finding himself outside the prison walls, Peter comes to his senses and presents himself at the home of John Mark's mother, where people have gathered to pray for him. Eventually he secures entrance, and in due course leaves for "another place" (Acts 12:17). In Peter's case, to escape death is a triumph, and the faith of the church has been strengthened by what has happened. And it all happened because of a miraculous display of angelic help.
The lesson of these radically different experiences is one that we must learn again and again: God's servants do not have the same gifts, the same tasks, the same success, or the same degree of divine intervention. It is partly a matter of gifts and calling; it is partly a matter of where we fit into God's unfolding redemptive purposes. Has he placed us in times of declension, for example, or of revival; of persecution, or of major advance? Let God be God; let all his servants be faithful.
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