This week we’re reading three short stories from the Book of Acts in the Bible, that show different people with different interests encountering the Christian message.
This is the third and final story of Christians encountering politics as they tried to do good. We’ve seen a wealthy person welcome the message, influential people who push back, and now we’ll see a middle man who’s sitting on the fence.
About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them, and suddenly there was a great earthquake, so that the foundations of the prison were shaken. And immediately all the doors were opened, and everyone’s bonds were unfastened. When the jailer woke and saw that the prison doors were open, he drew his sword and was about to kill himself, supposing that the prisoners had escaped. But Paul cried with a loud voice, “Do not harm yourself, for we are all here.” And the jailer called for lights and rushed in, and trembling with fear he fell down before Paul and Silas. Then he brought them out and said, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” And they said, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.” And they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all who were in his house. And he took them the same hour of the night and washed their wounds; and he was baptized at once, he and all his family. Then he brought them up into his house and set food before them. And he rejoiced along with his entire household that he had believed in God.
But when it was day, the magistrates sent the police, saying, “Let those men go.” And the jailer reported these words to Paul, saying, “The magistrates have sent to let you go. Therefore come out now and go in peace.” But Paul said to them, “They have beaten us publicly, uncondemned, men who are Roman citizens, and have thrown us into prison; and do they now throw us out secretly? No! Let them come themselves and take us out.” The police reported these words to the magistrates, and they were afraid when they heard that they were Roman citizens. So they came and apologized to them. And they took them out and asked them to leave the city. So they went out of the prison and visited Lydia. And when they had seen the brothers, they encouraged them and departed.
(Acts 16:25-40 ESV)
Our focus is on the jailer. Here’s a guy who’s stuck. He’s in charge of keeping people in jail. He has a little power and authority in life, over prisoners and some staff perhaps, but he really just works for the Roman authorities, who will crush him if he doesn’t perform.
He’s just had his worst day. An earthquake opens all the doors in the jail, and he thinks they’ve all left. It’s not his fault, but the Romans won’t listen. He may as well kill himself since the Romans will torture him before they do.
He’s stuck between a rock and a hard place. Just then, Paul and Silas stop him, and offer him a way out. In this little word of violence and oppression, these men show him a third way. They show him the kind of world where freed prisoners stick around so the jailer doesn’t commit suicide. They show him the kind of world where people sing in jail, and God intervenes directly. They show him the kind of world Jesus came to introduce – the kingdom of God. He, like Lydia, chooses life, and has his entire household baptized, and welcomes them into his home.
He may well pay the price for this – the authorities who put Paul and Silas in jail might well have reacted. But clearly they were surprised as well, and let them go.
Then Paul pulls another surprise, he’s a Roman citizen. He has certain rights to a fair trial, among other things, that they’ve neglected in their anger! They promptly apologize and ask him to just leave their city!
We’ve seen three reactions to the Christian message this week. We’ve seen one of welcome – Lydia. We’ve seen one of hatred – Slaveowners. This third one, the Jailer, is most like our response. Many of us feel like we’re stuck between a rock and a hard place, but we have a choice.
I knew someone who was first learning to follow Jesus, but realized his job was immoral and inconsistent with Christian faith. His boss claimed to be a Christian, but was forcing him to lie at work. Worse, he was taking on all the risk – his signature was on the documents.
He was learning to follow Jesus, and now felt absolutely stuck. He had to lie to work, and had to work to eat, sleep and live. His boss was one of the only people he knew in town, and he had no leads on other jobs.
We found a third way. Get him a temporary job, just to get out of harm’s way and out of this person’s control. Suddenly a whole new way of life opened up, and he’s a completely different person today.
He’s been freed, all because he encountered Jesus.
Do you feel stuck? Between debt and income? Between family and work? Between young kids and aging parents? There is another way. You don’t have to always choose the world’s extremes.
When we seek first God’s kingdom, God’s way of life, we can see all these other things in a new light.
Challenge: Write down a few rocks and hard places you’re stuck between. Pray that God will show you a third way, and that you’ll have the courage to follow it.
Meeting with a Group? Your discussion questions are in this week’s Group Study Guide[permalink append=”#comments”]Discuss the Challenge[/permalink]