“Those who sat in darkness and in the shadow of death, bound in affliction and irons…”
Picture Peter in chains.
He was bound by the king. He sat in prison, awaiting his fate. His friends prayed for him, but there is no reason to believe that he prayed for himself. He knew the way it would play out. He would be killed – put to death like many who came before him, and many who would follow.
Peter pictured his chains.
He closed his eyes, but he still felt them on his wrists. They were weighing him down. He fell to the floor and kept sinking, deeper and deeper. He sank like a rock. He fell beyond despair and hope. He fell into a hole, a place of darkness and shadows.
A light pierced the darkness and a voice called out. “Arise.” Peter rose and his chains fell. He was bound by the king, but he was unbound by God. He walked past the guards. A vision. He walked through the iron gates. They opened before him. He was free.
It was Passover.
Boukary fell in the fire when he was two. He was a baby and he crawled in the fire. His parents were outside, and they heard him scream. They ran to him and saw his burns. His face was burned and his neck was burned and his head was stuck to his shoulder.
They took him to every hospital and clinic they could find, but they ran out of money. Boukary grew up with his burns. He grew up quickly. He couldn’t move his head and he couldn’t work. He became a teenager, and he was rejected by his friends. He had to leave. He couldn’t stay at home. He came to the city and started to beg on the street.
One day someone came to him and asked him if he would like to be healed. “Yes,” he said. They brought Boukary to the CURE hospital and he was operated on. His head was freed from his shoulder. His life was changed. He never went back to begging. Someone asked him how it felt. He said, “It felt like I was in prison, and now I have been set free.”
God told his people to leave their homes for a week and to live in tents. “Remember,” he said, “you lived in tents when you wandered in the wilderness. Remember that I set you free from Egypt. I passed over you and I removed your chains.”
It is hard to remember that we depend on God when we are in a house. A house is solid, comfortable and secure. It is hard to remember chains when you live in comfort. It is hard to remember that we live in large, beautiful houses we did not build, that we draw water from wells we did not dig, and we eat from trees we did not plant.
It is hard to remember, so for a week we live in tents. In sukkot. There it is easy to remember. It is easy to recall the desert, the wind and the stars. To recall that nothing is permanent and nothing can last except the creator of all that is. A house can keep us in chains, and we can be bound up by comfort. But a tent in the wilderness can set us free. As long as we remember where our freedom comes from.
Peter found himself out on the street, alone. The chains were gone and the prison was gone, and the voice was gone as well. He could not believe that he was free. He thought he was dreaming – for who can stand against the king?
We do not believe we are free because we cannot believe we are free. We do not believe that we deserve freedom. It is too good to be true. We cannot believe in freedom and in love because we believe the lies of our Accuser. We think we deserve our chains. We live in slavery. We live behind the walls of prison because we are unwilling to open our eyes and walk through the iron gate.
But how can we walk through the gate? How can we escape our chains? How can we stand against the king?
We cannot, but God can. The same God who “has broken the gates of bronze, and cut the bars of iron in two” Ps. 107:16.