Peter’s situation seemed hopeless. He was locked in a prison, put there for no other reason than being a leader in the Christian community. He had been imprisoned by a king who planned on giving him a very public execution simply to please the Jewish religious leaders. In fact the only reason that Peter was still alive was that the king had put off the execution until after the Sabbath to ensure it fit with the wishes of those religious leaders. But the king wasn’t taking any chances while Peter was imprisoned, he assigned four squads of four Roman soldiers to guard him. A total of 16 of the toughest, meanest, best trained soldiers of their day to guard one man. Once in his cell, Peter was chained to two of these guards. This meant that both of Peter’s arms were bound with heavy chains, one to each guard, so that he was completely restrained. However each guard had an arm free to do him damage should he try to escape, or simply should they feel like it. So this left a man who was once a fisherman and now essentially a church pastor locked in a prison, guarded by 16 soldiers, two of whom he was chained to. And to top it all off, he was grieving the loss of one of his closest friends who had just been beheaded by the same king who had imprisoned Peter. Overall a terrifyingly hopeless and depressing situation which would leave most of us screaming, crying, banging on the walls and yelling for help, yet somehow Peter manages to fall asleep. (Acts 12:1-6)
Peter’s situation can reflect the challenges we face in our own lives. Often the battles we face can seem impossible, and a negative outcome can seem unavoidable. From a human perspective, Peter was a dead man. Locked in prison by a king bent on killing him simply for show. And yet, as we will see, God intervened and Peter was miraculously saved. When we look at Peter’s situation, we can see three distinct challenges he faced to achieving freedom. Firstly, he was in a prison. He was surrounded by stone walls, metal gates and strong locks. He was trapped by his circumstances. Secondly, he was guarded. He had 16 of the biggest, meanest men Rome could muster personally assigned to make sure he stayed where he was, trapped and hopeless. He was restricted by their presence. Thirdly, he was chained. Heavy steel chains held him in place and restricted him from moving anywhere that his captors didn’t want him to. He was bound by their weight. In our lives, we can often face similar types of challenges that hold us back. We can feel trapped by our circumstances. It might be financial circumstances, health issues, age issues or other circumstances in our lives which we feel hold us back. We can feel presences in our lives that “guard” us from making progress. These can be things like fear, grief or negative things that people have said about us. Finally, we can feel chained and weighed down. Sometimes it is sin which keeps us bound, other times it can be burdens that we feel we have to carry like family responsibilities. And just like Peter, all these things can seem impossible. But just like Peter, God is there to break us free if we let him. We’ll have a look at Peter’s escape to see how God can do this for us.
The first thing that the angel does when it wakes Peter up is to tell him to get up. When Peter stands up, his chains fall off (Acts 12:7). By the simple act of standing up, Peter is set free from the chains that held him down. Another image that is often used in the bible to represent chains or burdens is that of a yoke. A yoke was something hung of the neck of oxen to force them to work. It restricted them from moving freely similar to the way chains do. In Matthew 11:28-30 Jesus says “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy to bear, and the burden I give you is light.” In other words, if we allow Jesus into our lives he will take the heavy burdens from us and help us to carry them so they no longer weigh us down. Through Christ, the chains that weigh us down are broken, and we can move into his freedom.
The second thing the angel does is tell Peter to put on his clothes and shoes and then wrap himself in his coat. He comes out of the presence of the guards and is instead clothed and warm. Isaiah 61:10 says “I delight greatly in the Lord; my soul rejoices in my God. For he has clothed me with garments of salvation and arrayed me in a robe of his righteousness, as a bridegroom adorns his head like a priest, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.” When God saves us he wraps us in his salvation and righteousness. He takes us from being in the shadows of fear, doubt or whatever other shadows we are under and into the light of being saved and having right standing with him.
The third thing the angel does is lead Peter out of the prison. He leads him out of his situation of captivity and into a situation of freedom. In the same way, if you will follow him, Jesus can bring you out of being captive to your situation and into freedom. Jeremiah 29:11 tells us “For I know the plans I have for you,” says the Lord. “They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope.” The plans and paths that God has for us are plans and paths that will lead us into freedom and good things. There is still a journey to be travelled, but it is a journey of hope that we never have to travel alone.
One final thing to note with each of these areas is that they require action from us. While God has made the way for us to have freedom through Jesus, we have to accept it and live it out. When the angel freed Peter he didn’t pick him up, dress him, and carry him out of the prison; it was up to Peter to follow the angel’s directions to receive his freedom. In the same way, in Revelation 3:20 Jesus says “Look! I stand at the door and knock. If you hear my voice and open the door, I will come in, and we will share a meal together as friends.” The ways and means are there, we just need to reach out and take hold of them. Not only that, but the bible also promises us that once we have accepted Jesus into our lives “nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love. No power in the sky above or in the earth below—indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:38-39)
So where to from here? Can you identify areas in your life where you are weighed down by burdens or mistakes? Are there shadows over your life which you just can’t shake? Or are there aspects of your situation which leave you feeling trapped? I think if we’re honest most of us can identify with at least one of these areas. I would encourage you to take a moment to make a conscious decision that you are not going to stay trapped any longer. Make a commitment that you are going to stand up, get dressed and walk out. Take a moment to pray, and ask God to help you take the steps to freedom. With his help, I believe you can make a change today.
If you’d like to know more about Jesus please feel free to comment below or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org, we’d love to talk to you about it.