Paul and Silas and the Jailer
Acts 16:16-34

Have you ever had one of those days when everything you try to do just doesn’t seem to be working out?  You know the kind of day, when you are trying to do the right thing by someone and it all blows up in your face?  Like in the movies where someone goes to help out someone who has an injured leg and winds up shutting their leg in the door of the taxi, that sort of thing.

I reckon Paul and Silas might have been thinking something similar when they healed the woman with a spirit.  They thought they were doing the right thing, even if it was motivated by them just wanting to keep her quiet and stop annoying them, but then things turned a bit sour.  The woman’s owners weren’t happy, they had taken away her ability to tell people’s fortunes and in doing so they had taken away the income stream that she was bringing them.

No wonder they were upset.  To add salt to the wound the message that Paul and Silas were spreading was contrary to pretty much everything in Roman culture even though they were Roman citizens themselves.  These two would have to be punished for their crime.  In Roman culture, just like today, taking away someone’s means of income was definitely frowned upon.

There was no chance for an apology or an explanation; they were hauled off to the authorities for the case to be heard immediately.  The crowd were hostile as well, so the magistrates had them stripped and beaten and then hauled off to prison.
In anyone’s language that wasn’t a great result for doing a woman a favour was it?  But, as we hear from Paul himself in his letter to the Romans, “We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.”

Even though there was some suffering involved and even imprisonment, this sequence of events had already set one woman free, what other good might come from it?

As we heard there was a great deal of good to come.  As Paul and Silas were sitting in the innermost cell, locked in chains, they were singing hymns and the earth shook, and the doors opened and the chains fell off.  Here was a perfect opportunity for Paul and Silas and all of the other prisoners to do a runner, but they didn’t.  They stayed put. 

When the poor old jailer woke up you could imagine his shock and his fear.  He was responsible for every person in there; if they escaped he would be punished far worse than any of those already locked up in the prison.  He was so upset that he was going to take his own life with his sword, for fear of what the magistrates and authorities might do to him.  He was definitely having a bad day now!  And it had started out so well too.

Before the poor man could do the deed, Paul called out to him not to do it because everyone was still there.  When he got some light on the subject he realised that what they had said was true, they were all still there, and that’s when he fell down trembling and asked the question, “What must I do to be saved?”  He knew by what he had seen and experienced that what these men had been preaching in the streets must be true and he wanted to know what was required of him.

Their answer must have come as a surprise to him, there was no great task that he must perform, he simply had to believe and he would be saved!  Wow, what a turn of events, he had gone from being ready to take his own life, to receiving new life through his faith in Jesus.

God had worked good through the adversity that Paul and Silas had been through, being flogged and imprisoned had led to this man and his entire household being saved.

It was time for a party,  a time of rejoicing, with food and fellowship, there had been a huge change in this man’s life and he wanted to thank Paul and Silas and of course God for it.  He still remained a Roman citizen, he still kept his old job as far as we can tell, but his life had new meaning, he and his family were saved.  The message that these men were proclaiming became his message.  He had seen for himself the power of God to set people free and as a result he had been set free.

You and I live in our world, we are an important part of our society.  We all have our vocations and stations in life.  We have students, teachers, police officers, nurses, bus drivers, retirees, computer technicians, managers, sales people, you name it we pretty much have it covered here.  You go about your lives every day, and as you do you are part of society, part of the world.  But you are also part of God’s family the church.  Just like the jailer and his family and even Paul and Silas, you believe and have been baptised.  You have much to rejoice about too.

If you were asked what must I do to be saved, how would you respond.  What would be your answer?  Have you ever thought about it?  I think many Christians still believe that there are certain things we must do in order to guarantee salvation, that in some way we are responsible for the gift that God gives to us.  But the truth is that there IS NOTHING we can do except believe.  Everything after that is a response to the salvation that the belief brings, and we only believe because God through the Holy Spirit has opened our hearts and minds to him.

Our sinful human nature wants it to all be about us, that’s why many people have difficulty believing, but it is God’s will for all people to be saved.  That was the reason for Jesus becoming a humble human being and taking his journey to the cross.  So that we may all become one, one church, one faith, one God.  Bound together by love.  So that in all things God might work for good for those who love him.  He wants us to share his story with all people in a similar way to Paul and Silas, in our world, with the citizens of our country and all the world.

Many of us have faith stories that come from times of adversity, days that when we were experiencing them we would rather have been doing anything else, but as we look back at them we realise where God was caring for us and leading us through.  I think it would be great if we all got to know each other well enough to hear each others stories, to know and understand each other better, and to see God at work in each others lives, and then to gather around some food and rejoice together at the salvation that God has given us.

Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good, his steadfast love endures forever.

Amen.