I sometimes have a hard day at work.
No big surprise in that, right? We all have hard days at work, at home, at church.
When I have a hard day at work, and I can't let go of the stress when I return home, despite the encouragement and care of my wife, I often will crawl into bed and have only one word of prayer that I can offer up to God:
The warmth of the bed, the protection of my blanket, the quietness of the darkness, the security of my home create an image in my mind of safety. With one word, safe, I thank God for His oversight of my life, His guidance and direction and providence, despite the difficulty I've experienced in getting through the day.
But my bed and blanket are only an image. Little force is required to violate the security and quiet of my home. My blanket provides small protection from the storms and raging violence of this world. It fails to protect me from even the smallest irritations and upsets.
We are surprised at sudden violence or disaster...the closer to home that it occurs, the more surprise and concern we feel.
But we should feel greater surprise that violence and disaster does not strike us daily, even continually.
At rare times God rescues people in surprising, shocking, stupendous ways. Often He acts quietly, mildly...in ordinary ways.
And sometimes it seems to us that He does not act at all.
"But the high priest rose up, and all who were with him (that is, the party of the Sadducees), and filled with jealousy they arrested the apostles and put them in the public prison. But during the night an angel of the Lord opened the prison doors and brought them out, and said, - Go and stand in the temple and speak to the people all the words of this Life. - And when they heard this, they entered the temple at daybreak and began to teach. Now when the high priest came, and those who were with him, they called together the council and all the senate of the people of Israel and sent to the prison to have them brought. But when the officers came, they did not find them in the prison, so they returned and reported, - We found the prison securely locked and the guards standing at the doors, but when we opened them we found no one inside. - Now when the captain of the temple and the chief priests heard these words, they were greatly perplexed about them, wondering what this would come to." Acts 5:17-24
This passage begins with the word "but", indicating the contrast between the joy of healing and the ugliness of sin. More than ever believers were gathering together in Jerusalem, and the religious rulers were filled with jealousy.
SADDUCEES: Saddoukaios (followers of Zadok); from sadaq (to be right, or to make right)
The Sadducees taught that there was no resurrection, no angels, no spirit. (Matthew 22:23, Acts 23:8). They denied the legitimacy of oral law, the Mishna, a digest of Jewish traditions and rituals, as a revelation of God. The Sadducees maintained that the written law alone had divine authority. They believed in the freedom of the will, even to the point of almost excluding God from the government of the world. It is supposed that the religion evolved from the family of Zadok the High Priest during the reign of King David. Arisocratic Jews, such as the families of the high priest, or judges and other officials, attached themselves to the Sadducees. (Smith's Bible Dictionary)
For the Sadducees, God did not act, at least not in daily governance of human affairs. For them, God provided a book of rules and acted as Judge when humans failed to follow the rules. As strict followers of the rule book, the Sadducees felt assured of God's blessings: power, wealth and comfort.
Jesus threatened to destroy this world of the Sadducees.
JEALOUSY: zelos (heat or "zeal", ardor, jealousy or malice); from zeo (to be hot, to boil or glow, to be fervid or earnest)
The hot, zealous Sadducee Jewish rulers threw themselves upon the apostles, grabbing them off the street and locked them in a "public prison".
PUBLIC PRISON: demosios teresis (public watching); from demos (the public, as bound together in a city) and tereo (a watch or guard)
"Public prison" seems to describe a small, community jail. Luke's description mentions no Roman guards. Most likely the guards were Jewish, and the arrest occurred early in the day, after a night of secret cussing and discussing by the High Priest and his cohorts. The imprisonment was undoubtedly meant to be a public show of power, a warning to the Jewish community to abandon support for this new religion of the Christians.
The warning failed.
Sometime during the night the locked doors of the cage opened. Luke attributes the prison break to an angel.
"During the night an angel of the Lord opened the prison doors and brought them out." Acts 5:19 (ESV)
ANGEL: angelos (a messenger, an "angel" or a pastor); from aggello (to bring tidings)
There was no explosion, no earthquake, no fearful falling to the ground in awesome, stunning surprise. Luke describes the scene simply, without any indication that the apostles were surprised or afraid. This instance of angelic intervention is much different than other times:
"There appeared to him an angel of the Lord standing on the right side of the altar of incense. And Zechariah was troubled when he saw him, and fear fell upon him." Luke 1:11-12 (ESV)
"An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with fear." Luke 2:9 (ESV)
"An angel of the Lord stood next to him, and a light shone in the cell. He struck Peter on the side and woke him, saying, - Get up quickly. - And the chains fell off his hands." Acts 12:7 (ESV)
"On an appointed day Herod put on his royal robes, took his seat upon the throne, and delivered an oration to them. And the people were shouting, - The voice of a god, and not of a man! - Immediately an angel of the Lord struck him down, because he did not give God the glory, and he was eaten by worms and breathed his last." Acts 12:21-23 (ESV)
"And behold, there was a great earthquake, for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven and came and rolled back the stone and sat on it. His appearance was like lightning, and his clothing white as snow. And for fear of him the guards trembled and became like dead men." Matthew 28:2-4 (ESV)
Many, but not all, references to angelic intervention describe something fearful and often violently powerful. In this instance the angel was quiet and unremarkable.
Stephen described an angel appearing to Moses:
"An angel appeared to him in the wilderness of Mount Sinai, in a flame of fire in a bush. When Moses saw it, he was amazed at the sight, and as he drew near to look, there came the voice of the Lord." Acts 7:30-31 (ESV)
The Old Testament account of this event leads us to the Hebrew word for angel:
"Now Moses was keeping the flock of his father-in-law, Jethro, the priest of Midian, and he led his flock to the west side of the wilderness and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. And the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a flame of fire out of the midst of a bush. He looked, and behold, the bush was burning, yet it was not consumed." Exodus 3:1-2 (ESV)
ANGEL: malak (a messenger, an angel, ambassador); from a word meaning to despatch as a deputy
The Old Testament "malak" 214 times, and in the New Testament "angelos" appears 186 times. The words can refer to human messengers as well as divine. There are instances in which the divine angel appears as an ordinary man, and other instances in which the angel is frightening in appearance and power.
WHAT DO YOU THINK? How should we regard angels? Should we esteem and depend upon angels in the same way we are encouraged to esteem and depend upon human ministers and leaders?
The apostles were imprisoned and Luke records no evidence that they prayed, yet the Lord sent help. An angel quietly opened the doors, led them out, and gave them some instructions:
"Go and stand in the temple and speak to the people all the words of this Life." Acts 5:20 (ESV)
SPEAK: laleo (to talk or utter words)
WORDS: rhema (an utterance, a matter or topic); from rheo (to utter, speak or say); from rheo (to flow, or "run" as water)
It is revealing that the root of "words" (rhema) is a word that means to run as water. Jesus used the same word to describe the Holy Spirit. The ESV translates rheo as "flow":
"If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, - Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water. - Now this he said about the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were to receive..." John 7:37-39 (ESV)
The gospel message, the good news of Christ, is communicated by the Holy Spirit, through words that are clean and lifegiving.
LIFE: zoe (life, vitality of plant, animal or human); from zao (to live)
This word for life means both the ordinary earthly life of all creatures, including human, as well as the supernatural, eternal life given by God to those in Christ.
How can this be? How can one word represent both earthly and heavenly life? Using this word for both earthly and heavenly life implies that the life we have on earth is the same life that Christians will have in heaven.
The same, yet different.
All creatures on earth enjoy life:
"The God who made the world and everything in it...He himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything...In him we live and move and have our being." Acts 17:24, 25, 28 (ESV)
Earthly life, however, is temporary:
"What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes." James 4:14 (ESV)
The Christian faith depends upon life that will last forever. If there is no possibility of eternal life, all religion is worthless:
"If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied." 1 Corinthians 15:19 (ESV)
The tragic element of earthly life is that it has an end. First, our bodies die, and then our spirits die. However, Christ brings life, eternal life, to those who are in Him:
"We are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing, to one a fragrance from death to death, to the other a fragrance from life to life." 2 Corinthians 2:15-16 (ESV)
The essential difference between earthly and heavenly life is Christ:
We who live are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh." 2 Corinthians 4:11 (ESV)
Earthly life is temporary and filled with trouble. All creatures are given earthly life, and all creatures, including Christian creatures, will experience trouble, even physical death. But heavenly, spiritual, Christian life continues beyond the grave.
Because earthly life is filled with trouble and ends in death, in comparison to the rich abundance found in heavenly life, earthly life is often described as "death", and heavenly life is often described as "eternal" or "glory":
"Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory." Colossians 3:2-4 (ESV)
"This is the promise that he made to us — eternal life." 1 John 2:25 (ESV)
That which distinguishes the two types of life, earthly and heavenly, depends upon the source. For a Christian, the source of heavenly life is Jesus Christ:
"God gave us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life." 1 John 5:11-12 (ESV)
The apostles were set free from prison and given directions to tell others about Life, the life that is found in Christ alone.
Jesus once encountered a woman who knew only one definition of the word life. For her, life was a constant thirst, having nothing of any lasting satisfaction or joy. From simple hunger and thirst of the body, to disappointing friendships and marriages, life seemed to consist only of transient rules and relationships.
Jesus watched the woman drawing a bucket of water from a well and he compared Himself to a spring of water that forever satisfies:
"Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life." John 4:13-14 (ESV)
WHAT DO YOU THINK? With Christ as the source of a Christian's eternal life, what earthly troubles are likely to disappear in heaven? What blessings do we enjoy on earth that will change when we are in heaven? What influence do heavenly blessings have upon your daily walk of faith on earth?
"And when they heard this, they entered the temple at daybreak and began to teach. Now when the high priest came, and those who were with him, they called together the council and all the senate of the people of Israel and sent to the prison to have them brought. But when the officers came, they did not find them in the prison, so they returned and reported, - We found the prison securely locked and the guards standing at the doors, but when we opened them we found no one inside. - Now when the captain of the temple and the chief priests heard these words, they were greatly perplexed about them, wondering what this would come to." Acts 5:21-24 (ESV)
This scene is difficult to imagine. How could the guards be oblivious to the prison break? Other instances of angelic intervention described guards cast into sleep or shocked into stunned unconsciousness, earth-shaking quakes and bright stars. None of these seemed to have occurred this time.
During the night, the angel opened the prison doors, led the apostles out, spoke to them and watched them walk away free...all without the guards noticing! At daybreak the prison was found securely locked, and the guards remained standing at duty as if nothing had happened.
WHAT DO YOU THINK? When have you faced an impossibly difficult situation, one in which all reason and logic predicted that you would experience pain and loss? In what way could this story of an unbelievable prison break encourage you? What is your response when God does NOT provide an easy, quiet, comfortable deliverance from trouble?