At once I found myself in prison. How I arrived I could not recall, though my head ached with a pain that suggested I’d taken a terrible blow. I could think of no reason for my incarceration and yet there I lay in stocks, bound at ankles and wrists.
Had I been put in prison for proclaiming the good news of God? That had been the charge laid upon John the Baptizer. I feared this was the case. If so, might I also be in danger of the sword?
After much prayer and reflection I determined to attribute my misfortune to the Spirit of Yahweh. Perhaps as he had once carried my Lord Jesus into a place of desolation, Yahweh’s Spirit had carried me into this prison wilderness for a purpose.
After going four days without food or water and growing hungry, a second offender arrived. The guard deposited the man next to me, binding our wrists together in the stocks. No sooner had the individual become settled with his new surroundings than he began to recount his life of crimes. When at last I commented that I was a Hebrew and how my people hold to a higher law, a moral standard issued by the god who created the heavens and earth, the man responded in a most dismissive manner.
“If indeed you serve this ‘Son of God’ and have his spirit within, as you say, tell these stones beneath our heads to become bread.”
“It is written,” I replied, “‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of Yahweh.'”
“So this Son of God you serve cannot save you? Perhaps he is not son of deity at all.”
“Already saved I am. Jesus forgave my transgressions. I am now free from the bondage of sin. But as to liberating me from this prison, that is not for me to declare nor demand. I must wait on the Lord for his will to be done.”
“And content with your plight you are? If this Jesus loves you, as you claim, will he not rush through those doors and rescue you? For well I know that it is written:
‘He will command his angels concerning you,
and they will lift you up in their hands,
so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.’”
I answered him, “It is also written: ‘Do not put the Lord Yahweh to the test.’”
“Ah, but you have not put him to the test. Rather it is this god of yours who is putting you to the test. Let us make a pact,” the man continued. “I will give you half the contents of my purse if you will help me overpower the guard when he returns. In this way we can escape and be free of these chains.”
“Away from me, you demon of the devil. It is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God. Obey his commands. Serve him only.'”
“Of what good are these commands you speak if you are not a free man?”
“In all ways Yahweh is good and loving. His words are true, his love pure. He is faithful to sustain me.”
In that moment the door opened. Without so much as acknowledging me, a second guard, small in stature approached the stocks, bent down and unshackled the other man.
“This fellow,” said my cellmate, “now he worships power, influence, and wealth.”
From out of his purse, the man with the spirit of the devil pulled out five coins with the face of Caesar stamped into each.
As my cellmate turned to follow the guard out, he paused to look back. With a wry smile he said, “Be of good cheer, Hebrew. Perhaps the angels of your god may yet came and attended you. But if not, at least you will die in this wretched place with your faith to comfort you.
When the door slammed shut I found myself once more in darkness. While tears streaked my cheeks, I returned to my praying, continuing as I began: “My father, you are in heaven and I am here. Your name is holy and mine is John Mark. Provide this day for my every need and lead me not into temptation. As you have just now, continue to deliver me from the evil one. Forgive me of my sins. I acknowledge that I forgive all who grieve me—even those who desert me. Lead me now out of temptation that I might remain faithful to my Lord Jesus.”
I wish I could say an overwhelming feeling of comfort swept over me in that moment. That the chill of the dirt floor grew warm. That a fresh breeze found its way in to disturb the rank air I breathed. I can only say that in that moment the peace of Yahweh’s Spirit filled my heart and all became well with my soul.
“Thanks be to you, my Lord Yahweh, and your Son, for the indwelling of you Spirit within me. Amen.”