Prison Break and the Secret Life of Plumbers (Acts 16:22-34)

Mario may be the most well-known plumber in the history of the planet, which is ironic since I have never seen him do anything that seems remotely “plumberly”.  But while his labor union may be wondering when he will take on a job that does not see him disappearing into warp pipes and leaving all of the dirty work to them, I am quite glad the games that bear his name are full of exploits that have nothing to do with leaky sinks or overflowing toilets.  In my experiences with the early Mario games on the NES and SNES, I found that these games were populated with something that was unfamiliar to my young mind at the time – hidden secrets within the level that would give you advantages in the game.  I will never forget the first time I jumped up and hit my head on an invisible block, finding it contained an extra life mushroom to help me on my way.  The more I explored, the more I found these hidden blocks… little secrets full of coins or power-ups in each level that were designed to reward my curiosity.

At first, I thought I was the only person on the planet aware of these hidden bonuses.  But then one day, I found a book in a video game store that promised it contained ALL of the secrets in my favorite games.  I was stunned.  Could it be that someone else was aware of not only those hidden coins and lives that I had found, but that there were even more that I had not discovered?  After successfully begging my parents for the book, I took it home and devoured it, going through it page by page and realizing the limited view I had of my favorite games had just opened up to a whole new dimension. I never looked back.

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Strategy guides, walk-throughs, and the online videos you can find nowadays to help you nail a tricky jump or find a secret area are common place, but there was a time where these bits of knowledge were passed around reverently from gamer to gamer like tribal knowledge, written on scraps of paper and placed inside of a book for future reference.  We live in a day and age that has made it possible to have every gaming question answered by a fellow gamer instantly, and while I will always look back on those old days of scribbling the Konami code in my notebook with fond nostalgia, it is quite convenient to have somewhere to turn when I simply cannot figure out where to shoot my second portal.

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And this is the reason we have the Bible, God’s authoritative strategy guide for life.  Absolutely everything you will face in your life has been lived by someone else, and these experiences have been documented for our benefit and placed in a volume that we can reference at any time.  All of the secret pathways have been explored, the bonus point areas are notated for easy return visits, and the traps that threaten to take you down have been marked to help you avoid the pitfalls of our predecessors.  Even with all of the advances in technology that have occurred and the “supposed” cultural advances that we enjoy as a modern civilization, the Bible has all of the answers for every problem you will ever face if you just know where to look.  And in this “walk-through” for the game of life, we find the story of a man of God, a miracle, and a prison guard with a serious “victim mentality”.

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You might know some of these people.  And if you don’t… that means YOU might possibly be this person in your social circle. I know I have been that person at many points in my life. Darkening social media with toxic language, seeing only the worst in every situation, and constantly stating “Woe is me” at every opportunity… many of us have been there.  Begging the world to feel sorry for us and share in our suffering while we listen to depressing music and binge on Cold Stone ice cream by the gallon.  Maybe you do it differently, but make no mistake about it… most of us have walked down that sad and lonely road in some form or fashion.  And the most tragic part of this is that many people choose to end their lives over trivial and solvable circumstances due to a terrible lie. An evil lie, whispered ever so softly into our ears until it reaches a crescendo… the lie that the world would be better off without us.  And this is where we find one such man in the book of Acts, chapter 16.  Let’s jump there…

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In Acts 16:23 we find the Apostle Paul and his co-worker Silas falsely accused of creating insurrection, beaten with a whip for crimes they did not commit, and thrown into prison.  These innocent preachers were locked into stocks in the deepest part of the prison, far past the cells for the murderers and thieves, under the strictest of night watches.  Seems a little overkill if you ask me, but even with all of the precautions that had been made to keep them imprisoned, it was not enough.  Rather than get on their Twitter accounts and inform their followers of how terrible their day has been and how unfair life can be, they chose to sing.  And this was no tragic blues festival… no, they were faithfully praising their Creator and understood that He had not abandoned them, no matter how bad things looked right then.

Acts 16:26-28 Suddenly there was a great earthquake, so that the foundations of the prison were shaken; and immediately all the doors were opened and everyone’s chains were loosed.  And the keeper of the prison, awaking from sleep and seeing the prison doors open, supposing the prisoners had fled, drew his sword and was about to kill himself. But Paul called with a loud voice, saying, “Do yourself no harm, for we are all here.”

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As they sang, the Bible records an incredible event… the first recorded missionary “Prison Break” .  At midnight God stomped His feet to the music so hard that He caused an earthquake… an earthquake so massive that it shook the entire prison structure, breaking open the locked cell doors and freeing every prisoner in the facility.  Picture this – a maximum security prison full of the people society has deemed unfit for freedom, as its walls suddenly crack open.  Security panels are overridden, alarm klaxons blare over the loudspeakers, and flashing red lights fill the hallways in the chaos after the massive quake.  And in the midst of all of this chaos stands one man, the prison warden.  He really has only one job to do – keep the good people safe by keeping the bad people in.  And despite all of the security protocols and carefully programmed electronic locks he has designed to prevent this possibility, forces beyond his ability to control or to understand have just rendered all of those mechanisms moot.

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And here is where we see the sad pattern that I have personally witnessed so many people fall into.  With everything going wrong around him, the prison guard fails to see that despite all of the confusion and destruction that he is surrounded by there is nothing to fear.  Unaware that none of the prisoners have taken advantage of their newly found freedom, the jailer chooses to end his life, pulling out a sword to end his existence.  Have you ever known anyone who has faced this or perhaps have been tempted by this yourself?  Have you or someone you know felt the desire to inflict pain on your body as a means of dealing with a world around you that seems completely hostile?  This is not a new temptation – this existed thousands of years ago, and the Bible records this for us so we can avoid this danger, as well as save others from enduring this pain.  I have talked to many friends who felt that ending their lives was the only logical answer to an insane world, and I have a feeling you know a few of these people as well.  So let’s see what happens next…

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Our prison guard has given up, failing to see the reality of his situation because of his limited view and assumption that there was no hope.  He is about to make the fatal cut when out of the madness rings out the voice of the Apostle Paul, screaming “Don’t harm yourself!!!  We are all still here!”.  Such a simple line, but if you or someone you know has ever faced the darkness and felt they could not go on, I am telling you and them right now “Don’t harm yourself!”.  No matter how bad you may think it is, there is more than just hope.  There is PURPOSE.  Behind all of the wreckage and rubble that you see right now in the aftermath of the traumatic earthquake you have just experienced in your life, the plan for your life is STILL here.

God’s will for you is still intact.  You are a perfectly designed vessel, meant to carry His very Spirit with you through each and every day of your life, and He has plans to prosper you and take care of you.  It may look bad right now, and you may not see a way out of your situation.  But I promise you, just as the jailer is about to find out, this was all a plan to benefit you.  We just need to realize that the extra life mushroom may be invisible to us right now, but it is there nonetheless.

The prison guard races to the sound of Paul’s voice, and having found all of the prisoners still in place just as he had been told, he and his whole family give their lives to God.  The entire episode has a happy ending all the way around. The warden throws a party and cares for the unfair and painful wounds that had been inflicted on Paul and Silas, his entire family is brought together by this incredible circumstance, and the next day Paul and Silas are released to continue their missionary voyage.  Lives were changed forever, and every one of them had a deeper understanding of how truly in control of our lives and circumstances our God is.  It may not always look that way from the outside, but this entire story is recorded for our benefit so we can know that it does not matter how dark and scary our circumstances appear right now, the solution may present itself in the midnight hour.

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Jeremiah 29:11 For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.

So if you ever have a doubt about if God sees you and the particular challenges you face, rest assured that He does and He has a plan.  God did not show up and prevent the arrest of Paul and Silas, nor did he protect them from the brutal beating that they had not earned.  There was a deeper and more important plan at work here – there was a prison warden on the razor’s edge, and he and his entire family had a date with destiny.  In our lives, every moment of pain and every scary situation we face serves a purpose.  Someone else out there, someone who you may have not even met yet, is depending on you and your success in the trial you are facing right now.  And only by facing this and trusting God for the answer will we be able to take that next step that not only benefits us and God’s plan for our lives, but may save someone else’s life too!

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