Well….we didn’t get an audio of last week’s sermon, sorry! I’m going to put down the bare bones of the sermon, the third in our series, “Christ into the City.” This series will cover Paul and Co. as they enter Europe with the gospel, going to the major cities of ancient Greece in their effort to extend the good news of Jesus Christ to the “ends of the earth,” as they’d been commanded! (Matt 28: 19-20)
Text: Acts 16:25-40
25 But about midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns of praise to God, and the prisoners were listening to them; 26 and suddenly there came a great earthquake, so that the foundations of the prison house were shaken; and immediately all the doors were opened and everyone’s chains were unfastened. 27 When the jailer awoke and saw the prison doors opened, he drew his sword and was about to kill himself, supposing that the prisoners had escaped. 28 But Paul cried out with a loud voice, saying, “Do not harm yourself, for we are all here!” 29 And he called for lights and rushed in, and trembling with fear he fell down before Paul and Silas, 30 and after he brought them out, he said, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” 31 They said, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.” 32 And they spoke the word of the Lord to him together with all who were in his house. 33 And he took them that very hour of the night and washed their wounds, and immediately he was baptized, he and all his household.
34 And he brought them into his house and set food before them, and rejoiced greatly, having believed in God with his whole household. 35 Now when day came, the chief magistrates sent their policemen, saying, “Release those men.” 36 And the jailer reported these words to Paul, saying, “The chief magistrates have sent to release you. Therefore come out now and go in peace.” 37 But Paul said to them, “They have beaten us in public without trial, men who are Romans, and have thrown us into prison; and now are they sending us away secretly? No indeed! But let them come themselves and bring us out.” 38 The policemen reported these words to the chief magistrates. They were afraid when they heard that they were Romans, 39 and they came and appealed to them, and when they had brought them out, they kept begging them to leave the city. 40 They went out of the prison and entered the house of Lydia, and when they saw the brethren, they e encouraged them and departed.
This portion of the story of Paul’s ministry in Philippi tells the story of a divinely sent earthquake that shakes the foundations of the jail where Paul and Silas were incarcerated, but also topples the doors–and (here’s a miraculous thing!) causes the very chains on the prisoners to literally become “unfastened.” Earthquakes certainly shake buildings and knock doors off of their hinges, but have you ever seen an earthquake that picks the locks open on a lock and chain? Hmmm.
We discovered at least three important truths in this account that we hope will encourage us and even inform us as we seek to extend the gospel (Good News) of forgiveness and life found in Jesus to our own city, here in Portland, OR. What does this passage teach us about Suffering, Salvation, and God?
Concerning Suffering, if we Christians possess a greater concern for the extension of the gospel into our communities than we are concerned for our own comfort and safety, we just might find ourselves being used by God in some wonderful ways to share His love. Paul and Silas sang hymns of worship in prayer to God, at midnight, in a dark jail–and they were heard by their fellow prisoners. Jails are not nice places, they do not resound with joyful songs of hope and praise, but often echo sounds of despair, anger, and hopelessness. Paul and Silas could have easily succumbed to the outright pain and discomfort of their circumstances, but they did not succumb to that temptation! And they were used by God, not only to sing His praise in a horrible place, but also to extend hope and genuine care to a distraught jailer who intended on committing suicide as he saw his livelihood as the town’s head jailer go up in smoke–or so he thought! Further, because Paul and Silas kept their heads in the game of God’s will, not their comfort, they were able to seamlessly move to the jailer’s home, interacting with his family–who all became believers, too!
Concerning Salvation, anyone, anywhere, at any time who simply and only believes in Jesus for salvation will be saved. Period. The marvelous, blessed simplicity of the gospel is immediately embraced by the jailer and his family. They believed, and were saved–immediately. And, from all that the text implies, they KNEW they were saved–didn’t have to prove anything, didn’t have to “wait and see” how serious they were about the faith, or whether or not their faith was deemed “genuine” by any other Christians, as we and our leaders often do to the gospel today. (Sigh.) The jailer and his family had the audacity to simply trust that it is impossible for the Lord Jesus to ever NOT save someone who trusts in Him to save them. Apparently Paul either forgot to tell them they needed to repent of sin, join a church, really want to change, etc., or those issues simply were not a part of the answer to the question, “What must I do to be saved?” There were certainly many, many things that the Philippian jailer would be challenged by the Lord to address in his life–but, first things first, the first thing is the main thing: Believe in Jesus to be saved from sin and its judgment. For us today, we must never settle for a complicated, performance based, behaviorally authenticated gospel–but insist on the singular truth that believing on Jesus Christ alone for salvation always saves–every person, every time, for all eternity. God doesn’t play games with this issue, nor should we!
Finally, concerning God, this same loving God who broke Paul and Silas out of prison that night also broke INTO the prison of the jailer’s heart to free him from a life of sin, loss, cruelty, and hopelessness. Sure, God sent an earthquake that could have simply been the occasion of a jail break, but more than that, He broke INTO the jail first. It appears that this amazing God we read of in this text will move heaven and earth to get to the one voice that cries out for salvation. Is there any reason to suspect that God has changed? Jesus did not shake the heavens and earth so that Christians could blissfully skip out of the often painful, hard realities of this life, but He did break INTO a darkened, lost world to set people free from themselves, and their own sorry, doomed state before God. God is still in the business of shaking foundations, flattening locked doors, and picking the locks that hold fast the chains that hold our souls–He comes into the darkest, most despondent places on earth to do it. And He invites us to join Him in the mission!