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In 1973, two men held four people hostage during a bank robbery in Stockholm, Sweden. The bank robbers demanded 3 million kronor, two guns, bulletproof vests, helmets, and a car. The stalemate went on for 6 days. After the hostages were finally released, one of the hostages surprisingly remarked that she felt safe with the bank robbers, but feared that the police might escalate the situation by using violent methods. The hostages also refused to testify against their captors in court. In fact, they even began raising money for their defense. And you might be thinking, who in their right mind would do such a thing?! Well, no one. The fact is, they weren’t in their right mind. After this event, psychologists and mental health experts assigned the term “Stockholm syndrome” to the condition that occurs when hostages develop an emotional or psychological connection to the people who held them in captivity.
Symptoms of Stockholm syndrome include, 1) The victim developing positive feelings toward the person holding them captive or abusing them. 2)The victim develops negative feelings toward police, authority figures, or anyone who might be trying to help them get away from their captor. 3) The victim begins to perceive their captor’s humanity and believe they have the same goals and values.
I shutter to think that I exhibit these same symptoms toward sin and Satan. When tempted I desire sin, I develop positive feelings toward it, and may even convince myself and others that this is the right thing to be doing! When captive in sin, I despise those who try to rescue me from it. It’s exactly what Peter was pointing out when he pointed out the Stockholm Syndrome of sin that his fellow Israelites were suffering from.
For our focus today, the immediate context isn’t all that important. Peter and John had just healed a man who had been lame all his life. Evidently, many recognized this man who was now “walking, jumping, and praising God” (Ac 20:8), because crowd quickly gathered to see who could do such a wonderful thing! It’s actually the wider context of this account that is more important. This takes place not long after the death and resurrection of Jesus. And it’s this recent event that Peter wants to talk about. The crowd is amazed at what Peter and John could do – giving this man the ability to walk. But this was not at all by their power. “Why do you stare at us as if by our own power or godliness we had made this man walk?” (Ac 3:12). It was God who did this. Our God, fellow Israelites! The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. The God that you, so sadly, saw as an enemy and waged war against.
This perhaps confused them. “We have never fought against our God! What are you talking about?!” Then, Peter laid it all out. “God… has glorified his servant Jesus. You handed him over to be killed, and you disowned him before Pilate, though he had decided to let him go” (Ac 3:13). A pagan governor of all people, Pontius Pilate, could see that Jesus was not an enemy. He had done nothing wrong – nothing deserving of death! He wanted to let Jesus go, but you chose Barabbas! “You disowned the Holy and Righteous One and asked that a murderer be released to you. You killed the author of life, but God raised him from the dead” (Ac 3:14-15).
Do you see why it’s proper to call this the Stockholm Syndrome of sin? Peter doesn’t hesitate to preach the law with all its crushing powers. “You did it!” he declares. You chose the wrong guy! You asked that the Holy One be done away with and a murderer be released to you. You killed the One who gives life. You sought to find peace from the judgments of Jesus by waging war against God. There’s no peace in that!
In fact, quite the opposite. There was panic and frustration as word of the resurrection quickly spread. Some of the guards, responsible for the tomb, went into the city and reported to the chief priests everything that had happened. The chief priests then paid them off with a large sum of money and told them to say, “His disciples came during the night and stole him away while we were asleep” (Mt 28:13). The disciples, too, were gathered together with the doors locked for fear of the Jewish leaders. For even Peter himself there was unrest and disappointment for denying his Lord 3 times before he was crucified. This most shameful of all human acts is surrounded by human beings waging war against God. Yet even their greatest attempts against him have proved to be a futile flailing at the wind. A battle which leaves us no peace, only frustration and fatigue.
Look at how utterly depraved such a war, such a rebellion is – waged against the only Righteous One. Look at how utterly sinful is war waged against the only Holy One. Look at how utterly foolish is war waged against the Author of Life – against God himself. That’s always what sin is. Sin is siding with the captors and waging war against your rescuer. And yes, as Peter points out the sin of his fellow Israelites, he points out his own sin as well. He too “disowned the Holy and Righteous One” (Ac 3:14) when he denied Jesus three times. You know, he points out my sin and your sin as well. Sin is siding with your captor and waging war against your rescuer.
Yet, stunningly, in that very act which led to the crucifixion of Christ and culminated in his resurrection, lies our only hope of deliverance from our captors – sin, death, and Satan. That’s how powerful your God is when he wages war against your captors. That’s how wise he is, that he can use even evil and turn it into good! So the most shameful of all human acts is offset by an even greater divine act, which restores the hope of holiness and immortality to all!
When we wage war against God, we find no peace. But when God wages war, that’s a different story! When he wages war, he wins peace and gives it freely to you and me.
It’s the very first thing we hear him say when he appeared to the disciples after rising from the dead. “Peace be with you!” (Jn 20:19). And how is this peace achieved? Peter says, “You killed the author of life, but God raised him from the dead. We are witnesses of this” (Acts 3:15). “You acted in ignorance” (Ac 3:17) – Peter is not excusing them as though their ignorance somehow made them less guilty of sin. He already established their guilt – a guilt which deserves condemnation. But, “this is how God fulfilled what he had foretold through all the prophets, saying that his Messiah would suffer” (Ac 3:18). Peter was revealing to them that their very act of disobedience was also God’s plan of salvation. God uses even our evil for his good purposes! Didn’t their own prophets proclaim that the Messiah would be “stricken by God, smitten by him and afflicted” as a sacrifice that brought us peace! (Is 53).
The war has been waged, the battle has been won! He reigns and has put all his enemies under his feet (1 Cor 15:24-25). See how he deals with your enemies in his death and resurrection: Sin has been paid for. Satan no longer has anything to accuse you of. The last enemy to be destroyed is death – and we just witnessed that with our own eyes, Peter said! You and I witness it through the testimony of such firsthand eyewitnesses. He is risen!
Peace is not only won, it is also given to you. “Peace be with you” (Jn 20:19). It’s what Jesus said after he won the war. It’s what he repeated again and again to his disciples. It’s this same phrase we say just after consecrating the elements for the Lord’s Supper – a meal remembering his death. A meal in which we commune with Jesus. “Take and eat… Drink from it, all of you; this is my blood of the new covenant, which is poured out for you for the forgiveness of sins. Do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me. The peace of the Lord be with you always.” Every time we celebrate the Lord’s Supper, we also celebrate his death and resurrection – the war waged against your enemies and won so that you may have peace! Every time we celebrate the Lord’s Supper, we are given that peace anew!
What do we do in light of such peace? Peter says, “Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord” (Ac 3:19).
Repent! Turn around! Turn to God. Sin is waging war on the wrong side. Sin is disowning the Holy and Righteous One and killing the Author of life. And there’s no way you are going to win that war. There’s no reason you should be waging that war. It’s sinful and foolish – you are fighting on the wrong side. It’s Stockholm Sin-drome. So, turn around! Fight the other way. And join the Lord’s side. You will not be taken as a prisoner – rather you will be set free from the prison of sin. You will be freed to live your life, because you belong to him all along.
“Turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord” (Ac 3:19). Times of refreshing! Doesn’t that sound great. And it’s not just the “sound” of it. It’s not just empty words. Look at how it all turned out after the death and resurrection of Christ. It looks as if God was turning everything on its head when Jesus was crucified. In reality, he turned an upside-down world the right way round. He rescued and saved us from ourselves – from the prison of sin and death we were held captive in. He wiped out your sin and gives you peace, just as he promised.
So fight on the right side of the war as you go about your daily battles. The war is won – you have peace already when you remain on his side. He fights for you in your daily battles – go to him regularly for strength and direction. Go to his words and become familiar with him, not your captors. If you ever feel like you are fighting an uphill battle, you might be fighting on the wrong side. Listen to his voice. Examine your life. Turn from sinfulness and rebellion that you find. And if you are still fighting… perhaps God has placed you on the frontlines for a time and for a reason. In fact, sometimes hostage negotiators will send in a friend – send them right into the thick of it – because they might be able to break through. They might be able to reach someone trapped on the wrong side, and bring them back to their Savior. If you ever find yourself given this opportunity, speak the words of your Savior until these words – not the enemy’s – become the familiar voice that can be trusted.
The war against sin is a difficult one when we fight it alone. Satan is good at waging this war. He confuses thoughts and emotions, even the truths of God’s Word so that sometimes we are fighting on the wrong side and don’t even know it. When we wage war alone, we find no peace. Turn around, for God has already waged war on your behalf and won! Peace be with you.