October 2, 2011

You Can't Imprison God

Paul and Silas set out from Antioch on another missionary journey. Along the way the power of God is seen and experienced by a seller of purple cloth, a slave girl, and a prison warden. About this time, as hypothesized by the change of pronoun, Luke joins them, too.

The first thing Paul does is go back to Lystra and picks Timothy to go with the group. Despite his previous support of the ‘non-circumcision’ ruling, Paul “had him circumcised because of the Jews who were in those places, for they all knew that his father was a Greek.” (Sometimes it is easier to go along with traditions in order to not offend other people.) He then continues to visit the churches he planted earlier, delivering “delivered to them for observance the decisions that had been reached by the apostles and elders who were in Jerusalem. So the churches were strengthened in the faith and increased in numbers daily.” (Acts 16:3-5)

After Paul has a vision of a man of Macedonia, “we immediately tried to cross over to Macedonia, being convinced that God had called us to proclaim the good news to them.” (Notice the change of pronoun by Luke?) They set sail from Troas on the northwest coast of Turkey and crossed the Aegean Sea to Neaopolis and Philippi.

In Philippi “a leading city of the district of Macedonia and a Roman colony” they meet “A certain woman named Lydia, a worshipper of God, was listening to us; she was from the city of Thyatira and a dealer in purple cloth. The Lord opened her heart to listen eagerly to what was said by Paul. When she and her household were baptized, she urged us, saying, ‘If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come and stay at my home.’ And she prevailed upon us.” (Acts 16:12-15) Isn't it interesting that Paul, the former 'good Pharisee' now is willing to preach to and stay with a woman. When God converts hearts, it is a complete change!

Despite her patronage, when Paul heals a slave girl with ‘a spirit of divination’, he is thrown into prison because “These men are disturbing our city; they are Jews and are advocating customs that are not lawful for us as Romans to adopt or observe.” (Acts 16:20-21) The crowd “joined in attacking them, and the magistrates had them stripped of their clothing and ordered them to be beaten with rods. After they had given them a severe flogging, they threw them into prison and ordered the jailer to keep them securely. Following these instructions, he put them in the innermost cell and fastened their feet in the stocks.” (Acts 22-24)

You can't imprison the Word and power of God, though! In this painting by William Hatherell you see Paul and Silas jailed, but still
praying and singing hymns to God [when] there was an earthquake, so violent that the foundations of the prison were shaken; and immediately all the doors were opened and everyone’s chains were unfastened. When the jailer woke up and saw the prison doors wide open, he drew his sword and was about to kill himself, since he supposed that the prisoners had escaped. But Paul shouted in a loud voice, ‘Do not harm yourself, for we are all here.’” The miracle of the prisoners being free and remaining in jail converts the jailor who asks “‘Sirs, what must I do to be saved?’ They answered, ‘Believe on the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.’” He is baptized with his family and “bought them up into the house and set food before them; and he and his entire household rejoiced that he had become a believer in God.” (Acts 16:25-34)

In the morning, the magistrates send word saying Paul can be released. In response, he plays the citizenship card he will use at other times throughout Acts. “Paul replied, ‘They have beaten us in public, uncondemned, men who are Roman citizens, and have thrown us into prison; and now are they going to discharge us in secret? Certainly not! Let them come and take us out themselves.’ 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.” (Acts 16:37-39) In Roman society, citizens had certain rights, esp. when it came to punishment and imprisonment and false imprisonment could be fatal for the magistrates. It is no wonder they hurried to apologize.

The magistrates ask Paul, politely, to leave Philippi. “After leaving the prison they went to Lydia’s home; and when they had seen and encouraged the brothers and sisters there, they departed.” (Acts 16:40)

We are citizens of a greater kingdom than the Roman empire. Our rights as citizens are greater than those of the citizens of Rome. Our debts have been paid in full because “he has born our griefs and carried our sorrows.” We like the jailer can rejoice when we know and believe that "Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again."
In the next few weeks we’ll look at further at Paul’s travels in Greece.

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