By Bill Davis
The twelve-acre rock lies in the middle of the world’s largest natural harbor. That rock is more notably known as “Alcatraz”. The former infamous prison located in the San Francisco harbor. “Alcatraz.” The prison on the Rock.
The first lighthouse on the west coast was located there. Long ago, the ships needed a light to guide them safely into the harbor when it was night or when the fog was heavy. And luckily the lighthouse was there as a beacon of hope and safety.
Long before the place was discovered by the Spanish Land Expedition of 1769, it was named “The Island of the Alcatraz” or “The Island of the White Pelican”. Many years later, the Army made it a military fortress to protect the bay area. After a while, it was made into an army stockade. In 1906, there was a great earthquake in the area and San Francisco was almost destroyed. The island survived that quake.
In the 1920’s and 30’s, the crime world rose to unprecedented levels in America. This wave of crime brought ruthless and hard criminals to the public eye. Organized crime moved to the so-called “family structure” dividing and controlling cities with little or no resistance. Finally, crime bosses were brought to justice and convicted. There was a great need for prisons to incarcerate the hardest of criminals and that place had to be tightly secured.
Alcatraz, because of its location and isolation, was chosen as the place for the more hardened criminals that were eventually brought to justice. The former military barracks were transformed into 348 prison cells. James Johnson, the former warden of San Quinton, was chosen as the first warden of Alcatraz in 1933.
In August 1934, at 5:00 am, Sunday morning, 53 prisoners were brought to Alcatraz Penitentiary. Among those first prisoners was the notable Alphonse Capone. Gradually, some of the worst notorious prisoners found a home at Alcatraz. In 1963, the prison was closed down. Now it is merely a shell of the former place. A museum. A visitor’s site with a long, colorful and bleak past.
My wife and I visited this ugly, cold and barren place a few months ago. This huge rock rises up from the waters of the harbor with its constant mist and blowing winds. You wonder, is it yet to find its real purpose?
We toured the prison with its crumbling cement walls. Its damp and depressed atmosphere was foreboding„ and sad. Deterioration, the constant sounds of the white pelicans calling, and the overall view of the prison, offered nothing warm or pleasant to the eyes or ears.
This rock, this place in the middle of the harbor, was a testimony of man’s failures and achievements.
The best that could be done to the old prison was to make it a military fortress. Later, a stockade with steel gates. Now it is a museum of the depressed and the deteriorated. A horrible place that man made horrible and more horrible. Ugly and more ugly. Sad and yet even more sad. Barricaded in its walls and floors are stories as ugly as you can imagine. Many tragedies and little redemption.
Man took a rock and made it a prison.
Jesus took a rock and built a Church.
“Upon this Rock, I will build my Church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it,” says Matthew 16:18. Here were His plans. The plans to build a Church, to empower a people with a divine energy and a message of hope and redemption.
Alcatraz, inescapable, secure and determined.
The Church, inclusive, open and accessible. For Jesus’ words ring out strong in John 7:37-38, “In the last day, that great day of the feast, Jesus stood and cried, saying, (Ritzy man thirst, let him come unto me, and drink. He that believeth on me, as the scripture path said, out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water.”
This Rock has a Church. A real Church. The Apostolic Church of the New Testament. It is not a prison. There is no confinement. No one is forced to stay in this Church, but it is the safe place. Isaiah said, in chapter thirty-five and verse eight, “And an highway shall be there, and a way, and it shall be called the way of f holiness; the unclean shall not pass over it; but it shall be for those: the wayfaring men, though fools, shall not err therein.” The Holy place. It is the City on the Hill. The Light of the World (see Matthew 5:14), The safe place for the journey. Clean, holy and safe. The way is so easy; no fool shall err therein.
Man took a rock and made a prison. Jesus took a Rock and built The Church. A place where man can be free. A place where even the gates of Hell cannot prevail!
Only Jesus can build a Church that the gates of darkness cannot prevail against. Man has built many religions. Satan has prevailed over them all in one way or another. The words of Jesus are clear. `Upon this rock, this Revelation of God in Christ. Upon this Rock, I will build my Church. And the gates of Hell shall not prevail against it.’
This Church is not a man-made institution in a remote, distant place. However, it is everywhere and yet a City on a Hill, the Light of the World (see Matthew 5:14). You do not join this Church. You do not believe into it. But one must be born into it by water and Spirit. In John 3:5, Jesus said, “Verily, verily, I say unto thee, except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.” Jesus has built this Church on a Rock. And it is the only Church of the Name! To get in this great Name, one must be baptized into it. Romans 6:4 says, “Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.” (Romans 6:4) To get into the Body, one must be baptized into the Body. I Corinthians 12:13 says, “For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body.”
The gates of Hell cannot prevail against this Church. “Upon this rock” is not the home of the screaming “white pelican.” It is the Home of the Blood Bought Children of God!
This article “The Rock” written by Bill Davis is excerpted from his book The Gates of Hell and the Prevailing Church.