Imagine that you are in a prison. A dark, dirty, dank prison. A dark, dirty, dank, rat-infested, cold to the bone prison. And, as if that’s not bad enough, you have chains bound to your wrists, which are securely fastened to the wrists of the two soldiers who are beside you as you sleep. There are other soldiers (fourteen more, to be exact), well-trained and alert, who stand between you and any hope of escape. Additionally, there are the doors of the prison, huge, strong, made of iron, impregnable. You couldn’t get out unless you had an acetylene torch and a bazooka, neither of which is in your possession at the moment. To make matters worse, you know that the king, who had you arrested, has already executed one of your best friends and, since this action pleased your enemies, he plans to do you in as well. In fact, you are sleeping for the last time because he is going to cut off your head in the morning. After the trial, of course, which will be open and just, with the best lawyers possible arguing your defense. You will get a fair hearing in front of a jury of your peers, who will be able to see the truth about your case.
Yeah, right. Pigs fly, too. You’re dead and you know it. Requiescat in pace.
Acts, chapter 12. Peter. One of the most loved disciples of Christ. Always getting himself into trouble through his impulsive, impetuous actions. Never stopping to think about what he did or said, especially since that day when he was filled to overflowing with the Holy Spirit. After that there was nothing to live for and talk about except his Lord Jesus, regardless of where he was or who was listening, which landed him exactly where the powers that be wanted him. As good as dead!
There he was in his chains, stretched out between two Roman soldiers, sleeping. (How could anyone sleep in a situation like that?) Regardless, Peter was sound asleep. Then, suddenly someone was smacking him in the ribs, shining a flashlight into his eyes, and shouting, “Get up. Get up!” Talk about rude awakenings.
We know the rest of the story. How the chains fell off his wrists when he got to his feet. How the doors opened (and closed) automatically. How the guards never saw or were aware of what was happening. How the angel led Peter, still dreaming, down the street a full block before disappearing. How Peter finally woke up and realized he had been set free by the hand of the God who rules kings. We know that he went to the house of his friends who were together, praying for him while all this was happening. We know that after he convinced them that he really was who said he was, they proceeded to tell everybody about it while Peter took off for a safe house. And we know that the soldiers, who were only doing their duty and couldn’t have prevented his escape if they had known about it, took Peter’s place on the guillotine.
I have some questions.
What if Peter, on feeling the angels fist, on seeing the cell light up like a lightning bolt, on hearing the words, “Get up! Now!!”, had simply refused. What if he had convinced himself that it was only a bad dream? What if he really didn’t care whether or not Herod chopped off his head? What if he had set his face to “do it my way or no way”, in spite of knowing what was going to happen to him and that he was being offered an avenue of escape from it? What if? What if??
I know what would have happened. In the morning, the guards would have jerked him to his feet, dragged him off (without breakfast, mind you) to see King Herod, who would have found him guilty for any reason or for none, ordered him executed without delay, and that would have been the end of Peter. If there was an obituary column in the local news scroll, his name would have been listed the next day. He might have even merited a mention in the police report.
We are all, to some extent or another, in a prison of our own. We are guarded by sentries far more alert than any Roman soldier ever was. We are bound down by chains and weight far heavier than the iron which held Peter. For us, in our own strength, by ourselves, there is no hope. We are doomed! And yet, and yet…in our misery and despair, someone keeps jolting us awake. We see a light and we hear someone speak to us, “It is time to get up. You can be set free!”
Jesus came to set us free. He said, “You shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free.” He also said, “I am…the Truth…” We know that He sets captives free and prisoners at liberty. But, knowing all this, why do we have so much trouble when He comes to our own personal prison cell and expresses His desire to set us free? Why, indeed, when the obvious answer to our dilemma is to stand on our feet at His command, in His light and presence, only to feel and see those fetters fall impotent to the floor at our feet?
I know the answer. There is only one conclusion to the question–we don’t want to. No more excuses. Let’s get right down to brass tacks, bare knuckles, and the bald-faced truth of the matter. We simply don’t want to. We prefer to lie in our chains, squalor, and misery, rather than be set free by the command of the King. Better to die in bondage than to acknowledge that He, and He alone, is able to free us from our dungeon. Pride. Stupid, foolish, arrogant pride. We are too proud to admit that we can’t do it ourselves and we aren’t willing to allow anyone else to do it for us. Admit that I am incapable of saving myself? Better to die first!
This is exactly what happens. This is exactly the way I am.