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By Ted Schroder,
October 18, 2015

Peter's miraculous escape from prison gives us the opportunity to reflect on how God rescues us. King Herod was the nephew of Herod Antipas, the tetrarch of Galilee in the Gospels. He was given his uncle's jurisdiction as well as Judea and Samaria, replacing Pontius Pilate. He had James, the brother of John executed, the first of the apostles to be martyred, and arrested Peter. Unlike the previous occasions of imprisonment by the Sanhedrin, Peter was closely guarded by four squads of four soldiers each (probably on six hour shifts). He was bound to two soldiers with two chains, with sentries posted at the entrance of his cell. Escape was humanly impossible. But life contains more than what is humanly possible.

At different stages in our lives we feel imprisoned by the circumstances of our lives. Peter must have been feeling depressed by the violent execution of his fishing partner and brother in Christ, James. Whenever we lose a loved one we grieve. If their death is compounded by tragic accidents or by murder we have to process the shock of their sudden and untimely departure from us. We feel imprisoned by the walls of grief and anger at what has happened. If the loss of loved ones, friends or family members, is after a long illness we still experience sadness and often experience emotional exhaustion. We need time to grieve and to reorder our priorities after thinking of them continually as they battled with their illness. We even feel guilty as the responsibility of caregiving comes to an end.

When we have moved to a new home we grieve the loss of our friends and favorite places. A former member of the Chapel, while rejoicing in her move, lamented that she had tried six or seven churches and has not been able to replace the Chapel. She misses her friends here. A Bible study group comes to an end and there is nothing comparable to succeed it. We are imprisoned sometimes by our past memories and cannot seem to move on to new opportunities.

We are imprisoned by our unrealistic expectations of ourselves and others. We are chained to expectations about our children and grandchildren that are ours and not theirs. We are imprisoned by attitudes and prejudices that are not of the Spirit. We are imprisoned by our sins, our need to be independent and to be in control.

We are imprisoned by our loss of position in a community as we retire from our role and no longer can participate in leadership. We are imprisoned by loss of health and fear of further disability. We are imprisoned by a sense of loss of value as we age and fewer people appreciate all that we have accomplished in life. We are imprisoned by loss of peace of mind as anxiety presses upon us. We fear loss of wealth as the cost of elderly caregiving overwhelms us. We are imprisoned by our need for care and help and our reluctance to pay for it in case we run out of money. We are imprisoned by loss of prospects, loneliness, nothing to do of any importance, inability to take care of ourselves, and loss of hope. We are chained to the soldiers of despair and depression.

Peter was able to sleep in peace because the church was earnestly praying to God for him. Throughout the night many people had gathered at the house of Mary, the mother of John Mark, to pray for Peter, his protection and deliverance.

Never under estimate the power of intercessory prayer. John G. Paton (1824-1907), a Scottish missionary to the New Hebrides in the South Pacific, and his wife, were surrounded in their home one night by tribesmen intent on burning them out and killing them. The two of them prayed all through that terror-filled night, asking God to deliver them. When daylight came they were surprised to see the attackers leave. A year later, the chief of the tribe was converted to Christ, and Paton asked him what kept them from burning the house and killing them. The chief replied, "Who were all those men who were there with you?" Paton replied, "There were no men there, only my wife and I." But the chief said that they had seen hundreds of big men in shining garments with drawn swords in their hands. They seemed to circle the house, so the tribesmen were afraid to attack.

The church gathered in Mary's house prayed "earnestly". They prayed as if Peter's life depended on it. All too often we play it safe spiritually. We are tentative in prayer. Prayer for others is prayer to God "who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us" (Eph.3:20).

Prayer changes people's lives and their circumstances. Prayer changes attitudes and expectations. Prayer humbles the proud and enables the lowest and the least among us direct communication with the Lord of heaven and earth. Intercessory prayer is the most effective weapon in the Christian's armor. It does not depend on age or physical strength or theological education or personality traits. It is available to all to use in the spiritual warfare of this life. We can never run out of or exhaust our supply of intercessions.

Suddenly, what is humanly impossible happened. An angel of the Lord (Christ?) appeared and a light shone in the cell. He woke Peter up, the chains fell off Peter's wrists, and he told Peter to get dressed and follow him. He led him out of the prison past the guards and left Peter in the street. All of a sudden Peter realized what had happened and that he had been rescued.

The ministry of angels is mentioned many times in Acts. Angels minister to us. God uses his angels to accomplish his purposes. The angels remind us that we live in the midst of the kingdom of heaven. We are not alone in this world. Even in the worst of circumstances God is at work. I pray often that God's angels would protect me and my loved ones. Acts tells us that angels have an important in the lives of Christian preachers and teachers.

"God never lets us go through a crisis without preparing us adequately for it and providing for us to come out of it victoriously. God always sends us sufficient help to see us through our most difficult times, and he sometimes does it through angels, as happened to Jesus after his temptations and before his death (Mark 1:13; Luke 22:43). We are reminded of the familiar verse in Psalm 91:11-12:

For he will command his angels concerning you
To guard you in all his ways;
They will lift you up in their hands,
So that you not strike your foot against a stone.

Sometimes angels are present in times that, unlike the two stories of Peter's deliverance in Acts, are times of apparent tragedy. I think of what Steve Saint found out about his father's death in the jungles of Ecuador: At the time the five missionaries were being killed, the Auca Indians saw a multitude of angels in the sky and heard them singing. This played an important role in their eventual conversion to Christ." (Ajith Fernando, NIV Application Commentary: Acts, p.370f.)

The story of the Bible from beginning to end is the story of Divine intervention. God is always acting to fulfill his purposes. He will never allow anyone and anything to frustrate his purposes in our lives. He is Sovereign in this world. He will deliver us from evil. He will save us. He will come when we need him. That is why we can echo Peter's realization after he is freed from prison: "Now I know without a doubt that the Lord sent his angel and rescued me from Herod's clutches." King Herod, mighty and egotistical as he was did not survive. He was struck down by an angel of the Lord and died because he did not give praise to God. Whatever imprisons us cannot withstand God's intervention in our lives. Jesus said, "The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has... sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners" (Luke 4:18). Let us wake up and welcome his coming to us in Jesus and his angels to deliver us.

(Ted's blog is found at www.tedschroder.com)

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