by Minoli Haththotuwa
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SUDDENLY (Acts 16:22-26)
“The crowd joined in the attack against Paul and Silas, and the magistrates ordered them to be stripped and beaten. After they had been severely flogged, they were thrown into prison, and the jailer was commanded to guard them carefully. Upon receiving such orders, he put them in the inner cell and fastened their feet in the stocks.
About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening to them. Suddenly there was such a violent earthquake that the foundations of the prison were shaken. At once all the prison doors flew open, and everybody’s chains came loose.”
Paul and Silas were not having a good day! They were suffering for doing the right thing. They were having a fruitful time of ministry in Philippi, and on their way to a prayer meeting, when they met a girl who needed deliverance. She was possessed by an evil spirit, who enabled her to tell fortunes, and make fortunes too, for the people she worked for. Because Paul cast out the spirit and set her free, he and Silas encountered the wrath of her masters who pressed charged against them. It would appear that even the magistrate was biased, and ordered that they be beaten – the Word tells us they were “severely” flogged. In addition to the terrible pain of open lash wounds upon their backs and the humiliation of being stripped and beaten, they were “thrown” into prison – into the high security cell, with their sore feet restrained in stocks. It was probably a lot worse than what we read. These jails had no fresh air or light; they were probably infested with rats and other crawling creatures, and may have had a few inches of human sewage on the ground. It would be difficult to imagine experiencing anything worse – chained and unable to move in a dark, smelly, hot, airless, vermin ridden place. It is enough to make anyone feel nauseous! These men of God were having a very bad time. They had no toilets, food or water, no cell phones, no lawyers, no human rights groups who would fight on their behalf; but they had a hot line to Heaven – they were able to dial 333 (Jeremiah 33:3 – “Call to me and I will answer you and tell you great and unsearchable things you do not know.”)
This is what they did, as they prayed and sang hymns to God. It was midnight – a dark hour. The Jews usually divided the night into four watches, of three hours each, beginning at six, (then nine, twelve, and the fourth watch being at three in the morning). Experts in spiritual warfare believe that the hours between midnight and 6 am are when principalities are most active, and this is why all night prayer and worship times are so potent and fruitful to see breakthrough in difficult and seemingly unchanging situations. Paul and Silas knew this! They were probably physically and emotionally weary and drained out. Their bodies may have been craving whatever rest they could get in that unpleasant place; but they chose to praise the Lord in their chains. They chose to worship Jesus, and be witnesses in that dark place. They probably could not really feel the presence of God, but they stood on His Word and knew He had not left them. They had no idea of how they would get out of this mess, but they chose to trust the Lord and did not lean on their own understanding. They called on the name of the Lord in their worship and their praise, and God stepped in to break through those chains! Psalm 22:3 tells us that God inhabits the praises of His people. This means that when we praise and worship the Almighty, He comes down to receive our worship; and when He turns up, things happen! Hallelujah!
This is what happened when Paul and Silas blessed the name of the Lord and gave thanks to Him, and worshipped Him sincerely from the depths of their hearts. The presence of the Lord came, and not only into that dark cell; God’s presence filled the whole prison. There was a violent earthquake and the power of God shook the very foundations of that jail, which was holding His children captive. They had been helpless against the chains and the stocks, but their Daddy was not! He was bigger and better than any captivity. Psalm 68:18 talks about God leading Captivity captive, and Paul refers to this in Ephesians 4:8 as he speaks of the triumph and victory of the Lord Jesus over all powers of darkness (KJV and NKJV). Only Jesus our Lord and Redeemer can take captive all those powers that held us, our families, or our generational blood line. He conquers those who previously conquered us! He came to set the captives free!
People sometimes may experience different levels of oppression in their lives, where they discover freedom progressively; but we see here that when the power of the Lord came into that Philippian jail, there were two miracles that happened: The prison doors which had been locked by the jailer flew open, and the chains of all the people fell off! It was not just Paul and Silas who were set free, but all those bound and held in that darkness. They were completely free – from the chains as well as from the locked doors! “If the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed” (John 8:36). The Power of the Holy Spirit removes the bondage of sin as well as every desire for it!
Paul and Silas were mighty men of God, but we can see that it is possible to suffer even when you are doing the right thing and in the center of God’s will, and especially when you are actively serving the Lord. For a space of time, they were bound and constrained in the Philippian jail, and it seems like the devil was victorious over them for a while, but only for a while. Almighty God stepped in on their behalf. When the power of God set them free, all the other prisoners were delivered as well!
This is a message of God’s powerful deliverance coming through to us in the darkest hour. He sees the pain and darkness His children sometimes have to encounter. He hears their cries, and comes down to set them free. There are some threads of Truth we can draw from this passage of Scripture:
1) Paul and Silas never grumbled or questioned God – even though they were in chains and in the worst part of the prison. They were not bitter and angry with the jailer, the girl they delivered, the magistrate, or anyone else. They did not fight against their circumstances or people – they knew their battle was not against flesh and blood.
2) They had the ultimate key to spiritual warfare - worship and prayer. They just expressed their love and praise to God in songs of worship and praise, and brought His presence down to light up the dark dankness of the jail.
3) They yielded to what God could do through this difficult situation. When they prayed and worshipped God, they did not do so quietly. They were heard by all the other prisoners. They took the opportunity to share the light and witness to the other inmates through the songs and the prayers. They were evangelizing! According to historical accounts, the jailer and these inmates of the jail were the founding members of the Philippian church, which became a healthy, vibrant, giving church. God turned a bad situation around so wonderfully for good, but it came to pass because Paul and Silas yielded to the ministry of the Holy Spirit even in the midst of their horrible pain.
4) They were praying and singing to the Lord when suddenly there was a violent earthquake. When they started worshipping the Lord, they did not plan that they would make an earthquake happen. They were not thinking about chains falling off or prison doors flying open. They were just worshipping the wonderful Name above all names. Just when they felt the night was darkest, God stepped in suddenly! When they probably least expected it, the power of God fell in that awful place of captivity and set all the captives free – it was because although hands were in chains, hearts were lifted up in prayer and two faith filled men were worshipping Jesus. Hallelujah! There is a ‘suddenly’ moment coming for you!
Friend, hear the Word of the Lord today. Maybe you are experiencing a rough time through no fault of your own. Maybe you have been doing what God wanted you to do, and you are now facing the backlash of the evil one. Maybe you are experiencing some difficulties with a legal matter and injustice from those who should be fair. Perhaps you are paying a price for someone else’s mistake. The way out of your difficulty is through worshipping and praising the Everlasting Lord and yielding to His hand upon you. All He seeks is that our hearts submit to Him, and that we come to Him in humble and loving worship, acknowledging the awesome greatness of who He is in our lives. As you purpose to live this way regardless of the difficulties you have been facing, believe me – suddenly you will experience the breakthrough you were longing for. Jesus came to set the captives free and your ‘suddenly’ moment is coming soon when you least expect it! So your feet are in stocks, but lift your hands to Him in praise. And if your hands are in chains, just lift up your eyes and your heart to heaven – your Redeemer lives!
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