Jun 3, 2019
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Thanks for joining me today for "A Little Walk with God." I'm your host Richard Agee.
In yesterday’s lectionary we see a story that could have come from the headlines today. “Religious fanatics destroy livelihood of poor peasant girl: riot ensues!” Here’s how Luke tells the story to Theophalis in Acts 16 as translated in The Voice.
One day, as we were going to the place set aside for prayer, we encountered a slave girl. She made a lot of money for her owners as a fortune-teller, assisted by some sort of occult spirit. She began following us.
Slave Girl (shouting): These men are slaves like me, but slaves of the Most High God! They will proclaim to you the way of liberation!
The next day as we passed by, she did the same thing—and again on the following days. One day Paul was really annoyed, so he turned and spoke to the spirit that was enslaving her.
Paul: I order you in the name of Jesus, God’s Anointed: Come out of her!
It came right out. But when her owners realized she would be worthless now as a fortune-teller, they grabbed Paul and Silas, dragged them into the open market area, and presented them to the authorities.
Slave Owners: These men are troublemakers, disturbing the peace of our great city. They are from some Jewish sect, and they promote foreign customs that violate our Roman standards of conduct.
The crowd joined in with insults and insinuations, prompting the city officials to strip them naked in the public square so they could be beaten with rods. They were flogged mercilessly and then were thrown into a prison cell. The jailer was ordered to keep them under the strictest supervision. The jailer complied, first restraining them in ankle chains, then locking them in the most secure cell in the center of the jail.
Picture this: It’s midnight. In the darkness of their cell, Paul and Silas—after surviving the severe beating—aren’t moaning and groaning; they’re praying and singing hymns to God. The prisoners in adjoining cells are wide awake, listening to them pray and sing. Suddenly the ground begins to shake, and the prison foundations begin to crack. You can hear the sound of jangling chains and the squeak of cell doors opening. Every prisoner realizes that his chains have come unfastened. The jailer wakes up and runs into the jail. His heart sinks as he sees the doors have all swung open. He is sure hisprisoners have escaped, and he knows this will mean death for him, so he pulls out his sword to commit suicide. At that moment, Paul sees what is happening and shouts out at the top of his lungs,
Paul: Wait, man! Don’t harm yourself! We’re all here! None of us has escaped.
The jailer sends his assistants to get some torches and rushes into the cell of Paul and Silas. He falls on his knees before them, trembling. Then he brings them outside.
Jailer: Gentlemen, please tell me, what must I do to be liberated?
Paul and Silas: Just believe—believe in the ultimate King, Jesus, and not only will you be rescued, but your whole household will as well.
The jailer brings them to his home, and they have a long conversation with the man and his family. Paul and Silas explain the message of Jesus to them all. The man washes their wounds and feeds them, then they baptize the man and his family. The night ends with Paul and Silas in the jailer’s home, sharing a meal together, the whole family rejoicing that they have come to faith in God.
I’ve had a really hard time getting going with this passage today. It’s not that there isn’t a ton of material here. I’ve started and stopped midstream half a dozen times already. But nothing seems to fit. Maybe there’s too much here. Maybe I’m trying to make one sermon out of what should be several. It’s pretty easy to talk about the slave girl who was freed from her life as a fortuneteller.
I could also talk about the businessmen who were more interested in their money than in the freedom Paul and Silas gave to their slave girl. Their story within the story is where I got the headline to start this podcast. It seems that in our culture, we are much more interested in material things that we are spiritual things. So, we could build a sermon or two or three around these two men.
I thought about doing a podcast based on the unwarranted beating that Paul and Silas received for just being who they were -- followers of God.
I thought about a podcast that focused on the joy that Christians can have even in the face of suffering. There Paul and Silas were in jail beaten, bruised, in shackles and chains, no light, no food. They had every reason to complain. But instead, Scripture tells us they sang and prayed and all the other prisoners listened and I expect many joined in. There’s a lot to be said about the joy we can have just because we have God’s spirit in us.
I thought about the jailer and how quick he was to think about suicide as a means have a escaping punishment for something he didn’t even do. It happens so often in our everyday lives. We face suffering because of things that are completely out of our control, and we sometimes make some crazy decisions instead of really examining the problem and potential solutions before we jump in with our rash actions and make a mess of things. A lot could be said about the jailer’s actions before Paul and Silas stopped him from carrying out his decision from which there was no return.
I thought about how Paul and Silas accepted the jailer into their brotherhood even after the beating they received. How many of us would gladly befriend those who imprisoned us or beat us or harmed us for no good reason. But that’s exactly what Paul and Silas did. In fact, it seems that the jailer’s family became the nucleus for another house church within the city. You never know what will happen when we let God take charge of things.
So you see, there’s so many things in these few verses that point to God’s goodness. There are so many spots as this drama unfolds where we see God’s handiwork. We see him reaching out through Paul and Silas because of their willingness to listen to his spirit and just do what they know they should with his prompting. Because of the commotion around them and the nudging of God’s spirit in them, they were able to free this slave from a horrible life. They were able to help a jailer and his entire household come to know God in new way. They were able to bring such joy and peace to a jail full of criminals that when all their chains were broken and all the cell doors shook off their hinges, no one wanted to leave. Rather, they all wanted to stay to listen to the singing, to be part of the pray meeting, because they knew they were in God’s presence.
Can we still see these kinds of things today? I don’t know. God hasn’t changed. The real question is, are we as committed as Paul and Silas? Do we believe the way they believed? Are we ready to give our all to do whatever God wants us to do as they were? Are we ready to be just an instrument with no recognition, no glory, no fame, nothing except an instrument in the hands of God.
When Christians begin to get rid of self and really believe in God the way Paul and Silas believed in God, when we begin to give ourselves completely to him, I think we will begin to see miraculous things happen all around us. They actually are there already if you have the eyes of faith to look up and see his hand at work. Just believe and let him do his work through you.
You can find me at richardagee.com. I also invite you to join us at San Antonio First Church of the Nazarene on West Avenue in San Antonio to hear more Bible based teaching. You can find out more about my church at SAF.church. Thanks for listening. If you enjoyed it, tell a friend. If you didn't, send me an email and let me know how better to reach out to those around you. Until next week, may God richly bless you as you venture into His story each day.