On my jog this morning I was listening to a podcast from the Eastside Church of Christ in Colorado Springs. The sermon was about the scene in Acts 16 where Paul and Silas are thrown into prison on false charges while in Philippi. While in prison they were singing songs and praising God. Suddenly there was a big earthquake – the doors swung open and the chains fell free.
Paul, Silas, and all the other prisoners were free! God had loosed the chains of injustice. He had set the captive free. He had brought redemption to His people.
Only, this isn’t your typical Exodus story.
Paul and Silas don’t make a miraculous escape. None of the other prisoners makes a run for it. You see, even though God had broken their chains, they were not the ones who needed to be set free.
Because there was a jailer there, too, that night. In fact after the earthquake he was about to take his own life. According to the Roman code of honor, it was better to take one’s own life than to face execution for failing in your duties. He thought all the prisoners had escaped. Wouldn’t you?
But as he pulled his sword up to his torso to end it all, Paul stopped him – reminiscent of the angel staying Abraham’s knife. The jailer’s self-sacrifice was not necessary. No one had fled. All prisoners were accounted for.
You see, the prisoners did not need to be set free. The jailer did. He was enslaved to some obligatory code. He was shackled by the Roman way of life. He had only one way of seeing things. He probably didn’t know that he had even less freedom than the very men he was set to guard.
But that night God rocked his world. The prison bars around his heart were blown wide open. The chains pinning down his own mind were shattered. He was released from his bondage to his own government, his own occupation, and his own worldview. God freed him to see life in a whole new way.
That very night he displayed this change by taking Paul and Silas into his own home, cleansing their wounds, feeding them, and then listening to their message. Then and there he committed his life to God. He embraced the freedom that comes from a true self-sacrifice – not at the edge of a sword but through the waters of baptism.
The jailer was free at last. And so Paul and Silas would be the next day. It’s a pity we don’t know more about this man, where his life headed after this encounter. I can only assume that the Roman officials were impressed that he could maintain such order in a time of chaos so as not to lose a single prisoner. Whatever happened, I’m sure God blessed him and his family.
On this day we celebrate freedoms as a nation – but how free are we? Are we still enslaved to our worldview, to our code of ethics, to our government, to our televisions and computers?
God wants you to live a life of complete and utter freedom. Because only when God sets you free will you be free indeed.