Acts 16:16-34 

Paul and Silas in prison

16 One day, when we were on the way to the place for prayer, we met a slave woman. She had a spirit that enabled her to predict the future. She made a lot of money for her owners through fortune-telling. 17 She began following Paul and us, shouting, “These people are servants of the Most High God! They are proclaiming a way of salvation to you!” 18 She did this for many days.

This annoyed Paul so much that he finally turned and said to the spirit, “In the name of Jesus Christ, I command you to leave her!” It left her at that very moment.

19 Her owners realized that their hope for making money was gone. They grabbed Paul and Silas and dragged them before the officials in the city center. 20 When her owners approached the legal authorities, they said, “These people are causing an uproar in our city. They are Jews 21 who promote customs that we Romans can’t accept or practice.” 22 The crowd joined in the attacks against Paul and Silas, so the authorities ordered that they be stripped of their clothes and beaten with a rod. 23 When Paul and Silas had been severely beaten, the authorities threw them into prison and ordered the jailer to secure them with great care. 24 When he received these instructions, he threw them into the innermost cell and secured their feet in stocks.

25 Around midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening to them. 26 All at once there was such a violent earthquake that it shook the prison’s foundations. The doors flew open and everyone’s chains came loose. 27 When the jailer awoke and saw the open doors of the prison, he thought the prisoners had escaped, so he drew his sword and was about to kill himself. 28 But Paul shouted loudly, “Don’t harm yourself! We’re all here!”

29 The jailer called for some lights, rushed in, and fell trembling before Paul and Silas. 30 He led them outside and asked, “Honorable masters, what must I do to be rescued?”

31 They replied, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved—you and your entire household.” 32 They spoke the Lord’s word to him and everyone else in his house. 33 Right then, in the middle of the night, the jailer welcomed them and washed their wounds. He and everyone in his household were immediately baptized. 34 He brought them into his home and gave them a meal. He was overjoyed because he and everyone in his household had come to believe in God.

This is the word of God for us the people of God.  Thanks be to God.

 

Signs and Wonders – Then and Now (Paul and Silas in Prison)

The Book of Acts is full of all kinds of signs and wonders.  During this sermon series on Acts, we have read about Paul hearing the voice of Jesus, and then being blinded and being healed.  We’ve heard about Tabitha whose life was full of compassion and good works, and the way she experienced the resurrection power of Jesus.  We read about the vision that Peter had that the church was to include even outsiders and that the disciples were to tell all people about God’s love.  And today, we read about Paul and Silas sitting in prison, singing and praising God in the midst of their turmoil.  And we witness this great earthquake which frees them.  The power of God is a mighty and unexplainable thing.  The Holy Spirit accomplished some amazing things then, and the Holy Spirit does the same now.

Today we read about Paul’s second missionary journey.  He is accompanied by Silas, and they are near the city of Philippi.  You may have heard of the book of Philippians which was written by Paul to the church at Philippi.

So let’s look at this ancient story and see what we can pull from it to use today.  Paul and Silas are on their way to the place for prayer, and they meet a slave woman.  The scripture says she had a spirit that enabled her to predict the future.  She was believed to be able to “tap into divine powers for wisdom and guidance,” but these powers were not from God – instead they were demonic.  (Donovan page 2).  And because she had this ability, her owners made a lot of money through her fortune telling.  Since she was a slave, her owners would have told her what to do, when to do it and how to do it.  Her owners would have received any money she made for her fortune telling.  And this girl began to follow Paula and Silas around shouting, “These people are servants of the Most High God! They are proclaiming a way of salvation to you!”  And she did it for many days.  And although she was speaking the truth, the Greek people in Philippi would have thought the most high god was Zeus.  And so Paul gets so annoyed with this, that he casts out the demon within her.

And her owners are furious because as soon as the demon leaves her, their source of income from her fortune telling is gone.   They aren’t truly concerned with Paul and Silas stirring up trouble in town – they are concerned because their income source is gone.  And, the slave girl’s owners retaliate by making up charges against Paul and Silas.

And we hear a pretty brutal story of what happens next.  The crowd gets involved in the attacks against Paul and Silas, and the authorities step in.  The text says that Paul and Silas were stripped of their clothes and severely beaten with a rod.  Then the authorities threw them into prison, and the jailer is ordered to “secure them with great care.”  Then he threw them into the innermost cell in the jail and put their feet in stocks.

Now imagine for a minute….just imagine having been stripped and beaten with a rod.  Imagine being thrown into the innermost cell of a jail – where there would probably not be any windows – the cell would have had very little light during the day and probably no light at all coming in at night.  This was probably a dungeon.  Imagine no air moving.  Imagine no sanitation.  Imagine experiencing the pain of a beaten body and being chained down securely.  Imagine your feet secured in stocks – unable to move at all for hour upon hour.

It’s hard to imagine a more painful or terrible situation that what Paul and Silas faced.  And then…..here’s what happened next:

 

25 Around midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening to them. 26 All at once there was such a violent earthquake that it shook the prison’s foundations. The doors flew open and everyone’s chains came loose.

 

In the dark of the midnight hour, Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns.  Right in the middle of their torture, we find these two praying and singing to God!  And we get the impression that they weren’t moaning and groaning to God—we get the impression that they weren’t begging for release from their prison.  We get the impression that they were praising God, even in this most horrible situation they found themselves in!  And it says that the other prisoners were listening to them.  I can imagine that their behavior was pretty startling – and I can imagine that praying and singing to God was not something the prisoners normally heard.  And so — the first thing I hope you will take with you is that no matter what……. we have the presence of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit with us.  Even in the most terrible circumstance.  Even in the worst situation we can ever imagine, nothing will separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus.  William Barclay said, “The one thing you can never take away from a Christian is God and the presence of Jesus Christ.  With God there is freedom even in a prison…….. and even at midnight there is light.”  Listen to that again: “The one thing you can never take away from a Christian is God and the presence of Jesus Christ.  With God there is freedom even in a prison……….. and even at midnight there is light.”

And not only is that life-changing for us when we recognize that we can and should pray and praise God in the worst of times —- our response can be a life-changing witness for others, too.  What a witness Paul and Silas must have been for the other prisoners.  Don’t you think the other prisoners would have wondered what in the world was going on in the lives of these two men that they could pray and sing hymns to God in their situation?  Now that is something that gets my attention.

And we have these people of great faith today, don’t we?  You have probably met some of these amazing people who are suffering greatly, and yet their faith draws us all in for a closer look at the God who brings them comfort and strength.  It’s a truly inspiring thing!  So, the second idea is that when we experience the presence of God in the midst of the storm of life and are able to feel God’s peace, others notice it and are drawn to God through our experiences and the way we respond by relying on God.

The third thought for your morning is that God is mighty and powerful — because just as Paul and Silas are praying and singing, this great earthquake comes and shakes the prison so hard that the prison doors flew open and everyone’s chains came loose.  And God is not just powerful so that we will know God is powerful, God is powerful to draw us closer — so that we will come to him!  And God is so powerful that when we do come to him, he can take those things that burden us.

We can easily envision the chains that were holding the prisoners down just falling off.  What a wonderful metaphor for the way that God’s presence can loosen all those burdens that we carry on our backs every day.  Because that is what having a relationship with Jesus is all about.  It’s a two-sided thing.   A relationship with Jesus is not just about us loving him, it’s also about letting him loving us.  In the book of Matthew, Jesus said this:

“Come to me, all you who are struggling hard and carrying heavy loads, and I will give you rest.  Put on my yoke, and learn from me.  I’m gentle and humble.  And you will find rest for yourselves.  My yoke is easy to bear, and my burden is light.”

When we stop trying to do things our own way, and we submit to following Jesus – we will rest!  You know, I think a lot of us refuse to give our burdens up.  We continue to carry them around, year after year.  But Jesus says, why don’t you put that down?  Why don’t you rest?

When we allow Jesus to take our burdens, we can live with joy even if we sit in prison with beaten backs and our feet in shackles.

I don’t understand how it happens, but it does!  I don’t understand how God brings an earthquake to shake loose those chains, but I can recognize the power of God when I see it.  And I witness this same power of God working in people’s lives all around me.  And it is an amazing thing.

When the jailer saw the mighty power of God, it resulted in his being saved.  It resulted in a new life for him and even for his whole family, because here’s how the story ends:

29 The jailer called for some lights, rushed in, and fell trembling before Paul and Silas. 30 He led them outside and asked, “Honorable masters, what must I do to be rescued?”

31 They replied, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved—you and your entire household.” 32 They spoke the Lord’s word to him and everyone else in his house. 33 Right then, in the middle of the night, the jailer welcomed them and washed their wounds. He and everyone in his household were immediately baptized. 34 He brought them into his home and gave them a meal. He was overjoyed because he and everyone in his household had come to believe in God.

He was overjoyed because he and everyone in his household had come to believe in God.

I don’t understand how the Holy Spirit works in our lives.  But I know that the Holy Spirit does work in our lives today. God is powerful and works in some crazy and creative ways that we could never predict.      —–God will even shake the earth to loosen your chains.

But you may be asking — what must I do to be rescued from the chains I’m in?

Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved – you and your entire household.

In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.  Amen.