Jesus Can Set the Captive Free
Recently, I was sitting in Sunday school with the children I picked up from my route, here in Iloilo City, Philippines. We listened as the teacher, through flannel graph, told the story from Acts 12:3-17. She told how King Herod threw Peter in prison.
Perhaps King Herod was going to kill Peter like he did James (see verse 2), but the Bible says “prayer was made without ceasing of the church unto God for him.”
That night, an angel came and set Peter free. He went to the house of Mary, mother of John Mark, where many were gathered together praying. You all know the story: he knocked, and Rhoda came to the door of the gate.
She was so excited! It was Peter: the very one the Christians were praying for at that moment. She ran inside and told everyone that Peter was at the gate, but forgot to let him in. They said she was crazy but she continued to tell them of Peter’s arrival. Meanwhile, poor Peter keeps on knocking. Finally, they opened the door, and the Bible says they were “astonished” to see him. The Bible says they were “astonished.”
As I sat there with the children from my route, listening to the Bible story, I couldn’t help but think of the “prisons” we make for ourselves, and how God wants to deliver us from those prisons. Some prison walls I built around myself in the past were caused by self-pity, selfishness, envy, gossip, pride, idolatry (anything I put between me and God), covetousness (which is idolatry according to Colossians 3:5), impatience, anger, bitterness, disobedience, being ungrateful, not being submissive, being unkind, worldliness, an unloving heart, an unforgiving heart, and unbelief. I imprison myself with my sin.
The prison security for Peter was on high alert. The Bible says four quaternions of soldiers were guarding him. That means 16; four at a time, according to the Matthew Henry Commentary. He was even sleeping between two soldiers when the angel rescued him. Guards were put to death when prisoners escaped, so you can be sure these men took guarding seriously. If you’ll look at verse 19, you’ll see that Herod indeed put the guards to death.
Guess what? That strong prison (and the many dedicated guards) was nothing against the prayers of the Christians. Were these Christians mighty prayer warriors? I wonder. After all, when God answered their prayers and Peter showed up at the gate, they didn’t even believe it. Maybe they only had mustard seed-sized faith; but God still honored what faith they did have. An angel had delivered Peter from prison once before (see Acts 5). Did they not think that God could do it again? I’m often guilty of this. God will do something great in my life, but the next time the devil throws something at me, I forget how the Lord delivered me before. I will let the sin of fear, self-pity, anger, or unbelief paralyze me. Sometimes my faith is mustard seed-sized; yet God still loves me, and He still delivers me.
A few years ago when I was visiting our home church, First Baptist Church of Hammond, Indiana, I was privileged to go with Mrs. Caroline Daniel and some other ladies to visit in the women’s prison.
First, we sang, prayed, and gave a Bible lesson. Afterwards, we broke into small groups. We talked and prayed with the women. Some needed to hear the plan of salvation, while others wanted to share their burdens. Many cried, as they asked me to pray for their children or parents. They seemed so tough when they first walked in, but by the time they left, many were in tears.
I never asked the women why they were in prison, but I know they were in prison because of sin. Maybe they stole, did drugs, or killed someone. It’s easy for us to sit in judgment, but in God’s eyes, are the sins of stealing, drugs, and murder any worse than the secret sins I hide in my heart?
You may be thinking that most, if not all of those women deserved to be there. You’ve probably heard the saying, “If you don’t want to do the time, then don’t do the crime!” I couldn’t help feeling sorry for them though. It must be awful to live in prison. You’ve probably heard the saying, “If you don’t want to do the time, then don’t do the crime!” I do know it’s awful to live in the prison I make for myself. If I don’t want to live in prison, I can’t let sin get a foothold in my life. It’s so easy to let those “little” sins creep in, and then justify them. I find myself judging others when I see them sin, but when it’s me, of course it’s different! Sometimes it’s so easy to believe Satan’s lies isn’t it? In fact, maybe God thinks my “little” sins are even worse than the ones committed by those women in prison.
Our church, Iloilo Baptist Church, has a prison ministry. I have been down to the Iloilo prison, to visit the women there. I remember quite some time ago, leading a young lady to the Lord at the prison. I asked her if I could bring her anything and she said, “meat.” Their food was pretty bad and she desperately wanted some meat. She was also longing for reading material. On my next visit, I took her a Bible and some beef. I could get on a jeepney and go anywhere I wanted. I could go to the market and buy any food I wanted. I could go to the store and buy something to read. I had freedom, and I never wanted to take that for granted.
Are you in prison? The Lord Jesus is a great Liberator! He can set the captive free. He can break the prison bars. He can rescue us from those strong prison walls we have built in our lives because of sin. Oh, what a Savior! When He sets us free, we are free indeed!