Wesley Memorial United Methodist Church
April 22, 2018
Acts 16: 16-34 (CEB)
One day, when we were on the way to the place for prayer, we met a slave woman. She had a spirit that enabled her to predict the future. She made a lot of money for her owners through fortune-telling. 17She began following Paul and us, shouting, “These people are servants of the Most High God! They are proclaiming a way of salvation to you!” 18She did this for many days.
This annoyed Paul so much that he finally turned and said to the spirit, “In the name of Jesus Christ, I command you to leave her!” It left her at that very moment.
19Her owners realized that their hope for making money was gone. They grabbed Paul and Silas and dragged them before the officials in the city center. 20When her owners approached the legal authorities, they said, “These people are causing an uproar in our city. They are Jews 21who promote customs that we Romans can’t accept or practice.” 22The crowd joined in the attacks against Paul and Silas, so the authorities ordered that they be stripped of their clothes and beaten with a rod. 23When Paul and Silas had been severely beaten, the authorities threw them into prison and ordered the jailer to secure them with great care. 24 When he received these instructions, he threw them into the innermost cell and secured their feet in stocks.
25Around midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening to them. 26All at once there was such a violent earthquake that it shook the prison’s foundations. The doors flew open and everyone’s chains came loose. 27When the jailer awoke and saw the open doors of the prison, he thought the prisoners had escaped, so he drew his sword and was about to kill himself. 28But Paul shouted loudly, “Don’t harm yourself! We’re all here!”
29The jailer called for some lights, rushed in, and fell trembling before Paul and Silas. 30He led them outside and asked, “Honorable masters, what must I do to be rescued?”
31They replied, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved—you and your entire household.” 32They spoke the Lord’s word to him and everyone else in his house. 33Right then, in the middle of the night, the jailer welcomed them and washed their wounds. He and everyone in his household were immediately baptized. 34He brought them into his home and gave them a meal. He was overjoyed because he and everyone in his household had come to believe in God.
Have you ever had “one of those days?” One of those days when there was a hint that things were not going to go well? Like maybe you forgot to set your alarm, or you spilled your coffee and burned yourself before you even got a taste of it? Have you ever had one of those days when one bad thing after another seems to hit you? Something like your child getting in trouble at school followed by a fender bender on the way home. Have you ever had one of those days when you just told someone, “Well, at least things can’t get any worse.” But then they did.
I found a few real-life examples of folks who experienced “one of those days.” Let me share them with you so that we are all on the same page:
A man in London, Ontario, was so mad after being given a speeding ticket that he raced away from the officer. As he peeled away, he hit the gas so hard his tires squealed and he burned rubber. The officer jumped in his patrol car and nabbed the man a second time for speeding. Then the officer added a third ticket—for making unnecessary noise.
Surprised while burglarizing a house in Antwerp, Belgium, a thief fled out the back door and made a run for it. A few acres behind the house, he came upon a nine-foot wall. With nowhere to go but over it, he scrambled up one side and dropped down…into the city prison.
A woman came home to find her husband in the kitchen, shaking frantically. As the woman rushed toward her husband, she noticed what looked like a wire running from his waist towards the electric kettle. Intending to knock him free from the deadly current, she found a large piece of wood and whacked him on his arm, breaking his arm in two places. What a shame, though, because he had only been listening to some tunes on his iPhone.
In the reading we heard only a few moments ago, Paul and Silas are on a missionary journey in the area of Philippi. They had been working with some other disciples, but where we pick up this morning, they have split into smaller groups to continue their work. At first, things seem to be going fairly well. But then, everything starts to change. A certain woman, who was a fortune teller, begins to follow Paul and Silas declaring, “These people are servants of the Most High God! They are proclaiming a way of salvation to you!” Now, on the surface, that sounds like a pretty good thing. Kind of like a herald going before a King to announce his arrival, this woman is essentially providing free advertising for Paul and Silas as they make their way around the area of Philippi. But it’s not like this woman just hung with the apostles for a stop or two; we are told she kept up this chant for “many days.”
What might have appeared at first to be a good thing was becoming a nuisance, a distraction. Finally, Paul cast the demonic spirit from her and she was delivered, which also meant she lost her powers of fortune-telling, or telling the future. This woman was being used by certain influential men in the community to make money, and when her masters saw what Paul and Silas had done, they seized them and dragged them to the marketplace. There, things went from bad to worse. They were brought before a makeshift court; they were stripped, beaten severely, and thrown into the inner prison where their feet were fastened in stocks. More than being “one of those days,” this flat out turned into a bad day for Paul and Silas. The newfound freedom they achieved for the woman resulted in their own imprisonment.
It’s interesting to think how we handle such days and such circumstances. Often, on bad days, it’s really easy to sink into despair or anger. We might become overwhelmed by stress, or find ourselves deeply distraught. So the important question becomes, how do we deal with the pressure of such days, or weeks, or even months or years? Paul and Silas had been beaten badly. After that, they were thrown into the depths of the jail where their feet were shackled. If that had been me, I’m sure I would have been pretty broken and depressed sitting in that dark jail. After a day like that I’d imagine I would just want to get to sleep, but I suspect it would be difficult with a body pained by cuts and bruises from the beating. Just the thought is headache-inducing. It makes you want to drop your face into your hands and cry. I don’t think anyone would have blamed Paul and Silas if they had done just that, but they didn’t.
As Acts continues, Luke writes that, “Around midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening to them.” Friends, we’ve all had bad days. We’ve all had bad weeks, maybe even bad months. Some of us have had bad years. But how many of us in the midst of “those days” respond by praying and singing hymns to God? Much less, how many of us pray and sing hymns to God late into the night? Paul and Silas were in prison, but they were also the only people there who were truly free. Despite the horror of that day, they were worshipping and praising God.
Friends, this is freedom, this is release. In the midst of all our “bad days,” if we can just find the strength, somehow, to pray, to sing songs of praise, to go on worshipping our God no matter what. If we can do that, then we will find ourselves relieved of all that burdens us, and the shackles that bind us. That doesn’t necessarily mean that the pain goes away, or that we get out of whatever prison we are in, but it means that the “bad” stuff is no longer what controls our lives.
As Paul and Silas worshipped there in the prison, with fellow inmates listening in, suddenly there was a great earthquake, so violent that the shackles fell from the prisoners’ limbs, and the doors of the jail were flung open. But none of the prisoners ran. Sure, they were in a bad place, they were in prison, but they weren’t held captive by that. They were worshipping the risen Christ, and in that there is freedom and joy. As soon as Paul told the jailer that all the prisoners remained, he knew was seeing something amazing right before his very eyes. He wanted to know how he could be a part of it, and so he asked perhaps one of the most important questions in all of Scripture, “Honorable masters, what must I do to be saved?” So begins this man’s journey to freedom as Paul and Silas teach him that he must believe in the Lord Jesus Christ. Then, the jailer washed their wounds, and he and his whole household were baptized that very night. As night turned to morning, everyone in that jail walked away truly free. They had all been rescued from bondage, just not in the way that prisoners are normally freed.
That’s the power of Christ’s salvation. No matter how bad our circumstances, no matter how much pain we bear, no matter what trouble we may face, there is freedom in Christ. When we are having “one of those days,” or “one of those weeks,” or “one of those years,” if we will turn to Christ in prayer and praise, then we will find relief, just as Paul and Silas, and the prisoners, and the jailer all did. You know, simply getting our mind off of whatever problems we face is half the battle. It’s so easy when situations are bad for us to get mired in that, but if we can turn our attention to God and at the same time believe in God’s power to carry us through our troubles then we will see that happen. Somehow, someway, God in Christ Jesus will work to relieve us, to free us, to save us!
The truth is, no matter what, there will always be those “bad days.” The slave woman had been suffering as a slave possessed by an evil spirit. By the time Paul and Silas finally relieved her, there is no telling how long she had been in agony. Paul and Silas were beaten fiercely and were then shackled in jail. They were certainly experiencing pain and distress. When the jailer realized that all his prisoners must have escaped, he felt the situation was so awful it warranted his death rather than to face the consequences. We will have days when we forget to set our alarm, or get in a fender bender. We will have awful days when hear terrible news from a doctor or have to say goodbye to a loved one. But no matter what we face, if we can turn our attention to God in the midst of that, then we will be able to find hope, maybe even joy, and ultimately we will know freedom in Christ.
As Paul and Silas sang, the prison was shaken, the doors were opened, and they were delivered. And friends, that’s a pretty good day!