Today is our last lectionary reading on Paul's journeys for this year. It took place in the city of Philippi. We read about their journey there last Sunday. Remember, they left the city proper for worship by the river, baptized and then stayed with the new convert Lydia. Today's story takes place in the town. Julie and I walked down the main avenue of the archaeological site, we saw where these things took place. (picture) And today's two miracles can teach us today of God's faithfulness and the hope with which we live.
It is an interesting look at the nature of human beings and the mob mentality as we read on. Those slave owners were upset at losing their money-making slave. They brought Paul and Silas to the magistrates, got the crowd stirred up and Paul and Silas ended up beaten and thrown in jail. The mob didn't want this slave freed either. As I write this, I can't help but think about the slave trade in our country. It is Memorial Day weekend and the Civil War was the start of this holiday. Emancipation was a huge issue and the slave owners would do most anything to hold on to what they saw as “property or chattel.” The God-given worth of a human being can be so easily ignored in the interest of power or money. This slave girl was seen as worthy only has she served her masters. She was held captive in spirit and in body.
On to the second miracle: Paul and Silas are thrown in jail, “the innermost cell and fastened their feet in the stocks.” They were bound physically; physically chained and shackled. But as opposed to the slave girl, they were free spiritually. They showed that their faith was intact. “About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God...” Their faith in Jesus meant that those earthly chains meant little to them. Singing praises to God and praying... praying for freedom?? We don't know, but what we do read is that God freed the prisoners by a violent earthquake. And not just our two heroes, but everyone in the prison!
We read a disturbing thing here, the unnamed jailer plans to kill himself when he thinks the prisoners have escaped. This appears to be the situation in that day and age, failure to successfully secure prisoners would cost you your life. Paul runs into this kind of thing again later in his travels. In Acts 27 during Paul's shipwreck, the guards were ready to kill the prisoners to prevent their escaped knowing they'd suffer if any prisoner escaped. It might be a stretch, but I'm gonna say this jailer was also a prisoner physically in that his life was on the line here. Physically a prisoner but we discover quickly that he too was a spiritual prisoner. And Paul freed him from both. First by announcing that the prisoners were all still there and then by speaking the word of the Lord to him. The jailer's question echoes throughout the ages, “What must I do to be saved?”
I hope you have asked that question. And since you are here, you know the correct answer, the answer Paul gave the jailer: "Believe on the Lord Jesus.” Believe on the Lord Jesus. And we understand that this means more than believing Jesus existed. We are currently studying the epistle of James in our Tuesday Bible study. So often, what we learn in our weekly study corresponds with our weekly sermon lesson. James wrote, “You believe that God is one; well and good. Even the demons believe that--and tremble with fear.” He's telling us that it is not believing that God is real that saves us, but believing that Jesus is Lord. Believing that Jesus is Lord means obeying the Lord's call on your life.
It was a sudden conversion, the jailer and his whole household. And his life was given back to him when the prisoners were found still in their cells when morning came. Not really what I'd call a miracle, but certainly God's providence was at work there. And the chains that bound him in his pagan life were broken when Paul's message of salvation in Christ was believed and acted on.
Our lives are often bound in various ways; we can be prisoners in different ways in this life. There is literal jail for some... there are physical infirmities that keep us from freedom of movement... psychological issues... financial... dreams unfulfilled.... And if we look around the world, wars that take away freedoms as in the Ukraine... human trafficking steals a person's humanity and freedom... drug lords control whole neighborhoods, gangs, murders... the list goes on. We live in world with many, many troubles. We can thank God for the many freedoms we do enjoy in this country. We recognize those freedoms this Memorial Day weekend. But let's not forget those close by and those around the world who live without the freedoms we enjoy. Civil rights leader Fannie Lou Hamer declared: “Nobody’s free until everybody’s free.” Remember our connection with our brothers and sisters first by our very humanity but more, connected by the call of Christ on our lives. And so prayers go forth for Ukraine, for the suffering, for the captives.
The slave girl and the jailer... both chained body and soul. But Paul and Silas led them to freedom because they were free in Christ. In chapter 8 of John's gospel, Jesus talks about slavery and freedom. He told his listeners, “Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” They answered him, “We are Abraham’s descendants and have never been slaves of anyone. How can you say that we shall be set free?” Jesus replied, “Very truly I tell you, everyone who sins is a slave to sin.... if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed. (John 8: 32-36) Jesus sets you free. Our next hymn has this line in it: “My chains are gone, I've been set free. My God, my Savior has ransomed me.” That's what happened that day 2000 years ago in Philippi. And it is still happening. When you've recognized Christ's call, Jesus sets us free. Free from the power of sin, free from the power of death.
Julie and I also got to tour the island of Patmos. That is the place to which the apostle John was exiled and we toured the cave where it is believed he received the vision that is recorded in the Book of Revelation. Darlene read a small section of it, the good news, the message of the Revelation is Christ's victory. His eternal reward for faith is life everlasting. John records these words of the Lord, “ my reward is with me, to repay according to everyone's work. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end...The Spirit and the bride say, "Come." And let everyone who hears say, "Come." And let everyone who is thirsty come. Let anyone who wishes take the water of life as a gift.” You are invited. And you are here this morning because you have responded to the invitation. Respond again this morning with thanksgiving and praise to the Lamb of God, to the Alpha and Omega who loves you; who died and rose again that we may all be free. Our chains are gone, Jesus has done that. We may still face physical chains, but spiritually we are free through the Son. Our chains are gone, we've been set free. That was the good news for the slave girl in Philippi, for the jailer and even for Paul and Silas. It is the good news for us today. Jesus is Lord, Jesus loves you, Jesus sets us free! Alleluia and Amen!
Hymn: Amazing Grace, (My Chains are Gone)