ABOVE AND BEYOND: Lessons From Escape Artists

Many of us have heard the slogan concerning challenges in life - If God brings you to it, He'll bring you through it.  However, sometimes God elects for us to taste the challenge for a purpose and then rescue us in the midst of it for that purpose or possibly many others.  With Peter, Paul, and Silas this seemed to be the case.  Individually they would be challenged even to the point of death for the spreading of the Gospel (Good News) of Jesus Christ.  Then in addition to the original challenge there would be what I will call an "Above And Beyond" event by God.  Allow me to elaborate.

In the account of Peter's miraculous escape from prison in Acts 12:1-19, Peter was arrested (v.4), thrown into prison (v.4), "guarded by four squads of four soldiers each" (v.4), slept between two soldiers (v.6), "bound with two chains" (v.6), "and sentries stood guard at the entrance" (v.6).  Wow!  Talk about a hard criminal (sarcasm inserted).  Well, that is the treatment he received.  As compared to our next example, it is interesting that Peter did not sing to God, preach to the guards, teach the guards or seemingly try to win friends and influence people in his location.  Peter simply slept.  Now, maybe he was tired and his body allowed for no choice in the matter, but to still have that kind of peace in the matter after a group of church goers had just been arrested and persecuted by Herod, including the execution of James, the brother of John, is impressive.  In fact, Peter was in such a deep sleep that an angel had to hit Peter to wake him up - "He [the angel] struck Peter on the side and woke him up."

After the chains fell off (v.7) and he put on his clothes (v. 8) the angel lead Peter past two sets of guards and an iron gate back to the city (v.10).  After Peter realized it was not a dream or vision and came to his senses, he concluded - "Now I know without a doubt that the Lord sent his angel and rescued me from Herod's clutches and from everything the Jewish people were anticipating."  So, Peter declared that the Lord was showing not just Peter who was in control but Herod and the Jewish people who were "anticipating" another execution, probably.

There was another group that night that worried about Peter - the church.  Scripture says, "...but the church was earnestly praying to God for him." (v.5)  The interesting observation here is that the church in this verse "earnestly" prays for Peter, but they had no faith in a physical manifestation of the miracle of God.  In verse 15, after Peter has knocked on the door to this meeting place and the girl who answered is so excited she returns without opening the door, the others remarked - "'You're out of your mind.'  When she kept insisting that it was so, they said, 'It must be his angel.'"  Thank God, The Lord still worked His own plan and this challenge did not depend upon the faith of this group of people.  Even their reaction to his rescue was a big clue to lack of faith - "But Peter kept on knocking and when they opened the door and saw him, they were astonished."  And this leads me to my opinion of the secondary usage of Peter's dilemma - faith builder within the young, prayerful church.  Our level of faith has got to increase and at least match some of these powerful, rending of the heavens - prayers that I have heard many pray lately.  Otherwise, our prayers are just hopeful wishes at best.  And our prayers themselves do not need to contain a cover-the-bases mentality.  For example, "Well, God.  If it is your will that he/she go this way then so be it.  But if it is your will that he/she go that way then amen to that too!"  Where is the faith in that?!  We need to pray what Jesus has paid for and be confident about His Word!  Pray His Word back to Him!  Then have an Expect A Miracle Mentality and continue to pray if necessary!

The other escape artists that have a contribution to make are Paul and Silas.  In Acts 16:22-40 we find that they were - "stripped" (v.22), "beaten" (22), "severely flogged" (v.23), thrown into prison (v.23), "jailer was commanded to guard them carefully" (v.23), "he put them in the inner cell" (v.24), "and fastened their feet in the stocks" (v.24).  Back in Acts 9:16, the Lord said to Ananias about Paul (who was Saul at this time) - "I will show him how much he must suffer for my name."  This prison visit was not even the start of these gentlemen's woes. 

Earlier, in Lystra (Chapter 14) some Jews found out that Paul and Silas had moved on and continued to preach the Good News and made the trip from Antioch and Iconium to win his crowd over.  But that's not all!  "They stoned Paul and dragged him outside the city, thinking he was dead.  But after the disciples had gathered around him, he got up and went back into the city.  The next day he and Barnabas left for Derbe." (verses 19-20)

Now, in Philippi, Paul and Silas are again - stripped, beaten, flogged, and thrown into prison with guards all around and in stocks within the inner cell.  They continued to understand the suffering that God said Paul would grasp thoroughly.  This scenario was not JUST about obedience from Paul and Silas.  They were good about teaching and healing wherever they went.  Here in Philippi was no different.  They taught the women especially at this location.  Then had a run in with a demon who knew Paul and Silas and knew the power within them.  However, this demon was latched to a girl that brought others fortune and when it got to be a bother to Paul and Silas, they healed the girl by rebuking the demon out of her.  The people who profited by her did not like this and everything started spiraling downward until we see Paul and Silas in the condition mentioned previously.

Once we find our dangerous role models in the depths of the prison (sarcasm inserted, again) - what were Paul and Silas doing?  They were praying and singing to God!  This was around midnight and both Paul and Silas had a captive audience (ha, ha) - the other prisoners! Then an earthquake of such magnitude occurred that the foundations of the prison were shaken.  Suddenly, ALL the prison doors flew open, not just the prison cell door to where Paul and Silas were being kept.  Also, EVERYBODY'S chains came loose, not just the chains on Paul and Silas.  This is very bad news for Roman guards, especially the head guard.  If the guard does not take his own life because of escaped prisoners then the Romans would usually send somebody to do the deed for you.  However, in this case nobody moved.  And just as the Roman guard was about to kill himself, Paul called out to him and told him that everybody was accounted for and to not kill himself.  Interesting that the first question to Paul and Silas when the head jailer got to them was - "Sirs, what must I do to be saved?"  Which implies to me that he must have been listening earlier too!  From this point on not only did the Roman jailer get saved, but his entire family as well.  Then still in the middle of the night "the jailer took them and washed their wounds" and "the jailer brought them into his house and set a meal before them".  Why would somebody, especially in his position act like this?  The knowledge of what Christ did for him made it from his brain to his heart and that equaled JOY!  And I know when I feel this kind of Joy, I at least desire to show somebody just how excited I am about how good the Lord has been to me!
(Acts 16:25-36)

It is not a guarantee that God will save the believer out of the midst of the trial, but He promises to be with the believer at all times, through everything and that is comforting.  It is so easy to sit here and type - try not to have a knee jerk reaction to your next challenge/test, but do try.  Instead, observe your surroundings, your circumstances and praise God anyway.  Praising Him lifts you above the circumstance, it let's God's power flow, the shout of victory binds the devil with chains that won't let go! (Nod to Carman - "Jericho")  And when you and I are finished praising God, who knows we might just find ourselves looking in from the outside of our problem with witnesses that we have brought with us who now rest alongside us in God's kingdom and peace.  It is not about me and you.  It is about God receiving the Glory through His powerful intervention of our life's challenges which influences others to make a decision about Jesus in their own life.  So, let us be conscience of the people around us when we go through issues in life.  God may have a plan of escape for you and me during an ordeal, but He also may have a plan that goes Above And Beyond.