First Sunday after the Epiphany—The Baptism of Our Lord
January 11, 2015
Witnessing In Our Suffering
Usually, we hear of Christians imprisoned because of the gospel. The apostles like Peter, for example, were imprisoned for what they were preaching. Sometimes, our missionaries in foreign countries have been imprisoned. Christians in Pakistan or other middle eastern countries are killed because of what they believe in. Certain governments in Asia strictly do not allow Christianity. The gospel can be such a radical idea to some people. But it wasn’t what Paul and Silas were even preaching that got them in trouble! It wasn’t the news of forgiveness and salvation and hope that caused Paul and Silas to be locked up.
Paul and Silas were traveling through Asia Minor, which would be modern day Turkey. They were stopping at different churches and synagogues, teaching and preaching more about Jesus and helping those congregations. Soon, they crossed over into northern Greece and found themselves in a Roman colony called Philippi. It was a city filled with retired Roman military, who were given land there so that there would be a Roman military presence. The people there prided themselves in being Roman citizens.
While Paul and Silas were walking around, a slave girl started following them around every day. But this slave girl was different. She was possessed by a demon that allowed her to predict the future. Needless to say, she earned a lot of money for her masters predicting the future for ignorant people who were willing to give away their money. Most people would have been smart enough not to throw their money away because of the lies that this girl was saying. But as she was following Paul and Silas around, this girl kept yelling out, “These men are servants of the Most High God, who are telling you the way to be saved.” And she kept yelling it out! So Paul finally turned around and said, “In the name of Jesus Christ I command you to come out of her!” And of course, the demon left. When the masters of this slave girl realized that, all of a sudden, they had no more business, they took Paul and Silas, dragging them through the streets, claiming that they were “advocating customs unlawful for…Romans to accept or practice.” Can you believe it?! Well the people did, and they had Paul and Silas stripped, beaten, and thrown into prison. It wasn’t because of their preaching of the gospel, but it was because of money that Paul and Silas were imprisoned! Yeah, money!
They were thrown into prison and the jailor had the responsibility to keep them safely locked up, meaning he was held responsible with his own life for their safe keeping. So obviously, since his life was on the line, the jailor took no chances. The verse before our section mentions that they were put in an inner cell with their feet placed in stocks. It was an instrument of torture, designed to spread the feet wide apart and held in that position, leaving the person bruised, bleeding, and cramping. The last place in the world to do mission work. And that was the hope of the people who threw them in prison. Boy, were they wrong!
Have you ever tried to listen to a conversation through a wall? Unless the people on the other side are screaming, you may have to put your ear up to the wall or even try the glass/cup trick. Well, in our lesson when it mentions that the prisoners were listening, that word was usually used in the medical world for placing your ear to the body to detect a problem. So you can just imagine, those other prisoners hearing this faint sound, looking around, and maybe even placing their ears up to the walls to listen in. And what they heard would have blown them away. They heard Paul and Silas singing and praying. Literally, they were sing praying. Hopefully, they carried a good tune! We don’t necessarily know what they were singing, but the psalms of David have always been important to those who are suffering. No doubt, they were praying for deliverance. But they weren’t crying. No doubt they were praying for the strength to bear the cross and persevere through those circumstances. But they weren’t complaining. No doubt they were praying for the spread of the gospel to people who never heard it. That prison had never experienced that kind of conduct, especially because it never had Christians before in it. No wonder why everyone was listening in!
Our lesson doesn’t say that Paul and Silas were necessarily happy or joyful to be stuck in a prison cell, or having to be tortured. But they were still praying and singing to God. Who has seen the movie “Elf”? Since, I’m sure, the movie is fresh in your mind from the Christmas season, what was the best way to spread Christmas cheer? “The best way to spread christmas cheer is singing loud for all to hear!” Even though this movie is silly, and it misses the point of Christmas, there is some wonderful truth to that motto. Singing is a wonderful way to remember prayers, hymns, promises of God, and biblical doctrines. Why else do you think we still have our children memorize hymns?
Unfortunately, when we are suffering, whether physically like Paul and Silas, or maybe emotionally, or spiritually, praying to God seems to be the last thing that we care about. We, far too often, fail to pray to God. We fail to trust in him and that we will be ok. If anything, we scream at God, questioning his methods, questioning his existence, or even questioning our existence. In doing so, we often overlook opportunities to witness to people or to use it as a teaching opportunity to Christians who are new or young in the faith. When I am mad at the problems in my life, when I am mad at God, the last thing I’m concerned about is praying to God for an opportunity to spread the gospel. But that is exactly what Paul and Silas were doing. It puts me to shame as I am constantly worried about me, myself, and I.
When that earthquake rocked the prison that Paul and Silas were in, everyone could tell that this wasn’t an ordinary earthquake. The doors were unlocked, the chains and stocks were let go from the hands and feet of each prisoner and not a single prisoner was hurt. Truly, a supernatural earthquake. All the prisoners could see that with their plain eyes. They couldn’t help but connect the prayer hymns of Paul and Silas with this earthquake. No wonder why nobody escaped. They probably wanted to see what would happen next! And to their sudden surprise, the jailor comes over and almost killed himself, believing that everyone had escaped. The Roman law would have dealt severely with him for losing these prisoners. His life was on the line and all was lost. You can just imagine the prisoners, standing in the dark, with eyes wide open, trying to figure out what’s happening in such a short moment?! Knowing that God was in control, Paul didn’t lose his cool but made their presence known. The prisoners didn’t flee. The singing and praying of Paul and Silas still were on their hearts. So they all stood together. The jailor owed Paul his life. But he knew that Paul had something that brought so much more comfort.
Paul and Silas were not only able to instruct the family about Jesus, but they were able to baptize them. How cool is that? The pain and the torture inflicted on Paul and Silas were practically forgotten, especially when it came to preaching the gospel to these thirsty souls. Through baptism, the jailor and his family could be connected to what Christ had done, his perfect life, his perfect death, his resurrection, even Christ’s baptism. In Christ’s baptism, we see him as our substitute. His baptism was different than ours in the aspect that he was perfect. He didn’t need the forgiveness of sins. But rather, through all his actions, he was giving the forgiveness. But Christ’s baptism showed that he was one of us and gave Jesus the strength to start and continue his ministry. This Lamb of God came to take away the jailor’s sins and our sins of foolishness and our lack of obeying his command to witness to the world around us. Paul’s answer to the jailor is a comforting answer that reminds us that our salvation doesn’t rest on what we do, because it has already been done for us. Through baptism, we are connected to Christ. If a sin troubles you, you can remind yourself that you are God’s child through baptism.
The gospel changes hearts. You never know how or when! In one moment, the jailor only knew of despair and suicide was the only escape. The family was about to be saddened by the death of their father and brother and spouse. But now, salvation was his and his family’s. Truly amazing. But let’s not forget about the all the prisoners who were able to witness some of these moments and hear the gospel being sung by Paul and Silas. Sure, the jailor and his family are the main people in this account, but possibly not the only believers that came out of it. What a powerful reminder to us that witnessing opportunities are always around, even in the moments we least expect them, even in the moments we sadly couldn't care less. Sometimes we have to be bold in our faith as Paul and Silas were, but we also continue to pray for and look for those opportunities to share the hope that the world cannot give. Look past our suffering and see the people around us who are going through the same trials and sufferings and are desperately craving for something to hope in, the hope that you enjoy every day!
The jailor, his family, the prisoners were all but lost. They had no reason to live. We see that in what the jailor was about to do to himself. Sometimes, a tragic event in a person’s life shows that utter hopelessness. We have been given such a wonderful gift of salvation. A gift that we, regrettably take for granted, and a gift that sometimes we would rather not bother anybody with, especially when we see what people have done to Christians throughout history and throughout the world. But, brothers and sisters in Christ, people want to hear about hope for the future. May God give us strength to witness to the people around us, even when we are suffering. May God give us the boldness to proclaim that message of hope. Amen.