Bible Reading: Acts 16
Acts 16:30, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?”
Acts 16:31, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved?”
It was the Jailor’s job. The authorities brought in the criminals; he would lock them up. Likely, this man had dealt with many prisoners over the course of his career, but never any quite like Paul and Silas. Their crime? They had upset the local economy when they exorcised a demon from a fortune teller. Her masters had profited much from her fortune telling. When they saw their hope of profit-making from her fortune-telling was gone, they dragged Paul and Silas into the marketplace, to the chief magistrates. Their indictment against them? “They advocate customs that are not lawful for us as Romans to accept or practice” (Acts 16:21). The magistrates ordered them to be beaten and thrown into jail.
The jailer threw them into the “inner prison and fastened their feet in the stocks” (Acts 16:24). It was undoubtedly a cold, dark, and inhospitable place. They had, in that setting, no earthly reason to rejoice, but that is exactly what they did. “About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God” (Acts 16:25). Their feet were tethered, yet their hearts had long ago been set free to worship. I’m confident the jailer had never witnessed anything like that before. Paul and Silas were men of God, filled with the Holy Spirit, utterly devoted to the task of sharing the gospel. “The prisoners were listening to them” as they sang (Acts 16:25). Paul and Silas had an attentive audience. People are watching our response to difficult circumstances. We are sometimes prone to grumble, yet the Fount of Blessing can tune our hearts to sing His grace. Praise amidst problems bears an alluring melody.
God wanted Paul and Silas freed, so He caused a great earthquake. The earthquake shook the foundations of the jail house, the prison doors were opened and their chains were unfastened. They were set free. The jailer was roused out of his sleep. Supposing his prisoners to be gone, he drew his sword and was about to kill himself. The penalty for losing one’s prisoners was quite severe (Acts 12:19). Paul realized what was happening and intervened. He cried out with a loud voice, “Do not harm yourself, for we are all here” (Acts 16:28). The jailer called for lights and rushed in, and trembling with fear, he fell down before Paul and Silas. “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” he asked (Acts 16:29-30).
It is important at this point to remember what has just transpired. The jailer had locked them up. He had fastened their feet with stocks. He was trembling with fear—what would the authorities do to him? What might these men do to him? He had treated them harshly – as prisoners. He feared retribution. Had they been common prisoners, he might have had reason to fear. But they were not ordinary prisoners—they cared more for their message than they did for themselves. They said to the Jailer, ‘Believe in the Lord Jesus and you will be saved, you and your household” (Acts 16:31). And he believed, along with his whole household (Acts 16:33).
At the heart of that which transpired in that jail was the praise and thanksgiving of Paul and Silas—a worship service in a jail cell! Corporate worship is a good and necessary thing, but worship doesn’t require a sanctuary. Worship is the 24/7 privilege of the believer in Christ, through which we acknowledge God for who He is and what He does in what we say and what we do. To be acceptable to God, it must be in spirit and in truth. I recently reviewed a book which told the story of seven WW2 pilots adrift at sea on two rubber rafts. One of the seven had a New Testament, and that man directed the rest to look heavenward. In their nightly worship services, they read from the Scriptures and cried out to God for help. And God heard their prayers! Adrift in the Pacific, surrounded by sharks, they worshipped the God who created all things! You don’t need a sanctuary to worship, in fact, you can worship right now, wherever you are (1 Corinthians 10:31). And you don’t even need a worship team, in the indwelling Spirit you’ve got the ultimate of all worship leaders (Philippians 3:3).
We are sometimes prone to grumble, yet the Fount of Blessing can tune our hearts to sing His grace. Praise amidst problems bears an alluring melody.
Come, thou Fount of every blessing;
tune my heart to sing thy grace;
streams of mercy, never ceasing,
call for songs of loudest praise.
Teach me some melodious sonnet,
sung by flaming tongues above;
praise the mount! I’m fixed upon it,
mount of God’s unchanging love!