Today: Thursday, November 21, 2019

Released    (6/24/2018 )

There is a youth hostel in the borders of Wales which is housed in an ancient castle.  When I stayed there many years ago, other young visitors and I were shocked to discover that the room where we were to spend the night was over a fearsome prison cell.  What stirred the imagination was that it was bottle-shaped pit just below the floorboards.  

Hundreds of years before, a prisoner would have been lowered through a trapdoor into this narrow ‘bottle dungeon’ which had no light, no furnishings and no possible means of escape.  The floor would be thick mud, the air foul-smelling, the darkness oppressive.  Even worse, such prisons were often described as ‘oubliettes’ from the French word ‘to forget’.  Prisoners would be dumped in the pit and simply left to die.

It’s not a pleasant thought.  But it does give us a picture of how many people feel.  A woman recently described herself as trapped in an abusive relationship.  People can feel trapped in their work, or trapped in their home, or imprisoned in their circumstances.  People who feel like that can see no way out, no hope.  They are in a mental ‘bottle dungeon’.

There is a graphic story in the Old Testament about the prophet Jeremiah, who had so upset the king that his punishment was to be lowered into a dry but muddy well (the story comes in Jeremiah 38).  Sure enough, he was expected to die there. But he had a faithful friend who went to the king and pleaded to be allowed to rescue him, to save his life.  The story describes how he was pulled out with ropes with old clothes used as padding under his armpits.

That kind of imprisonment must be terrifying, most people’s worst nightmare.  You are powerless, like an animal caught in a hunter’s trap.  There is nothing you can do.  If there is to be any possibility of rescue, someone else has to do it.

The story of Jesus has exactly that message at its heart.  We were trapped - whether that was in sinfulness or guilt, or a cycle of failures, or in self-centredness, or in destructive habits, or whatever prisons of our own or other people’s making.  What Jesus did was to come down into that pit, our place of total darkness and despair, and gently lift us out into God’s daylight.  It was the supreme rescue operation.

Thinking of that another way, when Jesus died, everyone would have said that was the end, the story was finished, darkness had swallowed up the light.  But the breakthrough came two days later when God raised him from death.  From our perspective it was as though the trapdoor which had been firmly bolted above our heads had been torn open and daylight had flooded in, and we knew rescue had come.

Charles Wesley, many years ago, wrote some great words that sum this up - 

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, m my heart was free.

  I rose, went forth and followed thee.

Challenge & Prayer:

Take Wesley’s words and turn them into your own prayer of release.

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