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"Meanwhile, the Chief Priest and his cronies convened the High Council, Israel's senate, and sent to the jail to have the prisoners brought in. When the police got there, they couldn't find them anywhere in the jail. They went back and reported, 'We found the jail locked tight as a drum and the guards posted at the doors, but when we went inside we didn't find a soul.'
"The chief of the Temple police and the high priests were puzzled.’What's going on here anyway?'
"Just then someone showed up and said, 'Did you know that the men you put in jail are back in the Temple teaching the people?' The chief and his police went and got them, but they handled them gently, fearful that the people would riot and turn on them." Acts 5:21-26 (The Message).
What an impossible situation! How could these puny humans think they could challenge God? Surely this crazy turn of events should have warned them to back off!
After considering everything that God has done to restore us to fellowship with Himself and all the possible adversities and reverses we can experience in life to cut us off from Him again, the Apostle Paul came to this conclusion: "What then shall we say in response to this? If God is for us, who can be against us?....I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth nor anything in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus." Romans 8:33, 37-39 (NIV).
The story of Jesus' apostles takes many twists and turns. They were jailed and sometimes supernaturally released, like Peter and John, and sometimes stayed incarcerated for a long time. Some were executed, like James and Stephen while others were released. Doesn't this seem a rather unfair and arbitrary way for God to treat His followers?
Paul's ringing testimony negates a silly conclusion like that. "And we know that in all things, God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose." Romans 8:28 (NIV). It all depends on one's point of view.
If we are in it for what we can get out of it, life's vicissitudes will be very frustrating. It is difficult to get God to do what we want when He has a different agenda. We can "name it and claim it" or practise our faith techniques all we like, but God happens to be in charge and He is painting on a bigger canvas than we can see.
When we finally come to the conclusion that He is not obliged to do anything for us, life begins to make much more sense and the joy of being free to love Him because He is who He is, is a glorious experience. What we deserve is what Jesus suffered for us. What He does for us is entirely out of grace because He wants to and not because He has to.
The apostles were free to enjoy their journey because they could trust the One who was in charge. As long as they were alive, they got on with the job at hand. If their lives were cut short, as many of them were, they enjoyed the reward for their obedience and the benefits of the kingdom they represented.
There is both pathos and humour in the story. The Jewish hierarchy was playing cat and mouse but its "mouse" had the unfair advantage of having God rooting for them. Their quarry was not at their mercy but in the safe hands of God who was both using them for His purposes and honing them as sons for His glory.
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