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Prison Break

Scripture: 2 Chronicles 33:10-13, Acts 5:18-20, Acts 12:1-19
Date: 10/14/2000 
Like being in prison, God wants to set us free from sin. Several Bible stories share of people who were set free--which is the story of salvation. Peter's liberation from prison is the focus of this sermon. We are freed when we humble ourselves and cry out in prayer to God.
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Note: This is a verbatim transcript of the live broadcast. It is presented as spoken.

This morning our message is Prison Break and it is not because we are endorsing that people try to liberate those who are incarcerated through illegal means. But the message of the bible is one that Jesus came to set the captives free. As a matter of fact, the very act of story is the story of God saving a nation of people in bondage and liberating them.

Now, there are several examples in the bible of not only the Lord saving people from prison, but bringing them through a very radical change of going from the prison to the palace in one day, which is really the story of salvation. Of course you have the example of Joseph. Joseph, who because of his resisting the temping of Potiphar’s wife, he was incarcerated for several years. But then because word reached that he could interpret dreams, he was able then to be exalted from the prison to the palace in one day.

That is also a story that is often little thought of, but Joseph then incarcerated his brother Simeon. Simeon probably had a prominent role in having Joseph sold as a slave. Simeon was then forgiven and in one day, Simeon went from the prison to the palace when Joseph was there and Joseph forgave him, which, of course, is the story of what he does for us.

Manasseh, one of the kings of Israel. Manasseh was a wicked king and you read in the bible about all the things that he did wrong. It says here that God finally visited him in judgment.

2 Chronicles 33:10-13, “And the Lord spoke to Manasseh and to his people, but they would not listen. Therefore, the Lord brought upon him the captains of the army of the king of Assyria who took Manasseh with hooks and bound him with bronze fetters and carried him off to Babylon. Now when he was in affliction,” in prison, “he implored the Lord, his God, he humbled himself greatly before the God of his fathers. He prayed to him,” now what did he to get out of prison? He prayed. Notice that, it is coming up again later. “And he received his entreating.” God heard his prayer, even someone as wicked as Manasseh. “He heard his supplication, He brought him back to Jerusalem into His kingdom. Then Manasseh knew that the Lord was God.” God could bring even someone like Manasseh from the prison to the palace in one day.

During our scripture reading a moment ago, Annette reminding you of a very interesting story. You find it at the end of the Book of Jeremiah, as well as the conclusion of 2 Chronicles. It tells about how the son of Nebuchadnezzar, his name was Evil-Merodach, he took this young king -- the bible tells us there was a good king named Josiah. Josiah died in battle with Pharaoh Neco and then his three sons ended up reigning in succession. The first one was Jehoiachin. But Jehoiachin was in prison while he was still a young man by Nebuchadnezzar. He spent 37 years in a prison. They did not have ping-pong, TV, air conditioning or pool back then. It is amazing he lived that long at all. The dungeons back then were filled with rats and vermin and disease and very discouraging and Babylon, hot and humid, 37 years he survived.

After Nebuchadnezzar died, the son of Nebuchadnezzar, maybe at the prompting of Daniel, said, why not have mercy? He is the son of David the King. He has been in prison. He has paid his dues. And Evil-Merodach had mercy on him. That name means Amel-Marduk. He was named after the Babylonian gods. He had mercy on Jehoiachin, brought him out of prison. He not only brought him out of prison, he is an old man now, he said I am going to let you sit as a king at my table. I am going to give you royal apparel. I am going to give you a provision of bread from the king’s table. So he began to eat royal bread and wear royal apparel. In one day, he was brought from the prison to the palace.

This is what the Lord does for you and me. He takes us from the prison to the palace. Of course, you have the story of Daniel. We studied that last night, those of you who were at the meeting. He was in the lion’s den and I think it is safe to say that was a prison, amen? He is thrown there in the lion’s den and because God intervened and Daniel prayed, God sent his angel and shut the lion’s mouth. In one day, Daniel went from the prison to the palace.

The story of salvation is the story of how God takes us from bondage, He not only liberates us like He did the Israelites, but He said, “Now you are a nation of kings.” He took them from being a nation of slaves, He said, “Now I am making you a nation of kings and priests.” The bible talks about someone by the name of Melchizedek. Melchizedek was a king and a priest. That was the highest office anybody could hold in the bible. Some kings could not operate as priests. You remember when King Ezah (phonetic) tried to take the prerogatives that belonged to the priest and he was cursed. King Saul tried to take the prerogatives that belonged to a priest and he was cursed. Even David said, “I will not do that. That belongs to the priest.” But to be a priest and a king, there is nothing higher than that biblically.

And God takes us from being slaves and He makes us a nation of kings and priests. We go from the prison to the palace and it happens in one day. It happens so quickly.

The central theme of this message that I do not want you to miss is that we are holden with the chords of our sins. The devil has imprisoned many who are here. All of us at some point have been in prison by our various addictions and sins. We are trapped, we cannot get out, but the good news is Jesus not only forgives us, He liberates us. He not only liberates us, He brings us into heavenly places where we can live and reign with him. Amen.

I just gave you some examples in the bible, five where God takes people from the prison to the palace. But there is more beyond that. Sometimes God intervened personally and He liberates a person from prison. You could say that He did something in a supernatural way to set a person free from their prison.

Once example you have, of course, in the bible is Jonah. I don’t know how you feel, but being caught in the intestinal tract of a large sea creature for three days and three nights, I would rather be in a prison than that. There is no way of escape. He was imprisoned for three days and three nights. It didn’t look like there was any hope. But you know what he did from his prison; he prayed.

And you know what the bible says? I like this. At the bottom of the mountains, you know Jonah thought he could flee from God, he was as far away as anyone could possibly contrive to be away from the view and the knowledge of God, in the dark. It can’t be any darker than the guts of a fish in the bottom of the ocean, unless there was some iridescent octopus floating around in there with him, but dark, damp, discouraging. And in those circumstances, that distance from God, he prayed and he was able to catapult a prayer from that situation to the holy of holies.

God heard his prayer and God broke him out of prison. He made the fish nauseous, he made the fish float. The fish could have barfed him out at the bottom and he would have died from decompression. But he brought him to shore and spit him out on dry land. God not only breaks him out of prison, He does good things for him afterwards. So you have Jonah.

The bible tells us that the apostles, Peter was preaching, you know the story where Peter was preaching at the beautiful gate, Peter and John. And this man who had been lame from birth was healed. It caused quite a stir in the temple and that eventually got the attention of the religious leaders. Peter and John were preaching and all of the apostles were finally brought in and they had to answer to the Supreme Court to Sanhedrin. The religious leaders were very threatened by the apostles and so they had them all incarcerated.

And this, of course, is in Acts 5:18-20 and it says, “And they laid their hands on the apostles and they put them in the common prison. But at night the angel of the Lord opened the prison doors and brought them out and said, go, stand in the temple, speak to the people all this words of this life.” Why does God set us free? So that we can go and speak in his behalf, amen? He doesn’t just set us free so we can go on vacation. He sets us free that we might continue to proclaim.

In other words, God said to the apostles, “Don’t be afraid of Heron. Don’t be afraid of the religious leaders. I am setting you free and you keep right on preaching.” Amen. Though the devil might try to restrict you.

You have the story of Paul and Silas. They were preaching and because of their preaching, the enemies roused up the people in Philippi. Paul and Silas were mercilessly flogged by the jailer. They were put in a top-security dungeon, dark, discouraging circumstances, but instead of whining and complaining and moaning and getting depressed, they sang praises to God. They praised the Lord. They prayed. And the bible says that God has sent his angel and caused a great earthquake, just like the one that liberated Jesus from His prison, and the prison doors were opened.

You can read about that in Acts 16:26, “Suddenly there was a great earthquake, so the foundations of the prison were shaken and immediately all the doors were opened and everyone’s chains were loose.” Have you ever seen an earthquake that opens people’s handcuffs? This is a supernatural earthquake to tell us that God came to set the captives free. Amen. And what did Paul do? He began to preach to his persecutor, the jailor, and he was baptized in his household. God sets us free for the purpose of liberating others from sin.

Now, I’m going to spend most of my time, I did talk to you about how, of course, God supernaturally liberated His own Son from prison with an earthquake and an angel. Amen. But that’s not where I want to spend most of the time today. I want to go to the story of Peter. Turn with me in your bibles and this is where we are going to give the bulk of our attention.

In Acts 12, there is a wonderful story that is a microcosm of the whole plan of salvation about how the Lord delivers us from prison. In your bibles turn with me, please, to the Book of Acts 12:1, and I will elaborate on some other points as we proceed. This takes place after the apostles had been in prison and the angels set them free. Persecution is aroused again after the stoning of Steven.

The religious leaders are very upset because not only was the church continuing to grow, Paul, who was their best hit man, he becomes a Christian and he is out preaching to everybody. They are outraged, so they begin to lobby. The religious leaders begin to go to King Herod and they lobby with Herod that he might imprison and persecute the church.

About that time, Herod the King stretched out his hand to harass some of the church. He killed James, the brother of John, with a sword and because he saw it pleased the Jews, now Herod, in this story, is a type of the devil. Because he saw it pleased the Jews, was it because Peter was bad? No, it was so he could get reelected. It was for proud reasons. Because he saw it pleased the Jews, he proceeded further to cease Peter because they were advising him.

This was the day of unleavened bread, just before the Passover and he apprehended Peter. He delivered him to four squads, four quaternions,” four times quattro. Who speaks Spanish? How many soldiers? Sixteen, a quaternion, that’s four, a quarter. Sixteen soldiers are guarding this unarmed fisherman. They march him with a lot of pomp and display through the street of Jerusalem. They put him in the innermost cell.

Why did Herod do that? Because he remembered how, somehow, the Jews had tried to incarcerate the apostles and they miraculously escaped. He knew that somehow Jesus got out of the tomb, slipped through the Roman guards’ fingers. He said this is not going to happen, so he has 16 soldiers guarding Peter and they put Peter in the innermost cell, intending after the Passover to have him executed. He was going to be beheaded, just like James was.

And I should probably stop at this point and explain what is going on behind the veil. The bible says, “Strike the shepherd and the sheep will scatter.” The inner circle of apostolic leadership was the trio, little trinity, and their names were what? Peter, James and John. They were the leaders. James has been killed, Acts 12 tells us. Peter now is on death row. They did not like to execute people during their holidays. Remember they wanted the bodies off the cross before the Passover when Jesus was executed. It messed up the holidays. But as soon as it was over, they were going to execute Peter.

John is still very young. He is a novice. And so the church is worried, they’re in dire straits. And the bible says, “Peter was kept in prison, but constant prayer was offered to God for Him by the church.” What is the church doing while Peter is in prison? They are praying, once a week, Wednesday night, for one hour. Is that what it says? What kind of prayer? Constant prayer is offered to God specifically in Peter’s behalf by the church. They are having a continual prayer meeting for Peter.

I want to tell you that I am very thankful, it is very inspiring and it is encouraging me. I look up here in the upper room, you might say, and I can look through the glass while I am preaching during our evangelistic meeting and we have prayer warriors who are praying up there for me and for the people the whole time that I am preaching. You do not know how comforting that is. You do not know what a blessing it is to know that there are people who are simultaneously holding my hands, if you will, as I am trying to preach. I can sense the prayers of God’s people.

They are praying for Peter, but let’s face it; they are asking for the impossible, aren’t they? Peter is on death row. Herod is determined. There is going to be no reprieve. There is going to be no parole. There is going to be no pardon. It is politically to his advantage to execute Peter. He is being thoroughly guarded. They are not going to be able to get into prison and break him out.

The situation from the human perspective looks absolutely hopeless. How many would agree? But you know, God loves to work in those situations. When you start praying for God to do something, especially in the situations that appear hopeless, do you know somebody who seems hopelessly imprisoned by the devil and you think, you know I would like to pray, but they are pretty far gone. Never underestimate what God can do.

If you were living back in bible times, the most unlikely King to convert would have been Manasseh, but God got his attention, didn’t he? The most unlikely profit to be delivered would be the one in the guts of a fish at the bottom of the ocean, but God heard his prayer. Never underestimate what God can do for your friends, your children, your loved ones. Indeed, there are times when God intervened and he resurrected people who looked like they were hopefully imprisoned by the chains of death and then God’s people could say, “O death, where is your sting? O grave, where is your victory?” There is no prison that is too tight for God to save. Especially where there is life, there is hope. But God has demonstrated that sometimes, even when someone was dead, Jesus could intervene and save them. Amen. So friends, do not stop praying. Their church is praying for Peter.

Acts 12:6, “Now when Herod was about to bring him out,” I want you to have that picture. Peter is in prison. He is on death row. He is chained between two soldiers. Did you get that? It says he put him in prison, “Peter was kept in prison, constant prayers offered. When Herod was about to bring him out that night, Peter was sleeping, bound with two chains between two soldiers and the guards before the door were keeping the prison.” It does not look like there is any hope for Peter. I am going to stop right here and remind you that bible stories are allegories. This is not some method of bible study that Pastor Doug invented. It is used in the bible by the bible teachers.

Paul takes the Exodus experience in 1 Corinthians 10 and he says it is an allegory of salvation, the bible stories. Paul talks about Abraham and Hagar, how that is an allegory of law and grace. The bible stories are allegories of salvation. Yes, they really happen. Not only should we look at them historically, but them look at them spiritually. Here you have Peter, he is on death row, no way of escape. He is about to be executed.

First of all, we are going to look at it historically and I do not want you to miss that. Why is Peter sleeping on death row? Because he has peace. He has perfect peace that passes understanding. Be honest, with your present spiritual condition, if you knew you were going to be executed tomorrow, how well would you sleep tonight? I have less than that keeping me up at night. Maybe I just don’t have enough faith, but if I knew I was going to be executed tomorrow, I would have one very restless night. I doubt I would sleep a wink.

How could Peter sleep? Not only that, I doubt I would sleep a wink in my Serta comfort bed. Peter is in prison. He has shackles on his wrists, he is on a hard floor, maybe a little bit of stinking straw, and he is sleeping. How could Peter sleep? You know what I believe? I believe that Peter was thoroughly converted. I believe Peter remembered Jesus said, just before he died or before he ascended to heaven, Jesus said to Peter, “When you are young, you dirtied yourself and you went where you wanted. But when you are old,” Peter was not old yet, “another will gird you and you will stretch out your hand,” signifying Peter would die by crucifixion, not by beheading.

So Peter, he says, well, I don’t know what God has planned, but the Lord has already told me I am going to die by crucifixion when I am old. I don’t know how he is getting me out of this, but I will go to sleep and I will let him figure that out. Peter has perfect peace now and even if he should die, Peter says, what a privilege to die for the Lord. After Peter was whipped earlier and he was put in prison, they rejoiced that they might suffer for Jesus. Peter has that peace that passes our logic. He has that peace that passes understanding, because he is thoroughly converted. Great peace have they that love they law, nothing will offend them. How could King David go to sleep when Saul was hunting for him with an army? He said, I will lay myself down and I will go to sleep because my life is in your hands. So historically, Peter is sleeping because he has peace. His life is in the hands of the almighty. Amen.

Spiritually, here you have a man. Forget about the history. Spiritually you have a man on death row and he is sleeping and he is oblivious. You know what that describes. That describes the lost. There are a lot of people in the work here, the penalty for a sin is death. They are heading for destruction. You might say they are living under a death penalty and they do not care. There are some Christians who have run away from the Lord and are living under conviction and that is good. They are uncomfortable. But what about all these people in the world who are lost and they seem like they are indifferent? They are snoring on their way to destruction and God wants to save them. What is the church doing for Peter who is sleeping on death row? They are praying.

What is the church supposed to do for those who are on death row? They are under a death sentence and they do not know or they do not care? Pray. We need to pray for those people. Amen. What do we pray? We pray that God will wake them up, help them to see their true condition, that he will do whatever he needs to do to get their attention. And that is what God does.

I love this part of the story. God does not send mail to Peter and say Peter, if you will change your ways, I will shed a little light on your path. The bible says that God brought to the prison where Peter was.

You missed an excellent opportunity for an amen. I’ll say it again. Light shone in the prison. We are in sin. This world is imprisoned with sin. The devil calls this his prison house. He claims to be the prince of this world. Jesus brought the light down to the prison. He comes to us in our condition. He doesn’t say meet me halfway. He comes all the way down to us. Light comes to the prison. The Lord illuminates our minds while we are still perhaps in our addictions and our sins and in prison and he brings us light in our lost condition. That is the first step in salvation is knowing that you are lost. The angel had to wake Peter up before he could save him.

The bible says in Acts 12, “Now behold the angel of the Lord stood by him and light shone in the prison. God sends the angel by Him.” When it says the Angel of the Lord, there are times in the Old Testament that Jesus is called the Angel of the Lord. I do not think this was Jesus in this case, because when Christ appeared to Paul, he said it was Christ. Peter knew Jesus. They would have called him Jesus. I believe it was the Angel of the Lord, Gabriel, who is also called the Angel of the Lord. Remember the word angel means messenger. It sometimes is a vague term and it can be applied different ways. I personally think this was Gabriel and Gabriel is often called the Angel of the Lord and he is the one who, of course, brought the message to Mary and to Daniel. And the angel is by Him and light shone in the prison. When God sends his message, with the message, with the messenger comes light in the darkness of the prison.

Sometimes at the last moment, God brings deliverance. Have you noticed that? Just before the day of execution, he is about to bring him out. He was going to be executed the next day. “Peter is bound between two chains and light shone in the prison.” And the bible says that, “He struck Peter on the side and raised him up.” I looked into this and it does not mean that the angel said, “Peter, wake up, Peter, Peter, wake up.”

You know, Karen is so gentle. I take a nap almost every day. I try to take on every day. I can’t always do it. I go to bed late, usually only sleep about five hours, and I wake up early. If I don’t have a nap, I cannot function. We invite people home for church. Sometimes after dinner or after church we will invite people home to eat, but I always warn them. I found it helps to let people know so they will not think I am rude. I say, after I eat, you can either watch me drool in front of you, or I will dismiss myself. It is not that I do not like you, it is just that I have to choose where I am going to sleep and I prefer not to do it in front of people.

But when I take my nap during the day, Karen sometimes knows I have an appointment. She is so good about that. She will come in, she does not kick me, she goes to the foot of the bed. I wear a size 12, so my foot sticks up there, and she will take my toe, “Doug?” And that is all it takes and I wake up. Just very gently, “Doug, don’t you have to be somewhere?” Sometimes my nap is too long and she comes in and she gets me and reminds me I have to go somewhere.

That is not what the angel did to Peter. The bible says he smote him. That word translates into Greek, he smugged him. He slapped him. You can find that word in other places in the bible. As a matter of fact, it is in the same story. It says the Angel of the Lord smote Herod and he dies. Peter goes, whoa. The angel smote him. Why did he do that? Because he was mad or because he loved him?

Have you, as parents, sometimes had to strike someone you love? We will not admit it because it is not politically correct and someone might contact child protective services. But sometimes you need to get a person’s attention and the angel wanted Peter to wake up. He was sleeping on death row. The said you are going to be delivered, but you have to wake up. I have come to save you and you are sleeping. So he smote him. Not only did he smote him, he started helping him up. He raised him up on one side, but he did not get him all the way up.

The wording I think is very important here. It says here, “He smote him on the side. He raised him up and he said arise quickly.” He helped him up a little bit, but he said now you need to make an effort to get up and you need to do it when it is convenient. What does the verse say? “Arise quickly.” When God is going to break you out of prison, there is a sense of urgency. When the Lord calls us, He calls us to act quickly. Amen. He said, “Arise quickly.”

When Zacchaeus was up in the tree, he said, “Make haste and come to me.” The Lord always explains there is a sense of urgency in responding to the gospel invitation. So the angel says get up quickly and Peter rubs his eyes and what does he do? He starts to get up.

The bible says “a chain between two soldiers.” I like to speculate they had Italian names because they are Roman soldiers, so we call them Mario and Antonio, for lack of a better name and you cannot prove me wrong. This is a rare story in the bible, if no other reason, because Peter could have argued with Gabriel and said, “Gabriel, I would like to get up, but the chains. Don’t you see the handcuffs?”

As a matter of fact, this is one of the only times in the bible that you find four or five versus with Peter and Peter never says anything. No, really, I am serious. Look at every other place in the bible where Peter appears and Peter is always talking. Peter’s name = Peter talks. That’s just how it works in the bible. Anything where you find Peter, Peter is very articulate, he is very verbose. He is always saying something.

But here you have several versus with Peter and he does not talk until he is out of prison. Do you know why? Because it is the grace that gets us out. It is not our arguments that get us out. He did not argue and say, Gabriel, I cannot get up, I have chains. He acted on the order from God. God said arise, Peter said okay, I will try. Remember when Jesus said to the man who had not walked in 38 years, “Arise and walk.” He did not say Lord, I would like to, but don’t you know I have been here 38 years.

When God tells you to do something, you have heard me say this many times, but I don’t know that it ever grows old because it is just a very profound biblical principle, inherent in every command God is the colonel of power to obey what he is asking you to do. Whenever God asks you to do something, in the very word is the power to perform. And when the angel said arise and arise quickly, was the power to arise. Peter did not focus on the shackles.

Friends, I cannot emphasize how important it is to understand this point right now. Peter focused on obeying. As he made an effort to obey, what happened to the shackles? I like to believe, it does not say they popped open, it says they fell off, like Houdini used to slip out of these handcuffs while they were still hammered and riveted closed. Somehow they just fell through his hands or his hands suddenly became small and I do not know how it happened, but they fell off. I like to believe they are still intact. That comes up later. You’ll understand why. The shackles fell off when he made an effort to do what God told him to do.

Okay, we all have various shackles. There are principally two kinds of sin in the bible. You have sins of commission and sins of omission. Peter is chained on the right and he is chained on the left. No matter where he turns, there is no way out. But when God liberates, both shackles break off and he gets up.

Those shackles represent all of our sins. Two main categories of sin. There are three areas of sin that I will get to in a minute, but two main categories; sins of commission, sins of omission. Incidentally, remember in the judgment more people are lost because of the sins of omission than the sins of commission.

People who go to church always think that they are okay because they do not rob and they do not steal, they do not smoke tobacco or whatever. But Jesus in the judgment said the part from me you lost into everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels because you committed adultery, because you lied, because you murdered. Is that what He says? No. He says I was hungry and you did not feed me. I was naked and you did not cloth me. I was sick or in prison and you did not come to me. He addresses the sins of omission. But the sins of commission are equally deadly.

I just want to make sure that we understand because I am talking to church people right now and we sometimes think I am on my way to heaven because I do not do all those bad things. It is not just the sins of the glaring breaking of God’s commandment, it is the neglecting to do good that we should do. Sin is not only doing bad, it is the good we know we should do that is part of the criteria.

The good news in this story is whatever your sins are, maybe you do not care about your fellow man, sins of omission, you are not feeding the hungry, you are not clothing the naked, you are not visiting those who are in prison or sick. Whatever your sins might be, maybe they are the sins of commission. You are addicted to some behavior, it might unfaithfulness in a marriage, it might be a drug addiction, you might have an eating disorder, it might be that you are a workaholic. People always admire that sin. All different kinds of sins. The good news is that both shackles fell off.

Are you in prison? Do not look at the shackles. Do not argue with God. When He says get up, get up. And then the angel says put on your garments, put on your sandals and follow me.

In the bible, it is very important to recognize that we put our shoes on when we are beginning to go somewhere. The Passover, they put on their shoes and they began a journey towards the Promise Land. Am I right? Putting on your shoes in the bible means activities. Peter’s shoes were not on, his garments were not on. He was barefoot and naked. That is a symbol of being lost. The angel says cast your garment about thee, he bound on his sandals. That is what the children Israel did. They got dressed and they put their shoes on and they began a journey. If you are not a Christian, you are in prison and you are not going anywhere.

You know, sometimes a person will say well, that young man, college, a lot of potential, a lot of talent, he is going to go places. If he is not a Christian, he is in prison and he is not going anywhere but hell. In the world’s view, they might think he has possibilities. In heaven’s view, he is on death row and he is asleep. If you want a life that is really going places, you need to give your heart to the Lord. You need to ask the Lord to liberate you on the right and on the left. Amen.

So the chains fell off. And he said, “Gird yourself, tie on your sandals, so he did. Put on your garment,” and I like this, “follow me.” Now what is our responsibility as Christians? We are to follow the Lord. The angel does not say here is the escape plan, I have a blueprint of the sewer system, we are going to pull of this grate and crawl out here through the gutter. What does the angel say to Peter? Follow me. What did the children of Israel have to do to get from Egypt to the Promise Land? Follow the Lord. At night it was a pillar of fire. At day it was a pillar of cloud. There was no guessing about where to go. He said follow the pillar. The Lord was in the clouds. The Lord was in the fire. Follow me and I will get you out of here.

When Jesus invited the apostles to have new lives, what did he say? Follow me. Follow me. After God liberates you, He invites you to follow Him. He does not set us free to go like lost sheep our own way. That is how we got into prison in the first place. All we like sheep have gone our own way and we end up in jail. The Lord says follow me and I will set you free. That is the key. Amen.

So Peter, obediently, he follows. “He went out and he followed him.” Do you think Peter is going to get out of prison? You bet he is. Why? Because he is following the Lord. “He did not know what was done by the angel was real, but he thought he was seeing a vision. Remember Peter in chapter 10, he has a vision of this sheep that comes down with all these creepy crawly creatures and the Lord is telling him to eat and he never eats and he thinks it is just a vision and you cannot eat a vision. So now he is in prison and he wakes up and he is thinking is this a vision? He is not sure what is going on is real and that is maybe why Peter does not say anything at first.

So he went out and followed him. Acts 12:10, “And when they were past the first and the second guard posts, they came to this great iron gate that leads to the city, which opened to them of its own accord.” The bible tells us that there were three barriers, 16 soldiers, two chains, three barriers.

Incidentally, the numbers mean something in the bible. The bible says that God has four angels holding back the four winds of strife that they should not blow on the earth. Four in the bible represents universal, something for everybody. God, which Jesus comes of sinning his angles for the four corners of the earth to gather together his elect. It is not complicated. Four simply means biblically north, south, east, west. The 16 soldiers represent those who are imprisoned on every side. You have those in prison by four on the north, those in prison by four on the south, those in prison by four on the east, those in prison by four on the west. It represents the universal people around the world who are in prison.

Everybody can be set free by the Lord. That is one of the messages. The two chains are the two categories of sins; sins of omission, sins of commission. The three gates are the three areas of sin and temptation. How many temptations came to Jesus? The lust of the flesh, 1 John 2:15-17. I memorized this little passage. It says, “Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world for if any man loves the world, the love of the Father is not in Him.” For all that is in the world, lust of the flesh, that’s one, the lust of the eyes, that’s two, and the pride of life is not of the Father, but of the world and the world is going to pass away and the lust thereof, but he that does the will of God will abide forever. Three areas.

Jesus was tempted in those same three areas. Eve, when she fell, she fell in those same three areas. Those are the three gates. So how far out of prison does the angel lead Peter? The bible says, “He leads him all the way out.” Amen.

How free does the Lord want us to be? Are Christians just supposed to be a little better than other people? If the sun shall make you free, you will be free indeed. God wants to set you completely free and the truth is what liberates us. Amen. The truth will set you free.

And I love this. “It opens to them of its own accord.” As Gabriel came to that great iron gate, he took out his garage door opener, he pressed it and it silently moved open on its hinges, right? It does not say that Peter said, I’ll tell you what, Gabriel, we still have two more soldiers. You jump the right, I’ll jump the one on the left and if you need some help, I will come along because I have studied Galilean Ninja fisherman -- no.

Peter does not do anything like that. There are soldiers that are awake that are guarding at their posts because their lives depended on not losing and these soldiered remembered who these apostles were pretty slippery. They had gotten out of prison before. They were awake at the post and I can just picture Peter seeing the gate open quietly on its hinges. He walks out, here’s these soldiers, takes his hand in front of their face and they do not see him. He is wondering if this is a vision. He is not arguing, he is just taking it all in. The angel leads him all the way out, all the way out.

How free does God want you to be? I meet sometimes people who are struggling with smoking or something and they will say, hey Doug, praise the Lord, I am down to one pack a day. And I say, yes that is better, you will not die as fast. But the Lord wants you to be completely free, right? And He can completely liberate you from that many of your chains. He wants you all the way out of prison.

And the bible says, “He led him all the way out. They went down one street and immediately the angel departed from him. When Peter had come to himself,” I like that. “When Peter came to himself,” what do you think that means? The angel is gone. He is standing there out on the street. He hears the tweeter of the morning birds beginning to sing. He says, this feels like it is real. I have just broken out of top-security prison. That is really something. An angel came. I ought to go and tell Herod to put this in the newspaper. As soon as those soldiers come to their sense, they are going to start swarming around the prison looking for Peter.

So what does Peter do once he is liberated? He goes to church. What is the church doing for him? They are praying for him. What gets us out of prison? You have heard me use several stories already. One of the most important things is prayer. Are you addicted? Prayer breaks the chains. What got Jonah out of prison? He prayed. Moses was in the wilderness praying for the children of Israel. The children of Israel were crying unto God. That is what liberated them. Manasseh was in prison praying. The apostles were praying. Paul and Silas were praying. Peter, he was sleeping, but the church was praying. That means you can intercede for those who do not know enough to pray for themselves. Amen.

Prayer breaks the chains. It will break the chains in your life and your prayers will break the chains for others. The prayers liberate. The message of Jesus is one that Jesus came to set the captives free.

Do not lose your place here in Acts 12, but go with me to Isaiah 61. One of the things that identifies the ministry of Jesus it says He began His ministry with these words. “The spirit of the Lord God is upon me because He has anointed me to preach the good tidings to the poor. He has sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives and the opening of prison to those who are bound.” Liberating the captives, opening the prison to those that are bound.

I like the story in the bible where Samson is in enemy territory. He is in the City of Gaza and the enemies lock the gates. They say we have him now, we have him with bars and gates. He is bound. He cannot escape. What does Sampson do? He rips the gates off its hinges, he puts these big iron and wooden gates on his back and he takes them up to a hill miles away and sticks it in the ground. Samson is a type of Christ. You know that you don’t you? Jesus carried a cross where there was iron and wood and He took it to the top of a hill that we might be set free. Amen.

That is the ministry of Christ to set the captives free and the devil cannot hold you captive any more than the philistines could hold Samson captive. If you are following Jesus, He will set you free. Amen.

Let us go back to Acts 12. This is really funny. Peter now comes to the house where everybody is praying for him and starts to knock on the door. Where is the first place you should go after you are liberated from prison? Where did Peter go after he was set free from prison? He went to the church. What were they doing there? The church was praying for Peter. They were praying just certain hours or continually? They were praying all night long, which means when Peter gets there, inside, he goes to the upper room. He knows where they are meeting. They are still in that same upper room that they sort of call a church. You can hear them inside. They are having a prayer meeting.

So Peter starts to knock on the door and Rhoda, a young girl who may have been a little dingy when you hear the whole story, she comes to the door and she says, “Who is there, we are having a prayer meeting, you are disturbing things.” “It is Peter.” “Who?” “Peter.” “But it cannot be Peter, you are in prison.” They are inside praying for Peter and she says it sounds like Peter, “Stay there, I will be right back.”

Peter could have gotten offended at this point because here he is trying to get in the church and the church will not let him in. They do not really believe he is free.

Some churches hesitate to let people in because they question their conversion. It is amazing. You know what the biggest obstacle to getting into the church is? It is not Jesus. It is often the church. Remember all these stories in the bible that tell us how it is the people around Christ that obscure the view to Christ. Zacchaeus could not see Jesus because the crowd around Jesus blocked his view. This woman wanted to talk to Jesus, but the crowd was in the way. This friend wanted to bring their crippled friend to Jesus, but they could not bet in because the crowd listening to Jesus was blocking the view. The biggest obstacle principally in the bible of getting into church is the church. Amen.

We have evangelistic meetings. We invite people to come to our church. Some of us are in the habit of sitting in the same place all the time and it is going to be interesting to see when these new people come in and they plop down in your favorite pew, we will see what you are made of at that point.

So Peter says, “Well, I am just going to go back to prison.” Is that what he says? No, Peter continues knocking. Jesus says knock and it will be opened. Seek and you shall find. Ask you shall receive. But it is understood in this story there should be a persistence of knocking. He continued knocking.

Was it going to be safe for Peter to stay out on the streets? As soon as those Roman guards find out that Peter is gone, you are going to hear the clatter of their armor and their feet up and down those cobblestone streets in Jerusalem looking everywhere for Peter. So if Peter said, “Well, if they do not want to let me in here, I will just walk the streets. I do not need to be part of a church. I am going to be part of Gabriel’s church. He set me free, I will just be part of his spiritual church.” Is that what Peter said?

Is it safe for a person once they are freed from prison to wander around on their own? Is it safe for baby lambs to be out of the fold when there are wolves running around? Is it safe for a human baby to be put out on the streets without being placed in a family? That is how important it is for us when we have been liberated to be in the church in spite of the problems that are in the church. It is crucial that we get inside. Amen. We need to be in the church. That is where we learn to love and you will find some people there to mentor you.

So he keeps knocking. Rhoda goes and she says, “Peter is at the door.” They say, “We’re praying. Dear Lord, please save Peter from prison.” “Peter is at the door.” “Can’t be, it is impossible.” They did not even believe the Lord had answered what they were praying for. Not only that, their theology may have been a little askew because they said maybe it is his angel. We do not know exactly what they meant by that, but that is what it says. Peter kept knocking. Finally, they opened the door and they said, “Wow, it was Peter.” God answers prayer. Which goes to tell me that sometimes the church prays and we do not even believe God is going to answer what we are praying for. We need more faith and we had better pray for bigger things. Amen.

So the bible tells us as soon as Peter comes in, he declares unto them how the Lord had delivered him from prison. One of the things you want to do as soon as you are saved is to give your testimony. Amen.

And then after he did that, he went and he found another place outside of Jerusalem because he knew the first place that Herod would come looking for him. I told you this story encapsulates the whole plan of salvation.

Acts 12:18, “Then as soon as it was day, there is no small stir among the soldiers what had become of Peter.” I really like this, the way it is worded. “There is no small stir.”

You have maybe heard me tell the story of how I used to play hide and go seek with the kids and with the first litter, Rachel, Mike and Daniel, when they were younger, I used to play hide and go seek and we played in the living room one time where I found a really good hiding place. It was in the back of this convertible couch. Not in the bed because she would suffocate there. But we opened up this couch that was a bed and we stuff her back up in the back behind the cushions you put your back on. Then I carefully closed it and there was a little empty pocket back in there. And I brought her brothers in. Daniel was five and Mike was like seven, Rachel was nine and they found me. We were playing hide and go seek and they could not find Rachel.

And they said, “Where is she?” I said, “Well, she’s in the room somewhere.” We did not like them ransacking the house with hide and go seek. It had to be the kitchen or the living room. And they said, “She’s in here.” And they looked in the closet, they looked behind the curtains, they looked under the couch, they looked in all the obvious places. We had cupboards and closets and things. They said, “Where is she?” I said, “She is in here.” The boys did not know where I put her. She is in there trying her best not to giggle and give her identity away.

And it was funny. They looked and they looked and they looked and they said, “You promise she is in here?” I said, “I promise she is in here.” And so pretty soon, it was funny, especially as you saw they were walking around and they were taking books on the coffee table and they are lifting up books and they are looking for their sister. They go over to the lamp and they move the lamp aside. She was small, but she is nine years old. She is not that small. And I cannot help but picture that when the bible says there was no small stir among the soldiers.

Those soldiers were stirring up the prison big time wondering what had become of Peter. They were looking everywhere for Peter. Amen. Now Herod is so embarrassed, let’s go back to the story. We are going to close here. Herod is so embarrassed. It says, “When he searched and they found him not, he examined the guards and he commanded they should be put to death and he left town.” Who does Herod represent in this story? It is the devil. He is the one who wants to destroy the church. He was driven by pride. So he goes to Caesarea, down by the sea, he takes a vacation.

Acts 12:20, “Herod had been very angry with the people of Tyre and Sidon. But they came to him. They tried to reconcile with one accord, having made Blastus the king’s chamberlain their friend.” They tried to form an alliance, this plays into the last days, friends. ”They asked for peace because their country was supplied with food by the king’s country. So on a set day, Herod, arrayed in royal apparel, sat on his throne,” he has his royal garments on and he makes this speech, “unto them and the people started shouting, it is the voice of a god and not of a man. And the people were calling him a god.”

Herod knew the religion of the Jews and to take the prerogatives that belong to God is blasphemy and rather than say “No, don’t do that,” do you remember when they called Paul and Silas gods, they tore their clothes and said, “No, no, do not do that, that is blasphemy.” For a man to take the prerogatives that belong to God is blasphemy.

But Herod said, “Yes, I am quite a speaker,” and he began to drink in their compliments and the bible says, Acts 12:23, “The angel of the Lord smote him.” The same angel that smote and peter and saved him, he smote Herod, “Because he did not give God the glory.” Suddenly, his complexion changed, he went pale, his face contorted. He became sick. I am quoting from Josephus, Josephus says, “He was eaten of maggots.” The bible says, “He was eaten by worms and he died.” “He died in much torment,” Josephus the Historian says. “But the word of God grew and multiplied.”

Isn’t this something? The story begins with Herod on the throne and Peter in prison. The story ends, Peter is out preaching and Herod is in the grave. The story begins with the soldiers guarding Peter in prison and the story ends, Peter is out preaching the gospel. The soldiers are all dead. If you are willing to do God’s will, if you are willing to be liberating, He will liberate you and he will remove the obstacles so that you can do His work. Amen.

Friends, this is a wonderful story that encapsulates the whole message of the bible. It concludes by saying, “But the word of God grew and multiplied.” The enemy was put down. The soldiers were executed, but the word of God, a poor fisherman, with the Lord, is magnified and the word of God grew and multiplied.

The central message in this story that you should not miss is that we have all been imprisoned by the enemy in varying degrees. We have our temptations and our sins. The message in this story is that God will send light to your prison. You know where the light is? Thy word is the lamp under my feet.

As you come to church, I hope a little light shines into your prison. When you go home with your bibles, you have light for your prison and Christ is the word. And as you read the message from the angel of the Lord, the word of God, light will shine in your prison and you will hear him call you to get up and follow Him and He will say to you it does not matter how hopeless your circumstances might look.

Can you think of anything that appeared more outwardly hopeless than Peter’s situation? Top security, innermost cell, 16 soldiers, shackled on the right and on the left and God set him free. If God can do that for Peter, can he do that for you?

Do not believe the devil’s lies that your situation is too hopeless. Do not believe the devil’s lies that you have fallen so many times in this area. What is the use of trying? God can set you completely free, friends. Jesus came to break you out of prison and if you believe that he still has the power to do it for you through prayer and then through your prayers to liberate others that you are praying for, then stand with me.

Father in heaven, Lord, today we are coming. We are coming for two purposes. First of all, we are asking that you will help us to have the faith of Peter, to listen to the voice of the angel as that light shines in our prison and illuminates our minds, that we will not argue, we will not look at the problems, but we will focus on the answer. We will stand up and trust that as we attempt to follow you to liberty, the chains will fall off.

I also pray, Lord, that you will open those prison doors, that you will have the hinges of the gates loose and the locks will fall apart as those gates open of their accord so that we can walk into liberty and walk in the light as He is in the light.

Also, Lord, we are coming secondly to pray for those that we love who are still captive. We have friends, family, loved ones, individuals that we know who seem to be firmly held by the enemy. But just as you delivered all these individuals that we have cited today, we know that you can deliver them. We pray that we will not grow weary of praying. We pray that we will have more faith than those even in the times of Peter when the church and did not believe.

I pray, Lord, you will increase our faith and help our unbelief, that you can intervene in their lives and save them and liberate them, that we might live and reign with Christ in His Kingdom. Bless us, bless the meetings that are going on right now, Lord. Many people are making eternal decisions as they weight the truth and we would pray and intercede in their behalf that Jesus would set them free.

Thank you again for your presence here, for the hope you give us in your word, and all these things we ask and claim, not that we deserve anything, but claiming the blood of Jesus and in that name we pray. Amen.

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History of Redemption Study Chart by Everlasting Gospel Publishing

History of Redemption Study Chart by Everlasting Gospel Publishing
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