by Bryce Bouchard
Acts 16:22-34 The crowd joined in the attack against Paul and Silas, and the magistrates ordered them to be stripped and beaten with rods. After they had been severely flogged, they were thrown into prison, and the jailer was commanded to guard them carefully. When he received these orders, he put them in the inner cell and fastened their feet in the stocks.
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 baptized. 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.
It’s Friday afternoon and I’m headed to the Beta Theta Pi house on campus. I’m almost old enough to be these young men’s dads. A handful of the men in the house have come to faith in Christ in the last few weeks. And, not surprisingly, recently there have been a few guys in the house who are really peeved about our ministry’s presence and the impact the Gospel is having on their fraternity.
I try to reason that I need not worry about these men’s opinion or derision. In reality, however, I know that it is impacting me. I start thinking about how as a nonbeliever I similarly used to mock Tim, the Christian whom God was using to reach out to my friends and me. Though I know it was Tim’s persistence in spite of my rejection that helped bring me to faith in Jesus, I am having a hard time mustering the desire to keep showing up to Beta for more rejection.
As I am getting closer to the house I am praying and telling the Lord how I long to move forward in courage for the sake of these men coming to know Jesus. I am then greatly emboldened on my way as God brings this very passage in Acts 16 to mind.
Here are Paul and Silas in the inner cell of a prison. Grouped together with a motley group of prisoners who are likely murderers and thieves, they are all fastened with chains like animals. I can imagine the musty and putrid smell of urine, feces and dried blood must be awful. As if that were not bad enough, they have just been severely beaten with rods. Surely they each have several broken bones from the beating. It is safe to assume they have splitting headaches and are concussed from the brutal beating with rods. Their fingers are still throbbing from being crushed. Sharp pains shoot through their rib cages as they inhale, and their broken ribs cry out for relief.
It’s purely conjecture, but I don’t think it would be a stretch to assume that the jailer put in charge of guarding them is not the nicest fellow. Perhaps he even glories in the power he holds over the men. Likely, as often happens with prison guards, this jailer sees them not as men, but as animals. To see them as fellow humans would inevitably cause pity and compassion. How could you participate in such brutality if you were a kind man with a heart filled with empathy? No, more likely this jailer may even find a twisted pleasure in further torturing his subjects. Perhaps Paul, after an initial fleshly reaction of disdain coursing through his heart is reminded of Jesus…the one who said to those who were murdering him, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.” Jesus, the one who showed such pity to him when Paul himself acted in violence and oversaw the torture and murder of innocent Christians. Perhaps this compels Paul to plead to the Lord on behalf of this jailer. He begs the Father for love for his captor.
As Paul and Silas pour out their hearts to God, perhaps one of them quotes from memory the words of Psalm 50:23 “He who sacrifices thank offerings honors me, and prepares the way so that I may show him the salvation of God.” The other prisoners, themselves in misery, depression, despair are shocked as they hear these men’s prayers move from cries for help, to reminding themselves of God’s goodness and then welling up into songs of joy. “What kind of God is this these men serve?”
And then it happens. The floor begins rumbling. The walls begin to shake violently. Earthquakes are not terribly unusual in this part of the country, but this does not seem like a typical earthquake. The multiple locks fall off all the prison doors, and they fly open. Then everyone’s chains mysteriously fall off, but no one is harmed. Surely the God to whom Paul and Silas are praying is a powerful God. And this God has just rewarded Paul and Silas’ faith by freeing them from this unbearable discomfort.
As the rumbling stops and the dust settles, suddenly something happens more amazing than the earthquake, more powerful than self-loosening chains falling off or locked doors flying open. Paul, who has just seen the providence of God in freeing him, looks over and sees the jailer about to run himself through with the sword. He knows he was to watch these prisoners under penalty of his own life, and he thinks they have just escaped. Paul yells at the top of his lungs, “Don’t harm yourself! We are all here!” Is he crazy? No, he’s not crazy. It’s just that God has given Paul a greater commitment to this jailer’s soul than he has to his own comfort.
I prayed that afternoon on my way to the Beta Theta Pi house, and I often pray, “Lord, just as you did for your servant Paul in Acts 16, would you give me a greater concern for the souls of men than I have for my own comfort?”
Paul’s willingness to allow God to work in his heart toward one who was making his life uncomfortable led to this man and his whole house coming to saving faith in Christ Jesus. Who is making your life uncomfortable right now because of your faith? Are you willing to be rejected for the sake of others knowing God? Take time and pray that God would burden your heart with His love for others to come to know Him even if it costs your own comfort.
Application: What did God speak to you about in today’s reading? Are there any action steps for you to take?