April 4, 2019
Scripture Acts 16:16-34
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.”
Acts 16:27-28 NRSV
The apostle Paul and his partner in witness, mission, and ministry, Silas, were jailed for helping a slave girl gain freedom from forced service to her owners and managers. Very soon, a great event followed during their imprisonment: An earthquake shook the foundations of the prison and the prison doors opened. Even the chains came off of the prisoners! They all were free from prison, and yet they stayed.
There are many changes going on this scene among its striking and detailed images. One immediate effect is this literal sense of gaining freedom. Like the slave girl earlier in the text, everyone should benefit from this miraculous event, immediately! But, the jailer who is responsible to the authorities sees his doom. He remains a prisoner to authority. He is about to take his own life, when Paul causes the jailer to stop. Paul’s action is unexpected, because he is free from physical captivity for the moment. But, Paul is never free from God’s expectations for him and the overpowering will of God that dominated his every moment of living.
In this moment, Paul’s influence was profound, but only because of God’s Spirit working through him. And, this accounts for what followed: The prisoners all remain where they were! The jailer retained his dignity and his position. But, more importantly this new convert to the faith submitted to God and crossed the difficult borderland that becomes faith. He and all his household survived and were baptized into the church of Jesus Christ. All of this took place in Philippi in Macedonia, far away from the beginnings of the faith among the disciples in Jerusalem.
Through the God's activity, the jailer and his entire family joined the church called by Christ. In doing this, they gained a new form of freedom: One that was well known to Paul, Silas, and the believers that followed them. This freedom of spirit and faith formation remains for us: stronger than earthly rule, prisons, and any other form of domination. And, God’s Spirit continues to offer each of us a newfound freedom, if we believe (Acts 16:30-31).