This is one of my favorite stories about Paul and Silas. Not because of how they were treated but because of the joy they found in the midst of trouble. Also how God moved on their behalf.
We ended yesterday with Paul and Silas, beaten bloody, thrown into the innermost part of the prison. They weren’t just locked behind a door but put in stocks to keep them in one place. They are cold, in pain, bloody, wearing remnants of their torn garments, and hungry. All because they silenced a demon and sent him packing.
If you are anything like me, the farthest thing from your mind if we were in this situation is singing and praising God. We might be inclined to pray but it would probably be a prayer that went something like this; “God! Get me out of here! And while You are doing that, punish those who put me here.”
But “Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God” (verse 25). They were seeking comfort in their creator instead of vengeance on their tormenters. Because of this they were being witnesses to the other prisoners around them. Who knows how many there were but they were all listening.
When my husband was in the hospital for heart surgery he didn’t wake up when he was supposed to. In fact it took him 4 DAYS to finally wake up! I felt like I was in prison! During that time I took a lesson from Paul and Silas. I prayed and I sang. I stayed in his room every day for as long as they would let me and I sang. I also read the whole book of Psalms and picked out ones that spoke to my heart.
While I was singing others were listening in too. There were several other visitors who commented to me that my singing brought comfort to them and their loved ones who were on the same ward. This is the same gift Paul and Silas gave to the other prisoners. They were hearing that God had not forgotten them and that He was big enough to handle their situation too.
God moved mightily on behalf of Paul and Silas. He shook the very foundations of the prison, popped all the doors open, and unlocked every chain! Paul and Silas were already free in their spirits, now their bodies joined in that freedom.
One of the most remarkable parts of this story is what the prisoner did, or better yet, didn’t do at this point. Instead of everyone making a mad rush for freedom they all stayed right where they were. What made them do this? Were they too scared or awe struck to move? Were they trying to stay close to Paul and Silas because of the comfort they received that night? Were they thinking it was a trick? Was it the Holy Spirit that kept them from acting on that freedom? What kept all those prisoners in their open cells?
The doors weren’t just unlocked that night, they were standing wide open. Our jailer expected the cells to be empty and that his life would be forfeit as a result. He planned to kill himself because the kind of death he would receive at the hands of his superiors would NOT be quick and merciful. I can just imagine the fear in his heart.
Insert another miracle here. Paul and Silas, still sitting in their cell KNEW what the jailer was planning. I’m sure they heard his footsteps as he came running in but how did they know it was him and not one of the guards? How did they know he was going to kill himself? And how did they know all the other prisoners hadn’t made good of their escape? It is still dark when all this is going on, yet Paul has the confidence to YELL out to the jailer that they were all still there and not to harm himself.
After hearing Paul’s reassurance the jailer calls for lights. Did he also call for his men to refasten all the doors and chains? He himself went directly to Paul and Silas’ cell. He KNEW where this amazing event had originated from. He recognized Paul and Silas as men of God. Did he have any idea they were God’s servants when he put them in their cell in the beginning? Because of his precautions I think he might have expected their God to do something. Or were his precautions intended to keep them safe from the other prisoners for the night?
When the jailer brought Paul and Silas out of their cell, what happened to the other prisoners? Were they all left where they were? I’m assuming that by then the locks had been reengaged. The jailer only has eyes and ears for Paul and Silas now. But more than that, he finally has his eyes on his future and eternity. “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” (verse 30). He saw their God’s physical salvation and knew He must also hold eternal salvation for them too and he wanted it for his own life.
I was just noticing something. The jailer and his household must have all come to the prison when the doors flew open. I say this because Luke tells us that Paul and Silas shared the word of the Lord with him and everyone in his house. The jailer then washed their wounds “the same hour of the night” and him and his whole family were baptized. THEN he brought them to his house and fed them. So the teaching, washing their wounds and baptism happened inside the prison. I wonder if any of the other prisoners also received the word and were baptized. How many people got to listen to Paul and Silas’ message that night? Talk about “Prison Ministry!”
When morning comes and the charges are quietly dropped Paul is NOT amused. He gets bold again. “They have beaten us publicly, uncondemned, men who are Roman citizens, and have thrown us into prison; and do they now throw us out secretly? No! Let them come themselves and take us out” (verse 37). Paul was NOT going to make this easy on them. He had remained silent while being beaten and hauled off to jail but he was not going to quietly disappear. He wanted an apology.
The magistrates got scared when they heard that Paul and Silas were Roman citizens. The treatment given to Paul and Silas was not something that any Roman citizen would have been subjected to. There were rules and procedures for dealing with citizens. They had rights that those living in the territories that were conquered didn’t and those rights were trampled the night before. There could have been some serious repercussions if Paul and Silas pursued the issue.
The magistrates came personally to the prison to beg forgiveness and to ask Paul and Silas to leave peacefully. “We are sorry. We didn’t know but can you please just go on your way? We don’t want to have a repeat of the upheaval in town again.”
One last stop and they were on their way. They weren’t about to leave without stopping by to say good-bye to the new believers. I bet the jailer and his family would join this new church too.
Father God, once again You used difficult circumstances to make amazing things happen. You brought Paul and Silas peace in the midst of their suffering just like You did for me. Thank You for that. Thank You too for the breaking of the chains in my prison. Thank You for the ability to sing and for Your word. Without those two pieces I wouldn’t have made it through. You even ministered to my husband through the music when nothing else could reach him. Thank You for that too.
Remind me again Lord Jesus when I come into hard times of the freedom that comes when I turn it all over to You. Keep filling my heart with songs in the darkest of nights. Thank You for returning music to my soul when it had been missing for a while. Thank You for shattering my chains so they can never be put back on again. Thank You for coming and taking me out of my prison cell. I was just sitting there when the door was wide open. I needed YOU to show me I was truly free!
I WILL PRAISE THE LORD! That is where real freedom is found!