RPM, Volume 17, Number 38, September 13 to September 19, 2015

To the Ends of the Earth: Prison Time

Acts 16:16-40

By Dr. Derek W. H. Thomas

We come tonight again to the sixteenth chapter. We began to look at this chapter together last Sunday evening. Luke is giving us here cameo portraits. I think Luke, as a historian, just relished in describing certain events and certain characters, and the details of certain stories, and I think you can detect that particularly in this chapter.

What we have in this chapter are stories—three different stories—of three quite different people, all of whom come to a saving knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ. We saw last week the story of Lydia, the business woman from Thyatira; a fairly prosperous business woman, we think, with possibly homes in Thyatira and here in Philippi, and some evidence perhaps to say that she does business eventually in the great city of Rome itself. You remember how Paul and Silas and Timothy and Luke have made their way to this great city of Philippi, and there is no synagogue there, and on the Sabbath Day they make their way to what is euphemistically called the place of prayer. It's a location by a river. The river is estimated to be about a mile and a quarter or so from the city itself, and there a group of women are gathered together. And it's on this occasion that Paul begins to expound the Scriptures, to preach Jesus and Him crucified. And Luke tells us this woman Lydia, this prosperous business woman, is converted.

But Luke hasn't finished the story, and tonight we want to continue into other cameo portraits of the young (probably teenaged) slave girl, and of course the Philippian jailer. Well, let's pick up the reading in Acts 16, and beginning at the sixteenth verse. Before we read the passage together, let's look to God in prayer.

Father, once again we bow before You. We acknowledge that we are in need of being taught and instructed, and our eyes to be opened and our hearts to be enlarged, and our affections drawn after You. We thank You for the Scriptures, for the holy word of God. We thank You for this book of Acts especially, and now as we come to the familiar and much-loved story of the conversion particularly of the Philippian jailer, we pray once again make this word fresh to us. Write it upon our hearts. Cause us to fall in love with the Christ of this passage and the gospel of this passage, and the grace of the passage. And all of this we ask for Jesus' sake. Amen.

This is God's holy word:

It happened that as we were going to the place of prayer, a slave girl having a spirit of divination met us, who was bringing her masters much profit by fortunetelling. Following after Paul and us, she kept crying out, saying, "These men are bond-servants of the Most High God, who are proclaiming to you the way of salvation." She continued doing this for many days. But Paul was greatly annoyed, and turned and said to the spirit, "I command you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her!" And it came out at that very moment.

But when her masters saw that their hope of profit was gone, they seized Paul and Silas and dragged them into the market place before the authorities, and when they had brought them to the chief magistrates, they said, "These men are throwing our city into confusion, being Jews, and are proclaiming customs which it is not lawful for us to accept or to observe, being Romans." And the crowd rose up together against them, and the chief magistrates tore their robes off them, and proceeded to order them to be beaten with rods. When they had struck them with many blows, they threw them into prison, commanding the jailer to guard them securely; and he, having received such a command, threw them into the innermost prison, and fastened their feet in the stocks. But about midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns of praise to God, and the prisoners were listening to them; and suddenly there came a great earthquake, so that the foundations of the prison house were shaken; and immediately all the doors were opened, and everyone's chains were unfastened. When the jailer awoke and saw the prison doors opened, he drew his sword and was bout to kill himself, supposing that the prisoners had escaped. But Paul cried out with a loud voice, saying, "Do not harm yourself, for we are all here!" And he called for lights and rushed in and, trembling with fear, he fell down before Paul and Silas, and after he brought them out, he said, "Sirs, what must I do to be saved?" And they said, "Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household." They spoke the word of the Lord to him together with all 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. Therefore come out now 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." The policemen reported these words to the chief magistrates. 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. They went out of the prison and entered the house of Lydia, and when they saw the brethren, they encouraged them and departed.

Amen. May the Lord add His blessing.

In 1736, Jonathan Edwards wrote a very important book still in print and still much loved and read today. It is called A Narrative of Surprising Conversions. And in many ways that's what Luke is giving us here in the sixteenth chapter: a narrative, a portrait gallery, if you like, of surprising conversions. Men and women — one man and two women from very different social backgrounds: a prosperous business woman from Thyatira, a seller of purple goods, expensive cloth and goods that only those with some means would be able to afford; and then a slave girl, a teenage girl. Luke spares us, I think, some of the details of what her life would have been like as a slave girl, and one that almost, you get the impression, led an existence of something like some circus beast being taken from one part of the city to another, and a crowd would gather and ogle at her. And then a man who had seen almost everything, I imagine; seen the worst of humanity; seen certainly people at their worst; seen men and perhaps women too, thieves and robbers and murderers, and perhaps worse, and had seen them in their worst condition, and seen men and women in social degradation; a hardened man, perhaps. Try speaking the gospel to grave diggers, and I think you'll know what I mean. He had seen it all and there was nothing new to him to shock him, but something came that night that shocked him to the very core of his being.

We've already looked at the first portrait, and we move on down this gallery to look at the two other pictures that Luke paints for us.

The slave girl—it's a week later, I think. Paul and his companions are again meeting in the place of prayer…at least they're on their way to the place of prayer on the next Sabbath, and they're followed by this young girl, a slave girl who has a spirit of divination (literally in the Greek a python spirit, and those of you who know your Greek mythology can now wax eloquent as to what python represents here. You will remember that the god Zeus had two twin sons, Apollo and Artemis, and Apollo was said to have an oracle at Delphi. And it is also said that Apollo manifested himself by means of a snake or a python that guarded the oracle at Delphi, and some of this mythology has crept over into Philippi, and there are those who think that when this girl begins to speak and prophesy she makes these utterances at the behest of the Satan. She is in double bondage, do you see. She is a slave girl who owns nothing of herself, but she is also in bondage to an evil spirit. And for several days she follows the Apostle Paul and his companions and utters these words: "These men are servants of the Most High God and have come to tell us the way of salvation."

A couple of questions arise as we examine this portrait. The first is why does an evil spirit utter something that is true? Because indeed they were servants of the Most High, and indeed they had come to tell the way of salvation. And the Puritan William Bates put it, I think, in a very meaningful and insightful way: that the devil will tell you a hundred things that are true in order that he might tell you the hundred-and-first thing that isn't true, and weave his way of cunning and evil into the machinations of your heart and soul.

But perhaps a more interesting question still is why did Paul tolerate her for so long? For several days apparently, until—well, in our text it says in verse 18 that he was "greatly annoyed." And one gets the impression from the words that Luke actually employs here that he was both irritated and troubled about her at the same time; troubled that such a young girl would be caught in such a vice and grip of Satan, but irritated, too. Yes, even the Apostle Paul could get irritated! He'd had enough of this. At first perhaps he tolerated it. Was it perhaps because Paul wasn't sure what to make of her? Was it at first because she was in some capacity at least giving him some publicity in the city of Philippi? Because he truly was on behalf of the Most High God telling the way of salvation. But after a while I think it just got on his nerves, you might say. And perhaps the thought entered into the mind of the Apostle Paul that what appeared to be true may not quite have been true; that the very expression the Most High God could be interpreted in more than one way: that He was one of several gods, and that he had come to declare the way of salvation…the way among many other ways, perhaps. And it was time for Paul to exorcise this evil spirit, and in the name of Jesus Christ, he speaks to the spirit and says, "In the name of Jesus Christ, come out of her!" and the spirit left her that very hour.

Now Luke has a little play on words. It doesn't come across in our English translations, but Luke says the spirit left her, and the means of making profit left them. It's exactly the same word, and he puts them back to back as though he's having a little play on words here. The spirit left her, and the means of making profit left them. And of course this provides the segue into the second portrait, because it's the commotion now as a result of this exorcism that gets Paul and Silas imprisoned in the city of Philippi. These owners of this slave girl drag Paul and Silas, and perhaps the others too, into the marketplace, and they're brought before the magistrates and they're brought before what a loose translation renders as the police or the lictors. These are the men who walked about the city with rods and gave out summary justice, painful justice. And Paul and Silas are stripped and beaten, and maybe this is one of the beatings that Paul refers to in his Second Epistle to the Corinthians when he refers to the 39 lashes. Maybe this is one of those incidents.

There's a lesson here, before we move into the segue. The same grace that saved a prosperous woman of great social standing, the same grace was needed to save this young slave girl of absolutely no social standing whatsoever. You have one woman of high degree and eminence in society, and you have another at the very dregs of society; but it's the same grace that is operative in both of the lives of these women to bring them out of the bondage of sin and Satan and into the arms and embrace of Jesus Christ.

And that leads now to the segue to the third portrait, and it's of course the famous portrait of the Philippian jailer. He's given orders to guard— and really guard—Paul and Silas and he has them put in the innermost cell, and their feet are put in the stocks. And then something extraordinary and perhaps quite unexpected: at midnight there is the sound of singing and praying, and the psalms of David from memory, no doubt, are being sung. (I would love to know what the tunes were! Wouldn't that be an extraordinary thing?) And do you note how Luke records that even the rest of the prisoners were listening to them? This is Paul, who writes in Romans 5, "we rejoice in tribulations also." We don't just tolerate them, we don't just grit our teeth, we don't just address them with stoic reserve. "We rejoice in tribulations" because Paul knew that it was through tribulations that God time and again draws His people closer to Himself. Paul understood that this period of tribulation and the bleeding wounds on his back and that of Silas was an indicator that God in His extraordinary providence was working something for the good of His people.

His purposes will ripen fast, unfolding every hour.
The bud may have a bitter taste, but sweet will be the flower.

And then there's an earthquake in a region of the world that to this day is given to earthquakes. And in the course of this earthquake, the foundations of the prison are shaken and the doors…the locks on the doors somehow are released, and the bolts perhaps that held them to the floor or the wall are released. And the jailer thinks the worst, and attempts even to take his life, because if the prisoners have been released, the Roman form of punishment for the jailer would be to have that penalty of those prisoners now inflicted upon himself. And Paul exclaims from within the prison, "We're all here!" And the jailer calls for lights, and comes to where Paul and Silas are, and trembling and wrought upon now by the Spirit of God, shaken in his soul indeed, cries out, "Sirs! What must I do to be saved?"

Now my friends, there is no more important question in all the world than that one. Of all the things that are on your mind, of all the questions, of all the things that you are thinking about that you need to do tomorrow…that "To Do" list…and some of you are good at "To Do" lists, and it's long and it's complicated…and the things that you were supposed to have done months ago, and they are a burden and a concern to you. But my friends, they pale into insignificance in comparison to this question: "What must I do to be saved?"

He asks the way of salvation. He's not asking how he will be released from Roman retribution. After all, none of the prisoners have escaped. No, this is a spiritual question. It's the profoundest question of all, and Paul's answer…Paul and Silas, as they respond to this question, give a clear and straightforward response to this question: "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved, and your household." The way of salvation, the way of rescue from sin, the way out of bondage to Satan is by believing in the Lord Jesus Christ.

Upon a life I did not live,
Upon a death I did not die,
Another's death, Another's life,
I stake my whole eternity.

Do you notice what Paul doesn't say in answer to the question "What must I do to be saved?" Paul doesn't say, "Be baptized." Now, he is baptized, but that wasn't the answer to his question. There are some who think that when the jailer took him to his home, his adjacent house, and fed Paul and Silas that they participated in the Lord's Supper. I don't think that myself, but that's what some commentators say. But that wasn't Paul's response — "Take the Lord's Supper and you will be saved." Paul's answer was not "Associate yourself with the covenant community and receive the boundary markers," because that too is not the way of salvation. The way of salvation is "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved." It's faith, and it's faith alone, in Christ alone. It's "Forsaking all, I take Him." Faith! I abandon myself. That's what faith is. It's an abandonment of any hope that lies within myself…that there is nothing that I can do, there is no work that I can accomplish, there are no motives that I can fulfill. It's all of the grace of God, and the only thing that I can do and the only thing that this jailer can do is cast himself utterly and unreservedly and completely into the arms of Jesus Christ, who says to him, "Come unto Me, all ye that are weary and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest."

Yes, we exercise faith. God doesn't believe for us. It is my faith. It was the Philippian jailer's faith, but that faith itself was a God-given gift of the Holy Spirit. God was at work in the soul of this man.

I sought the Lord, and afterwards I knew
He moved my soul to seek Him, seeking Me.
It was not I that found, O Savior true;
No, I was found of Thee.

And providence, you see…an earthquake. As in the case of Lydia, it was the exposition of Scripture, in the case of the slave girl it was an exorcism of an evil spirit. In the case of this Philippian jailer, it was an earthquake that brought him to a realization of His mortality and needs, and that at a moment's notice he could be brought into the presence of his maker and creator, and he cries out, "What must I do to be saved?"

Now there are evidences of a true work of conversion here: the kindness that he shows Paul and Silas. He had shown no kindness beforehand, you notice. Now he bathes their wounds and shows them kindness. And he's baptized, he and his household. There and then! Later in the church, of course, in the first century, there would be a period of examination before baptisms would take place, but there is no church here in Philippi, and Paul and Silas the next day are going to leave the city. If he was going to be baptized it was going to be then or perhaps never, and so Paul, perceiving the true mark of conversion, has him baptized, and he takes the name of Christ and owns the name of Christ, and becomes a soldier of Jesus Christ, and bears now that mark, that testimony of faith and adoption, and the forgiveness of sins and the hope of glory. That's what baptism testifies to—that God the Holy Spirit had wrought a work in the heart for this man.

And then he takes Paul and Silas to his adjacent home and feeds him. He feeds him. And then, presumably—Luke doesn't tell us, but presumably Paul and Silas went back to the prison again, because the next morning when the lictors come and announce that these men are now to be released, Paul then drops his bombshell that having been beaten publicly they are not going to be released secretly, because they are Romans. And though law has been broken here, now what do you think Paul is up to? And I rather think that Paul is thinking not so much of himself, not so much of his honor as a Roman citizen, because at the end of the day I don't think Paul could care less about his Roman citizenship, in comparison to his citizenship which is in heaven.

No, Paul is thinking about this little fledgling community in Philippi, and he is trying to do something that will ensure that these young fledgling Christians in Philippi are not maltreated once Paul and Silas are gone. And he puts the fear of God in them and demands—and here you've got this astonishing scene of these magistrates, these high and mighty magistrates who have beaten Paul and Silas so their backs are a bloody shred, and now here they are and they're pleading and begging with Paul and Silas to leave the city, lest there be some kind of civil riot, and the mob—the 'rent-a-mob' mentality arise again.

And you notice one more mark of the true nature of the Philippian jailer's conversion, that we read that he rejoiced greatly (vs. 34):

He brought them into his house and set food before them, and rejoiced greatly, having believed in God with his whole household.

There was joy, joy unspeakable and full of glory, the joy that only those who know their sin is forgiven can relate — the joy of knowing that we have peace with God, the joy of knowing that we are in union and communion with Jesus Christ, who is risen from the dead, the joy of knowing that if we die we go immediately into the presence of God, the joy that reasons that whatever providence, whatever circumstance befalls us—as we heard in a song this evening— that we are kept in the shadow of the Almighty, and we are kept by the power of God.

Three cameo portraits of a prosperous woman and a young slave girl, and a man of the world in the Philippian jailer, and all three of them from different social backgrounds...different characters and different temperaments…and all three of them are brought to a saving knowledge of Christ by the same way: by faith alone in Jesus Christ alone.

I was reading the other day the biography of Lord Kenneth Clark. Some of you will recall Kenneth Clark from a very popular TV series called Civilization, and one of those coffee books you know came out as a result of it…and it may be sitting on your coffee table. He said during the making of that show, that series of programs that he made about Western civilization, that he experienced something quite extraordinary when he was filming in a church, and he spoke about being "irradiated with heavenly joy." And then he says the thought came to him that if he told his family this, they would think that he was quite mad. And he says, "I was too deeply imbedded in the world to change the course of my life." And as far as I know, he died in unbelief, as he had lived.

My friends, this Philippian jailer said to himself it was now or never. He wanted to know the answer to the question, "What must I do to be saved?" And hearing that all that he had to do was to stretch out empty hands and embrace Christ as He is offered in the gospel, freely to sinners like you and me, he laid hold of Christ by the Spirit, and God granted him the joy of knowing that his sins were forgiven. It is the most important question in all the world. It's the question, and you, and you, and you, and me…we all of us have to ask that question: "What must I do to be saved?" And the answer, my friend, is believe in Jesus Christ with all your heart and all your soul, and you will be saved, you and your household.

Let's pray together.

Father in heaven, we thank You for the gospel, for free and sovereign grace, for an assurance that trusting in Christ, in Christ alone, in Christ's death and expiation and propitiatory work, forsaking all, I take Him. We thank You for the joy that comes to those who do just that; the joy of forgiveness; the joy that now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be. Lord, I pray this evening for anyone in this building who has yet to ask that question. Holy Spirit, grant them no rest. Surround them with those earth-shaking providences that force them to exclaim, "What must I do to be saved?" and may they hear those sweet notes: "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved." For Jesus' sake. Amen.

Please stand and receive the Lord's benediction.

Grace, mercy, and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ be with you all. Amen.

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