Number 5 in our current Sermon Series, “Small Matters” – we look today at a young servant girl named Rhoda and the circumstances surrounding her being mentioned in Acts 12. While Rhoda is only mentioned one time in this passage, we have much to glean from her. Indeed, her small contribution teaches us in a most amusing way.
Let me ask you some questions:
Acts 12:1-19 – 12: About that time King Herod Agrippa began to persecute some believers in the church. 2 He had the apostle James (John’s brother) killed with a sword. 3 When Herod saw how much this pleased the Jewish people, he also arrested Peter. (This took place during the Passover celebration.) 4 Then he imprisoned him, placing him under the guard of four squads of four soldiers each. Herod intended to bring Peter out for public trial after the Passover. 5 But while Peter was in prison, the church prayed very earnestly for him. 6 The night before Peter was to be placed on trial, he was asleep, fastened with two chains between two soldiers. Others stood guard at the prison gate. 7 Suddenly, there was a bright light in the cell, and an angel of the Lord stood before Peter. The angel struck him on the side to awaken him and said, “Quick! Get up!” And the chains fell off his wrists.8 Then the angel told him, “Get dressed and put on your sandals.” And he did. “Now put on your coat and follow me,” the angel ordered. 9 So Peter left the cell, following the angel. But all the time he thought it was a vision. He didn’t realize it was actually happening. 10 They passed the first and second guard posts and came to the iron gate leading to the city, and this opened for them all by itself. So they passed through and started walking down the street, and then the angel suddenly left him. 11 Peter finally came to his senses. “It’s really true!” he said. “The Lord has sent his angel and saved me from Herod and from what the Jewish leaders[c] had planned to do to me!” 12 When he realized this, he went to the home of Mary, the mother of John Mark, where many were gathered for prayer. 13 He knocked at the door in the gate, and a servant girl named Rhoda came to open it.14 When she recognized Peter’s voice, she was so overjoyed that, instead of opening the door, she ran back inside and told everyone, “Peter is standing at the door!” 15 “You’re out of your mind!” they said. When she insisted, they decided, “It must be his angel.” 16 Meanwhile, Peter continued knocking. When they finally opened the door and saw him, they were amazed. 17 He motioned for them to quiet down and told them how the Lord had led him out of prison. “Tell James and the other brothers what happened,” he said. And then he went to another place. 18 At dawn there was a great commotion among the soldiers about what had happened to Peter. 19 Herod Agrippa ordered a thorough search for him. When he couldn’t be found, Herod interrogated the guards and sentenced them to death. Afterward Herod left Judea to stay in Caesarea for a while.
What happens in today’s story is incredibly serious and profound, but with some supreme comedic moments as well. Rhoda is at the center of one of those moments.
King Herod was persecuting believers. He had also killed James, the brother of John. He was all about politicking for his own personal positioning. He imprisoned Peter because he thought it would please the people – and because of this situation the Church was praying earnestly for him!
To ensure he would not escape he placed him under ridiculously unnecessary guard (four squads of four soldiers each). That many soldiers were no needed for one man, unless… God were to intervene (then 10,000 soldiers would not be enough).
In his book “Connecting with God,” author Herb Miller tells the story of a nightclub opening on Main Street in a small town. Upon hearing the news, the only church in that town organized an all-night prayer meeting. The members asked God to burn down the club. Within a few minutes lightning struck the club, and it burned to the ground. The club owner sued the church, which denied responsibility for the destruction of the club. After hearing both sides, the judge said, “It seems that wherever the guilt may lie, the nightclub owner believes in prayer, while the church doesn’t.”
Do we really believe in prayer?
Do we really believe that God answers every prayer?
How do we respond to His answers?
Because I love humor – and I love this story – let me highlight four instances in this story – moments while incredibly impactful, are interesting and perhaps even comical.
Comedic moment #1 – Peter was to go on trial the next morning – possibly incurring a death sentence, yet he was still asleep. Are you secure enough with your relationship with God you could fall asleep the last night of your life?
Comedic moment #2 – Peter was asleep so hard, the angel had to whack him on the side to wake him up. His chains fell off and the angel said – follow me! How would you like to wake up that way?
Comedic moment #3 – Peter was up and following the angel, but he thought he was just dreaming – I mean, why wouldn’t he think that? An angel leading him, past the guard posts and the city gate opening all by itself? Finally, when the angel left him, he came to his senses and realized he really was out of prison!
Comedic moment #4 – When Peter realized he was free, he went to a familiar home – the home of Mary, mother of John Mark, where many were gathered for prayer! Peter knocked on the door and Rhoda answers! She was so overjoyed when she heard his voice, she didn’t even open the door but ran back to the group and told them Peter was at the door. They thought she was crazy – and didn’t go to the door – and Peter kept knocking… Finally, they opened the door!
Let’s unpack this story a bit more.
Rhoda, our “Small Matters” character for today is a “celebrity!” If, even for a moment, she had a part in a story of an incredible, miraculous answer to prayer. Dr. Alexander Maclaren, a noted pastor and Greek & Hebrew Biblical scholar in his commentary on this passage, mentions that “Men will give their lives for fame, and this servant girl got it by one little act, and never knew that she had it.
Rhoda was basically a female slave in the house of Mary, the mother of John Mark, where the prayer team had gathered for the evening, had likely brought her from the island of Cyprus to work in her house. Mary was likely a “well-to-do” women with a large house, thus having room to effectively house a large prayer meeting. John Mark, incidentally was often referred to as just “Mark” wrote the gospel of Mark. He not only was the gospel writer, he was a companion of Paul & Paul’s traveling partner Barnabas (who was also John Mark’s cousin.” It was in this house, the house of strong believers who understood the power of prayer that “Rhoda” (whose name mean “a rose”) served.
While Rhoda was Mary’s servant, her position had not taken away Mary’s influence in her life. Rhoda was well acquainted with Peter – noted by her “recognizing his voice!”
It was Rhonda’s job – to answer the door. One might ask why then, upon recognizing Peter’s voice, did she not simply open the door – we must consider her conditioning. The Church was meeting behind closed doors because they were afraid of Herod’s soldiers. The irony here is… The Church also knew that Peter was in prison under ridiculously heavy guard and while praying in earnest, more than likely, did not expect God to answer their prayers so incredibly – let alone hear about his miraculous release by a personal visit from Peter – and the news being delivered by a servant girl, none-the-less!
Rhoda, a non-Jewess, a servant girl, the least in the house interrupting a prayer meeting of spiritual leaders…. How awesome is that?
Parallels anyone? Who found out about the Jesus the Messiah coming first? Who got to see Him first? The shepherds! In Christ’s day, shepherds stood on the bottom rung of the Palestinian social ladder. They shared the same unenviable status as tax collectors and dung sweepers. Only Luke mentions them.
Lesson #1 from Rhoda: Even if you feel you are a societal nobody, when you are a child of God, you join nobility – a partaker of the Divine – a child of the King, with full rights of His inheritance. Mary, while participating in the societal system of the day, was also a child of God – who taught and encouraged even her servant girl about Jesus, let her associate with the Church – even Peter! Mary more than likely had her servant girl Rhoda, kneeling beside her as the church prayed earnestly for Peter.
Lesson #2 from Rhoda: If your job is to open the door, then go open it. However, make sure you’re opening it for the right person to enter. Upon answering the knock, Rhoda first quietly asked through the keyhole, “who’s there?” When opening the door to anyone, make sure you know who’s knocking! Jesus gains entrance into our heart by knocking. But there are others that will come knocking, for your attention, for your support, for your life – make sure you open the door for the right person!
Rev. 3:20-22 (The Message) “Look at me. I stand at the door. I knock. If you hear me call and open the door, I’ll come right in and sit down to supper with you. Conquerors will sit alongside me at the head table, just as I, having conquered, took the place of honor at the side of my Father. That’s my gift to the conquerors! “Are your ears awake? Listen. Listen to the Wind Words, the Spirit blowing through the churches.”
Lesson #3 from Rhoda: Rhoda’s first duty was to open the door. Her second was to go tell the good news. We have that same duty! We must tell others the Good News of Jesus Christ. We must tell others that God answers prayers.
Conclusion: God answers prayers. Every time. Many of us love to share when God answers our prayer with a yes. We say, “God answered my prayer!” The reality is, God always answers your prayer with three answers: Yes, Wait, No.
When His answer is yes:
When His answer is wait:
When His answer is no:
In our story today, Rhoda, a servant, away from her home, in a foreign land, has embraced her new life – serving faithfully her mistress and most importantly, serving the King of Kings interrupted a prayer meeting of spiritual leaders and delivered the good news. She endured being called “out of her mind” but insisted the good news was true!
On “Super Bowl Sunday” it seems like we at least need one quote from a football movie. Drawing on Father Cavanaugh from the classic movie “Rudy,” – “Son, in 35 years of religious study, I have only come up with two hard, incontrovertible facts: there is a God, and… I am not Him.”
As our story today indicates, God can do whatever He wants to do – when He decides, and… He can use incredible supernatural means! He can use anyone he chooses and… He does! Thank you, Rhoda, for your example, thank you Rhoda for your faith and thank you Rhoda for embracing the God of your mistress and inspiring us to answer the door when Christ knocks – and be incredibly excited.