(by Rev. Terry L. Barnhill)
A story tells of a man who was imprisoned within an ancient stone dungeon. A grey shadowy jailor shook the iron lock on his daily rounds. It was the only sound that reminded the prisoner he was not alone in all the hopeless, dim and dying world of his solitary cell. The crime of which he was charged was unforgivable, and the verdict was death and irrevocable, but still he secretly harbored the defiant belief that he would, one day and by the cleverness of his own wits, find a way of escape. But despite all his tunnels, his schemes and his plans, he remained as always within the dungeon walls.
Years beyond number had passed from consciousness as he sat and plotted how he would set himself free. Then one day an unfamiliar figure appeared at his prison door. This was not his jailor who always rattled the lock. Instead, this person stood silently staring with his hands upon the bars. An air of sorrow emanated from his silhouette.
“What do you want?” growled the prisoner nervously. He wondered if the king had finally commanded his execution. “Have you come to kill me?”
The heavy silence broke with these gentle words, “I have come to set you free.”
Momentarily stunned, the inmate hesitated before spitting back, “No one can do that except the hangman or me. Are you the hangman?”
“No,” replied the stranger. “I am the one who will take your place that you may go free.”
“Don’t mock me!” the prisoner fumed. “Only death or my own devices can liberate me! And since, as you can see, I am still here, then you can bet I’ll get out of this prison someday.”
“No one can break free from these walls,” the strangers motioned around him. “But I can and I will set you free. You do not know me, but I have known you and loved you all your life.” The stranger turned slightly away, “I am going now to the king to purchase your freedom. In three days, your cell door will be unlocked. On that day, you will be free. You will have only to believe what I have told you. You have only to open the door and leave . . . on the third day.”
“Do you think I’m crazy?” shouted the prisoner, but the stranger made no reply. “The king would never forgive my crime no matter who you are or think you are!” his words trailed after the vanishing silhouette. “I’m the only one who can set me free,” he cried, “and someday I’ll find the way out! ME, I . . . I can do it!” But there was no further reply and the stranger was gone.
That same day the jailor came again to rattle the lock, and the next day he did the same. Nothing was different. The prison was still dark and damp. The lonely emptiness still dripped from the stone cold walls. The prisoner still sat arrogantly and plotted and schemed.
But on the third day . . . on the third day the prisoner felt the floor begin to rise as though the earth were sucking in a deep breath. The ...
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