We’re going to be continuing our series on the book of Acts. You know, we started out with Acts chapter one, verse one, about four or five years ago. And every summer we do a little segment and we’re here, finally, in Acts 16. It just takes a long time to get through the Acts of the apostles.
I would like to invite you to open your Bible to Acts 16 and we’re going to begin our story with Paul and Silas in prison. Let’s read verse 16. “As we went to prayer a certain damsel,” the King James says, “possessed with a spirit of divination met us.” Now Paul and Silas and Timothy and Luke, the four individuals, they were basically going to the place of prayer down by the river as they did every Sabbath. And it's nice to have guests follow you to your place of prayer, but they did not appreciate this one guest. Lydia would be down there and others would be there. But this young damsel that was following them was a practicing, I think she was practicing ventriloquism, fortune-telling, and conveying clairvoyant messages. She was into spiritualism. And questioners sought this witch for the discovery of robberies and lost items. She would tell them where or who did it or where the things were, or she would give them their fortune because she was a fortune teller. She was owned by pimp's who made a very good living off of this slave girl. She was a slave, and Paul never addresses slavery. The only thing he says in the Bible about slavery, if you are one be a good one.
And she was not always inhabited, this damsel, by the Devil. I looked up the word damsel in my dictionary, and it means ‘a young girl, a maiden, originally one of gentle or noble birth’. Thus she may have been born into a fine upright home. I'm sure as a baby she was just like a normal baby and grew up as a normal child. But something in her sparked a curiosity towards Satanism. Don't ever get… If you're going to be curious about something be curious about something good. And once she got into it she was no longer in control of her life. The devil had her in his coon cage. In his trap. And her life took a downward course and now she was a slave working for her owners.
You know, life is a result of choices that we make. And when you stand there at that fork in the road and you, every day you have a fork in the road. You have multiple forks in the road. When you stand there at that fork in the road, God will guide you, if you ask Him, in your decision to choose the correct path, the path that will actually lead you to happiness. That will lead you to life. A good choice. You want to make a good choice, so you need to bathe every choice in prayer. Whether you’re getting married. Whether you’re choosing a job. Whatever it is, bathe it in prayer.
This demented girl followed them for many days, the Bible says. Disrupting their worship services. Disrupting their witness for Jesus. You know, Satan is so bold, following us to the place where we’re going to pray. The devil is very, very bold. And Paul knew that Satan was intent on destroying their Christian ministry. Even though the girl spoke the truth, she followed them and she said, “These men are servants of the most high God, and they're telling you the way to be saved.” Well that was true, but you don't want free advertising from the devil, do you? They didn't want it. We don't accept endorsements from people that are shady.
So look at verse 18. She kept this up for many days and finally Paul became so troubled, so exasperated, that he turned around and said to the spirit, “In the name of Jesus Christ, I command you, come out of her. And at that moment the spirit left her.” The devil can’t stay around where Jesus Christ is. And her legal owners were outraged. Their fortune cookie crumbled.
And personally I think that some businesses should crumble. Some businesses ought to be destroyed. I go down here and I see these things that says ‘adults only’. I wish they would burn to the ground. I hate those places. In my opinion, the world would be a far better place if pornography and houses of evil were gone. We don't need that stuff. As Christians, we’re going on a different path.
Now, when Paul invoked the mighty and powerful name of Jesus, the demons fled. The girl was restored. And whatever happened to this girl. She became a convert. She became a Christian. A leader, probably, right there in the church. Now her nobility was restored. She was now, well she was still a slave. Still a slave to Jesus. Just like we are. Servants, slaves of Jesus Christ, and her conversion infuriated her pimps. Paul was in big trouble now, and her owners lost their source of income.
You know, when somebody loses money it, and we need to stop right here and think about this. Do you realize that every time in the New Testament, almost every time, that the devil really pounces on God's people, each attack on God’s budding church is brought about by money. Sort of. Here it's the fortune tellers. They're losing their business. In Ephesus it was the silversmiths. Paul preached against idols and, “Well we’re going to lose our income,” so they took him to task. The priests in Jerusalem hated Jesus, because His teaching led men away from the money changers. Money. Surely the love of money is the root of all evil. First Timothy six, verse 10.
Look at verse 19 of Acts 16. “When the owners of the slave girl realized that their hope of making money was gone, they seized Paul and Silas and dragged them into the marketplace to face the authorities. And they brought them before the magistrates and they said, ‘These men are Jews, and they're throwing our city into an uproar.’” Well the preaching did some good, didn't it? The whole city was in an uproar.
Now why were Luke and Timothy not seized and dragged? Why was it Paul and Silas? Why Paul and Silas and why not Luke and Timothy? There's something ugly here. Because of anti-Semitism. Think about this. What does it say in verse 20. These men are who? Jews. A lot of people to this day hate Jews. Anti-Semitism is still a big thing. And Luke and Timothy didn’t look like Jews. Luke was not a Jew. He was a Gentile. And Timothy's daddy was a Gentile. They didn't look like Jews, but the other two were. Paul and Silas. They looked like Jews, and they were Jewish. It was a racial attack.
And verse 21 charges that these two were introducing an illegal religion into the city. Remember, entering the city of Philippi, that big arch, and over the arch was a big sign prohibiting the introduction of any illegal religion into the town. And that's exactly what they were charged with. And you know, many modern missionaries in Muslim lands face the very same thing. They're in trouble for introducing Christianity because there are laws prohibiting that.
And so a mob developed. And the mob tore off the clothes of Paul and Silas, and these hated Jews were bared, stripped. Now in all Roman cities there are big, in those days, big brutal Roman Lictors, they called them. These Lictors carried a bundle of rods. And these rods, possibly could have been made out of iron because Rome is the iron kingdom, remember. And they would have these rods surrounding a sharp, a razor-sharp Roman axe. And anytime, this was like our modern equivalent of a night stick. And when they would beat you with one of these rods, well, if it was moving fast it'd be almost like a lawn mower blade. I mean, it was terrible. These rods were cruel version of our night stick and these Lictors, these Roman rod bearers would teach them a lesson that they would never forget. If they lived through it. And so they were horse-whipped. Horse-whipped by these rods. Both of them were beaten. Their bare backs were covered with welts. Cuts. Black and blue contusions. The Roman rods plowed deep furrows into their bodies. And verse 23 says, “After they had been severely flogged, they were thrown,” thrown, “into prison. And the jailer was commanded to guard them carefully.”
You know, preachers can lead a tough life, sometime. We think we preachers here in Collegedale have a rough time. We don't even know what it's all about, compared to what Paul and Silas did. They were beaten to near death. They were suffering. They were wishing some of Doctor Luke’s balm to heal their bruises, but he couldn't get to them. They seemed to be suffering alone. And the hardened jailer probably remembered preacher Peter’s jailbreak a few chapters before. Remember that? Peter got out of jail and he probably remembered that. He thought, “They won't get out of my jail. I'm going to take precautions.” And so he put them into maximum security. The chamber, locking their feet in heavy wooden stocks. And if you get a leg cramp you couldn't get up and walk it off. And these stocks were designed to spread your legs unmercifully till almost your hips were out of joint. These were terrible things. And the Roman jail, it was no Hilton Hotel.
Do you feel like sometimes you're chained. Maybe by an evil habit and or maybe by circumstances. You’re just locked in. You just can't get loose. You can't do anything. And you're powerless to free yourself.
They couldn't escape from the jail, but they could escape within the jail. Now let me tell you how they did that. You can't always avoid the problem, but you can have joy in spite of the problem. You've got to look up to God for freedom. This jailer, he said, “I'll be wiser than those other jailers. These men will not escape.” This dungeon was a dark room. It was lower than the other cells. It was in a pit. Damp and dirty and infested with lice and rats. A far cry from today's jails.
In America we have less than 5% of the world population, but we have 25% of the world's prisoners. Right here in America. Did you know that one out of every 31 adults in America are either in jail or on parole. One out of 31 here in America. Congratulations. You're not in jail.
Paul and Silas had a choice. Now when you're in jail, you can focus on the jail, or you can focus on Jesus. Right? When you're in pain, you can focus on your pain or you can focus on Jesus. They could complain or they could praise. Zooming in on your troubles will make your troubles appear larger. I have a camera that I took out to Montana, to Glacier National Park. Have you ever been to Glacier National Park? Anybody? Yes, you’ve been there. And my camera has a 10 optical zoom, and I've noticed that when I zoom in on things they get bigger. That's no coincidence, is it. When you zoom in on your problems, when you focus on your problems, what happens to your problems? They get bigger. Zoom out. Don't zoom in on your problems. If you want to zoom in on something, focus on God. Don't focus on your troubles.
Sometimes I call people up and I say, “How are you doing today?” Wrong question. Aww! Deliver me. Sometimes a whole hour. “Well, you wanted to know. Let me tell you. I was to the doctor,” and oh, it goes on and on and on. Don't focus on your problems. Focus on your answers. Focus on God. Your outlook will determine your outcome in life.
Well, the Roman solitary confinement chamber was often in the middle of these other cells, making it darker and further from escape. Further from freedom. It was a hole lower than the rest of the prison, but for the preachers of the Gospel, it was a central location. For others, everybody around them could hear what they were saying. It was ideal. And you know each of us has an unseen audience. They couldn't see the audience. It was dark in there, but they were surrounded with an audience and so they started preaching. They started singing. They started praising God. You know, when you're in trouble, people especially watch you then. And what did they hear? Did they hear complaints? James five says, “Is any afflicted, let him” what? “Let him pray.” And Psalm 119, verse 62 says, “At midnight I will rise to give thanks to Thee.” At midnight. Now Paul and Silas were there at midnight. They had this captive audience, so they raised their voices in prayer and singing. And praise opens closed doors. Here they were singing in jail. Europe's first Christian concert is held in a Roman jail and it brought the house down. You're going to see this in the next verse. It brought the house down.
Look at verse 25. “About midnight Paul and Silas were praying, and they were singing hymns to God and the other prisoners were listening to them.” You know, men who sing at midnight, cannot be imprisoned. If you sing at midnight, you can’t be imprisoned. Why could they sing? I'll tell you why. They noticed that their enemy now used extreme violence, which is the last arrow in the devil’s quiver. Satan was out of ammunition. Every time he uses extreme violence he’s out of ammunition, and in other words, they had won. They had won. So they could praise the Lord for that. Their body was in prison, but their heart was in heaven. First Thessalonians 5:18 says, “Give thanks in all circumstances.” And so they sang. And the other prisoners could hear them.
And when you sing, sing! Whether you're in the fireside room, whether you’re in the sanctuary, when it's time to sing, open your mouth and sing praises to the Lord so others can hear you. Amen? We need to sing out. Sing.
They witnessed during the night to these unsaved prisoners. Hearts were touched. Instead of cursing and wailing, the jail was filled with sounds of praise. True joy, you know, doesn't come from your circumstances. It comes from your Lord. Fanny Crosby sang in her darkness. You can do it.
Well, look at verse 26. Acts 16. “Suddenly there was such a violent earthquake that the foundations of the prison were shaken. At once all the prison doors flew open and everybody's chains came loose.” Well praise the Lord. What is it that opened the doors? Praise. When you start praising the Lord, doors open. Praise opens the door for the miracle that we need. We need an earthquake. I need an earthquake to shift my tectonic plates.
And God works the night shift. He was there. He doesn't go to bed. I hate these phone calls. You know, you call somebody. “Please press one if you”, and then you get into that menu, “Well please press one if you want this, two if you want this,” and it goes on and on and on. Where is a real person? God works the night shift. He's always there.
And you know this is one of the strangest earthquakes in all of history. All the doors flew open. All the chains came loose. All the stocks were opened up. And yet the roof didn't come in. The walls did not fall down. Nobody was injured by falling debris. That is a strange earthquake, isn’t it? No one was killed. And you know why. I read in Acts Of The Apostles, “An angel from heaven did the work.” One angel came in, and the building shook but the angel kept the building from falling down, but everything came loose.
You probably thought that the jailor was the only one with keys. Angels have keys to your situation. Whatever problem you are facing, God has the key to your problem. Whether it's your kids, your marriage, whatever it is, God has the keys to your problem.
Everybody's chains, everybody's chains fell off. Not just the chains off of Paul and the chains off of Silas. Everybody's chains fell off. Now isn't that amazing? Why would the angel free the non-Christian prisoners? Maybe they weren't non-Christian prisoners. Maybe they had given their heart to the Lord. I think there was a lot of preaching going on, as well as praising. And your godly life that you live has a long shadow behind you that others are watching. And it's a blessing to others. The salvation of your entire family might be dependent on your prayers and on your praise instead of your complaints. The earthquake was a heaven sent miracle. And God worked miracles in Old Testament times. He worked miracles in New Testament times.
Does God still work miracles today? One of our members was telling me about a miracle that happened to her. Shannon, come up here. Shannon Auge is a fifth-grade teacher at Spaulding elementary school. Great teacher. And something happened to Shannon. Shannon, tell us what happened to you.
You have to be careful when Pastor Gettys innocently asks you a question. You don't realize he's going to get you up front.
What happened to me, I'm sure there's lots of miracles that happen in all our lives and we don't even know it. This one though, was one that I knew it had to be a miracle. It happened, probably about 15 years ago. And we were living in Maryville, Tennessee, and my little sister was about eight or nine years old and wanted to go to Six Flags. So my parents who live in Macon, Georgia decided they were going to take her up and I was going to drive down to meet them. So we were supposed to meet at 10 o'clock and I was on the interstate and within about two or three miles of the Six Flags exit at about 10 o'clock. Almost there. And those of you who know me are probably giggling and saying, “Yes. She's always running a little bit late.” Anyway, we were on the interstate and in the center lane there was a truck. A car was behind the truck and I was behind the car and the truck ran over a branch and so this car just moved over a lane and I moved over a lane and we proceeded to pass the truck. And on this side there was a wall. Those cement walls they put up now and there wasn't much of a shoulder. And as we drew alongside the truck, all of a sudden, and I didn't know this because the car in front of me was shielding it, but there was another branch in the road, on the left hand lane, and the car had nowhere to go. And so they swerved to the left, because of the truck on the right, and when they did, they went headlong into the wall and just came to a stop right in front of me, sideways, and there was nowhere for me to go. And I had the truck on one side, the wall on the other and literally saw the face of the person that was driving the car looking at me like, “Oh, no.” And so I did what anybody would do. I closed my eyes, and all I had time to do was to think, “God help me,” because there was nothing I could do.
And so I had my eyes closed and there was no impact. And so I opened my eyes, looked in my rearview mirror. The car was behind me, sideways still. The truck was beside me and clear road was ahead of me. And to this day I would like to talk to the person in that car or the truck and say, “Did my car fly? What happened?” Because there was no way out, and all of a sudden I was free.
I got to Six Flags. Met up with my mom and my sister, and my mom said, “Well, you weren't here at 10 o'clock and so at 10 o'clock we prayed for your safety.” And it was right at 10 o'clock when I had been behind the truck and had thought, “Oh, I'm almost there. I’ll only be a few minutes late.” So it's one of those things, when you get to Heaven, you hope God has a video of it so you can see what really happened. But I know that somehow or another a miracle happened that day.
There's no question in my mind that was a miracle. Would you agree? Amen.
Miracles still happen. You know, we read these stories in the Bible and they’re rich, but there are modern stories that are just as rich. Unwritten. Untold. If you have a genuine miracle that happened to you, come and tell me about it. If you're brave.
Well, the earthquake happened. And it released everybody. It shook the jailer and his family out of sleep, and he came running, expecting to see that everybody had escaped. But look at verse 27. “He was about to kill himself because he thought the prisoners had escaped.” Verse 28, “But Paul shouted, ‘Don't harm yourself. We’re all here.’” One second he is contentedly sleeping in his bed, with his wife and the family there in the home, and the next second he’s ready to commit suicide. You know, life can change, just like that. You never know. Life is so fragile. One second you're sitting at your desk employed, and the next second the boss walks in and you're done. It's over. You're unemployed.
Well torches were lit and Paul's words were verified. All were present. All were accounted for. In verse 30 it says, “He brought them out.” He brought them out. Now, I've never been in a bad earthquake. I don't even ever remember feeling an earthquake in my whole life. But I think the first thing I would want to do is get out. Before something falls on me. I'm the type of guy that never even sits under a chandelier in church. I don't like to sit under chandeliers. You’re all safe. I think that would land on this flower. I would want to get out. The jailer brought them all out and there in the torchlight this little band witnessed the jailer's conversion. And that night he became free of sin and free of guilt. So the jailer said, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?”
Now if somebody asked you that question, what would you answer them? Well, you need to pay your tithe and you need to do this or do that. What did they say? Verse 31. “They replied, ‘Believe in the Lord Jesus and you will be saved and your household.’” If you believe you'll be saved and your household. Wow. The jailer said, “What must I do?” Do!? All the doing has already been done by Jesus. To be saved, all we have to do is what? Believe in Jesus Christ. Accept Jesus Christ. Fall in love with Jesus Christ as our Savior. If you want to read that, read John 3:16.
Acts 16, verse 32. Let's continue on. “Then they spoke the word of the Lord to him and all the others in his house and at that hour of the night the jailer took them and washed their wounds and immediately he and all his family were baptized.” Praise the Lord for that. They were baptized. They washed the wounds of the men, and then they were washed by the Holy Spirit. The first act of a converted Christian is love. The jailer washed their wounds. Zacheus gave his money away. Drunks got sober and stayed sober. Porn addicts got pure and they stay pure. The power of the Gospel changes our life.
Now some religions use verse 33 to sanction infant baptism. Did you know that? This is their proof text. Read verse 33 again. Does this authorize the church to baptize infants? Infant baptism. Do you think it does? It says, “All the family were baptized.” That means all those babies. Well how do they know there were babies? The jailer's youngest youngster was probably eight or 10 years old. Now how do I know that? Well look at verse 34. “The jailer brought them into his house and set a meal before them and he was filled with joy because he had come to believe in God, and his whole family.” Babies don't have the capability of believing in God. They don't understand those things. You have to be old enough to believe in God. They were all old enough. We don't see infant baptism here, we see believer baptism. Verse 32 probably took two or three hours. Verse 32, all by itself, probably took two or three hours.
You know, your midnight is coming. I hope your earthquake is coming too. Your midnight might be your job. It might be your health. It might be your kids or your marriage. In life there are always going to be less mountains than there are valleys. There's lots of valleys in life. But every problem is an opportunity to prove God's power. Every day we encounter countless golden opportunities that are brilliantly disguised as insurmountable problems.
The jailer had the keys but he did not have the key to eternal life. That dark night he met Jesus and he was baptized. And you may think that you are shake proof. That you’ve got money, you've got friends, you've got influence, you've got respect, you've got a family, but there will come a day when you will be tested. Your domain will be shaken. But if you have faith in Jesus Christ, you will be unshaken in your heart.
The jailer went on with his family to become a key leader in the church there at Philippi. And because of his conversion many others came out of spiritual bondage like the jailer did. And Paul and Silas went on. They were sent to many people. They went on from that jail and that dark night to save those in prison, in the prison house of sin, who were in the whole European area. Eventually Paul was sent to Rome.
And God may be sending you. God needs witnesses today every bit as much as He needed witnesses in that day. And if God sends you over here to Guatemala or if He sends you over here to Tallant road, you need to be willing to go, because He's sending you. And I hope you are willing.
Paul and Silas, you're going to meet them someday. You're going to meet Lydia. You're going to meet that damsel. You're going to meet that jailor. They were all sent and became leaders in that church. And God is sending you today.
Let's sing our closing hymn, So Send I You. Let's sing that together at this time.
Dear Father in heaven. Many of us need to be broken out of our jails so that we can be sent and respond to Your call to preach Your gospel. In our homes. In our neighborhoods. In our communities, until that day when Jesus will come. Keep us faithful we ask, in Jesus’ name, amen.
Hymn of Praise: #223, Crown Him With Many Crowns Scripture: Acts 16:25-26 Hymn of Response: #578, So Send I You
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McDonald Road Sermon transcribed by Steve Foster 8/5/09