“A mob quickly formed against Paul and Silas, and the city officials ordered them stripped and beaten with wooden rods. They were severely beaten, and then they were thrown into prison.”
Acts of the Apostles 16:22-23a NLT
Regard our characters. They are black and blue from having been stripped and repeatedly beaten. With wooden rods no less. And with not even the protection of clothes on their bodies.
Also, by this time the crowd had turned into an angry mob. Most probably the soldiers who captured them are also caught up in the negative energy. The violence must have been amped up to an unreasonable scale.
And all for what? For worshiping Jesus. For preaching His Name. For spreading the Word of God. In a very peaceable, uncompromising manner.
Have you been through such persecution while doing the work of God? Have you ever experienced such vehement opposition in the name of Jesus?
“The jailer was ordered to make sure they didn’t escape. So the jailer put them into the inner dungeon and clamped their feet in the stocks.”
Acts of the Apostles 16:23b-24 NLT
The scene is set. Imagine a dark and dingy jail cell. It must have had stone walls. There must have been bars made of thick, sturdy wood. Or maybe iron. It is somber and imposing.
And it was an inner dungeon, so double up on the hopelessness of the situation.
It must not have been very large, but floor space doesn’t really matter right now. Because our heroes are clamped with irons at the feet, and trapped in an agonising position.
What is your prison right now? In what ways have you found yourself bound, and unable to move?
“Around midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening.”
Acts of the Apostles 16:25 NLT
If we take this verse on its own, without the context of the rest of the story, it sounds completely reasonable and makes perfect sense. Praying and singing hymns to God — how divine! How utterly in line with ministry work, and Gospel sharing.
But consider the situation. They were doing these even as the bruises were still bright on their flesh, even as their bones still ached from the fresh beating.
And the Bible said, the other prisoners were listening. I have no doubt that some among them were laughing and mocking as they heard those songs. Who would sing in a dark dreary place such as this?
I like to think they were using their chains to make music, clanking their irons in time to the beat, setting a rhythm that went with their worship.
For they must have been praising. They must have! Beaten black and blue, chained with irons in an inner dungeon — they weren’t expecting this at all. So whether it was for relief and rescue, acceptance or redemption, they *must* have been praising God.
Have you ever tried praising God in the midst of your sorrow and pain? How did it go?
“Suddenly, there was a massive earthquake, and the prison was shaken to its foundations. All the doors immediately flew open, and the chains of every prisoner fell off!”
Acts of the Apostles 16:26 NLT
Then suddenly, an earthquake.
I will not be surprised to find out that this region of the world isn’t even on a faultline.
This earthquake was so powerful that the chains of every prisoner fell off. The doors fell off their hinges.
And all the prisoners were set free.
Think about that last part. Every prisoner, those who listened, and those who mocked.
God doesn’t discriminate. You can be a sinner or a saint. God will save you no matter what.
Has there ever been a time when you felt that you weren’t worthy of salvation? Or when you felt that God was blessing you even though you didn’t deserve it at all?
“The jailer woke up to see the prison doors wide open. He assumed the prisoners had escaped, so he drew his sword to kill himself. But Paul shouted to him, “Stop! Don’t kill yourself! We are all here!””
Acts of the Apostles 16:27-28 NLT
I wanted them to run! In the words of Gandalf the Grey, “Fly you fools!” For prisoners such as these, especially innocent men, escape must have been the ultimate objective.
But they didn’t.
The jailer expected them to run. So much so that he was ready to kill himself over his certainty.
I’m sure all the prisoners expected themselves to run. Saint or sinner, when you’re in prison and the doors open, you run!
But something stopped them from leaving.
Despite what must have been their most basic responses (fight or flight! Kill or be killed!), they stayed.
In defiance of their own personalities, of what the world dictates that they should do.
Has there ever been a time when you did something completely opposite to how you would normally react? When you felt the Spirit moving so tangibly that you just obeyed despite yourself?
“The jailer called for lights and ran to the dungeon and fell down trembling before Paul and Silas. Then he brought them out and asked, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” They replied, “Believe in the Lord Jesus and you will be saved, along with everyone in your household.” And they shared the word of the Lord with him and with all who lived in his household.”
Acts of the Apostles 16:29-32 NLT
And there it was. The Word of God will not be imprisoned. The Great Commission will not be held back.
I wonder how big the jailer’s household was? I wonder if they are good or bad, rich or poor? They lived in or near the jail. It’s safe to say the majority of them must not have been living very good lives.
Regardless though. Salvation is free and is meant for everyone.
See how God put all the pieces into play for us to hear this message? It was a roller coaster ride right from the start. An angry mob! A scary jail! Beatings, and chains! Iron and wood and stone! Singing and praising!
And then an earthquake, and a not so great escape. A suicidal jailer. An entire household saved.
And then, there’s us. Christians, hundreds of years hence, who are able to read this story and know, beyond doubt, that praise is powerful, and God is great.