Pastor David B. Curtis


Beaten, Imprisoned, and Praising God!

Acts 16:22-40

Delivered 09/27/2009

Paul and the missionary team are in the city of Philippi. Their first mission in Europe was meeting with a group of women at the riverside prayer meeting. Paul preached and God opened Lydia's heart, and she believed the Gospel.

Then one day while on their way to prayer, a demon possessed slave girl begins to follow the mission team crying out:

..."These men are bond-servants of the Most High God, who are proclaiming to you the way of salvation." (Acts 16:17 NASB)

Paul turns to her and commands the demon to come out, and it does immediately.

But when her masters saw that their hope of profit was gone, they seized Paul and Silas and dragged them into the market place before the authorities, (Acts 16:19 NASB)

The word "dragged" here is the Greek word helkuo this is the same Greek word used in:

"No one can come to Me, unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up on the last day. (John 6:44 NASB)

Helkuo means: "to draw with irresistible superiority." These men dragged Paul into the market place; Paul had no choice in the matter.

Notice that they only seized Paul and Silas. Why is that? Jennifer asked the question last week, "Why did they only grab Paul and Silas?" I really didn't have an answer, but I do now. It's right there in the text. Notice the next verse:

and when they had brought them to the chief magistrates, they said, "These men are throwing our city into confusion, being Jews, (Acts 16:20 NASB)

What are they accused of being? Jews. Paul and Silas were Jews. Timothy was only half Jewish and Luke was a Gentile. Their accusation was against Jews, so only Paul and Silas were taken. Paul and Silas looked Jewish, and "anti-Jewish" sentiment was high in Philippi. The Roman emperor Claudius had grown angry with Jews and banished them from Rome around this time, and Philippi was a Roman colony.

In the Roman Empire there were two very different laws: one for citizens of the Roman Empire, and one for those who were not citizens. Roman citizens had specific civil rights which were zealously guarded.

By casting out the python demon Paul had hurt the slave girl's owners financially. This ticked them off, and they turned the crowds against the missionaries:

And the crowd rose up together against them, and the chief magistrates tore their robes off them, and proceeded to order them to be beaten with rods. 23 And when they had inflicted many blows upon them, they threw them into prison, commanding the jailer to guard them securely; 24 and he, having received such a command, threw them into the inner prison, and fastened their feet in the stocks. (Acts 16:22-24 NASB)

How did this slave girl's owners get away with such fabricated charges, managing to move to the punishment stage without so much as a "kangaroo court" trial? I think that the reason is clear in the text. Paul and Silas were Jews, and the people of Philippi were Gentiles. The charges, which were not true of these two preachers, were assumed to be true of virtually any Jew. The charges were believable, and thus there was no need for a trial. The Jews, therefore, were generally believed to be trouble-makers and those who advocated practices which were illegal.

The danger of an uproar probably persuaded the magistrates to act. They, therefore, had them stripped and beaten with rods. This would be done by the "lictors," a kind of police who were the magistrates' assistants.

Because Paul cast out the python demon, he and Silas were beaten with a bundle of rods. They would strip them and beat their back, sides, and legs. The Jews would limit such a beating to 39 hits, but the Romans had no limit. They beat them as long as they wanted. This is a severe physical trauma, the pain would have been very great.

This happened to Paul three times:

Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, a night and a day I have spent in the deep. (2 Corinthians 11:25 NASB)

After their beating they were placed in prison:

And when they had inflicted many blows upon them, they threw them into prison, commanding the jailer to guard them securely; (Acts 16:23 NASB)

Security seems to have been of the utmost concern--these pagan minds must have wondered: If they can cast out a python spirit, what will prevent them from using their magical powers to escape prison?

The prison would probably be a specially adapted private residence. Many prisons in those days were private enterprises; and the jailers, who owned the prisons, were often ex-soldiers. They were paid by the authorities to look after prisoners for the state and were held fully and personally responsible for the secure holding of any such prisoners:

and he, having received such a command, threw them into the inner prison, and fastened their feet in the stocks. (Acts 16:24 NASB)

The "inner prison" was probably a strongly built underground room in his prison house. It would have no window, no light, no fresh air, and no bathroom. In this inner prison they placed them in "stocks." According to archeology, the stocks that they used in those days had a series of holes that got wider and wider and the idea was to spread the legs of the individual as far as they could go in order to induce cramping. And then they would chain their wrist to the wall.

Let's pause here and put ourselves in their sandals. How would you respond in this situation? What is the worst circumstance that you have ever been in? Have you ever come even close to what these men experienced?

They had been beaten, they were bleeding and in great pain, put in stocks in a stinking, dark prison. They weren't suffering because they did something wrong. They had delivered a young slave girl from a demon. They were living obedient holy lives, and they were suffering. This is undeserved suffering. They were suffering for righteousness sake.

If I were in Silas' position, I might have said to Paul, "Are you sure that that vision you had in Troas about a man in Macedonia was really from God? Does God really want us here? I thought God loved us, is this love? I'm in an awful lot of pain."

How did they respond? No doubts, no questions, no complaints--they trusted God. They knew that God was sovereign even in their suffering. I'm sure they knew the story of Joseph and how God works all things together for the good of those who love Him:

"And as for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good in order to bring about this present result, to preserve many people alive. (Genesis 50:20 NASB)

Did the people mean evil against Paul and Silas? Yes, they did. But God meant it for good. So they trusted that God would work this out for good. Their attitude of trust and confidence of God's control is demonstrated in their actions.

Why does God allow Christians to suffer when they don't deserve it? Because God is glorified when we trust Him:

And because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, for this reason, to keep me from exalting myself, there was given me a thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to buffet me-- to keep me from exalting myself! 8 Concerning this I entreated the Lord three times that it might depart from me. 9 And He has said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness." Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, that the power of Christ may dwell in me. 10 Therefore I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ's sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong. (2 Corinthians 12:7-10 NASB)

God's glory shines through our sufferings and weaknesses. When Paul later writes to the Philippians he says:

For to you it has been granted for Christ's sake, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake, (Philippians 1:29 NASB)

Suffering is a grace gift from God. Suffering is part of the program. They knew this was so because it was part of the program for the Son of God:

Although He was a Son, He learned obedience from the things which He suffered. 9 And having been made perfect, He became to all those who obey Him the source of eternal salvation, (Hebrews 5:8-9 NASB)

Suffering is an absolutely inescapable part of the curriculum. You will never grow up, you will never be what God wants you to be without some form of suffering.

Not only is suffering normal for the Christian's life, it's normal for any life. There is a country song out by Darryl Worley called, "Sounds Like Life To Me." Here are a few of the lyrics:

Got a call last night from an old friend's wife
Said I hate to bother you
Johnny Ray fell off the wagon
He's been gone all afternoon
I know my buddy so I drove to Skully's
And found him at the bar
I say hey man, what's going on
He said I don't know where to start
Sarah's old car's about to fall apart
And the washer quit last week
We had to put momma in the nursing home
And the baby's cutting teeth
I didn't get much work this week
And I got bills to pay
I said I know this ain't what you wanna hear
But it's what I'm gonna say
Sounds like life to me, it ain't no fantasy
It's just a common case of everyday reality
Man I know it's tough but you gotta suck it up
To hear you talk you're caught up in some tragedy
It sounds like life to me.

The difference between the Christian and the non-Christians is that the Christian is supposed to have joy in the midst of suffering. Paul told the Philippians:

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice! (Philippians 4:4 NASB)

Well, Paul not only preached it, he lived it! Notice their response to the beating and imprisonment:

But about midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns of praise to God, and the prisoners were listening to them; (Acts 16:25 NASB)

Who could blame them if they were fearful, confused, and bitter over what had happened? But rather than complaining, they are praying and singing hymns to God.

We can understand them praying. Most would pray if they were in as desperate a situation as Paul and Silas, but it would only be a prayer of desperation. We would be praying, "God why did you let this happen to me, God why don't you do something?" Or, "God, judge these pagans for their sin." They weren't praying imprecatory prayers --"God wipe them out."

They were praying and singing. How could they be singing at a time like this? Far from being depressed about this situation, they were full of thanksgiving. What could they possibly sing about? They knew that God was in control, He had not forsaken them.

This is a flesh and blood demonstration of JOY in adversity. Their joy was unaffected by their circumstances. Paul didn't just talk about joy, he experienced it.

It was late at night, midnight to be exact; all of the candle or oil lights were out. It was, therefore, pitch black inside the prison, especially in the innermost part where Paul and Silas were kept in maximum security. In that darkness, the other prisoners heard the sounds of Paul's and Silas' praises to God.

It says, "And the prisoners were listening to them"--what a testimony! The word "listening" is the Greek verb epakroaomai. This Greek verb is rarely used in the New Testament; and it's a word that seems to suggest the idea of rather careful listening to them, "to listen intently." The people who heard them singing knew what had just happened to these men, and here they are singing about God. These folks were listening to every word they were saying.

Joy in the midst of suffering and sorrow will always get the attention of those around you. That prison had witnessed cursing, it had witnessed groaning and cries, it had witnessed pleading and groveling; but it had never witnessed anything like this. You bet those other prisoners were listening.

We have mentioned the quote of Ray Steadman many times, "We must remember that this book is intended to describe Christianity as it ought to be in every age." I strongly disagree with his view of Acts, but here I agree with him, The attitude of Paul and Silas is what Christianity should look like in every age!

What happens when a terrible situation becomes the reality of your life? All you're doing is trying to live your life, do your best, do what's right. You're not doing anything wrong, and then, unexpectedly, without warning, you're bowled over by a terrible situation over which you have no control. How do you respond? When you're facing a difficult situation, and you have a song in your heart and praise on your lips, those around you will surely notice.

What were they singing? If it were me, I'd probably be singing the Hymn, "Nobody Knows the Trouble I've Seen," but I can hardly see myself singing, "Praise God From Whom All Blessings Flow."

What did they sing? Well obviously we don't know, but the early church had hymns they circulated among the people, devoted almost exclusively to extolling the person and work of Christ. In Colossians, chapter 1, when he gives that great passage on the Lord Jesus as the image of the invisible God, it is arranged in such a way as to be compatible for singing as in a hymn. And then, it's almost universally believed among New Testament scholars that 1 Timothy 3:16 is probably the remnant of an early Christian hymn because its composed in phraseology:

And by common confession great is the mystery of godliness: He who was revealed in the flesh, Was vindicated in the Spirit, Beheld by angels, Proclaimed among the nations, Believed on in the world, Taken up in glory. (1 Timothy 3:16 NASB)

Another one of these hymns is:

Who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7 but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. 8 And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. 9 Therefore also God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, 10 that at the name of Jesus EVERY KNEE SHOULD BOW, of those who are in heaven, and on earth, and under the earth, 11 and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Philippians 2:6-11 NASB)

This passage was most likely not used as a hymn until after Paul wrote it, but it gives you an example of what they sang about. They sang of Christ and His glory.

What is the significance of "midnight?" Paul and Silas were Jews, and as Jews they lived and breathed the Tanakh, the Word of God. What they are doing here is living the text:

The cords of the wicked have encircled me, But I have not forgotten Thy law. (Psalms 119:61 NASB)
At midnight I shall rise to give thanks to Thee Because of Thy righteous ordinances. (Psalms 119:62 NASB)

Paul and Silas are living out the text; at midnight they are giving thanks to God for His righteous ordinances.

So in this dark, miserable prison all are listening as Paul and Silas sing praise to the Most High God:

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. (Acts 16:26 NASB)

There is nothing unusual about an earthquake in this region. To this day, earthquakes are common in northern Macedonia. But this was no normal earthquake; instead of being buried under tons of stone and rubble, these prisoners were released from their shackles. This was God at work. God was at work shaking this jail apart.

All would have probably recognize that it must be the result of their God Who was responding to His servants:

And when the jailer had been roused out of sleep and had seen the prison doors opened, he drew his sword and was about to kill himself, supposing that the prisoners had escaped. (Acts 16:27 NASB)

The jailer, aroused by the earthquake, came from his room (his family living quarters would be a part of the prison), and no doubt carrying a small lamp, went down into the prison and taking one look at the conditions caused by the earthquake, fearing the worst, decided that there was only one thing to do. It appeared to him that he must have lost all his prisoners, and that he would be publicly disgraced and probably himself be put to death in a most painful way. A jailer who allowed prisoners to escape was subjected to the penalty that they were due to receive. He drew his short sword and prepared to plunge it into himself:

But Paul cried out with a loud voice, saying, "Do yourself no harm, for we are all here!" (Acts 16:28 NASB)

Paul is in the inner prison, so how did he know this man was about to kill himself? I am inclined to think that Paul knew that the man was about to kill himself by divine revelation. Can you imagine the jailer standing outside the prison, thinking it was empty, seeing absolutely no one, and hearing a loud voice call out telling him not to harm himself? This would surely have made a great impression on the jailer. And something did make such an impression, for the jailer called for lights, rushed in, and fell at the feet of Paul and Silas.

Notice what Paul shouts to the jailer--"do yourself no harm." I think that most of us, when we saw the jailer about to fall on his sword, would have said, "Go for it, you miserable barbarian!" But there is no bitterness in Paul toward those who hurt him. In the midst of his pain, Paul is concerned about others. Just think about how concerned you are about others when you are in pain. Their focus was not on themselves. It was on glorifying God and seeing other people, no matter how undeserving, experience God's saving grace. Don't miss the application: If you ever are treated unfairly, you are probably being given a major opportunity for witness.

And he called for lights and rushed in and, trembling with fear, he fell down before Paul and Silas, (Acts 16:29 NASB)

The jailer, one way or another, recognized that these men had authority. Look at the jailer's question:

and after he brought them out, he said, "Sirs, what must I do to be saved?" (Acts 16:30 NASB)

How did he know to ask that question? Maybe he had heard the slave girl, or maybe he heard Paul preach, surely he had heard him sing. If you saw two men go through what Paul and Silas did and then heard them singing, wouldn't you listen to what they were singing? The hymns they sang would have most likely contained the Gospel. Their songs would have been filled with solid Biblical theology.

There are some who read these words of the jailer, "Men, what must I do to be saved?" as though he were saying, "Men, how do I get out of this mess? How do I square myself with the authorities?" But I am confident this is not what he is asking, because the answer of Paul and Silas is, "If you believe in the Lord Jesus, you will be saved."

His question concerned how he could be spared from the wrath of this Most High God whom Paul and Silas worshiped and clearly influenced. If they could destroy a prison with their singing, what could they do to him?

And they said, "Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you shall be saved, you and your household." (Acts 16:31 NASB)

What must we do to be saved? The answer is the same today as it was in that Philippian prison two thousand years ago--believe in the Lord Jesus! Note the word "Christ" is missing, because that is a message to Israelites, and this family was Roman.

The jailer asks, "What must I do to be saved?" And Paul answers, "Believe on the Lord Jesus," and then he promises, "You shall be saved." Paul could not have made this promise on this one condition unless he knew that all who believe on the Lord Jesus are saved.

The Philippian jailer cried out to Paul and Silas, "What must I do to be saved?" The universalist would answer, "You don't have to do anything, because you are already saved, because Jesus died for the whole world." But this is not what Paul said, He said, "Believe on the Lord Jesus"!

When the Philippian jailer cried out to Paul and Silas, "What must I do to be saved?" The legalist would answer, "You need to repent, confess, join the church, get baptized, tithe," and on and on. But Paul said, "Believe on the Lord Jesus."

Many hold to a Gospel that says, "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and live a holy life and you will be saved." Now I'm not saying that living a holy life is not important, it's very important, but it is not connected to salvation.

John Piper, writing on this text in Acts says, "When the Bible says you cannot EARN salvation, or you cannot do any WORKS to buy it, it does not mean that there is no cost or requirement." He sounds like Bill Clinton! If free doesn't mean free, what does it mean?

And the Spirit and the bride say, "Come." And let the one who hears say, "Come." And let the one who is thirsty come; let the one who wishes take the water of life without cost. (Revelation 22:17 NASB)

Are you thirsty? The water of life is free. The Bible says that salvation is "without cost." John Piper says salvation costs. Who do you believe?

In chapter 2 of Acts, chapter 4 of Acts, chapter 8, chapter 11, chapter 13, chapter 15--in all of those chapters you'll find statements regarding believing in Jesus Christ. That's the only way of salvation.

In the Westminster "shorter" catechism there is a beautiful little definition of faith, and it's simply this. "Faith in Jesus Christ is a saving grace, whereby we receive and rest upon Him alone for our salvation."

It's not praying through, it's not being a good citizen, it's not being properly educated, it's not understanding the issues of life, it's simply resting upon Him alone for our salvation.

It has sometimes been thought that that additional phrase, "and your household," in verse 31, indicates that when an individual--for example a man, believes in the Lord Jesus Christ he may, on the basis of this promise, count on the salvation of his children. But, that is not what the apostle and others meant, when they said, "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved and thy house." What they meant by that was that an individual who believes on the Lord Jesus Christ may be saved, and his house may be saved if they, too, believe on our Lord.

So, this text is no comfort for an individual who thinks that by his faith, his children are guaranteed salvation:

And they spoke the word of the Lord to him together with all who were in his house. (Acts 16:32 NASB)

They then proceeded to speak "the word of the Lord" (8.25; 13.48-49; 15.35-36; 19.10) to all who were in the house, providing full teaching; no doubt including the cross, the resurrection, and enthronement on which they could base their belief. They first said salvation is by believing in Jesus Christ, then they taught him what Jesus Christ did and who He was. And they taught everybody in his house.

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. (Acts 16:33-34 NASB)

The jailer was a changed man. The same jailer who had been punishing them was now ministering to Paul and Silas, caring for their wounds, and he set food before them.

Paul must have sat there eating, thinking of the 23rd Psalm, "thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies."

Advocates of infant baptism use the story of the jailer to argue that surely there were some infants among the household that got baptized. But the story does not say any such thing, and it specifically states that those who got baptized had believed in God (16:34). You have to assume infant baptism and read it into this text to find it there,

because it simply is not there!

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. Now therefore, come out and go in peace." (Acts 16:35-36 NASB)

It was no doubt recognized that the case having been looked into it was seen as questionable, even frivolous, and they presumably felt that the lesson had probably been learned:

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." (Acts 16:37 NASB)

It was forbidden under Roman law to ever corporeally inflict a wound on a Roman citizen. All a Roman had to do was say, "I am a Roman citizen, and they couldn't put one wound on his body." That was the right of Roman citizenship. You know what happened? They had violated Roman law.

Why didn't Paul claim his Roman citizenship earlier? God didn't want him to, because if they hadn't been beaten, they wouldn't have been put in jail. If they hadn't been put in jail, this whole family wouldn't have been saved.

And the policemen reported these words to the chief magistrates. And 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. (Acts 16:38-39 NASB)

The magistrates were in real trouble, and they knew it. Their positions were on the line. Earlier, the Emperor Claudius had deprived the city of Rhodes of its freedom for having crucified some Roman citizens. That is why the magistrates forgave the disciples and appealed to them to leave the city, because as citizens of Rome they could not be forced to depart Philippi.

Why did Paul and Silas confront the authorities? It sounds out of character for these servants of Jesus Christ to demand their rights. They did so because the first church in Europe had now been established, with Lydia and her household and the Philippian jailer and his household--all of them Roman citizens--and they would need protection when they in turn witnessed for Christ in the future. Paul is not concerned for himself, but is concerned that all who would later come to Christ in that Roman city be allowed to live and worship in peace.

And they went out of the prison and entered the house of Lydia, and when they saw the brethren, they encouraged them and departed. (Acts 16:40 NASB)

The agreement to leave was amicable. They were not escorted from the city. Thus they returned to Lydia's house, gathered the believers together to say farewell, exhorted and encouraged them, and then left Philippi with honor intact, probably leaving Luke behind to aid in the nurturing of the young church (the "we" section ceases). Luke would not carry stigma in Philippi as "a Jew."

"The brethren"--we have here the suggestion of a nucleus of believers who now formed a church. It would therefore appear that there were a number of other converts, whose conversion is not described. Much more happened at Philippi than what we are told. What we are told is selective

Luke remained on for a time to shepherd the body; while Paul, Silas, and Timothy headed south on the Egnatian Way, on to their next adventure with their Lord, in Thessalonica.

The challenges of this text is to ask ourselves whether there is anything about us that poses an appropriate threat to the world we live in. Does anybody say of us or our church community, "These people have to be stopped"? Is there enough saltiness in the salt so that it makes a difference?

Many Christians live as though God wasn't real? With their lips they may tell you they believe in God, but by their lives they act as if He didn't exist. It is ironic that the Church needs to be exhorted to live as though God were real. But that is precisely the exhortation we need. We must live as though God were real because He IS real. And the world needs to be encountered by believers who live like that. If we do, the world will sit up and take notice.

The world is watching Christians, and when they see Christians shaken by circumstances just as they are, they conclude that there is very little to Christianity; but when they find Christians rising above circumstances and glorying in the Lord even in deepest trial, then even the unsaved realize the Christian has something in Christ to which they are strangers.

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