“…they arrested the apostles and put them in the public prison….and when they had called in the apostles, they beat them and charged them not to speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go.
Acts 5:18, 40 ESV
I know, I know–kind of an unusual set of verses to highlight, especially if you read the verses in between the above. Within those missing lines an angel frees the apostles, the high priest and council bring the apostles back and desire to kill them, but because of wise counsel they choose to “just” beat them before letting them go. And although the events of the verses not included are amazing and worthy of discussion, God spoke something to me through the other two verses. So I share.
When you think of prison, what do you envision? I think of a place of punishment, a place criminals go who are found guilty of a crime. After all, isn’t that how our justice system works? Someone is arrested, tried, and then depending on the verdict, sentenced to time in prison.
Yet in the time of Jesus and during the years of the emerging church, prison was not the end; it was part of a process. People didn’t land in prison: they passed through it.
Read with me a description I came across while researching prisons in Jesus’ time:
“…for most of human history, imprisonment has not been used as a way of punishing common criminals. Instead, prisons have served principally as holding tanks where offenders could be detained prior to trial or to the carrying out of the sentence of the court, such as execution, exile or enslavement, or until debts or fines had been paid…”(Download the entire article here.)
This means anyone who went to prison knew they’d eventually get out. Sometimes the stay was short, like the case of the apostles above; sometimes it was longer, especially if politics played a part in the arrest. Paul spent much time in and out of prison during his lifetime. Jesus Himself spent time in prison prior to his crucifixion.
But I repeat, prison in Bible times was not a destination; it was part of the journey. Sometimes the journey led to freedom and acquittal; other times it led to punishment, even death. Yet no one went to prison with the mindset of never getting out; they went in asking when, not if. Prison was never intended to be anyone’s end–maybe part of the process–but never the end of it. No one was ever meant to live her entire life in prison. No one.
Not even you.
So I ask you today: Do you still feel like you’re in prison–bound by sin, addiction, or debt? Then I’ve got good news: you don’t have to stay there! Jesus already went to trial. He already paid the price for you, for me, and for the world. He set us–yes, all of us who believe–free from the sins that enslaved us when He died on the cross and rose again three days later.
You are free! God has opened the doors of the prison. He has defeated the guards keeping watch. He has proclaimed your liberty. You are free!
Don’t believe me? Then read with me Jesus’ own words spoken to those in the temple:
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” (Luke 4:18-19)
You are free! So don’t remain imprisoned. Don’t hold onto the chains that God has loosed. Be free. Walk out of the darkness and into the light knowing “if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed” (John 8:36).
You’ll be glad you did.
“For freedom Christ has set us free;
stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.”
Galatians 5:1 ESV