Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Acts 16:16-40

One day Paul and Co. were headed back to their place of prayer, when they were met by a slave girl who was possessed by a demon. She was owned by men who forced her to be a fortune teller. They were very wealthy because of her work. She followed Paul around, crying out, "These men are servants of the Most High God, who proclaim to you the way of salvation." Ben Witherington points out that this may not have been a proclamation of true salvation, from the true "Most High God." The culture was very pluralistic, and could have meant many things. If that is the case, it makes sense that Paul would not want this demon-possessed slave girl proclaiming false truths.

Paul finally had had enough. He turned to her and commanded the demon to leave her. At once it left. When her owners learned what had happened, they realized that their little business was no more, and they were understandable upset. They took Paul and Silas into the middle of the city and called the cops (actually, the magistrates). Their accusation was that these men were Jews, and they were "disturbing" their city. The accusation that they were Jews is important because just two years earlier, Emperor Claudius had expelled the Jews from Rome. Outcasts are never looked upon very favorably, especially when they have made your city, as well as all of the surrounding cities, even more crowded than they already were. The second part of the accusation was equally condemning, since money seemed to be a major bottom line in that city.

The magistrates ordered that Paul and Silas be stripped and beaten with rods (according to 2 Corinthians 11:25, this happened to him two additional times). After they had been severely beaten, Paul and Silas were thrown into jail. Everything had happened so fast. They had not even been questioned by the magistrates, which would have revealed that both of them were Roman citizens. This was very important, for Roman citizens could not be punished without a proper hearing. Nonetheless, Paul and Silas now found themselves in prison with real criminals.

Put yourself in their shoes. How would you feel if you were being punished for a crime you didn't commit, in a city that you were not familiar with, and you were simply trying to follow God? I know what I wouldn't be doing...Singing. But that's just what these two men were doing. It was midnight, and these two crazy men were singing their heads off to God. Luke points out that the prisoners were listening to them.

At that moment there was a earthquake, and the prison shook violently, so much so that the chains holding the men were loosened. The jailer, who had been sleeping, woke up and ran to the jail cell. When he saw that the prisoners were loose, he immediately drew his sword, not to fight them but to kill himself. He knew that the punishment for allowing prisoners to escape would be far worse than death. At that moment Paul cried out to him, "Do not harm yourself, for we are all here" (16:28). The jailer turned the lights on, and, discovering that the prisoners were indeed still in the cell, fell down trembling before Paul and Silas, and asked them what he must do to be saved. Their response: "Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household" (16:31).

It appears that the man must have lived above the jail, so therefore his entire household was there as well. Paul and Silas told them all about Jesus, and they all believed. Instant transformation takes place. Just a little while earlier he was about to kill himself because he feared his punishment for allowing prisoners to go free. Now he takes Paul and Silas upstairs and washes their wounds. He and his family are then baptized, and then share a meal together with Paul and Silas. Fear was replaced by rejoicing!

We don't hear anything else about the prisoners, but I can't help but think about them. All we are told is that they stayed in the jail cell, and they listened. That's pretty phenomenal!

The next morning, the magistrates discovered what had happened and ordered that Paul and Silas be released. Paul let it be known that he and Silas were Roman citizens, and their beating and imprisonment were unlawful. If they were going to leave Philippi, it wasn't going to be in secret. The magistrates came to them, apologized, and begged them to leave immediately. Paul and Silas obliged, but first went to Lydia and the new church that was emerging in the city.

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