Amazing Escapes From Death
There's a TV show called "I shouldn't be alive" that tells amazing stories of people who somehow survive. Whether it is the guy left near the top of Everest for dead or two ladies stuck in the snow on the side of a cliff for over a week. All are amazing stories, and often their rescue is a miracle.
Yet when you think about it there are some amazing stories just like this in the Bible.
The one is about this teenager who gets caught and taken as a slave. As a slave his life is worthless but then he is accused of attempted rape and thrown into prison where he awaits his death. Yet amazingly he is freed by the king and promoted to second in command of the country. Now that's not only an amazing escape, it's an incredible end. Of course this is the story of Joseph found in Genesis.
Then there is this old guy who has some pretty powerful enemies. With some clever manipulation they organise to get him tossed into a pit - but not just any pit, one full of lions that haven't eaten for days. Then to make sure, he is left there overnight - because that's when lions like to eat. Yet amazingly the next day the lions have not touched him. Of course this is the story of Daniel.
Then there's the story if this guy who is on a boat and there is a huge storm. In the storm he ends up overboard and sinks all the way to the bottom of the sea where the seaweed wraps around his head. He then gets swallowed by a huge fish and somehow survives inside there for three days. Amazingly the fish, obviously suffering indigestion, vomits the guy out and he washes ashore. This is the amazing story of Jonah.
He Shouldn't Be Alive
The Bible is full of these amazing escape stories. Incredible, beyond belief stories. But there is one in particular I want to share with you. It takes place in Acts 12.
In this story Peter ends in serious trouble. The king had been doing a purge of Christians and has already managed to catch and kill James, one of the big three apostles. And so he is looking to catch more top leaders.
Just before the festival of unleavened bread King Herod manages to catch Peter. What a scoop. He's caught another of the big three apostles - Peter, James and John. It's Passover so he will keep him secure to have his trail and execution after Passover. That way Peter and all the other Christians can suffer longer knowing the inevitable is coming. And what a fitting mockery of their sect as a top
Jesus follower is killed at the same time as the leader was executed.
But Herod does not want any mess ups like happened with the leader and his body vanishing. Peter is not going to vanish. To make sure of this he puts him in prison and assigns 16 soldiers to guard just him! Yeah but maybe he'll somehow beat all 16 guards. So Herod decides he must also have both hands shackled with chains. That should do it. Unless he picks the locks, surprises the 16 guards and breaks out the prison gates. Hmm...Ok, Herod assigns two guards to sit next to him 24x7. The other 14 guards are then split into two additional guard groups, an inner and outer guard.
He is on death row with no hope of escape. Chained. Two guards watching him. Locked in a cell. 7 other guards outside the cell. Another 7 guards outside those. And of course the city also has a gate that is guarded and locked at night. He's as good as dead!
Imagine how the other Christian believers felt. Fear. Sadness. Loss. Despair...BUT...
"the church was earnestly praying to God for him." (Acts 12:5)
That's a big BUT. Sure they are afraid and despairing, but that is when we pray. Pray for the impossible. Yet nothing happens. Day after day during the week long festival of unleavened bread they pray. Yet God is silent. In fact it's the final night. Tomorrow he will be executed. Over a week they've prayed and it seems that if God was going to do something he would of done it already. Peter's fate is sealed! Verse 6 makes this clear...he's dead, or certainly will be!
"The night before Herod was to bring him to trial, Peter was sleeping between two soldiers, bound with two chains, and sentries stood guard at the entrance." (Acts 12:6)
It's quiet...dark, the chilling silence before the inevitable. Yet did you notice something incredible? Peter is asleep. How he has become like his Master.
"Suddenly a furious storm came up on the lake, so that the waves swept over the boat. But Jesus was sleeping." (Matthew 8:24)
Peter has found the peace that can only be given by God, the spirit gift of peace even in the midst of life's worst storms.
"But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace..." (Galatians 5:22)
"I pray that God, the source of hope, will fill you completely with joy and peace because you trust in him. Then you will overflow with confident hope through the power of the Holy Spirit." (Romans 15:13)
And so on the eve of his death he sleeps knowing God rules his life.
And then at the last second when death seems inevitable the impossible happens.
"Suddenly an angel of the Lord appeared and a light shone in the cell. He struck Peter on the side and woke him up. “Quick, get up!” he said, and the chains fell off Peter’s wrists. Then the angel said to him, “Put on your clothes and sandals.” And Peter did so. “Wrap your cloak around you and follow me,” the angel told him. Peter followed him out of the prison, but he had no idea that what the angel was doing was really happening; he thought he was seeing a vision. They passed the first and second guards and came to the iron gate leading to the city. It opened for them by itself, and they went through it. When they had walked the length of one street, suddenly the angel left him." (Acts 12:7-10)
Wow! The chains drop off. The personal guards next to him don't see it. The prison doors open. The next two layers of guards don't see him. The city gate opens by itself. No wonder he thought it was a vision and not reality. If anyone could say it, it was Peter - "I shouldn't be alive!"
In fact it's such a shocking story even his friends can't believe it.
"Then Peter came to himself and said, “Now I know without a doubt that the Lord has sent his angel and rescued me from Herod’s clutches and from everything the Jewish people were hoping would happen.”
When this had dawned on him, he went to the house of Mary the mother of John, also called Mark, where many people had gathered and were praying. Peter knocked at the outer entrance, and a servant named Rhoda came to answer the door. When she recognized Peter’s voice, she was so overjoyed she ran back without opening it and exclaimed, “Peter is at the door!”
“You’re out of your mind,” they told her. When she kept insisting that it was so, they said, “It must be his angel.”
But Peter kept on knocking, and when they opened the door and saw him, they were astonished." (Acts 12:11-16)
You can't blame them for being shocked. This was a hopeless situation. Rhoda can't believe it. The disciples can't believe it. Peter himself can't believe it. Isn't it amazing that we pray to God for a miracle but in our minds limit what he can do. This reminds me of the verse -
"Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us" (Ephesians 3:20)
The bottom line is that Peter should not be alive.
It's NOT Peter
The amazing thing about this story is it's not about Peter as much as it is about us. This is our story of escape from death.
You see we are in the deepest and darkest prison, bound and tied to sin and facing a certain death. It's hopeless.
"Don’t you know that when you offer yourselves to someone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one you obey —whether you are slaves to sin, which leads to death, or to obedience, which leads to righteousness?" (Romans 6:16)
We are shackled to sin and the outcome is certain - death! And so we are in a hopeless situation. Yet when all seems lost, the greatest messenger of God is sent to free us...
"He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners" (Isaiah 61:1)
Jesus is sent into our dark, hopeless prison to unshackle us from sin, to lead us out of death into eternal life. Yet like Rhoda and the others we will not believe it. We will not believe that we now live in God's life of eternity, that we now are a living miracle - set free from death. So John writes;
"I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life." (1 John 5:13)
And so we shouldn't be alive. Yet by a miracle we are living a life of eternity through Jesus. Yet sadly many of us still, like Peter, stumble along in this life, following Jesus still believing it's all a dream and the reality is our bondage to sin and not the freedom in Christ.
Yet our prayer should be like Peter when we come to ourselves and say;
"Now I know without a doubt that the Lord has rescued me from Death’s clutches" (Based on Acts 12:11-16)
"For there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death." (Romans 8:1-2)
I shouldn't be alive - WOW, what an awesome miracle!