Acts 16: 25 – 40 Paul and Silas in prison – part 2
About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening to them. Suddenly there was such a violent earthquake that the foundations of the prison were shaken. At once all the prison doors flew open, and everyone’s chains came loose. The jailer woke up, and when he saw the prison doors open, he drew his sword and was about to kill himself because he thought the prisoners had escaped. But Paul shouted, ‘Don’t harm yourself! We are all here!’
The jailer called for lights, rushed in and fell trembling before Paul and Silas. He then 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 – you and your household.’ Then they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all the others in his house. At that hour of the night the jailer took them and washed their wounds; then immediately he and all his household were baptised. The jailer brought them into his house and set a meal before them; he was filled with joy because he had come to believe in God – he and his whole household.
When it was daylight, the magistrates sent their officers to the jailer with the order: ‘Release those men.’ The jailer told Paul, ‘The magistrates have ordered that you and Silas be released. Now you can leave. Go in peace.’
But Paul said to the officers: ‘They beat us publicly without a trial, even though we are Roman citizens, and threw us into prison. And now do they want to get rid of us quietly? No! Let them come themselves and escort us out.’
The officers reported this to the magistrates, and when they heard that Paul and Silas were Roman citizens, they were alarmed. They came to appease them and escorted them from the prison, requesting them to leave the city. After Paul and Silas came out of the prison, they went to Lydia’s house, where they met with the brothers and sisters and encouraged them. Then they left.
* * *
When Paul and Silas were in prison, God worked a miracle. It was not, however, the miracle you might expect, because he didn’t save Paul and Silas – he saved the jailer and his household.
The jailer had seen how Paul and Silas had acted when they were imprisoned; they had praised God with prayer and singing. Injured, in pain, imprisoned and seemingly at the mercy of the authorities, you would expect them to be cowed, terrified even. And yet they praised God openly, so that the other prisoners could hear.
Knowing the prisoners were in the stocks, and locked up, the jailer dozed off – and then came the miracle. There was an earthquake, the prison doors flew open and everyone’s chains came loose.
“The jailer woke up, and when he saw the prison doors open, he drew his sword and was about to kill himself because he thought the prisoners had escaped.”
Philippi was a Roman city. Both law and custom said that a jailer who let a prisoner escape would suffer the punishment to which the escaped prisoner had been sentenced. What a graphic demonstration of the cruelty and brutality of that pagan society! Death by impaling himself on his sword was preferable to what he was completely certain would happen to him.
But Paul shouted, ‘Don’t harm yourself! We are all here!’
What an astonishing act of witness Paul makes! Instead of fleeing the prison, he chose to stay. He was prepared to risk everything, even his life, to bring the good news of Jesus to the jailer.
The jailer was so shaken by the events, and by Paul’s actions, that he “called for lights, rushed in and fell trembling before Paul and Silas. He then brought them out and asked, ‘Sirs, what must I do to be saved?’”
Paul and Silas explained the good news of Jesus, and God moved the heart of the jailer to respond and accept Jesus as his Lord. His immediate reaction was to treat the wounds of Paul and Silas, and then he and his household were baptised. In the joy of his new-found faith in God, he brought Paul and Silas to his house, and served them a meal.
Luke tells us this story to inspire us to act like Paul and to praise God in all circumstances.
But the story about the jailer is also a metaphor. Society only valued him as a jailer. If he failed in that task, he had no function and his life was worthless. God acted through Paul to tell him about Jesus, who would awaken him to his value in God’s eyes. His life needn’t be defined by his social function; its value was intrinsic, given by God. God loved him.
And that’s a message that is very much relevant today. No matter what happens and no matter what we do, God loves each and every one of us. That, ultimately, is why we are more than our social role, more than the success or failure of our daily life. Each of us is a precious child of God. That is the message that saved the jailer and made him joyful. That is the truth that had Paul and Silas singing in the prison.
That is our truth.
Thank you for loving me. Thank you that I am one of your children. Please help me to witness to you.
In Jesus’ name, Amen