Acts 16: 16-40

Written by kathleen on Sep 27, 2015 in - No Comments

Acts 16:16-40

One of those days

Surprised while burglarizing a house in Antwerp, Belgium, a thief ran out the back door, climbs over a nine-foot wall and dropped down — into the city prison yard. The text in Acts clearly indicates that the Apostle Paul and Silas were having “one of those days.” What about you? Have you ever had a bad day? A bad week?

16 Now it happened, as we went to prayer, that a certain slave girl possessed with a spirit of divination met us, who brought her masters much profit by fortune-telling. 17 This girl followed Paul and us, and cried out, saying, “These men are the servants of the Most High God, who proclaim to us the way of salvation.” 18 And this she did for many days. But Paul, greatly annoyed, turned and said to the spirit, “I command you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her.” And he came out that very hour.

Why did Paul want this girl to stop? Because this didn’t just happen once or twice; she kept up this chant for “many days” and because he didn’t appreciate the source, and could do without demonic approval of his ministry! The claims made may have been true in one sense but they were open to misunderstanding by the pagan hearers. The term “Most High God” was commonly applied to Zeus, and “the way of salvation” could also be misunderstood by nonbelievers.   Paul did the same as Jesus, stopped the mouths of demons when they attempted to testify to his claims. “First, That to have permitted demons to testify for the truth would have convinced the people that there was an alliance between them and Paul.“Second, This supposed alliance would have caused all the good character of Jesus and the apostles to reflect upon the demons, and all the evil of the demons to reflect upon  them.Third; “If Jesus and the apostles had given recognition to demonswhile telling the truth, they could have used their endorsement to gain credibility when telling a lie; and thus,  believers would be left to the mercy of seducing spirits, fulfilling, what Paul said to Timothy that, ‘In the latter times some will depart from the faith, giving heed to deceiving spirits and doctrines of demons, 2 speaking lies in hypocrisy (in disguise,) having their own conscience seared with a hot iron, 1Tim 4:1-2

What might have appeared at first to be a good thing was becoming a nuisance and a distraction.

This girl, through demon possessed, was a source of profit for her owners as a fortune teller, because demons would give her supernatural insight into the lives of others.

And then things just go from bad to worse for Paul and Silas.

19 But when her masters saw that their hope of profit was gone, they seized Paul and Silas and dragged them into the marketplace to the authorities.

This whole mess was instigated because her masters saw that their hope of profit was gone. The masters cared nothing for the girl only for their ability to exploit her demonic possession for money. They were occultic “pimps,” prostituting her spiritually.

20 And they brought them to the magistrates, and said, “These men, being Jews, exceedingly trouble our city; 21 and they teach customs which are not lawful for us, being Romans, to receive or observe.” 22 Then the multitude rose up together against them; and the magistrates tore off their clothes and commanded them to be beaten with rods. 23 And when they had laid many stripes on them, they threw them into prison, commanding the jailer to keep them securely. 24 Having received such a charge, he put them into the inner prison and fastened their feet in the stocks.

In the Roman Empire there were normally two magistrates per colony and there were two very different laws: one for citizens of the Roman Empire, and one for those who were not citizens. Roman citizens had specific civil rights which were extremely guarded. Non-citizens had no civil rights, and were subject to the discretion of both the people and the magistrates.

Since they assumed Paul and Barnabas were not Roman citizens, they were offended that these obviously Jewish men would harass Roman citizens with their strange religion of a crucified Savior. Therefore the people and the magistrates felt free to abuse Paul and Silas because they assumed they were not Roman citizens.

In Jewish legal tradition, there was a maximum number of blows that could be delivered when beating a person, but the Romans had no such limit. The point being Paul and Silas were severely beaten.

After such a bad beating, they were put in prison with terrible conditions and their feet were fastened in the stocks.

“These stocks had more than two holes for legs, which the legs could be forced apart in a such a way as to cause the most discomfort and pain.”

25 But at midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them. 26 Suddenly there was a great earthquake, so that the foundations of the prison were shaken; and immediately all the doors were opened and everyone’s chains were loosed. 27 And the keeper of the prison, awaking from sleep and seeing the prison doors open, supposing the prisoners had fled, drew his sword and was about to kill himself. 28 But Paul called with a loud voice, saying, “Do yourself no harm, for we are all here.” 29 Then he called for a light, ran in, and fell down trembling before Paul and Silas. 30 And he brought them out and said, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” 31 So they said, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved, you and your household.”

This does not mean, as has been suggested, “If you believe, your whole house will be saved.” No, it means, “You believe and you’ll be saved. And when your family believes, they’ll be saved as well.”

 What the see will be the change in your life words and actions!

32 Then they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all who were in his house. 33 And he took them the same hour of the night and washed their stripes. And immediately he and all his family were baptized.

What a strange sound it must have been to the other prisoners! These two saying Prayers and singing praises unto God at midnight, in the prison. Those prison walls had probably never heard such a sound!

Suddenly there was a great earthquake: This earthquake was clearly supernatural. This was not only because of its timing and location, but in the way that all the doors were opened and everyone’s chains were loosed: The jailer’s reaction had good reason behind it. Guards who allowed their prisoners to escape had to bear the penalty of their escaped prisoners. Knowing this, Paul called with a loud voice as he assures the jailer that no one has escaped.

It would have been easy for Paul and Silas to escape thinking God had instigated another miraculous jailbreak. But to them, the lives of others were more important than their own personal freedom and comfort. Paul would later write in Phil 2:3-4 Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself. 4 Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others.

This may have even been the same guard who beat them a few hours earlier! Yet this keeper of the prison fell down trembling not in fear of the earth quake. Instead He was more affected by the love and grace and from their ability to have joy even in misery – that he instantly wants the kind of life that Paul and Silas have. This is how God wants our lives to be drawing people to Him. Our Christianity should make others want what we have with God.

Paul’s answer to the keeper of the prison’s question (what must I do to be saved?) is a classic statement of the essence of the gospel: believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved.

This is salvation by grace alone, received by faith alone.

Notice Paul never specifically called the keeper of the prison to repent because he was already repenting. We see the humble repentance of the jailer in that he fell down trembling, with the full idea of the word believe which means to trust in, rely on, and cling to, along with the command to believe on the Lord Jesus Christ.

Paul was, under inspiration by the Holy Spirit, telling the keeper of the prison that his household would trust Jesus just as he did and it seems to be a specific promise for that Philippian jailer. Yet it is just as true for us today!

34 Now when he had brought them into his house, he set food before them; and he rejoiced, having believed in God with all his household.

The same jailer who had been punishing them was now ministering to Paul and Silas, caring for their wounds and feeding them. This shows how repentant he was and how he followed the example of love shown by Paul and Silas. The result was the jailer and his famil accepted Jesus as Savior and saw no reason to delay baptism; they were baptized that very night.

35 And when it was day, the magistrates sent the officers, saying, “Let those men go.” 36 So the keeper of the prison reported these words to Paul, saying, “The magistrates have sent to let you go. Now therefore depart, and go in peace.”

37 But Paul said to them, “They have beaten us openly, un-condemned Romans, and have thrown us into prison. And now do they put us out secretly? No indeed! Let them come themselves and get us out.” 38 And the officers told these words to the magistrates, and they were afraid when they heard that they were Romans.

Thinking Paul and Silas were merely Jews, the magistrates felt completely justified in beating them without a trial. But to have done so to a Roman citizen was a great offense.

39 Then they came and pleaded with them and brought them out, and asked them to depart from the city. So they agree to go, but only after they had seen the brethren and encouraged them. Paul and Silas would not be hurried out of town until they had brought their work there to a conclusion.

Why didn’t Paul say, “Wait a minute. I’m a Roman citizen,” before they were beaten, before he was thrown into the dungeon, before he was locked in stocks? Why didn’t Paul claim his Roman citizenship earlier instead when he did?

I believe the answer lies in verse 40 So they went out of the prison and entered the house of Lydia; and when they had seen the brethren, they encouraged them and departed. Notice that Paul and Silas comforted the brethren. This poses an interesting question: Until the time Paul and Silas landed in prison, all they had seen were women.

Who, then, were these brethren?

I suggest they were the prisoners who, in the dungeon with Paul and Silas, were converted when they heard his prayers and songs of praise

 Paul’s mind-set concerning himself was, “Go ahead. Beat me. Throw me in prison. I’ve been looking for some men to work with—now I can begin a jail ministry!” When you and I come to the point where we get our eyes off ourselves and can say, “I don’t care what happens to me—but when it comes to my brothers and sisters, I’ll go to the wall for them and do whatever I can to cover and protect them,” that’s Christian maturity.

Most of us protect ourselves and figure whatever happens to others is God’s will. Paul did just the opposite. He constantly put others first. No wonder the Lord could use him.

As we leave this chapter Paul and Silas leave behind two converts: Lydia and the prison guard. Each of these two had their lives touched by Jesus in very different ways.

Lydia was a church goer waiting to here the truth about Jesus; the guard was not.

Lydia was prospering in business; the guard was about to kill himself

Lydia’s heart was gently opened; the guard’s heart was confronted.

The guard had a remarkable sign – an earthquake

Lydia had the move of the Holy Spirit in her heart.

Both heard the gospel and believed, and through each of them their whole families were saved!

While it is true that even a Child of God can have a bad day, a bad day will not have the last word. God gets the last Word and His Word says in Psalm 30 weeping may last for the night, but a shout of joy comes in the morning.

So when things seem to be going from bad to worse and you find yourself saying; Why does it seem like I am in prison? Why are things not happening? Why aren’t things opening up as quickly as I hoped they would?  Could it be because there are prisoners and jailers watching, who are about to see what happens in your life when things are shaken up?

Could it be because there are people who need to see what’s going to happen to you in the midnight hour?

You see when those around you hear you singing in the day of trouble, like the jailer they will say, “What must I do to be saved?”