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Weighing the Odds

Acts 12:18-19 

  

"In the morning, there was no small commotion among the soldiers as to what had become of Peter. [19] After Herod had a thorough search made for him and did not find him, he cross-examined the guards and ordered that they be executed." (NIV)

 The odds were 16 to 1.  Sixteen guards were watching one prisoner.  Two of them had a closer view than the others, they were chained to his side.  So what are the odds that the guards would be executed and the prisoner would be free the next day?  Next to impossible I'd say.

 But the impossible sometimes happens, even when the odds are overwhelming.  Take the events of this past week for example.  Overwhelming seems too weak a word for the odds the Red Sox faced.  For one, the Boston Red Sox were playing against the 26-time World Champion New York Yankees.  That in itself is daunting, but the odds of coming back in a best of seven series after losing the first three games were insurmountable.  Before the 2004 postseason, there have been 100 Major League Baseball postseasons.  In 100 years there have been 136 best of seven playoffs, none of them were won by a team that lost the first three games. 

 Games four and five were extra-inning slugfests, won in heroic fashion by the Bo Sox.  Red Sox Manager Terry Francona sent Curt Schilling to the mound for game six with sutured tendons in his ankle.  Throughout the game his sock became redder as he bled from his injury.  Could the team win with a gimpy pitcher on the mound and a bull pen that was worn-out  from the last two extra-inning games?   Schilling, the 21-game winner from Anchorage, Alaska pitched a brilliant game, which forced a game seven on the big stage at Yankee Stadium. 

 In game seven, Francona gave the ball to Derek Lowe on two days rest, less than half the time a pitcher usually has.  But you couldn't tell it by the way the hurled the ball.  Lowe kept the Yankees to only one run in six innings and set the stage for a 10-3 victory, propelling the Red Sox into the World Series.  If they win, it will be their first world championship since 1918.
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 The impossible sometimes happens, even when the odds are overwhelming.  Peter laid asleep on the cold stone floor of the prison cell, chained to two guards with another fourteen guards on duty to see that Peter didn't escape.  King Herod was cruelly attacking the church a new wave of persecution had begun.  To the Jews' delight, Herod had already killed James, John's brother and was ready to do the same to Peter the next morning.

 An impossible situation.  From every appearance, Peter was doomed.  One at a time, Satan was picking off the leadership of the young church Stephen was gone, so was James and now it was Peter's turn.

 Or so it appeared.  In John 21:18 Jesus said to Peter "Truly, truly, I say to you, when you were younger, you used to gird yourself, and walk wherever you wished; but when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will gird you, and bring you where you do not wish to go." (NASB) According to verse 19, Jesus told Peter this so he'd know how he would die and that his death would bring glory to God.  Yes, Peter would die as a martyr and his death would bring glory to God, but it would happen when Peter was old, not while he was still a young man.

 This was not something as insignificant as who will represent the American League in the 2004 World Series; this was important.  Not just because it was life and death for Peter, but because God had a plan for him and it did not include him dying young.  So God intervened.  Acts 12:6-10 says, "And on the very night when Herod was about to bring him forward, Peter was sleeping between two soldiers, bound with two chains; and guards in front of the door were watching over the prison. [7] And behold, an angel of the Lord suddenly appeared, and a light shone in the cell; and he struck Peter's side and roused him, saying, 'Get up quickly.' And his chains fell off his hands. [8] And the angel said to him, 'Gird yourself and put on your sandals.' And he did so. And he said to him, 'Wrap your cloak around you and follow me.' [9] And he went out and continued to follow, and he did not know that what was being done by the angel was real, but thought he was seeing a vision. [10] And when they had passed the first and second guard, they came to the iron gate that leads into the city, which opened for them by itself; and they went out and went along one street; and immediately the angel departed from him." (NASB) 

 Look at the odds against Peter.  Herod was on the rampage and the Jews were supporting his attack on the Christian Church.  Stephen was dead.  James was dead.  Sixteen guard were posted to see that Peter didn't escape and two of them were chained to him.  Peter was doomed.  The odds were overwhelming.

 What were the odds that Peter would escape?  Probably about the same that a shepherd boy with five smooth stones could defeat the champion of Israel's enemy.  Or similar to the odds that a group of people could walk around a fortress city, blow their trumpets and watch the walls fall before them. 

 Instead of weighing the odds of something happening, we'd be smart to seek God's will and follow it, even if it is against the odds.  Romans 8:31 asks a question we should all ask, "If God is for us, who is against us?" (NASB) 

 But after asking that question and feeling the assurance that there is no enemy that can thwart God's will, we need to be careful to interpret what that means.

 For one, it doesn't mean we will always prevail.  Remember, Stephen was stoned to death and James was killed by Herod.  Both were good, godly men.  Sometimes following Christ means we won't prevail at least not on the surface.  I am fully prepared to argue that both these men prevailed spiritually even though they died physically.  Jesus said, "For whoever wishes to save his life shall lose it; but whoever loses his life for My sake shall find it." Matthew 16:25 (NASB) Ultimately, victory is never found this side of the grave, it is always on the other side.  This side of the grave, the faithful don't always prevail.  We face disappointments, setbacks and sometimes we get downright discouraged.  When that happens, I'd recommend you do these things.

 First remember you may be in the MIDDLE OF A CHAPTER IN YOUR LIFE, not at the ending.  When Peter fell asleep chained to two guards the likelihood was that it would be his last night's sleep.  His outlook was bleak.  But God intervened on his behalf.  The night in jail was merely the backdrop for the miracle God was going to perform that extended his life, encouraged the church and brought glory to God.  Ultimately, the chain of events would lead to the death of his captors and the evil King that tried to kill him.  If you find yourself in a hopeless situation remember that you might be in the middle of the chapter.  Hold on.  Help could be on the way. 

 Also, remember that YOU SERVE A GOD THAT CAN!  You serve the God that parted the Red Sea so Moses could lead his followers away from the armies of Egypt.  You serve the God that raised Jesus from the dead after Satan scored the death blow on His pummeled body.  And you serve the God that will come back to get His children when the final trumpet sounds.  You serve a God that can!

 But even if He chooses not to, remember that HE IS A GOD WORTH SERVING.  When King Nebuchadnezzar threatened to throw Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-Nego into the fiery furnace if they didn't bow down before his gold statue, they said, "If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God whom we serve is able to save us. He will rescue us from your power, Your Majesty. [18] But even if he doesn't, Your Majesty can be sure that we will never serve your gods or worship the gold statue you have set up."  Daniel 3:17-18 (NLT) 

 These men understood that this trial was in the middle of a chapter and was not the final word of their lives.  They also knew that they served a God that "can," but they were willing to serve Him even if he chose not to rescue them.

 So instead of weighing the odds, why not size up your God, and trust Him to do the right thing.
 

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