The other night in our Los Cedros cell churchish meeting that takes place in Mark and Anna Burgess‘ house, Amanda Wissmann shared a great word out of Acts 16. You may recall I’ve mentioned that on Sunday nights we are going through, loosely, each chapter of the book of Acts. This is not to be confused with the cell group we’ve just started in my home doing an inductive Bible study on the same book, of which we are still in the third chapter since we just began it.
We were talking about Paul and Silas worshipping and singing hymns while in prison. It’s another familiar passage in which sometimes our preconceived notions prohibit us from getting new observations and revelation from it. Easy to do, since this book is full of narrative. However, I caught a few details I had never noticed before. If you will recall, they had been thrown in prison after Paul had cast a demon out of a woman who, by some kind of fortune telling or prophesying had been making her slave owners lots of money, and when they realized their source of income was gone (never mind that the woman was set free!) they were infuriated. And as often seems to be the case, found a way to get Paul and Silas arrested for their preaching under the guise they were trying to provoke the Romans to do Jewish things that were illegal (see verses 16-24).
At any rate, here we have Paul and Silas in prison, probably in worse conditions than we tend to think of when we think of modern-day prisons.
25 About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them, 26 and 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 bonds were unfastened.
Did you catch that? Everyone’s bonds were unfastened. Not just Paul and Silas, who were put in the prison unjustly. But even the other criminals who had been put there, presumably, for real crimes. All were set free by this power of God in that one moment. I’m iffy on whether any of them tried to escape, but it looks like they didn’t. They probably all stayed put out of fear. More than likely they were wearing rags for clothes and had been fastened to stocks in dungeon-like chambers that would resemble sewers to modern readers. They might not have been in a hurry to go anywhere, since as we see later, the jailer had to clean Paul and Silas’ wounds once he got converted, which leads us to that;
27 When the jailer woke and saw that the prison doors were open, he drew his sword and was about to kill himself, supposing that the prisoners had escaped.
This verse makes me laugh a bit to myself. Do you think the earthquake woke the jailer up, or do you think he somehow managed to sleep through this earthquake and then some time later woke up and realized something had happened? I live in earthquake-prone Peru, and the last three tremors that happened at night woke me up, and they were just tremors. This jailer somehow was sleeping through a “great earthquake.” I guess some of us are heavier sleepers than others.
Upon quick inspection he supposed that everybody escaped, and to avoid execution for having lost the captives, proceeded to prepare to kill himself but Paul and Silas stopped him,
28 But Paul cried with a loud voice, “Do not harm yourself, for we are all here.”29 And the jailer[f] called for lights and rushed in, and trembling with fear he fell down before Paul and Silas.30 Then he brought them out and said, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” 31 And they said, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.”
I think this passage is awesome. Remember how earlier in the chapter Paul thought he’d go to Asia but the Holy Spirit forbid him to do so (v 6-7) and then one night Paul had a dream about a man asking him to come to Macedonia urging him and saying, “Come over to Macedonia and help us” (v. 9). Could it be possible the man in Paul’s dream was this jailer, and God was getting Paul to go to Macedonia because this jailor would be a person of peace that would result in lot more than if Paul went to Asia?
God is intimately concerned with the individual, but not only that, His grace and power extends to all, just like the way all the chains were broken loose, not just the ones of Paul and Silas when the great earthquake struck the building and set them free. Likewise God extends this grace and power to everybody.
Are you withholding it from anybody?