The closest I have ever come to someone being jailed for preaching Jesus is the time I went with others to teach and preach in a small province in the USSR…yes, this was a long time ago. When we arrived for our work, we learned that the lead pastor had been put in jail for boldly preaching Jesus and asking for a decision. You were not allowed to ask for a decision. In that time, in that place, the “secret police” were always watching and judging every word that came from the mouths of believers.
So, there was a fine line to follow and you could not cross that line in that province. You could tell the story but you could not make disciples. You could speak Truth but not call it the only truth. You could read the word but you could not suggest to anyone under the age of 21 to follow Truth/Jesus. No one was allowed to help or “make disciples” of anyone coming to follow Jesus or with suggestions of how to do that. Free will was judged and meticulously measured. People under the age limit were drawn to the pastor’s message of Hope in the Person of Jesus Christ, many were saved and hence he was jailed.
But that did not stop the church from growing! The pastor’s son and his family stepped up and kept the work going. He received us with great hospitality and had organized the event of learning, bringing in many who had to literally “sneak” across borders to get there to learn. As teachers, we were translated into Russian and Romanian. Yes, there were a lot of pauses in our teaching! Telling a joke was not worth the effort! But they didn’t come for musings, they came for encouragement and truth. They had fought hard to get there, risking their own lives to be there. I was humbled immediately and prayed for God to sift the words of the training presentation to fit what these servants of God needed most. God provided. He always does.
I will never forget this time in my life with these people who loved God greatly and risked their lives to boldly tell the story of God’s Redemptive Plan through Jesus Christ, His Son. After the training events were over, these youth leaders and pastors slipped back into the crowded city and I never saw them again. The pastor was released later as the people prayed and rejoiced. As I recall, he was let go with a warning. The family was reunited and praises to God were lifted up. The smiles never left their faces.
What we have in our country is not the same as everywhere else. Sometimes, I think we feel that church life, the learning and growing with others, the encouragement through worship and learning, while seeing others find and follow Jesus is not essential. We take for granted the privileged blessing of being able to speak freely about Jesus and His saving grace. We can say anything we want at any time, but we don’t. All of us could use a bit more discretion as we speak, however. Just because we can say something doesn’t mean we should. We must be led by the Holy Spirit for He will guide us to make the most of every opportunity.
Paul knew this well. Paul and Silas experienced the first jail house rock! Read on. It’s awesome how God worked in and through these men devoted to Jesus Christ. God’s Holy Spirit led them to rocking the jail with praise music to God while God responded with rocking the depths of the earth with a good shaking! Paul and Silas made the most of this opportunity to tell the Redemptive Truth to a great captive audience! Even the jailer, had the opportunity to “Put your entire trust in the Master Jesus. Then you’ll live as you were meant to live—and everyone in your house included!”
Friends, aren’t you wondering how many prisoners heard and received Jesus’ salvation? I wonder how many prisoners souls were set free by Jesus than day? Wow! Luke doesn’t give us the details, but it is possible that some of them were also born again through the witness of Paul and Silas and the jailer! Why not? Some of these prisoners may have been waiting for execution, so imagine their joy at hearing a message of salvation! Paul and Silas thought nothing of their own pains as they rejoiced in what God did in that Philippian jail!
The jailhouse experience was brought to Paul and Silas, courtesy of our enemy who thought he could hinder the work. Yeah, the enemy cannot win for Jesus has already won the war! Hold that thought as you read…
ACTS—God’s Acts through His Disciples
Acts 16:16-40, The Message
Beaten Up and Thrown in Jail
16-18 One day, on our way to the place of prayer, a slave girl ran into us. She was a psychic and, with her fortunetelling, made a lot of money for the people who owned her. She started following Paul around, calling everyone’s attention to us by yelling out, “These men are working for the Most High God. They’re laying out the road of salvation for you!” She did this for a number of days until Paul, finally fed up with her, turned and commanded the spirit that possessed her, “Out! In the name of Jesus Christ, get out of her!” And it was gone, just like that.
19-22 When her owners saw that their lucrative little business was suddenly bankrupt, they went after Paul and Silas, roughed them up and dragged them into the market square. Then the police arrested them and pulled them into a court with the accusation, “These men are disturbing the peace—dangerous Jewish agitators subverting our Roman law and order.” By this time the crowd had turned into a restless mob out for blood.
22-24 The judges went along with the mob, had Paul and Silas’s clothes ripped off and ordered a public beating. After beating them black-and-blue, they threw them into jail, telling the jailkeeper to put them under heavy guard so there would be no chance of escape. He did just that—threw them into the maximum security cell in the jail and clamped leg irons on them.
25-26 Along about midnight, Paul and Silas were at prayer and singing a robust hymn to God. The other prisoners couldn’t believe their ears. Then, without warning, a huge earthquake! The jailhouse tottered, every door flew open, all the prisoners were loose.
27-28 Startled from sleep, the jailer saw all the doors swinging loose on their hinges. Assuming that all the prisoners had escaped, he pulled out his sword and was about to do himself in, figuring he was as good as dead anyway, when Paul stopped him: “Don’t do that! We’re all still here! Nobody’s run away!”
29-31 The jailer got a torch and ran inside. Badly shaken, he collapsed in front of Paul and Silas. He led them out of the jail and asked, “Sirs, what do I have to do to be saved, to really live?” They said, “Put your entire trust in the Master Jesus. Then you’ll live as you were meant to live—and everyone in your house included!”
32-34 They went on to spell out in detail the story of the Master—the entire family got in on this part. They never did get to bed that night. The jailer made them feel at home, dressed their wounds, and then—he couldn’t wait till morning!—was baptized, he and everyone in his family. There in his home, he had food set out for a festive meal. It was a night to remember: He and his entire family had put their trust in God; everyone in the house was in on the celebration.
35-36 At daybreak, the court judges sent officers with the instructions, “Release these men.” The jailer gave Paul the message, “The judges sent word that you’re free to go on your way. Congratulations! Go in peace!”
37 But Paul wouldn’t budge. He told the officers, “They beat us up in public and threw us in jail, Roman citizens in good standing! And now they want to get us out of the way on the sly without anyone knowing? Nothing doing! If they want us out of here, let them come themselves and lead us out in broad daylight.”
38-40 When the officers reported this, the judges panicked. They had no idea that Paul and Silas were Roman citizens. They hurried over and apologized, personally escorted them from the jail, and then asked them if they wouldn’t please leave the city. Walking out of the jail, Paul and Silas went straight to Lydia’s house, saw their friends again, encouraged them in the faith, and only then went on their way.
EPILOGUE, BUT WAIT, THERE’S MORE…
Paul and Silas took the beatings and jail time, witnessed with praises to the other jailers, while God did His acts of power in and all around them. God literally “rocked” the place and filled the dark, dank prison with the Light of Jesus’ saving grace for all.
Paul decided not to sneak out the city but to boldly tell his judges what they had done to one of their own citizens. We might ask why Paul took the time to do this, but knowing Paul’s driven personality style of leadership, and extreme devotion to Jesus, it may have been show the glory of God to those who him judged harshly and to assure the new church that they had been absolved of all wrong. People would have asked, “Who were those men? Were they guilty of some crime? Why did they leave so quickly? What do their followers believe?” Paul and Silas and their associates wanted to leave behind a strong witness of their own integrity as well as a good testimony for the infant church in Philippi. All for God. In Jesus Name. All to the glory of God!
What you teach us is always amazing, perfect and good! How you lead us, sometimes kicking and screaming, is humbling. Lord, forgive us for taking advantage of all you provide in our lives. You gave us Your Son. You keep giving daily as you love us enough to rock our thinking with all of you and less of us as we grow in your love and character. I praise you for your patience with me. I love you for loving me. I pray for those who don’t know your love—yet. May your acts of power work in and through me so others will know You. Continue to rock our world!
In Jesus Name, For Your Glory, Amen
Everybody, let’s rock
Everybody in the whole cell block
Was dancin’ to the Jailhouse Rock!
(Now, this song is stuck in your mind…but for different reasons, Amen?)