At daylight, there was a great commotion among the soldiers as to what could have become of Peter. After Herod had searched and did not find him, he interrogated the guards and ordered their execution.
People in the pew with Sunday shoes may walk right past these verses. Others, who have worn the boots of combat, may stop to stare at them for a long time. They may find themselves thinking: “I know how Peter must have felt.”
James, the brother of John, the fisherman, had been executed at Herod’s command. Now Peter was arrested. He had to expect the same fate.
Miraculously, Peter escaped, but innocent people died as a result. They might be labeled as collateral damage. Peter had not planned their death. He had not wished their death. But, in a way, he caused their death. If he had not escaped, they would have still been alive. We can only wonder how often Peter thought of this as he went on with his life.
More than one person who has worn the United States Armed Forces uniform carries a picture of collateral damage in their memory. They are glad they survived the incident but regret the price that others paid as a result. Over time, that regret can grow. It can eat away at peace and joy. It can transform into guilt. God’s report on Peter’s escape shows this would be empty guilt.
Peter’s rescue was God’s doing. It was God’s plan. The responsibility lies with the Almighty. He makes no mistakes.
The night before his trial, Peter was chained between two guards. Two more guards were posted outside of the prison. None of this deterred the angel. With a bright light, he entered the cell and commanded, “Quick, get up!”
The chains fell off. “Get dressed!” “Follow me!” And, out they went, right past the guards—who saw nothing and heard nothing. The angel dropped Peter off on the street and disappeared.
Only when the sun came up did the soldiers discover their prisoner was gone. They knew they were doomed. The rule was: “Lose a prisoner, and you lose your life.”
Why did it have to happen this way? Why the collateral, the unintended, damage? Surely the God powerful enough to rescue Peter in this manner could have protected the lives of those who were only unfortunate enough to pull guard duty that night.
We wonder if Peter lamented these deaths and thought about those men in later years. He did not hate these guards! His message of the risen Savior was meant for them, too. Military people would one day make up a sizable portion of the Christian Church. Sadly, these soldiers would not be among them.
Maybe, in Peter’s mind, this was collateral damage. He surely did not intend it. But the one who planned and controlled the mission did.
The Lord God anticipated everything that took place in this operation. This includes the death of the guards. Only he knows why they were to die on that day, in this way, and not in another.
One does not need to be in a war to cause unintended affliction or death for others. It could be caused by an accident. It could be a business decision. It might simply be the wrong choice of words.
We might never know the damage we caused. Or the memory of it may burn in our hearts for years afterward.
Only God can release us from the pain of regret.
We remember Jesus teaching us to pray, “Thy will be done.”
We want his will to always be carried out. His plan is always perfect even when it doesn’t seem that way to us. Wasn’t that the case when his innocent Son was executed so guilty humans could live forever? Surely, we do not want him to change that.
That death erases any guilt we might have.
This lesson from Peter’s life has been retaught to God’s people down through the ages. We might have sin on our record. We may have regrets—but they should not be for what we are not responsible. If it is out of our hands, it is in God’s hands. One day we will see all the details and understand.
With God, there is no such thing as collateral damage!
Prayer: Heavenly Father, our faith is sometimes weak, and our understanding dim. Forgive the sins that we are not even aware of but keep us from feeling guilty when we are not. May we never find fault with what you have done. May we never regret being part of your plan! Enable us to learn the lesson taught to Peter so that we might ever walk in faith and know the blessing of your peace. In the name of Jesus, we pray this. Amen.
Written by Rev. Paul Ziemer, WELS National Civilian Chaplain and Liaison to the Military, Belle Plaine, Minnesota.
All Scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV®. Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.™ Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved worldwide. Note: Scripture reading footnotes are clickable only in the web version.