This topic is collecting lesson ideas and resources for the story of Peter escaping prison in Acts 12.
Let's get started with these three lessons from our friends at State St UMC in Virginia!
Peter Escapes from Prison, Acts 12
Summary of Workshops
Drama Workshop: Children will act out the story. "Still photographs" will be taken and printed out to create a photo storybook.
Prayer Workshop: Children will learn about the different types of prayer, then go on an "Intercessory Prayer Walk" around the church.
Video Idea: We added a video suggestion: "Paul & Silas" (Superbook Series). See post for video summary.
“An Angel Helps Peter Escape from Prison” (page 377-378 Little Kids’ Adventure Bible)
"Angel - Open Gate" (pages 711-713 The Picture Bible)
NIV Adventure Bible: Did you Know: How did Peter escape from prison? Page 1214
Little Kids' Adventure Bible: Did you know: How did Peter escape from prison? Page 377
"Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you." 1 Peter 5:7
God wants us to pray. God hears and answers ALL prayers. God takes care of us.
Objectives and Life Application:
- Children will locate the story in the Bible.
- Children will define Acts as a New Testament book of history.
- Children will retell the story in their own words.
- Children will recall some of the major events of Peter's life.
- Children will discuss the types of prayer: praise, thanksgiving, confession, intercession, petition and listening.
- Children will discuss ways God answers prayers.
- Children will discuss how God takes care of each of us and meets our needs.
- Children will memorize 1 Peter 5:7.
Our Study so Far: Highlights from previous rotations…
What's in a Name?
When Peter first appears in the gospels, his name is Simon bar Jonah (Simon, son of Jonah). Jesus changes Simon's name to Cephas (Aramaic) or Petros (Peter - Greek). Jona means dove, while Cephas and Peter mean rock. Jesus is essentially saying to Peter, "Once you were just a flitting, fluttering dove. If you will trust me as your Lord, I will make you into a rock." As we have seen in our last two rotations (Peter's Denial and Peter's Restoration), Peter has not always acted "rock-like." Peter's name change is a reflection of who he would become, not who he already was. Each of us has a "next step" in our discipleship. As with Peter, God sees our potential and yearns for us to fulfill it.
Who is Peter?
We know a great deal about the disciple, Peter primarily due to his close relationship with Mark, the writer of the gospel. In fact, many Bible scholars believe Mark's gospel to be composed of a compilation of Peter's preaching and personality. The word "euthus" means immediately or straight-away and is used throughout Mark's gospel. Peter was a man of action, with a quick temper and impulsive nature, typical of Galileans. One who acts without thinking is prone to make mistakes. To Peter's credit, he does not hold back his many mistakes and blunders. Peter wants everyone to experience, as he has, the forgiveness and grace of Jesus and the transforming power of the Holy Spirit.
Peter was a fisherman, in partnership with James and John. He was married and lived in Capernaum in Galilee. Peter quickly became a leader among the disciples. Matthew begins the list of disciples with "the first, (protos) Simon." Protos means first, but it also means chief. Peter was in fact the chief among the disciples. Peter also was part of the inner circle of three (Peter, James and John) who were closest to Jesus.
In our previous rotations, we have seen Peter experience a whirlwind of emotions…. from boasting about his faithfulness to Jesus ("Even if I have to die with you, I will never disown you." Matthew 26:35) to his denial in the courtyard of the high priest, to his restoration by Jesus on the beach…. then, with the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, we see a new and transformed Peter. Peter received power and courage – gifts of the Holy Spirit. Peter bravely proclaims the gospel and heals many in Jesus’ name.
What is Pentecost?
Jewish people celebrate a series of feasts or festivals throughout the year. At the Feast of Harvest, Feast of Weeks or Pentecost Jewish people were instructed to bring two loaves made from the wheat harvest and the harvest was dedicated to God as its giver. (Lev. 23:15-16) It is held exactly fifty days after First Fruits (Easter). Pentecost means 50 days. On this day the Holy Spirit came to the disciples bringing them the power of the Holy Spirit to give them strength to share Jesus’ message with the world.
Who is the Holy Spirit? What is the Trinity?
The Holy Spirit is the third person of the Trinity (Father, Son and Holy Spirit), our "three-in-one” God. He is God. Like God, the Holy Spirit is eternal, present everywhere, and equal with God the Father and God the Son. The Holy Spirit does exactly the things that Jesus did, for the Holy Spirit is Jesus, now with us. "We believe in one God. God has entered human history as Jesus. God's Spirit, the same Spirit that filled Jesus is in the hearts and minds of believers."
The Holy Spirit brings God closer, nearer to us, truly “God with us,” in a very intimate way. The Holy Spirit did not just suddenly appear on Pentecost. He has existed since the beginning with Father and Son. The Old Testament refers to the Holy Spirit as “the Spirit of the Lord.” (Other expressions used are the "Holy Spirit" and the "Spirit of Jesus.") In Old Testament writings the Spirit’s activity is more selective, descending specifically upon certain individuals to accomplish God’s work for a finite time.
But the prophet Joel foresaw a day when God would say,
“I will pour out my spirit on all flesh;
your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
your old men shall dream dreams,
and your young men shall see visions.
Even on the male and female slaves,
in those days, I will pour out my spirit.”
In Acts 2, we see the coming of the Holy Spirit to the Jews at Pentecost. But God has a much bigger plan. In Acts 10, we see God’s ultimate plan of salvation unfolding. Peter's vision of unclean animals and his subsequent visit to the centurion, Cornelius is sometimes referred to as the Gentile Pentecost, as God pours out his Spirit upon the Gentiles. The early church was astounded to see the Holy Spirit come to the Gentiles. It was a radical reorientation of their understanding of God and themselves as God's chosen people. In the book of Acts we see the birth of the Christian church and its expansion to:
Jerusalem - Acts 1-7
Judea and Samaria - Acts 8-12
Gentile converts - Acts 10
The whole world - Acts 13-18
Our Story continues…
This month we see the increasing persecution of the Christian church. Luke (author of Acts) reports that the believers stayed in Jerusalem in spite of escalated pressure against the Christians (Acts 8:1). Life could not have been easy for them. With the martyrdom of Stephen a strong initiative to destroy the group known as "the Way" began in earnest (see Acts 24:14). The early church recognized that suffering is a part of the Christian life. Jesus does not promise that we will never suffer, only that he will be with us through it all.
Palestine in the days of the apostles was ruled by Rome. The Romans assigned procurators or governors to maintain order in Palestine. They also used client-kings. A client-king had authority only as Rome dictated, but if the king was governing efficiently in the eyes of Rome, then he had freedom to govern as he wished.
The Herodians were client-kings. Herod the Great ruled during the time of Jesus' birth and was responsible for the slaughter of young boys. After his death, his kingdom was divided among his sons, Herod Archelaus (Matthew 2:22), Herod Philip (Luke 3:1) and Herod Antipas (Matthew 14:1, 2). (Herod Antipas ruled over Galilee at the time of Jesus' death.) Another of Herod's sons, Aristobulus, was killed for plotting against his father. Aristobulus had a son named Agrippa I, the ruler at the time of our story. Agrippa I ruled over the domain of Herod the Great from A.D. 40 until his death in A.D. 44. Just like his notorious family, he opposed the Christians, and engaged in numerous murderous plots and executions.
The Death of James
Our story opens with the death of James (the brother of John). Herod Agrippa orders James killed by the sword (possibly beheaded). This type of execution was used when someone was accused of leading people to follow false gods (Deut. 13:12-15).
The death of James pleased the Jewish leaders and boosted Herod's popularity with them. Emboldened by this and perhaps to further increase his popularity, Herod then determined to execute Peter as well. But it was near Passover and Herod knew he would offend the Jewish leaders if he executed Peter during this time. So, Peter was placed in prison under the guard of four squads of soldiers. (A squad consisted of four soldiers each.) Sixteen soldiers rotated in groups of 4 to watch Peter, who was also bound in chains. Two guards were chained to him in his cell while the other two stood guard outside the cell door. Obviously Herod wanted to make sure Peter could not escape. However, King Herod did not consider what God had in mind!
Peter in Prison - The Church Prays
Meanwhile, the church was earnestly praying. The death of James was a terrible tragedy. These were dark days indeed for the believers. Now Peter, the leader of the early church, was imprisoned and about to meet the same fate. The believers prayed earnestly and without ceasing. What did they pray? Perhaps they prayed for Peter's strength to endure, or for him to stay strong in the faith, and surely they prayed fervently for his release.
In the prison cell, Peter slept, chained between the two soldiers. An angel of the Lord appeared in the prison bringing a divine light, the presence of God's power, in the midst of darkness. Significantly, neither the light nor the words of the angel awakened the soldiers chained to Peter. The angel awakened Peter, telling him to get up quickly. As Peter obeyed, his chains fell off.
The angel led him outside. Peter followed, believing he was experiencing another vision or perhaps dreaming. They walked past the guards, who saw and heard nothing. They walked through an iron gate, opened again by divine power. Once Peter was safely on the street, the angel departed, his mission completed.
As Peter walked, he had time to focus on the events of the night. He realized his deliverance from the hands of Herod was no dream. It was very real. God had rescued him from the hands of Herod, bringing him from the brink of death to life!
Peter at the Gate
Peter walked to the house of Mary, mother of John Mark. Inside the house, the people were gathered together praying for Peter, oblivious to the fact that God had already answered their prayers! Peter knocked on the door and a girl named Rhoda heard and went to the door. Although Rhoda recognized Peter's voice, she did not open the door to let him in. Instead, overwhelmed with joy, she ran back to tell the others that Peter was outside, leaving Peter standing in the dark!
Now interestingly, the believers, who had been praying fervently for just this very thing, did not believe Rhoda. In fact they told her she was crazy. Or maybe it was an angel outside. Despite their earnest prayers, they showed no signs of believing that God had heard and answered! Peter remained outside the gate, knocking… Finally they must have heard him and opened the gate. And they are astonished to see Peter, safe and sound standing outside the door.
Note For Teachers About Prayer:
Prayer in its simplest definition is communication with God. When we pray, we spend time with God, learning more about Him and drawing closer to Him. When we share our needs and the desires of our hearts God hears. God hears all our prayers! God wants us to talk about anything at all! If it is important to you, it is important to God! Praying is like talking to your best friend, someone you love and trust. God will always listen to you when you pray.
Communication involves both talking and listening. Prayer also includes listening. God speaks to us in a variety of ways -- through Scripture, through circumstances, through the words of Christian friends and through our spirits -- as a quiet word or sense of peace or conviction. To hear God, we have to be still and listen… not an easy thing to do in our fast-paced world.
Types of Prayer
There are six types of prayer: praise, thanks, forgiveness (or confession), for others (intercession), for me (petition) and listening! (We teach this by using a visual of a hand with one finger for each type of prayer and a heart in the middle of the hand.)
- Praise (thumb) means to tell God how wonderful and awesome he is.
- Thanks (index finger) means to thank God.
- Forgiveness (confession - middle finger) means to confess (admit) the wrong things we have done and ask God for forgiveness.
- Intercession (For others) means to pray for the needs of others.
- Petition (for ourselves - pinkie) means to pray about our own needs.
- Listening (heart in center of palm) reminds us to be quiet and still and listen to what God might want to say.
Does God hear and answer prayer?
YES! The Bible is clear that God hears and answers ALL prayers. Does this mean that God gives us everything we ask for? NO! God loves us and wants what is best for us always. Sometimes God allows the consequences of our choices to teach us. Sometimes God answers with a "yes," sometimes a "no," and sometimes "wait." Always God has the "big plan" in mind, something that we cannot always understand with our limited human vision.
Through prayer we seek to know God's will and to position ourselves in a way to participate in what God is doing in the world. Then we must be willing to move when we hear from God. When God says, "go" the way is prepared! Peter listened and obeyed. And he was set free from the chains that bound him.
The church prayed for Peter's safety and their prayers were answered (although they didn't believe it at first!) It seems apparent that the church was not expecting this answer to their prayers… or at least not that quickly! How often do we pray for a miracle, then doubt that God can truly answer that prayer? We don't know what Peter's friends were praying, but surely his release and safety was foremost in their minds. Yet when Peter stood outside at the door knocking, they refused to believe it! What are the lessons for us here? Pray… fervently, earnestly and without ceasing. Believe that there is nothing God cannot do. Expect that God will answer. Be ready to move when God responds.
Prayer is the key…
Sometimes prayer is like a key that opens the way for God's help. God always has a way out of trouble, but we must ask him to lead us out. If we faced a locked door in the midst of darkness, we would reach for the key to unlock the door. Our part is to put the key in the lock. We cannot make the key, but we can use it. In John Bunyan's classic story Pilgrim's Progress he tells a story of two men, Christian and Hopeful, on their way to the King's country. They are caught on the grounds of Giant Despair and placed in a dungeon and threatened with death. Just before they are killed, Christian remembers his key, called Promise that will unlock any door. When he uses the key, the dungeon door and iron gate are unlocked and the prisoners went free.
Jesus has given us his promise, the key for any lock, but we must put the key in the lock. We do this by prayer. Prayer takes God's promise and fits it into the lock of our prisons -- our hardships, our troubles, our trials. God is able to release us without prayer, but he chooses this way, asking us to pray for the very things he has promised us.
Why does God allow suffering?
Cast all your anxieties on him, for he cares for you. That is our memory verse for this month. God promises that he loves us and will take care of us always. Does that mean that God will never let us be hurt? No. We live in a fallen world. Accidents happen. People choose to do evil. Innocent people suffer. But through it all, God is sovereign. God, in ways we cannot always understand, uses these hard times and tragedies to bring about his plan for ultimate good. We may not always be able to see or understand the details, but we trust God to always know what is best.
Beth Moore, in her study Daniel: Lives of Integrity, Words of Prophecy, writes that God always delivers us when we face fiery trials. Sometimes God delivers us FROM the trial. Peter was delivered from his prison cell and certain death. When we are delivered from a trial, our faith is built. Sometimes God delivers us THROUGH the trial. Peter's hardships included imprisonment and flogging and the death of his fellow believers. Through these sorts of trials, our faith is refined. It is proven and the "fake" parts of our faith are burned away. And sometimes God delivers us BY the trial and into his loving arms. Here our faith is perfected and made complete. As humans, we cling tenaciously to this life, to what we can see and hear and feel. It's difficult to remember this life is just a moment in the grand scheme of eternity.
Although we will not spend much time discussing them, we want the children to know that Peter was the author of two of the New Testament books, I and 2 Peter. These letters were written toward the end of Peter's life (probably around AD64) while he was in Rome and during a period of intense persecution of Christians under Emperor Nero. In his letters Peter encourages the persecuted believers to stand firm in their faith and to respond in love rather than anger when persecuted, especially when we are persecuted for doing what is right. He reminds us of Jesus' suffering and to recall how God used that suffering to bring about our great hope and salvation.
The rest of the story…
Although Peter escaped death in our story this month, eventually he was martyred in Rome. Church tradition holds that Peter was in Rome during Emperor Nero's reign, a time of intense Christian persecution. Fellow believers urged him to flee. While leaving the city, Peter had a vision of Jesus entering the city. Peter asked Jesus where he was going and was told he was going to be crucified. "Again," Peter asked. "Yes," Jesus replied. Peter turned around, going back to Rome, unwilling to let Christ be crucified again. He returned to Rome where he was arrested and forced to watch his wife crucified. Then Peter was crucified, upside down, as he did not feel worthy to die in the same way his Savior had.
Peter writes in 1 Peter 4:12-19 that "those who suffer according to God's will should commit themselves to their faithful Creator and continue to do good." We are to persevere, trusting that God is in control and is working everything out.. Victory for God's truth is assured. Evil may try to silence God's messengers, but the Lord will break the chains and spring open the doors so that the truth can run free. God requires us to understand that no matter what we face and how challenging the circumstances, God will make a way somehow! We may not understand when, or where or how, but we are assured that God will always work things out according to his good plan, his very GOOD plan.
- What happened to the apostle James? (he was killed by Herod)
- What did King Herod do to Peter? (put him in prison, planned to kill him)
- What did the believers do when Peter was in prison? (prayed)
- How was Peter guarded? (16 soldiers, two chained to him)
- What happened in the middle of the night? (angel came and set Peter free)
- Where did Peter go? (Mary's house, where people were gathered praying)
- What happened when Peter knocked on the door? (Rhoda answered, left him outside)
- Why do you think Rhoda didn't let Peter in?
- Why do you think the people didn't believe Rhoda? (didn't think it could be true, thought she was imagining things)
- How do you think Peter felt being left outside?
- What are the six types of prayer? (praise, thanksgiving, confession, intercession, petition, listening)
- What types of prayers do you think Peter prayed while in prison?
- What types of prayers do you think the believers prayed when Peter was in prison? After he was released?
- Why do you think the people in the church felt the need to pray?
- How do you think they learned that God answers prayers?
- Do you believe that God hears and answers all our prayers?
- How did God answer the prayers of the church while Peter was in prison?
- How have you experienced God answering your prayers?
- Why does God not always answer our prayers the way we want?
- Have you experienced a sudden answer to prayer?
- Have you experienced a time when God's answer was "wait?"
- When was a time you suffered for doing the right thing?
- How can we respond when we suffer unjustly?
- When do you pray?
- What makes it easier for you to pray? Harder?
- How has prayer changed you?
- What have you learned about God from this story?
from State Street UMC, Bristol, VA