Over the next three days, I am posting a series I did on the Cost...it is appropriate for us today, and for me as I draw closer to my moving date. I hope this is a blessing to you. Please continue to prayerfully consider supporting the ministry in Prague!
Today is a very special Sunday! It is the Sunday just before we celebrate 231 years of independence as a nation! In those 231 years, we, as a nation, have experienced many troubling times as we sought to bring freedom and independence to ourselves and people around the world. We have experienced internal strife in the form of the Civil War. We have experienced two World Wars. We have experienced the Korean War, the Vietnam War, the Gulf War, and currently the War on Terror. This country has experienced attacks on its own soil at such places as Pearl Harbor and the World Trade Center. Some speculate that between 2 and 3 million men and women have died protecting the freedom we enjoy today.
Paul and Silas also experienced some of these same troubles. They did not experience wars, but they did experience personal attacks and persecution. You see, Paul and Silas were spreading the good news of freedom: freedom in Jesus Christ! They were offering this freedom to all they came into contact with. They had encountered people who did not like the message they brought, and they had been run out of town before, In this morning’s scripture, they were put in jail because the message of freedom through Jesus had offended someone. Yet, Paul and Silas did not worry; in fact, they used this time in prison to bring the message of freedom and salvation to the other prisoners and eventually the jailer. The people who were upset with Paul and Silas thought they had won, and the message of freedom through Christ had been put to rest. But God had a different plan!
Can you imagine what must have been going through the jailer’s mind when that earthquake hit? He had to be terrified because he almost committed suicide at the thought of escaped prisoners. I am sure that he thought that all was hunky doory; surely no one could escape his prison. I am also sure the magistrates must have been thinking the same thing. They had locked up this infidel who was causing people to think. They had stopped him from spreading this nonsense about freedom through Jesus. No one would ever hear that message again! Yet God sent a mighty earthquake! The prison doors were opened and the shackles and chains fell off as if they were never there to begin with. Charles Wesley remembers this event with his hymn And Can It Be. The fourth stanza reads:
Long my imprisoned spirit lay,
fast bound in sin and nature's night;
thine eye diffused a quickening ray;
I woke, the dungeon flamed with light;
my chains fell off, my heart was free,
I rose, went forth, and followed thee.
My chains fell off, my heart was free,
I rose, went forth, and followed thee.
You see, Charles Wesley understood what happened in the prison cell. The men in that cell were bound in the chains of their human crimes. However, they were also bound up in the chains of their sinful life. When the chains fell off, the prisoners experienced freedom in more ways than one. They experienced the loosing of their criminal bonds, and they experienced the loosing of their sinful past! How can one experience freedom from their sinful past? Paul tells us very clearly.
In verse 16, Paul is on his way to the place of prayer. Everything Paul did was steeped in prayer! This should be the same in our lives. We need to daily communicate with God! How else can we know what His will is or even grow closer in our walk with Him? We must pray! It was not until a couple of years ago that I began to pray more actively. Before this, I would pray for my meals (if I remembered), and pray before I went to bed (and this prayer was often the same every night). Then about two years ago, I was part of a small group that studied the meaning and power of prayer. Boy, was I missing the boat! I used to think that prayer was something to do at certain times of the day…now I understand that it is the way I can communicate to God. I get to know Him, and He gets to know me. Think of it this way, how could you get to know your spouse or children if you rarely spoke to them? You couldn’t! And we are kidding ourselves if we think that we can grow close to God without communicating to Him constantly. So what Paul is telling us that when we walk into this freedom from our sinful past, we need to know the One we are turning to; we need to grow close to the heart of God!
Responding to the jailer’s question in verse 30 of, “what must I do to be saved,” Paul says, in verse 31, “Believe in the Lord Jesus.” This sounds simple enough, at first. However, those five words are the heart of what it means to be free as a Christian. Paul does not say, believe in your own ability. He does not say, believe in the government. He does not say, believe in the military might of this nation. Paul says, “BELIEVE IN THE LORD JESUS!” Jesus is the one who paid the price on Calvary. But the cost of freedom is this: Accepting Jesus and following His will every day. That is the only way we can be truly free! We may experience many freedoms as U.S. citizens that most do not. Guess what! That freedom doesn’t mean a hill of beans if we are not free from our sinful past! As long as we are living in that past, we can never really be free.
So, when the chains fell off of the prisoners, they were free in the physical sense of the word. But something else happened…the chains that had them tied to their sinful past fell away also! Are we like those prisoners? Are there things in our lives that we have not fully given to God? Is there something in our past that has us bound up in chains? It is time to let the chains fall off and let your hearts be free. Today, as we remember the sacrifice of many men and women who paid the price for our freedom, and as we remember the sacrifice of our Lord on the cross as He paid for our sins, I pray that we remember that freedom comes at a cost. When we accept the freedom that Jesus brought on the cross, we will never be the same. The cost of freedom is HUGE; it means living a life devoted to seeking God through prayer and realizing that things will never be the same. The jailer was not the same. He believed in Christ, and I am sure the rest of His life did not look the same! Will we accept the freedom of Christ, seeking Him through prayer and following His will? I sure hope so because freedom is not cheap; it is something that is life changing!
LORD, help us never to take for granted the many blessings from your hand...especially the blessing of freedom! Help us to live as free people this day!