The Lord sets prisoners free. That's what the Bible says. In fact, it says it more than once.
The Lord sets prisoners free.
I am your servant, the son of your maidservant; you have freed me from my chains.
...and to proclaim that captives will be released and prisoners will be freed.
Isaiah 61:1b NLT
A prisoner is defined as a person or thing that is deprived of liberty or kept in restraint. Are there any areas in your life where you feel deprived of your freedom or are restrained by your circumstances? Peter and Paul were both prisoners in the New Testament. Peter was miraculously freed, and Paul wasn't. Does that seem fair? Both men were sold out for Jesus. But God had a different path for Paul.
In Acts 21-28, we read about Paul's experience as a prisoner. Soon after he arrived in Jerusalem, some Jews spotted him and caused a riot. They are dragging him from the temple and trying to kill him. News reached the commander of the Roman troops, and he wanted to find out what was going on. He was asking the people, but they kept shouting different things, and he ended up arresting Paul because he didn't know what else to do. That first night in prison, the Lord told Paul, "Take courage! As you have testified about me in Jerusalem, so you must also testify in Rome." What did that mean? The story continues.
About forty Jews swore an oath not to eat or drink until they had killed Paul. But the plot was overheard and reported to Paul. Paul sent this young man to tell the commander and ended up being transferred to another prison in Caesarea. Paul was put on trial. Once the trial was over, Governor Felix was to decide the case.
Two years later, Paul was still in prison. Felix had never decided. And now the governor was being replaced, and Paul was brought up again for trial. The Jews still wanted to kill him and hoped the new governor, Festus, would agree to have Paul transferred back to Jerusalem. So Festus, wishing to please the Jews, asked Paul if he was willing to stand trial in Jerusalem? Instead, Paul appealed to Ceaser, so back to prison he went.
A few days later King Agrippa came to visit Festus. The two of them discussed Paul's case, and Agrippa decided he would like to hear from Paul himself. So Paul went before the king and spoke openly. In the end, Agrippa told Festus that Paul could have been freed if he had not appealed to Caeser. Oh no! Did Paul do the wrong thing? We know one thing for sure. It had been over two years since his first trial and had first testified of Jesus in Jerusalem. Remember what the Lord had told him? He would testify in Rome as well.
By appealing to Caeser, Paul was shipped to Rome. Finally! But not so fast. Soon after setting sail, a storm came up. The wind was of hurricane force. They were in trouble! The storm went on for many days, and Paul was again visited by the Lord to assure him and the rest on board that no life would be lost, only the ship. After fourteen days they ran the ship aground, and all were saved. Not one person was injured.
They quickly learned they were on the island of Malta. The people were kind and generous, and they ended up staying there for three months until winter passed. During that time, Paul had the opportunity to pray for the chief official's father who was sick, and he was healed. Then everyone who was sick came to Paul, and they too were cured.
Once they were able to sail again, it was still a ways to get to Rome, and something had changed during that time. He arrived in Rome as a prisoner but was allowed to live in his own home with a soldier to guard him. We know he still was bound with a chain. During the next two years, Paul was free to preach the gospel to anyone who came to see him.
I don't know what emotions went through Paul's mind during this time. Did he ever question the Lord? Did he ever wonder why he wasn't miraculously freed from prison as Peter had been? Did he ever have a bad day? We aren't told any of these things, but since Paul was just a human like we are, I'm guessing he probably went through all the same emotions and had the same kind of thoughts that we would have had if this had happened to us.
But Paul didn't lose sight of his faith. He held on to the promise of what God had told him that first night in prison. God had not told him he would be freed from his chains; God told him he would testify in Rome. And that's what he did...eventually.
So if the above verses aren't talking about a real prison, which no one probably thought they were, what are they talking about? Paul might have been in prison literally and figuratively. His mind could have been like a prison if he had rehearsed his awful situation day in and day out. His circumstances could have been a prison had Paul complained and felt bitter. He had no control over what happened. Paul trusted God. I'm guessing he had lots of time to put into practice the things he had taught in his letters. Things like taking every thought captive to make it obedient to Christ (2 Cor. 10:5) or rejoicing in the Lord always (Phil. 4:4). How about pray without ceasing (1 Thess. 5:17)? These words are not just platitudes. They are meant for real life!
So think about what makes you feel like you are in a prison. Sometimes it's of your own making and sometimes like Paul, it is what happens to you. God doesn't want you to be controlled by your circumstances; He wants you to be controlled by the Spirit. This means being honest with God and trusting Him. It means doing the right thing no matter what. It means believing His word, not just knowing it in your head. Let Him speak to you and comfort you. Let Him be your strength. Let Him set you free!!