Of the two million people incarcerated in the United States, about 64% of those who are released are back in prison within three years. Pastor Miles suggested one reason for this is that this 64% doesn’t understand the true nature of their freedom.
God’s freedom is based on truth, and once we have truth, we are free indeed.
Likewise, sometimes when people begin a new relationship with Christ, they get a new Bible, start coming to church, and are very excited about God, only to allow time to revert them back to the people they were before as if the Gospel had not made any changes in their lives. Just like the 64% who ended up behind bars again, these people don’t understand the true nature of their freedom in Christ and what God has done for them. God’s freedom is based on truth, and once we have truth, we are free indeed.
Today we will read a story from Acts that reveals how the disciples in the early church were learning about the freedom that Christ gave them. In Acts 5:14-16, apostles are becoming well known, as people from all around the outskirts of Jerusalem are coming to hear them preach about Jesus’ resurrection and see them heal the sick. The whole movement is a threat to the Jewish leaders, causing them to act with their earthly authority.
Then the high priest and all his associates, who were members of the party of the Sadducees, were filled with jealousy. They arrested the apostles and put them in the public jail. Acts 5:17-18
By putting the apostles in the public jail, the high priest and leaders send a message to everyone else not to talk about Jesus. Don’t you feel this pressure even today? You may not be threatened with jail, but you probably feel pressure not to talk about Christ in your workplace, not to pray for people in public, and not to mention Jesus’ name because it may be offensive to others. Why do you think that Jesus’ name is the one that offends and finds opposition? It is because the devil knows that Jesus is the only name that is Most High, for which every knee will one day bow and every tongue will confess His Lordship (Philippians 2:9-11).
But remember, any time the devil starts to come after you, it means he is threatened by what you are doing! We have to focus not on the danger or threats we face, but on the nature of our freedom – the degree to which God is on our side and what He has saved us from – a life eternally separated from Him. If we understand that, we can proceed according to His will, knowing that the real, true, eternal battle is already fought and won.
God does sometimes allow us to be persecuted and to suffer because it allows Him an opportunity to show His nature and to be glorified. Remember in John 11 how distraught and disappointed Mary and Martha were, knowing that Jesus could have saved their brother from death but had not arrived in time? Although Lazarus’ death gave much grief to his loved ones, it then allowed Jesus the opportunity to do a miracle even greater than healing: raising Lazarus from the dead. We can remember that God has purposes for us and for His glory even in the hard times, and we have the freedom to believe and obey.
God comes into the situations of persecution and suffering and does things in a way that reveals His supernatural power. In this situation in Acts, He doesn’t prevent the apostles’ arrest, but rather comes to rescue them in an extraordinary way:
But during the night an angel of the Lord opened the doors of the jail and brought them out. “Go, stand in the temple courts,” he said, “and tell the people all about this new life.”
At daybreak they entered the temple courts, as they had been told, and began to teach the people.
When the high priest and his associates arrived, they called together the Sanhedrin—the full assembly of the elders of Israel—and sent to the jail for the apostles. But on arriving at the jail, the officers did not find them there. So they went back and reported, “We found the jail securely locked, with the guards standing at the doors; but when we opened them, we found no one inside.” Acts 5:19-23
Remember, if God is on your side, then you have the majority! He acts in supernatural power so that a supernatural purpose can be fulfilled. In this case, His purpose is that His Word will be spread and that more people will come to know Him:
Then someone came and said, “Look! The men you put in jail are standing in the temple courts teaching the people.” Acts 5:25
The next time the apostles are brought before the Sanhedrin, they go willingly (v. 26). They have an understanding that their freedom is in Christ and His purposes for them, not in whether or not they are in a human jail.
Peter and the other apostles replied: “We must obey God rather than human beings! Acts 5:29
We are free to obey God’s will for us above all else because no one and nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus.
God has set us free in heart and mind to obey Him. We may be caught in our own prisons: addiction, insecurity, depression, fear, pain, or perceptions of what others may think of us. In addition, the enemy may come against us and dissuade us from being witnesses for Jesus. But we must realize our true freedom in Christ; we can recognize the finite nature of our world and the meaning of an eternity spent with Christ – the battle has already been fought and won. We are free to obey God’s will for us above all else because no one and nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus. (Romans 8:39)
When a lie tries to influence your thoughts and feelings, hold onto the truth. The decision is up to you: will you live as though you are imprisoned or will you freely obey the will of God for you on earth? He has set you free to enjoy all the spiritual blessings in the heavenly places – you just need to choose to enjoy them!