Decisions During Deliverance

Jailhouse rock_An excerpt from He's Still Working Miracles-7.png
And it came to pass, as we went to prayer, a certain damsel possessed with a spirit of divination met us, which brought her masters much gain by soothsaying: The same followed Paul and us, and cried, saying, These men are the servants of the most high God, which shew unto us the way of salvation. And this did she many days. But Paul, being grieved, turned and said to the spirit, I command thee in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her. And he came out the same hour. And when her masters saw that the hope of their gains was gone, they caught Paul and Silas, and drew them into the marketplace unto the rulers, And brought them to the magistrates, saying, These men, being Jews, do exceedingly trouble our city, And teach customs, which are not lawful for us to receive, neither to observe, being Romans. And the multitude rose up together against them: and the magistrates rent off their clothes, and commanded to beat them. And when they had laid many stripes upon them, they cast them into prison, charging the jailor to keep them safely: Who, having received such a charge, thrust them into the inner prison, and made their feet fast in the stocks. And at midnight Paul and Silas prayed, and sang praises unto God: and the prisoners heard them. And suddenly there was a great earthquake, so that the foundations of the prison were shaken: and immediately all the doors were opened, and every one’s bands were loosed. And the keeper of the prison awaking out of his sleep, and seeing the prison doors open, he drew out his sword, and would have killed himself, supposing that the prisoners had been fled. But Paul cried with a loud voice, saying, Do thyself no harm: for we are all here. Then he called for a light, and sprang in, and came trembling, and fell down before Paul and Silas, And brought them out, and said, Sirs, what must I do to be saved? And they said, Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved, and thy house. And they spake unto him the word of the Lord, and to all that were in his house. And he took them the same hour of the night, and washed their stripes; and was baptized, he and all his, straightway. And when he had brought them into his house, he set meat before them, and rejoiced, believing in God with all his house.
— Acts 16:16-34

Another thing that intrigues me at this point in the story is a detail that I didn't notice for many years of Bible reading and study. Once again, I place myself in Paul's shoes (or Silas', depending on which one had smaller feet). I'm in prison. I'm tired and weary, but still, I'm praising God. I hear a low rumble, and the earth all around begins to shake. The cell doors swing open, and the shackles on my hands and feet fall to the ground. My response? “God truly does respond to the praises of His people.” And with that, I would have made a run for it. After all, the miraculous events could not have been mere coincidence or accident. It had to be the work of God. “God wants me to go free!”

But Paul and Silas must have been so in tune with God that even with their freedom on the line, they knew God's will was for them to remain where they were. And there they sat with nothing holding them there except their desire to do God's will. That amazes me, but what amazes me more is the realization that Paul and Silas were not the only prisoners freed that night. According to the Bible, all the doors were opened, and all the chains were loosed, yet none of the prisoners fled. Talk about an overlooked miracle! Here we have a ragtag group of prisoners, likely imprisoned for life or facing a death sentence. The chances are that most of them were justly convicted. Surely, each of them would have jumped at the chance to taste freedom. Yet they remained. 

I appreciate that God doesn't give us all the details in the Bible. I like how He leaves some of the “minor” facts out so that we must use our imaginations to fill in the blanks. I don't know about you, but I have a great imagination! I love to fill in the blanks, and I have some pretty good ideas about why the prisoners didn't flee, but for the sake of time, I'll share with you my favorite.

Do you remember the angels and the flaming sword that God placed in front of the entrance to the Garden of Eden after Adam and Eve sinned? I like to think that every cell (except for the one for Paul and Silas) had one of those angels guarding the entrance. Yes, the bands were loosed. Yes, the doors were open. But who's to say there wasn't a grinning angel standing in each doorway and saying, “Go ahead, make my day”? (I told you I had a good imagination!) 

Regardless of how it happened, nobody escaped the prison that night despite the fact that there were no obvious obstacles to prevent it. When God has a plan, nothing can thwart it. And the object of God's plan was about to make his grand entrance.

Join me tomorrow for part seven of Jailhouse Rock!

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Dismissed Doubts

Jailhouse rock_An excerpt from He's Still Working Miracles-6.png
And it came to pass, as we went to prayer, a certain damsel possessed with a spirit of divination met us, which brought her masters much gain by soothsaying: The same followed Paul and us, and cried, saying, These men are the servants of the most high God, which shew unto us the way of salvation. And this did she many days. But Paul, being grieved, turned and said to the spirit, I command thee in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her. And he came out the same hour. And when her masters saw that the hope of their gains was gone, they caught Paul and Silas, and drew them into the marketplace unto the rulers, And brought them to the magistrates, saying, These men, being Jews, do exceedingly trouble our city, And teach customs, which are not lawful for us to receive, neither to observe, being Romans. And the multitude rose up together against them: and the magistrates rent off their clothes, and commanded to beat them. And when they had laid many stripes upon them, they cast them into prison, charging the jailor to keep them safely: Who, having received such a charge, thrust them into the inner prison, and made their feet fast in the stocks. And at midnight Paul and Silas prayed, and sang praises unto God: and the prisoners heard them. And suddenly there was a great earthquake, so that the foundations of the prison were shaken: and immediately all the doors were opened, and every one’s bands were loosed. And the keeper of the prison awaking out of his sleep, and seeing the prison doors open, he drew out his sword, and would have killed himself, supposing that the prisoners had been fled. But Paul cried with a loud voice, saying, Do thyself no harm: for we are all here. Then he called for a light, and sprang in, and came trembling, and fell down before Paul and Silas, And brought them out, and said, Sirs, what must I do to be saved? And they said, Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved, and thy house. And they spake unto him the word of the Lord, and to all that were in his house. And he took them the same hour of the night, and washed their stripes; and was baptized, he and all his, straightway. And when he had brought them into his house, he set meat before them, and rejoiced, believing in God with all his house.
— Acts 16:16-34

Third, we need to believe that God is in control. Nothing will happen to us that He does not allow. His will will be done, and isn't the fulfillment of His will the outcome we desire? One way or another, He will deliver us. The delivery method, however, is up to Him.

He delivered Noah and his family from the flood.

He delivered Lot and his daughters from Sodom and Gomorrah.

He delivered David from Saul's fury, but only after months of fleeing for his life.

He delivered Daniel from the lion's den and Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego from the fiery furnace, but He did not prevent them from being tormented in the first place.

He delivered Peter from prison and James into heaven.

He delivered Lazarus from the grave but did not deliver Jesus from the pain and suffering of the cross.

We cannot hope to understand His ways, but we can trust that He knows best.

It is just as important to trust God as it is to obey Him. When we disobey God, we defy His authority and despise His holiness. But when we fail to trust God we doubt His sovereignty and question His goodness. In those cases, we cast aspersions upon His majesty and His character. God views our distrust of Him as seriously as He views our disobedience.⁠
— Jerry Bridges; A Study Guide on the Best-Selling Book Trusting God Even When Life Hurts

On this occasion, God chose to send an earthquake to rattle open the prison doors, and while He was at it, He unbound all the chains. I think it's interesting to note the different approach to this prison break in comparison to Peter's prison break a couple of chapters back. In Peter's rescue, he had a personal angel to help him and lead him out of the prison. Paul and Silas had no such companion, but then again, they weren't drowsy from slumber, so perhaps they didn't need one. Whatever the case, it serves to reinforce the truth that God works in numerous ways. Just because He meets a need one way in a particular situation doesn't mean He'll meet the need in the same way at another time. Take Moses, for example. While leading the children of Israel through the wilderness, Moses was once instructed to hit a rock to acquire water while another time he was instructed to speak to the rock. In the New Testament, when Jesus healed the lepers, each time varied. Sometimes he spoke to them while other times he actually touched them. The point is this: God knows the best way to accomplish His will. If He is willing to perform a miracle on our behalf, who are we to question how He brings that miracle about?

Join me next time for part six of Jailhouse Rock!

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Dazzling Distress

Jailhouse rock_An excerpt from He's Still Working Miracles-4.png
And it came to pass, as we went to prayer, a certain damsel possessed with a spirit of divination met us, which brought her masters much gain by soothsaying: The same followed Paul and us, and cried, saying, These men are the servants of the most high God, which shew unto us the way of salvation. And this did she many days. But Paul, being grieved, turned and said to the spirit, I command thee in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her. And he came out the same hour. And when her masters saw that the hope of their gains was gone, they caught Paul and Silas, and drew them into the marketplace unto the rulers, And brought them to the magistrates, saying, These men, being Jews, do exceedingly trouble our city, And teach customs, which are not lawful for us to receive, neither to observe, being Romans. And the multitude rose up together against them: and the magistrates rent off their clothes, and commanded to beat them. And when they had laid many stripes upon them, they cast them into prison, charging the jailor to keep them safely: Who, having received such a charge, thrust them into the inner prison, and made their feet fast in the stocks. And at midnight Paul and Silas prayed, and sang praises unto God: and the prisoners heard them. And suddenly there was a great earthquake, so that the foundations of the prison were shaken: and immediately all the doors were opened, and every one’s bands were loosed. And the keeper of the prison awaking out of his sleep, and seeing the prison doors open, he drew out his sword, and would have killed himself, supposing that the prisoners had been fled. But Paul cried with a loud voice, saying, Do thyself no harm: for we are all here. Then he called for a light, and sprang in, and came trembling, and fell down before Paul and Silas, And brought them out, and said, Sirs, what must I do to be saved? And they said, Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved, and thy house. And they spake unto him the word of the Lord, and to all that were in his house. And he took them the same hour of the night, and washed their stripes; and was baptized, he and all his, straightway. And when he had brought them into his house, he set meat before them, and rejoiced, believing in God with all his house.
— Acts 16:16-34

Second, we can delight in the fact that we can identify with Jesus through our suffering. Our trials and afflictions give us just a small taste of what Jesus went through to ensure us a place with Him for all eternity. That realization alone ought to give us the strength to suffer more for Him. Just ask Peter Xu Yongze, the founder of one of the largest religious movements in China.

According to the Chinese Constitution, "Citizens of the People's Republic of China enjoy the freedom of religious belief." Beijing backed up that statement in 1997, saying, "In China, no one is to be punished due to their religious belief.” But Mr. Xu can attest that, sadly, such is not the case. Xu was imprisoned five times and spent a total of eight years in Chinese prisons for sharing the gospel of Christ.

"They say you can believe, but you can't evangelize," Mr. Xu said. "But that is a natural act for Christians. The Bible commands us to preach the gospel." 

Despite the opposition and myriad of threats, Christianity is increasing in China by leaps and bounds. This is, in part, because of the valiant efforts of people like Mr. Xu, who understand the joy of sharing in Christ's suffering and doing His will no matter what. His response to his fifth imprisonment was, “Thanks to God’s grace, I have become the companion with all saints in the suffering and kingdom and patient endurance that are ours in Jesus." 

Mr. Xu is currently living in the United States and is the founder of the Back to Jerusalem Gospel Mission. As it has been since he received his call to preach, his main goal is to evangelize and send the Gospel to the unreached population across the world, including Asia.

Matthew 10:28 says, And fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul: but rather fear him which is able to destroy both soul and body in hell. 

Psalm 56:11 tells us, In God have I put my trust: I will not be afraid what man can do unto me. 

And Psalm 118:6 reminds us, The Lord is on my side; I will not fear: what can man do unto me? 

All three of these verses carry the same message: we need not fear physical suffering. If God is on our side (which He is if we are His children), then we have no reason to be afraid. Yes, the suffering will be unpleasant, but we have the promise that it will be worth it. Not only did Paul and Silas know this truth, but they believed it and acted according to that belief.

Join me tomorrow for part five of Jailhouse Rock!

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