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Acts 16:16-34

Paul and Silas in Prison

One day, as we were going to the place of prayer, we met a slave-girl who had a spirit of divination and brought her owners a great deal of money by fortune-telling. While she followed Paul and us, she would cry out, ‘These men are slaves of the Most High God, who proclaim to you a way of salvation.’ She kept doing this for many days. But Paul, very much annoyed, turned and said to the spirit, ‘I order you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her.’ And it came out that very hour.

But when her owners saw that their hope of making money was gone, they seized Paul and Silas and dragged them into the market-place before the authorities. When they had brought them before the magistrates, they said, ‘These men are disturbing our city; they are Jews and are advocating customs that are not lawful for us as Romans to adopt or observe.’ The crowd joined in attacking them, and the magistrates had them stripped of their clothing and ordered them to be beaten with rods. After they had given them a severe flogging, they threw them into prison and ordered the jailer to keep them securely. Following these instructions, he put them in the innermost cell and fastened their feet in the stocks.

About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them. Suddenly there was an earthquake, so violent that the foundations of the prison were shaken; and immediately all the doors were opened and everyone’s chains were unfastened. When the jailer woke up and saw the prison doors wide open, he drew his sword and was about to kill himself, since he supposed that the prisoners had escaped. But Paul shouted in a loud voice, ‘Do not harm yourself, for we are all here.’ The jailer called for lights, and rushing in, he fell down trembling before Paul and Silas. Then he brought them outside and said, ‘Sirs, what must I do to be saved?’ They answered, ‘Believe on the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.’ They spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all who were in his house. At the same hour of the night he took them and washed their wounds; then he and his entire family were baptized without delay. He brought them up into the house and set food before them; and he and his entire household rejoiced that he had become a believer in God. 

In contrast to Lydia who Paul met in yesterday’s reading, today we meet a slave who was neither independent nor successful. She was subject to her human master who made profit from her spiritual slavery. What an unfortunate situation to be in! Yet, somehow, despite, or perhaps as a result of her captivity, she knew the truth about Paul and Silas. She told everyone of their slavery to the Most High God. I wonder which one of her masters made her do that or was God using her, despite her captivity, to speak his truth to the world?

Furious about their financial loss, her owners dragged Paul and Silas to court. Perhaps their love for money blinded their eyes. They could not see the miracle right in front of them – Paul, by the power of God, had set this captive girl free (to some degree). As a result of their alleged accusations, the authorities, fuelled by anti-Semitism and drunk on power, flogged and imprisoned God’s servants without a trial.

There, in the innermost cell of the prison, after a very hard day, Paul and Silas prayed and sang to God. They had started the day heading to prayers as free men and ended the day still in prayer while captive. So much had changed in just a day yet somehow their faith and devotion had not. 

At midnight, in the middle of the darkness, they were praising God. Was it not because of God that they were captive in the first place? Yet that didn’t shake their praise but rather their praise shook the foundation of what kept them captive. Although they may not have be singing along, the other prisoners listened. This may have been the first they were hearing of this God since Christianity was new in this land. Imagine hearing people sing praises to a God, even in this hard circumstance. 

The power of God, in response to their relentless praise, freed everyone – not just those who were singing. While this earthquake sounded like hope to the prisoners, to the jailer it was an assurance of death. Yet Paul and all the prisoners remained. Why would they do that? Although the Scripture doesn’t say why, the decision to stay not only prevented a suicide, but also brought salvation to an entire household. In all this, God was still glorified.

Blessings as we continue to raise our voices in prayer and song to the Lord even in our captivity due to COVID-19.  Be safe!  Be well!  The Lord is Risen Indeed!

To Ponder:

  • How do you keep your praise in the middle of darkness?
  • Who around you is dependent on your praise to find freedom?
  • Why did the prisoners decide to stay?

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