The Prison Problems

Acts 16:31-40

And they said, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you shall be saved, you and your household.” And they spoke the word of the Lord to him together with all who were 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. And he brought them into his house and set food before them, and rejoiced greatly, having believed in God with his whole household. Now when day came, the chief magistrates sent their policemen, saying, “Release those men.” 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.” 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.” And the policemen reported these words to the chief magistrates. And they were afraid when they heard that they were Romans, and they came and appealed to them, and when they had brought them out, they kept begging them to leave the city. And they went out of the prison and entered the house of Lydia, and when they saw the brethren, they encouraged them and departed.

Last time we saw the Roman people present, in their region, openly objecting to Paul and his colleagues because they were saying things contrary to their culture. But in reality we see a handful of men stirring up the people present over loss of potential profit. Paul had cast out a money making demon from a certain slave-girl. To those who love to predict the future, remember that this was demonic. With this loss of profit, the people present were encouraged to be hostile to Paul and his companions–they were beaten with rods, thrown into prison and had their feet placed in stocks. But Paul and Silas sang songs of praise, presumably poetically pure, in the middle of the night and a great earthquake came. The jailer was about to kill himself thinking that they had all escaped but Paul insisted that they were all there. This prompted the jailer to ask them, “what must I do to be saved?”

Today we see them answer; “And they said, ‘Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you shall be saved, you and your household.’ And they spoke the word of the Lord to him together with all who were in his house.” We have seen this many times before in the book of Acts–where one man’s faith seems to save an entire household. This is especially curious because in those days, many households held multiple generations. The question we undoubtedly have is, does this apply today? The answer begins with a closer consideration of the continuing context. That is, it didn’t actually apply then. We are quick to gloss over the text without careful consideration of the context. It is not written, “if you believe, your household will believe too.” It rather says, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you shall be saved, you and your household.” Meaning; he should believe and be saved and the household should believe and be saved.

Here, we utilize the CAGED method of Biblical hermeneutics, where; context is king, author’s aspirations to his audience are apex, genre is the general, expository exegesis of examples enlightens and dividing rightly the word of truth either confirms or cancels our preconceived notions and presuppositions. Therefore we must consider what our Old Testament tutor promised about these days–we call it taking our vitamin E. Ezekiel 18 and Jeremiah 31 say very similar words and quote the same proverb but for time’s sake we will look at Jeremiah because it is shorter and more concise. “In those days they will not say again, ‘The fathers have eaten sour grapes, And the children’s teeth are set on edge.’ But everyone will die for his own iniquity; each man who eats the sour grapes, his teeth will be set on edge.” Even more important than vitamin E is our vitamin C; consider the context.

“‘Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you shall be saved, you and your household.’ And they spoke the word of the Lord to him together with all who were in his house.” We see that the word of God was spoken to the entire household, rather than let the father’s faith save them through some sort of family faith promise. This is neither a family faith-promise nor a family faith-precept, but a simple promise of salvation to anyone who believes–which is the greatest promise of all. Paul would later write to the church in Rome; “if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you shall be saved; for with the heart man believes, resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth he confesses, resulting in salvation.” One problem I have with modern evangelism is the claim that saying the sinner’s prayer saves someone. The recitation of a prepared prayer doesn’t save anyone but rather faith, through grace. However I do agree with modern evangelism that it is a personal relationship with Jesus, the context is clear. One must believe to be saved and not merely be in the midst of other believers. Yet after salvation, being in the midst of believers, seving them, exercising one’s spiritual gifts is of the utmost importance–learning doctrine, supporting the saints, spreading the word, helping the poor and obviously, fighting over which songs to sing.  We see how easily things can be ripped out of context without careful consideration and with a cursory reading. Now before we continue to consider the context, to those who took this passage as a promise and prayed fervently for your family to be saved and God answered with the salvation of your family–praise God. But was it because of the promise that you saw or your faith and prayer reaching out to the God of grace?

Still seeing the jailer: “And he took them that very hour of the night and washed their wounds, and immediately he was baptized, he and all his household. And he brought them into his house and set food before them, and rejoiced greatly, having believed in God with his whole household. Now when day came, the chief magistrates sent their policemen, saying, ‘Release those men.’ 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.'”

We see more evidence of his house having found faith apart from the jailer’s faith. When I taught teenagers I would always tell them to keep reading, the context often clears up considerable cloudiness. The Bible is not written like the owner’s manual to a 2006 Toyota Corolla, it’s literature that spans thousands of years but has a theme–paradise created and subsequently lost to paradise recreated and restored and we are not only along for the ride–how we get there is more than a mere happenstance in history. What we do on earth has heavenly ramifications–earthly ramifications as well. For those returning, you may have noticed a slight change in my missives’ title. We are taking a long view of Scripture and I wanted to reflect that in the title.

In these missives we began in Revelation, the last book in the Bible. This may seem an odd place to start but Revelation is replete with Old Testament imagery. And yet it is the Revelation of Jesus Christ and ties in and also serves to sever the Old Covenant and the New–same God, same faith but an entirely new Covenant. We went through Revelation rather rapidly, though it may not seem this way but much, much more can be said about Revelation. Then we went through the gospel of Matthew, again, not exhaustively but considering Christ as the true Israel. Matthew directly quotes the Old Testament more than any other book of the Bible, explaining the fulfillment of prophecy. Revelation evokes the Old Testament more than any other book of the Bible. In Acts, we see the Old Covenant passing away and the New Covenant coming to full fruition. We are taking a long view of Scripture and not a one verse here, a part of a verse there and a looking out our window approach to the sacred Scripture as the mega-church pastors and dogmatic dispensationalists do. One cannot look out one’s window and then interpret Scripture but must understand the Scripture and then interpret what one sees out one’s window. We have seen an ebb and flow between prosperity and pestilence, peace and persecution, faithfulness and unfaithfulness yet amongst it all, the gospel makes great gains.

In today’s greater context, we have previously seen the first European convert on the continent coming to Christ, and in God’s sovereignty and justice and sense of humor and sense of tradition trampling, it was a woman. In today’s text, we see a jailer, meant to gaurd Paul and Silas, coming to Christ by faith and by faith, helping to hasten the healing of their wounds. By faith he feeds them, not under obligatory rules but contrary to his culture. By faith, in the Spirit he is now working for the kingdom, the context is clear. Notice; “And he took them that very hour of the night and washed their wounds, and immediately he was baptized, he and all his household. And he brought them into his house and set food before them, and rejoiced greatly, having believed in God with his whole household.” At that very hour, meaning the middle of the night, the jailer had his mind changed. And then, his household did as well, based on this promise, “believe in the Lord and you will be saved.” And again, we see an almost instant baptism, just saying.

No I am not “just saying.” While we certainly see aspects in Acts that probably don’t pertain to us, we certainly see the prescriptive package of baptizing new believers. Taking a long view of Scripture also demonstrates this. But in western culture we are cautious, carefully considering the ramifications of baptizing too quickly. We want to make sure that the person being baptized is truly a believer and that they understand what baptism is all about. Ironically, to the new believer, baptism takes about two seconds to explain; time me. It’s a faithful public proclamation that you have died to your sins through Jesus’ death on the cross and have resurrected to a new life in the Spirit.

Jesus left us with two sacred rites, or privileged partakings, or, ceremonies, what ever one wants to call them, communion, or the Lords Supper and Baptism. I believe that since he left us with so few, we tend to overanalyze and try to make sure that we are doing them perfectly. We call this, overcorrection. Paul’s letter to the Corinthians has us questioning both baptism and communion, but especially concerning communion. However we are apprehensive about baptizing new believers because we often see the seeds scattered by the side of the road with no real root, as Jesus said in his parable explanation in Matthew 13. But as always, this can be taken out of context. The mega-church and frankly most evangelical churches, have turned baptism into an all day-event, multiple days in most cases, where one buys a new dress, food is prepared, decorations are hung and several classes are required. But we don’t see this anywhere in the context. I want to go to Russia and watch a baptism of a new believer, broken through the ice of a lake because she couldn’t wait for summer to be baptized–that is believer’s baptism. In today’s text they were baptized immediately after believing and we have seen it before and will see it again, lord willing.

After being baptized and feeding the apostles word came to the jailer; “Now when day came, the chief magistrates sent their policemen, saying, ‘Release those men.’ 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.'” Sweet, Paul and Silas were free to go. Mission accomplished! They found faith and favor in the jailer, were relatively free even in incarceration and were now totally free to proceed on to Macedonia. Only this is not how Paul saw the situation or sensed the scenario.

“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.’ And the policemen reported these words to the chief magistrates. And they were afraid when they heard that they were Romans, and they came and appealed to them, and when they had brought them out, they kept begging them to leave the city.” Paul has a point and we have discussed this before; Paul and apparently Silas also, were Roman citizens. As we argue in America about the rights of illegal immigrants, we begin to lose sight of what it means to be a citizen of a nation. I am pro-immigration. I actually have exceedingly great news concerning my pastor friend who had to flee from persecution, with his family–they have legally reached the United States! That’s a gigantic praise God and amen situation. Nevertheless politics have corrupted our immigration situation. It is extremely difficult to know where one stands because we don’t know the rules or how to pay for any of this.  It was much more cut and dry during the early years of the Roman Empire, only to be changed by the increase of christianity. But at the time of today’s text, Roman citizens had certain privileges that didn’t pertain to the people Rome plundered. One of these privileges was the right to a trial. Paul and Silas were beaten and thrown in prison without a proper trial.

This was not good for the chief magistrates. Paul knew this and used it as leverage. This morning my daughter and I had a discussion on unreasonable search and seizure. I want my children to know their rights under the constitution. Not that my daughter has anything to hide but because the government can become overzealous in its pursuit of “justice.” Look at what happened to Paul and Silas as an example. Justice is not blind, it is in the eye of the beholder. While this may sound like a Metallica album, it’s the truth. Two things I hate: police unfairly targeting minorities and minorities unfairly targeting police. One, two or even several prejudice police doesn’t give one license to undermine all police efforts at law enforcement. One, two or several minorities misbehaving doesn’t give police the right to assume all minorities misbehave. And obviously the vast majority understand this but the media, politicians and social justice warriors want us divided, therefore they tout the minuscule yet very volatile and vocal minority. Much in the same way the chief magistrates in today’s text abused their power and sense of justice.

“And the policemen reported these words to the chief magistrates. And they were afraid when they heard that they were Romans, and they came and appealed to them, and when they had brought them out, they kept begging them to leave the city. And they went out of the prison and entered the house of Lydia, and when they saw the brethren, they encouraged them and departed.” Notice that Paul does not keep pursuing the matter. He made his point, finished up his business in town, encouraged the brethren and went on his way. Paul fought the power, won a small victory and left it at that. He had bigger proverbial fish to fry.  We know that Paul is on his way through Macedonia; he doesn’t lose sight of the bigger picture by getting embroiled in the small stuff.

Also, the embarrassed and disgraced magistrates begged Paul and Silas to leave their jurisdiction–they didn’t want any more trouble or misunderstandings. Most importantly they want Paul and Silas gone because they now know that they are Romans with rights. No longer can they mistreat them, beat them or throw them in prison without fear of retaliation from Rome. That would all change very soon but I am getting way ahead of myself. They wanted Paul and his companions gone, and having set up a church and encouraging them, Paul and his companions also wanted to go, because they knew in their hearts that they had a divine date with destiny in moving through Macedonia.

One takeaway I have from studying this context is to not sweat the small stuff if it means losing sight of the greater goal. Paul could have made the magistrates miserable by staying put and what great fun that would be to see. But Paul, while fighting for his rights, doesn’t lose sight of the greater goal. He doesn’t bask in the victory or rub it in, he simply moves on towards the greater goal, walking by faith. Look at how simply Luke puts it; “And they went out of the prison and entered the house of Lydia, and when they saw the brethren, they encouraged them and departed.” Paul and his companions are moving on to Macedonia. It doesn’t mean that they didn’t leave a part of themselves with them. We notice that they didn’t leave without encouraging the church that was established in Lydia’s house during their relatively short stay there. Rather than run away, Paul and his companions leave on their own terms after encouraging the people present in the church.

 

 

 

 

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