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.
Thoughts on the passage:
Acts is the story of the disciples and the newly born church living into the resurrection. It is a story of transformations: both personal and corporate. In Acts we watch as people personally come to know the message of the resurrection and see their lives transformed. We also see a transformation occurring within the church as it goes from being a Jewish movement to a new faith tradition that we now know as Christianity.
Our story today contains two instances of transformation. The first is when Paul casts out the demon, offering freedom from spiritual captivity (we never learn if the slave was freed from her other form of captivity. Jailed for causing this to happen, Paul and Silas create a second transformation when they convert the jailer and his whole family to Christianity. This happens when they save him from his own sword and show him the grace and love of God.
I want to focus more on this second transformation and look at why it occurs at all. Reading scripture, here is what we know. Paul is put in jail and like any good pastor he just keeps on preaching and teaching despite the change in scenery. If that seems unbelievable, just ask a pastor to say a few quick words and see how long they talk. Based on prisons of those days, it is likely that the jailer would have been able to easily hear what it was that Paul was teaching to the fellow prisoners. When an earthquake occurs the jailer fears that all of the prisons will have fled but he is surprised to learn that they all remained in their cells. Not only that, Paul works instead to save the jailer from his own act of self-destruction. It is at this point that the jailer asks to be saved.
What causes this transformation? While the Bible does not specifically say, I think it was because of Paul’s actions or really lack of action that caused the transformation. If it was Paul’s preaching, he would have asked to be saved prior to the earthquake. If it was the earthquake, then he would not have tried to kill himself. I think what really caused the transformation was the peace that Paul approached the situation with. Paul was living the resurrection. Paul believed so much in his new life in Christ that he did not care that he was in jail. Even when given his chance at freedom he was fine to remain where he was. The jailer saw that kind of attitude and wanted to know how he too could come to know that peace and life.
When you think about it, it really makes sense. Think about something like weight loss. We all know how to lose weight. You need to exercise and you need to eat healthy. Both are really simple concepts. We have even probably heard some great talks about weight loss. All of that is great. What is usual more powerful is seeing someone whose life has been changed (very visibly) by losing weight. We see a person we know exercising, eating healthy, and losing weight and we are going to be far more inspired. We are going to want to be like them, not because of what they say, but because of how they live.
Paul’s life was transformed by his experience of the risen Christ. Now, later in Acts he has embraced the belief that he is forgiven and that through Christ he has found new life. The way he lives his life is a reflection of his belief in the resurrection. What attracts others to Christ is not just his powerful words and ideas, but the way that his belief radiates out from him.
The challenge for each of us is to ask the question, “is how we live a testament to our faith.” I worry that for me the answer is not always a resounding “YES.” Growing up, I had a wonderful example of faith in my mother. My father was also helpful but I only came to appreciate that later in life and this is Mother’s Day weekend, not Father’s Day so I will save that example for another time.
January 15th, 1991 was Deadline Day. It was the day that President Bush had set as a deadline for Iraqi troops to exit Kuwait. We started bombing on January 17th. I remember these dates because my mother was in Iraq on January 14th and was still working to fly back out of the region on January 17th. She was there leading a group of students as a part of her work with the Fellowship of Reconciliation, a non-profit committed to nonviolence. Her faith compelled her to take action. She lived out her beliefs, not just with words but with actions.
We need to live our lives like the resurrection is real to us too. What does that mean? It means that we need to live like our sins are forgiven. We need to live like we have been given new life. If we really believe in the resurrection, we need to make sure that our lives demonstrate that same level of faith. Paul was willing to set aside his own life to follow Christ. His trust in God was so complete that even threats of prison and death paled compared to living out his call. When people look at our lives will they see similar signs of resurrection?
Questions to Ponder:
Who is someone you know who lives a life of resurrection?
When is a time that you convinced not with words but with actions and experiences?
What can you do differently to live out your belief in the resurrection?