16/3/03 10.30 a.m. Acts 16:25-40
25 About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening to them. 26 Suddenly there was such a violent earthquake that the foundations of the prison were shaken. At once all the prison doors flew open, and everybody's chains came loose. 27 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. 28 But Paul shouted, "Don't harm yourself! We are all here!" 29 The jailer called for lights, rushed in and fell trembling before Paul and Silas. 30 He then brought them out and asked, "Sirs, what must I do to be saved?" 31 They replied, "Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved--you and your household." 32 Then they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all the others in his house. 33 At that hour of the night the jailer took them and washed their wounds; then immediately he and all his family were baptized. 34 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 family. 35 When it was daylight, the magistrates sent their officers to the jailer with the order: "Release those men." 36 The jailer told Paul, "The magistrates have ordered that you and Silas be released. Now you can leave. Go in peace."37 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." 38 The officers reported this to the magistrates, and when they heard that Paul and Silas were Roman citizens, they were alarmed. 39 They came to appease them and escorted them from the prison, requesting them to leave the city. 40 After Paul and Silas came out of the prison, they went to Lydia's house, where they met with the brothers and encouraged them. Then they left.
Like us to think about where we sing ? Suggestions ? Church; in a choir; football match; party/disco; in the shower/bath; secretly when house empty; in car - ever noticed how you are sometimes are waiting at traffic lights look in your mirror and see someone singing away to the car radio, like a muppet bouncing around, showing off tonsils;
ever sung in prison ? - I have !
We have just thought of, perhaps unlikely, places where we might sing. But when do we sing ? When we are happy ? Bible says we can also sing when we are in difficulty, or scared. Psalm 59:14ff, Psalmist had said that fierce men conspire against him, then 14 They return at evening, snarling like dogs, and prowl about the city. 15 They wander about for food and howl if not satisfied. 16 But I will sing of your strength, in the morning I will sing of your love; for you are my fortress, my refuge in times of trouble. 17 O my Strength, I sing praise to you; you, O God, are my fortress, my loving God.
Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns in prison. Having visited a prison and helped lead a service it is difficult enough when you are not a prisoner.
Paul and Silas had just been imprisoned. They had been unjustly accused by a mob and beaten at the instigation of magistrates who did not listen to them, but the mob. Jewish law prescribed that no-one could be beaten or flogged more than 39 times. But this would not have applied here and those beating Paul and Silas with rods would not have been counting. Verse 23 says that they were 'severely flogged'.
Paul and Silas were in a dark prison, tired, hungry, surrounded by criminals, their painful wounds untended. You could understand it if they moaned in pain, complained about their situation, worried about what would happen, and cursed those who had unjustly accused, beaten and imprisoned them.
Jesus said, Matthew 5:11 "Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. 12 Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
Paul and Silas prayed, rejoiced and relied upon Jesus, not their surroundings. We don't know exactly what Paul and Silas prayed. However, in the light of Jesus' words I have just quoted they may have thanked God for counting them worthy to be persecuted in the name of Jesus. They probably prayed for those who had falsely accused and beaten them, for the prisoners around them and the jailer.
It is Jesus we are called to pray to and to
worship not our circumstances. When our circumstances block our worship
it is not the work of God. I was recently sent a devotional e-mail which
included this quotation entitled "Good
Advice About God:
Blessings, Happy moments: praise God.
Difficult moments: seek God.
Quiet moments: worship God.
Painful moments: trust God.
Every moment: thank God."
We said that we tend to sing when we are happy but our happiness does not depend on our outward circumstances but in following God's way for us. Four years ago there was a programme called 'God's Army'. It featured Martin and Brenda Neale who gave up a lovely home, a well paid job and a luxurious lifestyle to work full-time for the Salvation Army for £100 per week each. Martin says, 'Though we have very little materially, we are actually happier and more fulfilled than ever.'
Our happiness and our worship should depend upon our relationship with God. Not our feelings, our physical wellbeing, our homes, possessions, cars or holidays.
We have seen the power of God over circumstances. We now see the power of God over the world and over individuals.
After Paul & Silas had prayed and sung there was a violent earthquake, the doors opened and the prisoners' chains came loose. Normally it is a building that is shaken not the foundations. Normally you would not expect an earthquake to open doors and loosen the chains of everyone. This shows the power and the purpose of God. Not to make things easy for people, Paul and his fellow prisoners did not escape, but to bring people to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ.
The jailer woke and thought the prisoners had escaped. This would have resulted in him receiving the death penalty so he decides to kill himself. Paul stops him. We don't know how Paul knew the jailer was going to commit suicide as there were no lights in the jail at that time, cf verse 29. It could be that there was enough light for Paul to see the jailer. It may be that Paul heard the sound of the sword and anticipated what the jailer might be thinking. It is very likely that Paul stopped his fellow prisoners from escaping, perhaps helped by the display of God's power that had just happened.
A few years ago I had a problem in one of my ears and was deaf in it for a say or two until I could go to the Doctor's and get it sorted out. Being only partly deaf made me realise how important my hearing is and how we take it for granted.
It gives you a new perspective on life when, like the jailer you face death. It makes you realise what is really important. Perhaps we need to ask ourselves the question,
'How would I live differently if I knew I was going to die soon ? '
The next question should be , 'Why wait until you face the prospect of death until you change your ways ? '
The jailer saw the power of God in the earthquake. He sees the compassion of God through Paul who stops him from committing suicide. He responded by believing. Not merely believing in the existence of Jesus or believing that God does incredible things. The word refers to a radical trust.
29 The jailer called for lights, rushed in and fell trembling before Paul and Silas. 30 He then brought them out and asked, "Sirs, what must I do to be saved?" 31 They replied, "Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved - you and your household." 32 Then they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all the others in his house.
The jailer was trembling, not just because of the powerful earthquake or because he had been close to death. God's Spirit was clearly at work, bringing him to realise that he needed to repent of his sins and turn to God; "Sirs, what must I do to be saved?"
How would we respond to such a question? May I suggest a six part explanation of the gospel.
One, God created us and the world and everything was prefect.
Two, humankind rejected God and went their own way.
Three, this led to an imperfect world and cut people off from God.
Four, God sent Jesus who was perfect into the world to take the punishment that everyone deserves for their sin.
Five, Jesus rose from the dead to show that his sacrifice on the cross was accepted by God, and that he offers a new resurrection life now and for ever with God.
Six, we have to respond, to accept that we have sinned, that we need Jesus and want to follow him.
Some of us here have been Christians for many years. If we cannot explain the fundamentals of the gospel this will hinder us in our walk with God. It will mean that we will not be confident in our faith because we are fearful of having to explain what it means to be a Christian.
Of course, this does not mean that we cannot share our own faith, because people are always interested in someone else's story. This does not mean that we have to have all the answers either - as those of you who came to the Lent Course on Wednesday night will know. Graham Howe asked me a question about the Pharisees then and I had to say, 'I don't know the answer. I will try and find out and get back to you.' We can all do that if we cannot answer a question about our faith. But we should all be able to explain to someone how to become a Christian.
If people within the congregation feel that they would like to learn more about sharing their faith C.P.A.S. recently launched a new course called 'Lost for Words' dealing with this. If enough people want to we could do this midweek after Easter. Please see me if you would be interested in doing this.
It may be that there are some people here to day that know something of Jesus, maybe you have a belief in him, but Jesus is not in control of your life. Please, realise that that you cannot know God fully until you fully turn to him; relying upon Jesus' death for you on the cross, acknowledging your own inadequacy before God and wanting to make a new start with God. If you do that God will send you his Spirit to live within you to help you to follow Jesus. However, you cannot let the Sprit in until you have thrown Self out.
When we follow Jesus this leads to joy. Not happiness, or pleasure but joy. A security that wells up from within through the Spirit of God. Based on a knowledge that we are saved from our sins, children of God.
The faith of the jailer brought him joy, verse 24. Not just of avoiding physical death but the joy of receiving the gift of life. True life is knowing God through Jesus.
The faith of the jailer also led to social action, compassion for Paul and Silas. He bathed their wounds, brought them to his house and fed them.
Has anyone here ever taken part in a 'sit in', refusing to leave somewhere until something is done, or not done? Here we have probably the first recorded 'sit in' in history by Paul and Silas!
The next morning the magistrates order Paul and Silas to be released. We don't know if this was prompted by the earthquake or the feeling that they had suffered enough to dissuade them from causing further trouble. Paul uses his rights as a Roman citizen to show that the crowd, the magistrates, and their officials have acted incorrectly. A Roman citizen could not be beaten or bound by a magistrate. Violating this could lead to heavy penalties. However, Paul does not insist on this. Merely makes the point by ensuring that the magistrates personally escort him and Silas out of the jail.
This would have the effect of ensuring that the young church in Philippi was not tainted by accusations of wrongdoing. As we discussed on Wednesday night, we all know how some people like to proudly criticize Christians. Perhaps this also demonstrated the grace or undeserved favour of God. Paul could have insisted on the magistrates receiving the punishment of the Roman authorities, but he did not.
40 After Paul and Silas came out of the prison, they went to Lydia's house, where they met with the brothers and encouraged them. Then they left.
In this Chapter we have God changing the lives of three people: Lydia; the slave girl; the jailer and his family. Differing backgrounds, nationalities, sexes, and social standing. Lydia, the jailer and his family called to be part of the emerging church in Philippi.
It appears Luke, the author of Acts may have stayed to help this new church as, in 16:16 he refers to 'we', whereas from Chapter 17 he refers to 'they', perhaps indicating that Paul and Silas continued on to Thessalonica.
The church at Philippi grew. They supported Paul, who had suffered for their sake, ppractically. They sent him money twice to Thessalonica, Phil.4:16, and once to Corinth, 2 Cor. 11:9, and long afterwards, when he was prisoner in Rome, Phil. 4:9-18. About five or six years after this, St. Paul visited Philippi on his way to Jerusalem, and he wrote his epistle to them about ten years after his first journey.
There is evidence of a church at Philippi in the second, third fourth and fifth centuries. It shows what great things can come from small beginnings when God is at work. It also shows that believers are not called into a hermit-like, solitary existence, but into the people of God.
God calls everyone, from whatever background, to find new life in Jesus. To commit themselves to it, to continue in it and in the church.
During the Thirty Years' War (1620 to 1648) the little town of Eilenburg in Saxony suffered severely. It was sacked by Austrians and Swedes. The influx of refugees brought crowding and the plague visited their town four times during the 28 years. Only one pastor survived it all and he sometimes had to conduct funerals for 50 persons in one day. Famine left its mark. When the news of the Peace of Westphalia came the Elector of Saxony ordered Thanksgiving Services to be held.
Pastor Martin Rinkart wrote a hymn of joy and thanksgiving which has now sung in many languages throughout the world. There is particular power in these lines when you remember the horrors of disease, war and death the author had experienced: "Now thank we all our God With hearts and hands, and voices, Who wondrous things hath done, In whom His world rejoices; Who from our mother's arms Hath blessed us on our way With countless gifts of love, And still is ours today."
Like Paul, Silas, Martin Rinkart and countless Christians throughout history we need to stand up for Jesus wherever we are. To put our trust in Him who can set us free. To praise and worship Jesus everywhere that we find ourselves.
suggested songs: And can it be; Stand up, stand up for Jesus; Now thank we all our God; O Jesus I have promised.