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Weighing the Odds
"In the morning, there was no small commotion among the soldiers as
to what had become of Peter.  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
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.
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
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.  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.  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.'  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.  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.  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.