Isaiah 58:1-9a, Acts 16:16-34
July 23, 2017
The Apostle’s have now come to the city of Philippi. That’s another city in Asia Minor, remember, that’s the region we now know as Turkey. It was a Roman town. It was a place where retired Roman soldiers would go to live. It had Roman leaders and Roman law.
Paul would found one of his most beloved churches in this town, Later, he would write to them one of his most optimistic and encouraging letters. We know that letter today as the book of Philippians. But for now, Paul’s experience was not so great. It involved being beaten with rods and thrown in jail!
The whole thing started with an exorcism. In verse 16, we find Paul and Silas walking through Philippi. And as they are walking through the town, Luke writes, “‘we’ were met by a slave girl with a spirit of divination.” It’s interesting that Luke starts writing in the first person! “We were met.”
It’s also interesting that Paul deals with this girl because he is “annoyed.” She follows them crying out, “These men are servants of the Most High, who proclaim to you the way of salvation.” That was true of course, but for some reason Paul was annoyed. (Yes he was human like us!) Either he didn’t want people to know that right away, or because she just kept saying it. We’re not sure. But, for whatever reason, Paul casts out the “spirit.” And that’s when the troubles began! Because this girl was making money for her masters! And now that was over! That source of income for them was gone! Luke is very careful to point that out.
So these men are now “annoyed” themselves. (There are a lot of annoyed people in this story, aren’t there!) These guys grab Paul and Silas, they drag them to the center of town, and they start to accuse them before the town leaders of causing trouble. Well, the crowds join in, and the town magistrate orders up the aforementioned beating, and has them thrown them in jail!
That was not a very nice introduction to Philippi, was it! But, what do they do in jail? As I’ve said before, jails in those days were “not very nice places.” But here were Paul and Silas, with their feet in stocks so they couldn’t even walk around! And they are singing! And I want you to notice that the way they touch people’s hearts in this story is not by their words! It isn’t by them “proclaiming the way of salvation, like the girl said, although I’m sure they did that, too. Both the other prisoners, and later the star of our show, the Philippian jailor, are “touched” by their actions! And I want you to think about how our actions touch people.
Next, this earthquake happens, and the bars and gates are all opened. And this jailer draws his sword and is about to kill himself. Luke is careful to point that out, too! The man was only doing his superiors a favor. Because they would have killed him. Because in Rome, if you were guarding prisoners and they escaped, you would be put to death! That was very good incentive not to let the prisoners escape!
Do you remember the Roman guards at the tomb of Jesus? They were not there to guard the tomb. They were there to guard the Roman seal that was put on the tomb. That seal was there so that no one could open the tomb and steal the body of Jesus, and say he had come back to life. Well, the idea was, if a Roman soldier was charged to guard a Roman seal, and that seal were to be broken, the guard would be executed.
Did you ever tell someone to “guard something with their life?” That’s kind of a joke, an exaggeration, that’s hyperbole! But it comes from these times and it was a very real thing. That’s why when this Jailor was “charged” with keeping these prisoners – and there’s that word again – he put them in the most secure cell, and locked their feet in the stocks!
So then, in this story, the bars and gates are broken, the doors are opened, and in what had to be the world’s worst jailbreak, Paul and Silas didn’t leave! Isn’t that the point of a jailbreak? To leave the jail? Well, they didn’t do that! And I was wondering this week about the other prisoners. Did they all bolt? Paul says “We are all here!” Maybe the others stayed, too. But at the very least, Paul and Silas were still there. They had compassion on this jailor. Somehow they knew they were to stay. When the doors were open, they stayed, and they showed this man “love without walls.” (There’s the metaphor. The “walls” were gone!) And I also have to think that the God who broke down the gates probably knew it was all going to happen this way, too. The earthquake was part of the plan! And that extreme act of compassion touched this jailer and changed his life.
And I ask you. In what ways to our acts of compassion change people’s lives? In what ways do they touch people? In what ways do they make them think? And let me ask you this. Do you think our acts of compassion to others sometimes change their lives and we never know about it? Think about that the next time you do something kind for someone.
In this case, Paul is able to follow up with this man, to speak to his family, and to see their lives changed. But are there times when we might show kindness and compassion to someone, and then never see them again, but that kindness changed them? I think that happens! Maybe it’s just the seed of a thought that grows later. Maybe it’s the love they needed to put them “over the top,” and causes them to turn to God. We may never know. But I think we should consider that after we do something for someone. Perhaps we might even say a prayer for them!
In this case, this man’s life was changed, and all of his family! And it all started with Paul’s actions. Paul and Silas showed this man “love without walls.” They showed him that they cared about him. And remember, this man was a Roman jailor, in a Roman town, with Roman laws, and a Roman jail – which, as I’ve said before, was not a very nice place! And yet they were singing! And maybe that affected the other prisoners so much that they stayed when the doors were opened. Again, we don’t know. We don’t have anything more here about them. But maybe those are people that Paul and Silas changed, and they didn’t ever know it. Like us.
God has given us such amazing love and compassion. His love for us is without boundaries. It is without “walls!” When we let that love touch us, when we let that love change us – not just save us – but change us, then it will flow out of us. And when we choose (choose!) to love without walls, it will make a difference in the lives of our families, our friends and neighbors, even people we don’t know.
As we close, today, I want you to think about the “walls” we place around our love. They might be walls that represent our comfort level. They might be walls that we put up because people that are different than us. Maybe they’re people of different race, culture, lifestyle, or background. They might be walls that have to do with our preconceived notions about someone. “Oh they may have brought their misery on themselves!” They might be walls of hurt and pain we’ve suffered. What are the “walls,” what are the things that keep you from showing love and compassion to another person?
Know today that God wants our love to be without those walls. That’s the way he has loved us!
Eternal God, your love for us is from everlasting to everlasting. Your mercy is beyond our comprehension. Help us not only to be ever changed by that love, but help us also to love others, that they may see our acts of compassion and come to know the God of compassion. This we pray in Jesus’ name, Amen.