“About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them, and suddenly there was a great earthquake, so that the foundations of the prison were shaken. And immediately all the doors were opened, and everyone’s bonds were unfastened. When the jailer woke and saw that the prison doors were open, he drew his sword and was about to kill himself, supposing that the prisoners had escaped. But Paul cried with a loud voice, “Do not harm yourself, for we are all here.” And the jailer called for lights and rushed in, and trembling with fear he fell down before Paul and Silas. Then he brought them out and said, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” And they said, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.” And they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all who were in his house. And he took them the same hour of the night and washed their wounds; and he was baptized at once, he and all his family. Then he brought them up into his house and set food before them. And he rejoiced along with his entire household that he had believed in God. But when it was day, the magistrates sent the police, saying, “Let those men go.” And the jailer reported these words to Paul, saying, “The magistrates have sent to let you go. Therefore come out now and go in peace.” But Paul said to them, “They have beaten us publicly, uncondemned, men who are Roman citizens, and have thrown us into prison; and do they now throw us out secretly? No! Let them come themselves and take us out.” The police reported these words to the magistrates, and they were afraid when they heard that they were Roman citizens. So they came and apologized to them. And they took them out and asked them to leave the city. So they went out of the prison and visited Lydia. And when they had seen the brothers, they encouraged them and departed.” (Acts 16:25-40 ESV)
Last week we looked at Paul and Silas who endured a beating at the hands of the crowd for their actions towards a slave girl. The crowd was made up of Roman citizens who claimed that the religious teachings of Paul and Silas were in opposition to Roman law. In all likelihood, Paul and Silas were stripped to the waist so that the “rods” had more effect. After the beating, the magistrates threw them into the prison and charged the keeper to keep them securely. So, the jailer placed them in the “inner prison” which would have been the most secure part and placed them into “stocks” to remove any possibility of escape.
Many today are trying to silence the teachings of historical Christianity regarding the authority and truth of scripture. For example, we live in the midst of a culture that sees historical Christian views on human sexuality and gender identiity as “out of step with the times” and “old fashioned.” They’ve even coined a new phrase to describe this phenomenon, “on the wrong side of history.” They don’t deny that these beliefs were once dominant, but now to hold these beliefs is to be living “on the wrong side of history.” In other words, we are more intelligent and cultured today and to hold those beliefs is simply evidence of just how backward, biased, uneducated and uncultured you really are. Come on, get with the times.
However, my focus today will be to show you how Paul and Silas responded to their culture when they suffered because of their beliefs. Notice in our focal passage that immediately following the beating they are thrown into the Roman jail and treated rather harshly. They are chained and placed in stocks which would have been used to secure them, but would also increase their pain and suffering. At midnight, they are not moaning and crying out in pain but, instead, are praying and singing hymns. I find it most interesting that Luke notes, “and the prisoners were listening to them.” The prisoners are always listening to how we will respond to our suffering and hardships.
Unfortunately, we have a very loud and outspoken group of “false” Christians today who want you to believe that God never intends for His children to suffer through hardships. They preach and teach a false gospel of “health and wealth” that simply isn’t biblical or characteristic of Christ. Is it popular? You bet it is. In fact, Oprah Winfrey says that Joel Osteen’s sermon regarding this topic “changed her life.” I’m sure it did, but not in a godly way. What’s the purpose of a false “health and wealth” gospel? Money and power. Those who espouse these beliefs are wealthy and powerful. How? Because they sell people what they want to hear and use their popularity to influence you to watch their shows, buy their books and attend their seminars.
But, I digress… the prisoners were LISTENING to how Paul and Silas responded to their circumstances and they are listening to how we are responding to the criticism, questions and skeptics of the gospel, today. They need to know if what we say is true, or just more rhetoric. We seem to think that our culture is uninterested in spiritual things, but that’s simply not true. Our culture is more “spiritual” today than it has been in a long time, it just isn’t looking to Christianity for answers. Why not? Because we’ve failed, in many ways, to proclaim a biblical answer. Let me explain and elaborate…
We’ve fallen for a consumerist approach to church. We think that if we make it attractive, entertaining and comfortable then people will “buy in.” However, Jesus said that following Him was hard, so hard that many would fall away and grow cold.
“Then they will deliver you up to tribulation and put you to death, and you will be hated by all nations for my name’s sake. And then many will fall away and betray one another and hate one another. And many false prophets will arise and lead many astray. And because lawlessness will be increased, the love of many will grow cold. But the one who endures to the end will be saved.” (Matthew 24:9-13 ESV)
Put that bit of encouraging scripture on the church marquee sign and see how many folks show up to visit church services, next Sunday. But the truth of scripture says that the blessing of following Jesus is a criminal’s cross, not a pay raise and a new Lexus. Let me give you an example of what I mean. I was talking to a friend last week about our church’s Vacation Bible School (VBS). He asked if we were having “evening” Bible School and I responded, “yes, most of our VBS volunteers work during the day.” He said that his church had not held VBS for several years because they couldn’t get enough volunteers. Their church has about three times more people attending than our church does, so I was a bit surprised. Don’t get me wrong, there are many really good Christians that I know who attend that church. But something’s wrong with the church when we are more concerned with what the church can do “for us” than what we can do “for God.”
Let me pose a question for you to ponder. Who’s listening to your response in the hard times life throws at you? Someone is listening. I’m certain your child, or grandchild is listening. It could be a neighbor, friend or co-worker. If you happen to know Jesus, then your response to life’s problems should be consistent with His teachings (see Matthew 5-7) and full of hope and anticipation. Not because God promised a pay raise or new Lexus, but because He promised His peace, presence and strength in the midst of struggles. When they see that your response is full of God’s grace and strength then they will listen to the truth of the gospel. If you don’t know God’s peace, presence and strength then let me encourage you to find it through Jesus.
Notice what happens next… an earthquake occurs that causes all of the prison doors to pop open and all of the prisoner’s shackles to unlock and fall off. The bigger miracle that night was not that very timely earthquake that opened the prison doors and caused the shackles to fall off. To me, the bigger miracle was that NONE of the prisoners escaped. Not a single one. The jailer was awaken from his sleep by the earthquake and was ready to save his honor by taking his own life, but Paul stopped him with the assurance that none of them had escaped. We aren’t told how many prisoners were in the prison that night, but they had all been listening to Paul and Silas and none of them left. Perhaps they had already asked the question that was on the lips of the Philippian Jailer, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?”
Saved. It has become such a misused and misunderstood word among Christians and those who just call themselves Christian. It carries a lot of religious baggage, but it really is just a cry for help. Who will rescue me? I’m dying, please help me. I’m drowning, please throw me a life line. I’m in grave danger and in desperate need of help. That’s the jailer’s question. Now, hear Paul’s response… “Saved? Believe in Jesus as God’s Son and Lord, put your complete trust in Him. He can rescue you and everyone in your family!”
Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved…
Believe. In. The. Lord. Jesus. Somehow we’ve taken the idea of belief or religious faith and reduced it to something you just think, not something you know and feel so deeply that it impacts the way you think, the way you act and react, the way you see the world and everything in it, so much so that it even impacts the daily choices you make. Our culture says that religious belief is a private affair, keep it to yourself. They say that religious faith or belief in Jesus is nothing more than a good moral life philosophy and, perhaps, a spiritual comfort when we die. Scripture says that true belief in Jesus can’t be contained, it can’t be kept private or to yourself because you can’t hold it in or contain it. True belief in the Lord Jesus recognizes His authority, His holiness, His power, His love and our complete lack of all those things.
Look at what happened when the Philippian Jailer encountered the Son of God. Paul spoke the Word of the Lord to him and he took them that same hour of the night and washed their wounds, then he and his entire household were baptized. This man who had so little compassion for them a few hours earlier was personally washing the wounds on their backs from the beating they had suffered. Then he brought them into his house and fed them. Belief in the Lord Jesus certainly had an impact on his actions. He kept these dangerous prisoners secure, by sitting with them around his dining table and sharing a meal.
By morning, the magistrates had calmed down and came to their senses and sent word to release Paul and Silas. The jailer relayed this message to Paul and Silas, but Paul immediately appealed to his Roman citizenship and those personal rights guaranteed by it. The magistrates appear to have assumed that these “Jews” had no Roman legal rights, but they were wrong. Paul doesn’t just leave quietly, he wants the magistrates to come and deal with the mess they’ve created with their thoughtless, emotional response to the slave girl’s owners. I do find it fascinating that Paul didn’t appeal to his rights previously, but he does so now. Paul spent the night worshiping and ministering and then he appeals to his Roman citizenship when they try and sweep the entire incident under the proverbial rug. Why now? It seems he wants the record set straight along with Jesus’ name and mission cleared.
After a public apology by the magistrates, Paul and Silas return to Lydia’s home to encourage and strengthen the fledgling church. While it isn’t specifically mentioned, I also believe that he used this opportunity to introduce the Jailer and his family to Lydia and the other disciples. Paul would later write these words to this church:
“Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel, and not frightened in anything by your opponents. This is a clear sign to them of their destruction, but of your salvation, and that from God. For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake, engaged in the same conflict that you saw I had and now hear that I still have.” (Philippians 1:27-30 ESV)
Standing firm… in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side… not frightened in anything… It has been granted to you that, for the sake of Christ, you should not only believe in Him but also suffer for his sake, engaged in the same conflict that YOU SAW I had and now hear that I still have…
This must be our approach to the days ahead, standing firm, one spirit, one mind, striving side by side, not frightened, willing to suffer for his sake, engaged in the same conflict. Doesn’t sound like the promise of “health and wealth” but it does sound like the promise of God’s Spirit giving us all that we need in that moment of struggle.
“But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.” (John 14:26-27 ESV)