ODYSSEYING WITH PAUL – THE NIGHT THE JAILHOUSE ROCKED
June 18, 2017
I don’t profess to know anything about sailing. The only time I ever attempted sailing was on a tiny, one-person Catamaran at Smith Mountain Lake. I won’t bore you with the details—suffice it to say it ranked up there with many of my kayaking adventures!
But one thing is very much obvious when you are sailing—it is much, much, much easier to journey with the wind at your back as opposed to having it in your face.
Last week we heard how the wind of God’s Spirit was blowing in Paul’s face, preventing him and his missionary colleagues Silas, Timothy and Luke from traveling to Asia. God had a different direction in mind. After seeing God’s vision of a man pleading for them to come to Macedonia, to take the Gospel to Europe, we read the following:
11 We set sail from Troas and took a straight course to Samothrace, the following day to Neapolis, 12 and from there to Philippi, which is a leading city of the district of Macedonia and a Roman colony. We remained in this city for some days….
The words we took a straight course means that the wind and will of God’s Spirit was literally and figuratively at their backs as they sailed across the waters of the Aegean Sea. The trip went smoothly and quickly. And when they reach shore in Macedonia, they are in for the adventure of a lifetime! They head to Philippi, the largest city in Macedonia—a very hipster, cosmopolitan kind of place, and when the Good News of Jesus Christ hits that town….
SOME ARE ENLIGHTENED – Acts 16:13-15
Paul and his cohorts hear there’s a group of women with some religious leanings who hold a prayer meeting down by the river on the Sabbath Day. The group is led by a well-heeled, highly-influential merchant by the name of Lydia. She’s a mover and shaker in the local business community.
Paul is an amazing teacher. He enlightens this faithful group of women, helping them to see that Jesus Christ is the true lens that brings their murky view of faith into true focus.
Lydia especially embraces this Good News, and becomes a staunch believer. She and her household are baptized. They become new creations in Christ.
Then she graciously offers hospitality to Paul, Silas, Luke and Timothy…they can use her home as a base of operations from which the Gospel can be spread while they are in the area. And thus, the first house church, the Church at Phillipi, is born!
As an aside, did you know that the house church movement is quietly making inroads in America right now in this era in which the institutional church is in decline? What goes around, comes around, some 20 centuries later!
Yes, when the Good News of Jesus Christ hits town, some are enlightened… and yet, we also see that
SOME ARE ENRAGED - Acts 16:16-24
Things are going pretty smoothly for Paul and his gang. They are making great inroads in sharing the faith, that is, until one day when they happen upon this slave girl who has what the Bible calls a “spirit of divination”. In other words, she is a fortune-teller, and she earns a ton of money for her owners.
Paul senses that this slave girl’s fortune-telling ability comes from evil spirits. And it becomes pretty obvious as she starts following Paul and his friends around, ridiculing them as she proclaims like a broken record, “These men are slaves of the Most High God, who proclaim to you “a” way of salvation!” And she will not shut up!
Paul refuses to allow the message of Christ to be tainted by evil, to have any connection with something that is impure. And, not to mention, this girl has gotten on his last nerve. So, after several days of this, he stops the girl in her tracks, and commands the evil spirit to come out of her. And it did.
But now the slave girl’s fortune-telling days are over. She is no longer a source of income for her owners. And these pimp-like purveyors of exploitation are none-too-happy about it. So what do they do?
They seize Paul and Silas and drag them before the magistrates of the city. And the testify, “These men are disturbing the city, causing an uproar!” (A lie, but never mind that.) “They are Jews and are advocating customs that are not lawful for us as Roman to adopt or practice!” (Another lie, but never mind that either)
Consequently, Paul and Silas are stripped, beaten half-to-death, and thrown into the squalor of the local jailhouse.
If there is one constant thread that runs throughout all history, it is when believers confront exploitation, we can expect suffering. There is a price to be paid, a pound of flesh to be exacted, when we go head-to-head with injustice. It takes a special kind of courage to remain faithful to one’s faith in the midst of such pain.
Yes, when the Good News of Christ hits town, some are enlightened, but some are also enraged. However, we also will soon see that
SOME ARE ENGULFED – Acts 16:25-34
Now friends, how do you think you would respond if what happened to Paul and Silas happened to you? You’ve been lied about in a court of law– you’ve been stripped and flogged within an inch of your life – you’ve been thrown into prison, your feet locked in wooden stocks.
Every excruciating breath reminds you of the beating you’ve just received. Your ribs are cracked. Your kidneys are bruised. Your back aches. Your legs are clamped and cramped. It’s damp, dark and cold. Rats are licking your sores. Would you be in the mood to lead a late night hymn sing?
And yet, that’s precisely what Paul and Silas do! They are singing to the top of their lungs “I’ll Fly Away” and other uplifting tunes. Singing praises while in chains is a soul-shocking witness, to say the least! It’s the night the jailhouse rocked!
And then, all of the sudden, the jailhouse starts to shake, rattle and roll! An earthquake hits! An example of God’s perfect timing, to say the least! Walls crumble, doors are jarred open, chains are loosed!
And the jailer is absolutely panicked!
I’ve always had a special respect for jailers. My uncle Bob Steele was the chief jailer for the Mecklenburg County Jail for some 30 years. He was a calm, quiet man. Whenever I would ask him what it was like being behind bars with inmates all day, he would just smile and say, “Son, you don’t want to know.”
Uncle Bob raised a huge garden of roses….all sorts of brilliant hues and colors. Tended them daily. I suppose it was his way of finding some beauty after dealing with a mighty depressing job all day.
This poor jailer had nothing to do with Paul and Silas’ incarceration. Yet, now, he faces the Roman penalty of torture and death if they escape. He is responsible for them, and if they leave, he will be executed. So he figures he might as well die under his own terms. He draws his sword, and is ready to fall on it, when he hears Paul shouting, “Don’t do yourself harm! We are all here!”
What happens next is simply amazing! The jailer goes to Paul and Silas, falls down on his knees, and cries out, “What must I do to be saved?” Obviously, he’s been listening. He’s been listening to Paul and Silas – as they make that jailhouse rock – with their songs and prayers. Who knows, maybe he’s heard Paul preaching on the streets of Philippi. We don’t know.
One thing we do know—Paul and Silas care for the jailer’s welfare. They care about his life. They literally save his life. “Do not harm yourself! We are all here!”
Yes, Paul and Silas show the jailer mercy and, in turn, the jailer is overwhelmed by grace. “What must I do to be saved?” he cries out. And Paul tells him, “Believe in the Lord Jesus and you will be saved—you and all your household!” The jailer and his family are thoroughly engulfed by grace!
The jailer takes Paul and Silas home with him. He bathes their wounds. They bathe him and his family in the waters of baptism. They share a meal together. They share the joy of Christ’s salvation and hope together. And that fledgling church at Philippi has some fantastic new members!
I’d like to have a jailer in my church to keep you folks on the straight and narrow!
EPILOGUE- Acts 16:35-40
Wow, what a couple of weeks it’s been for Paul and his missionary cohorts in Philippi! And it’s not over yet!
The jailer gets a memo from the magistrate that Paul and Silas are to be quietly released from custody. But Paul refuses to take his freedom and run. No way! You see, Paul and Silas are Roman citizens.
He explodes, “Let these sorry, corrupt officials come and escort us to freedom themselves. With our Roman citizenship, they had no right to beat us publicly and throw us into prison. No sir! They aren’t going to get rid of us quietly!”
Well, with that, the magistrates come apologizing all over themselves. Paul and Silas are released with their dignity and integrity intact. But moreso, Paul’s courage to stand tall encourages faith and ensures fairness for future believers in that city of Philippi. Paul is not some reckless, feckless militant, but he’s not some spineless milktoast either. And there will be others who come after him who will demonstrate that same courage of faith in Christ.
In fact, of all the churches Paul establishes throughout his missionary journeys, that Church at Philippi will always remain his favorite. There were some mighty good folks there!
And I’m sure wherever Paul had an audience in years to come, he never tired of telling the story about the night the jailhouse rocked!