Around midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening. Suddenly, there was a massive earthquake, and the prison was shaken to its foundations. All the doors immediately flew open, and the chains of every prisoner fell off! The jailer woke up to see the prison doors wide open. He assumed the prisoners had escaped, so he drew his sword to kill himself. But Paul shouted to him, “Stop! Don’t kill yourself! We are all here!” The jailer called for lights and ran to the dungeon and fell down trembling before Paul and Silas. Then he brought them out and asked, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” They replied, “Believe in the Lord Jesus and you will be saved, along with everyone in your household.”
And they shared the word of the Lord with him and with all who lived in his household. Even at that hour of the night, the jailer cared for them and washed their wounds. Then he and everyone in his household were immediately baptized. He brought them into his house and set a meal before them, and he and his entire household rejoiced because they all believed in God.Acts 16:28-34)
I want to pick up the two questions left from what readers asked me:
- Why did the jailer draw a sword to kill himself?
- Why didn’t the prisoners escape?
Then I wish to examine God’s response in the light of several prison experiences and then link it to what is happening in Indonesia at the moment. Once again the Gems seem to be in sync with what is happening in Indonesia in real time.
Why did the jailer draw a sword to kill himself?
As I have told you before on several occasions if a jailer or prison guard lost a prisoner under their care, especially when the command was to guard them carefully and ensure they didn’t escape, it normally meant you forfeited your own life for that of the prisoner(s) you lost. That was the sword hanging over this jailer’s head. I am sure he felt it was far better to take his own life and get it over quickly, rather than face long torture at the hand of his superiors before death. You can bet his death would not have been kind if left to those above him. When his prison shattered around he was convinced he had lost his prisoners. After all as two of you pointed out, that is what prisoners do; escape if they can.
Why didn’t the prisoners escape?
What remarkable elements in this story which beg commentary. There was a massive [mega] earthquake and the prison was shaken to its foundations. Stop right there and ponder. If I am right in my surmising that Paul and Silas were in the dungeon below and I only suspect that because they were deep inside the prison and chained in stocks. That lends itself to the conclusion that they were in the dungeon area – the most secure part of the prison. But it’s only conjecture on my part. They may have been in the [interiora] as two of you have pointed out. Note the prison was shaken to its foundations, which must include the dungeon. All the doors immediately flew open and the chains of every prisoner fell off. You have to conclude this was a tailor-made earthquake – ordered up with certain specific features. “Lord I want all chains to fall off, all doors to open but no one to be hurt.” “Sure anything else?” That borders on the unbelievable but when you deal with God be prepared for anything. When the jailer wakes (he was obviously sleeping on site) he assumes he has lost his prisoners. His prison is in ruins. But where are the prisoners? They are not in their cells. I assume they were gathered around Paul and Silas.
Why didn’t the prisoners do what prisoners do when the cell door is open, run for it? No, every single one of them was present and accounted for. Not one took their opportunity and escaped. Why? I think they were held captivate! Oh not by walls, or bars or anything touchable or tangible. I think they were captivated by Paul and Silas. Imagine being in that prison chained at the ankles and awaiting death (at least for the other prisoners). Paul and Silas are dragged in beaten to within an inch of their life, chained into the anklets and left there bleeding and battered. Soon after the prison fills with the sound of singing – through raspy lungs. The other inmates must have been incredulous. How can these guys be singing after what they have been through? It doesn’t make sense.
Then suddenly they intersperse their singing with prayers. Oh how I wish the prayers of Paul and Silas had been recorded for us. I would love to know what they prayed. Just pause and consider what you would have prayed at that time. Would you have called down vengeance on your enemies? What would you have asked for? I am sure Paul and Silas’ prayers were far different. I suspect they may have been in line with the cries their Lord and Saviour cried. “Father forgive them.” “Not my will but yours be done.” “Lord use this situation to your glory.” Whatever they prayed I am sure their prayers were just as earth shattering as their songs. Imagine the thoughts of the prisoners as they listened. They went on and on with tortured lungs. “Who are these guys?” “We have never encountered anyone like them before.” Then suddenly the prison is shaken by an earthquake and you fear for your life. What had Paul or Silas just been praying before the earthquake? I would love to know. Some day I will ask them, if I remember the question when I am surrounded with the glory of God. When you look around after the mega earthquake has stopped and you realise you’re free from your ankle chains and the door to your cell is wide open, as are all the other doors in the prison. You look around and every other prisoner’s chains are off as well. I think you would be asking one question. “Who are these guys?”
I don’t think any prisoner would want to leave Paul and Silas’ side. After all, what will they find outside the prison? Better to stick with these two, that is the safest place to be. It seems wherever they are, God is. After all they just prayed . . . . and suddenly all heaven broke loose. Don’t let these guys out of your sight. Cling to them.
Now I feel to focus on something else. Notice how each time God intervenes in a prison scenario it’s different. God is so creative each situation is handled differently. On the first occasion an angel comes and just opens the gates and escorts them out and tells them to go back to the temple courts, the very place they shouldn’t go. (Acts 5). The second time another angel comes and has to touch things before they happen (Acts 12) and then just vanishes. This time there is no angel but an earthquake, but a very particular kind of earthquake. God doesn’t do things the same way each time. He keeps us guessing and all looking on as well. I am sure government officials must have been terrified of these pesky Christ-followers.
Now let me switch to what is happening in Jakarta, Indonesia. The Christian Governor of Jakarta, Basuki Tjahaja Purnama (Ahok) has been jailed for blasphemy. It has shattered Christians, left all of his followers wondering what is happening. This is a modern day example of a Christian jailed unjustly. What will happen in this case? Will God free him by means of a angel? Will there be an earthquake called to measure to just open all doors or just his door? I suspect it will be a case similar to Joseph in prison. you (they) meant this for evil but God turned it for good.
I admire Ahok’s attitude. It is Paul and Silas like. No actually it’s Christ like. He has written a letter to all his followers (Christian and Muslim alike) telling them he is praising God in the midst of this. Good first move Ahok! He has told his followers not to react but to respond peacefully. Forgive and raise the two-fingered peace sign. Treated unjustly he responds like Joseph, like Peter, like Paul, like Silas – no like Christ. God bless you Ahok. You are truly a follower of Christ. As Paul said, “Follow me as I follow Christ.”
Ahok, Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, I am following you and praying for you here in New Zealand and have lit a candle for you. I’m commiting you into God’s hands for His intervention. Watch this space.
How will God intervene? He most certainly will but it may surprise us how because God never does things the same way. He is full of surprises.
Trust in the Lord with all your heart, don’t reply on your own insight. In all your ways acknowledge Him and He will make your way straight.Proverbs 3:5-6
They meant it for evil but God turned it for good.Genesis 50:20
Have no anxiety about anything but by prayer (and praise) let your request be made known to God and the peace of God will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.Philippians 4:6-7
Ahok, Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, I am following you and praying for you here in New Zealand and have lit a candle for you. I’m commiting you to God’s hands for His intervention.Ian Vail