Out Of Prison
(Helpful to Sunday School Lesson of February 22, 1920, Acts 12:1–19)
“Was kept in prison.” How wonderful is the contrast between these words and the words in the 9th verse, “And he went out.”What a contrast of power is here. In the first place poor little puny government officials, needful as they are, honored as they must be by every Christian and obeyed as God has commanded them to be, yet how little is their power when God says, “Open the door and let them out.” It is so with every door that shuts against us. We are under the guidance and shepherding of our blessed Lord who has the keys of hell and of death and has ascended “far above all principality, and power and every name that is named.” He sits there far above where “He ever liveth to make intercession” for us. It is this “far above” power of His that we are to trust in the prison hours of life—not only for the miraculous opening of real and actual prison doors, but the opening of other doors of circumstance and disposition, blues and sorrow. His word is always to us as it was to the friends about Lazarus, whom He had raised from the dead, and yet who was bound with grave clothes—“Loose him,” He said, “and let him go.”
“Prayer was made without ceasing,” or, as the original has it, “Instant and earnest prayer was made.” There is something about “instant” prayer that few Christians learn. When the heart goes out to God through the merits of the Blood of Jesus Christ and we reach the throne by way of the slain Lamb, we are asking for actual and potential happenings. It is not given us to know who the arrangements for the accomplishment of our prayer are made, what struggles there are with the enemy and with the powers of darkness. When men start a great operation on the earth there is a laying of foundation, a gathering of material, and then construction—a breaking through obstacles, sometimes court proceedings. This, in the heavenlies, is veiled from our eyes. We are told that we wrestle against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of this world darkness, and we should lay this to mind and to heart as we pray. As we believe, the resisting continues and the victory is bound to come, but it is ours to have our faith renewed and refreshed from moment to moment, increased and encouraged by the promises and by the Holy Spirit, earnestly—not pleading, but expecting.
It is not ours to tease God, for He works according to His divine promises, and is Himself making intercession for us. It is ours to put our heart next to His and believe Him that He is working. A woman came to me not long ago and told me that for fifteen years she had been praying for a certain man, and the man was not converted. I said to her when she stopped talking, “Go ahead with your complaint.”
“Why,” she expostulated, “I am not complaining.”
“Haven’t you come to me to tattle on God?” I asked. “You are trying to tell me that you have been faithful and true in prayer, but God for fifteen years has not done a thing. Isn’t that what your heart is trying to say to me, my sister?”
She saw in a moment, and had to confess later in the day that she never had prayed in faith. She had thought more of her own earnestness than of the earnestness of Jesus. She had never really believed that He cared. That night at the meeting this man was the first man up the aisle. God had been working all the time. Much of our prayer is in the nature of unbelieving teasing.
In this case Jesus was far more anxious about Peter than any of those friends who were in the home of Mark. Their prayer had little faith in it, for they were greatly astonished when Peter stood before them; but Jesus’ prayer of intercession had done much indeed. Those were the days of the active operation of the Holy Ghost in His witness to the fact that this same Jesus, whom the Jews had slain and refused, was both Lord and Christ. The Holy Spirit was taking every occasion to make this real and vivid in His witness to Israel concerning their king.
“He smote Peter on the side.” Probably some would wonder why Peter was not praying. “The friends were gathered in Mark’s house praying”—why was not Peter praying? Peter could well afford to sleep. He had been very active for Jesus, and his activity had gotten him into jail. In all probability, when he found himself there he committed himself fully to the Lord and had prayed through and left it with the Lord, knowing that his risen Lord would work everything together for good for him. But Jesus was not asleep, the angel was active. Jesus had promised to be with this same Peter always, even unto the end of the age, and the angel was making the promise of Jesus good.
Let us expect that even in our day, while many are asleep concerning the great issues about us, and the Church has lost her power in the bringing of souls to Christ, that God will cut through the prison doors which Satan has thrown around many preachers, and smite them, and awaken them up to the full power of the Holy Ghost to work in spite of chains, in spite of doors, in spite of men, in spite of everything; for we still serve this resurrected Christ, and are still empowered of this same Holy Spirit that opened the doors to Peter.
“Cast thy garment about thee, and follow me.” Peter had already put on his clothes as the angel had told him. He had girded himself and put on his sandal’s but this expression means that the angel asked him to put on his overcoat. If a man within the house tells another man to put on his overcoat they know they are not just going into the next room, but they are going out. Peter was not going to appear before the warden, but the angel had the prearranged plan that they were going out.
Some of these days (they may not all know where they are going, although every Christian who has the hope of the Lord’s return knows where he is going), our next move will be into mid-air. Keep on your spiritual overcoat, keep on your sandals, gird up your loins,—the cry may come at any moment and we will be on our way through the prison doors of death, past its Satanic keeper, into the upper world, into the regions of light and glory and bliss and power and eternal day. Hallelujah, even so come quickly, Lord Jesus.