Acts 16:11-34
Praise From Prison

Authored By Rev. Takao Kiyohiro, Tokyo, Japan

Different Sermon From 970316

Paul And Silas Jailed

1. "Around the middle of the night, as Paul and Silas were praying to God and singing praise songs, the other prisoners were listening to it," (verse twenty-five). The figure of these two men praying and singing praises in jail is particularly impressive even within the whole book of Acts. So, why were they in jail? As it was in the middle of Paul's second missionary journey, we would tend to think that they were experiencing persecution for their faith. But, we need to be careful about this point. Actually, they were not put in jail due to a persecution against Christianity.

2. Let's take a look at the nitty gritty details. While staying over in Philippi, they had dealings with a slave woman overtaken by a spirit of divination. She followed Paul and Silas from behind and was shouting, "These men are servants of the most high God and are preaching to everyone the way of salvation," (verse seventeen). This went on for several days. What she was saying was not wrong as for her words. But, when the diviner stated them and the people listened to them, its meaning had turned completely into something else beside the gospel of Christ. It turned into a hindrance and an obstacle to preaching. When Paul couldn't take it no more, he ordered the spirit that was controlling the woman, "I command you in the name of Jesus Christ. Come out of her." Whereupon, the spirit came out of her.

3. However, that wasn't all. [There was more to come] because the slave woman had been telling fortunes and would make the owners a great deal of profit. She was happy to be freed from the evil spirit, but her masters suffered loss in revenue as their way of making money off the fortunetelling was cut off. Therefore, they arrested Paul and Silas, marched them off to the town square, hauled them off to the high officials and set charges against them. If this were a normal case of gains and losses, a legal investigation ought to have begun in accordance with the charges. But, something abnormal was going on here, which is, "Becoming as one, the crowd accused the two men," (verse twenty-two). Worse still, since this turned into quite an uproar, in order to appease and calm the crowd, the high officials ordered that they strip the clothes of these two men off them and that they "beat them with whips." When it was over Paul and Silas had been whipped severely and then they were thrown into jail.

4. Why did this unusual situation take place, which never should have, in a constitutional state such as it was? Was it because they were preaching Jesus Christ? Or because they were Christians? No, that wasn't why. It didn't matter to the people whether these men were Christians or not. We see why from the statement of the men who made the charges. They said, "These men are Jews and are disrupting our town," (verse twenty). In other words, Paul and Silas had gotten into trouble not because they were Christians but because they were Jews.

5. In regard to this point we need to think about the special situation of the town of Philippi topped on. As per verse twelve, Philippi was a "leading colony of Rome." This town might as well have been called Little Rome the way it was there with Latin the language spoken, being ruled under Roman law, and Latin inscribed even on the currency in use. Its influential residents were settlers like war veterans who had the right to Roman citizenship. To these Romans a Jew was no more than one of the conquered peoples in the occupied territory. As seen from their eyes the Jews stubbornly persisted in their own customs, they must have look liked some special kind of people refusing to ever assimilate into the empire of Rome. That there had been no small amount of anti-Jewish sentiment strongly rooted within the Romans is shown by the words of "They preach customs that we citizens of imperial Rome have neither accepted nor permitted them to practice" in verse twenty-one. And also, Paul had only found "a place of prayer" (verse thirteen) which had never been established as a Jewish synagogue at Philippi, which means that Jews were very very few in number. That was the circumstances into which Jews were put at Philippi. This incident took place under these such conditions.

6. In times when drawbacks or costs come because of one's friends or people stronger than themselves, people are patient with it to a [greater] degree. The owners of this slave woman, for example, probably wouldn't have fussed like this had they suffered a drawback due to an imperial decree. But, people have no patience whenever they suffer a loss due to someone they despise and look down upon. The thing that got them impatient was that, of all people, it was 'these Jews' bothering their fortunetelling business and bringing them losses. And this feeling they had stemming from a mentality of discrimination was simply infectious. When a fire is lit, it burns up in a lickety split. Even the general public, who had suffered no direct losses, accused Paul and Silas. This mindset of discrimination was the same among the high officials in public office. Without making any investigation, they had the two men beaten with whips.

7. We need to carefully consider that this was not related to the preaching of the gospel, nor was it opposition to the Christian faith, but was a lynching and an imprisoning due to anti-Semitism which was of a totally different context from [Christianity]. Whenever there is suffering and hard times involving an endeavor for which one [would] risk one's life and go to battle over, a person is more able to tolerate the pain. In order to fulfill an ideal society or to occasion a revolution, there are plenty of people enough who would endure torture or shed their blood. Enduring hardships for the realization of one's high ideals, whenever a person has them, brings an individual pride and even joy at that. On the other hand, it is truly difficult to endure a suffering in which one does not understand its purpose. People lose patience with unfair treatment or suffering disconnected from some kind of value. But, the overwhelming majority of the suffering we experience is not comprised of pain that is directly connected to meaning or value. Is it?

8. The Paul and the Silas of this chapter both were placed in a burden which was completely meaningless, and which was only unfair treatment, and which was only the result of anti-Semitism. But they were praising the LORD!

9. Why were Paul and Silas giving praise while in jail? Getting the answer is simple. Because they were looking to God. As they were looking to Him who is worthy of praise, they gave Him praise. Why were they praying? Because they were looking to God. Because they were looking to Him who would answer their prayers. Just like they praised God while they were outside of jail, they were just praising God while in jail. It wasn't anything more or less than that.

10. Whether or not there was meaning in the suffering that they had experienced must not have been the most important thing to them. Whatever meaning there might be, if God was thinking about them, that was enough. The most important thing to them was that God was thinking about them. Just as when they were outside of jail, it was still true that they were in God's presence even [though they were] inside of jail. The truth was that they were allowed into the presence of the Lord and could worship Him even in a place like that. Even though surrounded by walls on every side, it was still true that they could draw near to their loving Lord.

The Conversion Of The Jailer

11. The story goes on. That night, all of a sudden, a great earthquake came up. Earthquakes are natural phenomena. But, that an earthquake took place on that night should probably be considered as a miraculous intervention of God. It looks to me like the word "suddenly" in verse twenty-six and the depiction that "all at once the jail doors all opened, and the chains of every prisoner were off them," seem to emphasize that this is a miraculous intervention of God.

12. But, a person is not limited to encountering God by miracle or supernatural phenomenon. At the least, the jailer who was standing watch had seen the surprising event; but, it was not through that that he had found God. The fact of the jail doors opening up in and of itself was very significant to him. In thinking that the prisoners had escaped the jailer pulled out his sword and was ready to kill himself.

13. The biggest thing that happened for the jailer was not really the earthquake, but what happened after it. He heard a voice crying aloud from the darkness. He heard the voice of Paul saying, "Do not hurt yourself. We are all here." But, even still the important thing itself was not really in those words either, nor was it in the fact that the prisoners had not escaped. That's not what was really important to the jailer, rather, the jailer himself was spared from death and in that he came face to face with God. He came to realize perfectly that he was being drawn into the presence of the living God, whom Paul and Silas had been praising in the darkness. So, he wasn't just happy that his prisoners hadn't escaped. He was shivering. He laid himself down prostrate trembling, and said to them as he took them outside, "Teachers, what should I do to be saved?"

14. When a person truly begins to be aware that one is in the presence of the living God, one question becomes the overriding important question of all questions at that time. It is the question of will I be accepted by God or will I instead be condemned unto destruction as a sinner by God? Another way to put the question is will I be forgiven or will I not be forgiven, will I be saved or will I not be saved? So, the jailer at that time and place could not avoid wondering that question and so he said, "What should I do to be saved?"

15. He inquired, "What should I do? (What am I supposed to put into practice?)" However, Paul did not directly answer to this question because salvation cannot be obtained by some actions we do or in exchange for something. The main thing is not "What I do?" but "In whom do I believe?" We are to believe in Him who has come into this world to save sinners. Paul answered, "Believe on the Lord Jesus. In so doing, both you and your family will be saved."

16. Paul and Silas spoke the word of the Lord to the jailer and his family. They believed in the Lord and were baptized. Then it says in the Bible that "they rejoiced that he had become a believer in God along with his family," (verse thirty-four). What happened to them after that? There is no way even for us to know. We can just imagine that in the church at Philippi that had recently been born, their having begun observances in the worship of God along with some other Christians would have precipitated a great deal of hardship and suffering into their daily lives.

17. However, I don't think whether they had hard times or not in their daily lives, or if there was meaning in their suffering or not was the overriding important thing to them. [I say that] because they rejoiced in that "he had become a believer" [along with his family] and they were not rejoicing that their suffering had all gone away. The most important thing to them must have been just like it was for Paul and Silas; it was in that they were in the presence of God and that they were in the presence of God as persons whom God had forgiven and accepted.

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