But during the night, the angel of the Lord opened the doors of the prison, led them out, and said, “Go and take your place in the temple area, and tell the people everything about this life.” (Acts 5:19)
This is not the only “jailbreak” in the narrative of the Acts of the Apostles – in fact it is the first of three. Every triplet in Scripture always deserves more inspection and discernment. It is generally the conduit for a message of importance.
The primary meaning of the heavenly deliverance is clear: despite all appearances, God is in control of the particulars of the Church’s mission. Furthermore, God intends to watch over and safeguard the ones sent from those who would impede the mission. The movement of God’s word into the world is inevitable. The prison stands as resistance and hostility to God’s redemptive plan. As such it becomes a locus of spiritual warfare. The angelic command to go back into the temple area and proclaim the Good News is a call to provocative boldness on the center stage of the religious and political leadership of the Jerusalem. This is not a jail break to a safe house; it is a return to battle.
The court officer is “at a loss” also nicely translated as “befuddled” – in any case it is the same expression used of the people at Pentecost. Like those present at the outpouring of the Spirit, the captors’ confusion is a testimony to God’s liberating and freeing presence – and to their obliviousness to that presence. The whole scene of not finding the apostles locked up and the subsequent report to the Sanhedrin has a “keystone kops” quality about it.
But in the end, safe house eschewed, the apostles willingly make themselves available to the mission for which they are sent – even if it likely means re-arrest. It has nothing to do with standing up to “the man”, but everything for standing up for the Christ; all the while confident in God’s providential care.
We live in a different time in which, at least in this country anyway, we are not likely to be locked up. Other countries are not so blessed. Yet in those places there is a willingness to eschew the safe house and be provocatively bold. That’s how God’s plan is carried forward.