sermon: A Gospel Earthquake Acts 16:25-40

A Gospel Earthquake

Acts 16:25-40

Introduction

Paul and Silas have been severely beaten placed into the inner part of the prison and their legs fastened in the stocks.  They were bloody, extremely exhausted, and in much pain.

How is it that pain and suffering work into the equation?  What does God accomplish through their suffering?  What does God accomplish through our suffering?  As exhausted as they were, it was impossible to sleep while fastened in stocks.  We must see that being placed in the inner prison and being placed in the stocks wasn’t commanded by voluntarily done by the jailer.

It’s impossible to sleep while in the stocks but not impossible to pray.

Notice with me what Paul and Silas were doing at midnight because they couldn’t sleep.  Also, notice how God answers their prayers.
Psalm 42:8 (ESV)
8 By day the LORD commands his steadfast love, and at night his song is with me, a prayer to the God of my life.
TT- God’s sovereign plan often includes pain and suffering for His beloved children.

Human need met by text

It’s important to again be reminded of God’s providential work.  He works in the lives of everyone present.  He is orchestrating the situation where a lost jailer will hear the Gospel.  He does it this time through pain and suffering.  We must understand that God works, sometimes in greater ways through human suffering than through any other means.  We need this text on many levels, but especially to see that we, like Paul and Silas, must not grumble or murmur when we find ourselves in less than ideal circumstances but praise God the same whether we are in need or in plenty.

Acts 16:25-40 (ESV)
25 About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them,
26 and suddenly there was a great earthquake, so that the foundations of the prison were shaken. And immediately all the doors were opened, and everyone’s bonds were unfastened.
27 When the jailer woke and saw that the prison doors were open, he drew his sword and was about to kill himself, supposing that the prisoners had escaped.
28 But Paul cried with a loud voice, “Do not harm yourself, for we are all here.”
29 And the jailer called for lights and rushed in, and trembling with fear he fell down before Paul and Silas.
30 Then he brought them out and said, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?”
31 And they said, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.”
32 And they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all who were in his house.
33 And he took them the same hour of the night and washed their wounds; and he was baptized at once, he and all his family.
34 Then he brought them up into his house and set food before them. And he rejoiced along with his entire household that he had believed in God.
35 But when it was day, the magistrates sent the police, saying, “Let those men go.”
36 And the jailer reported these words to Paul, saying, “The magistrates have sent to let you go. Therefore come out now and go in peace.”
37 But Paul said to them, “They have beaten us publicly, uncondemned, men who are Roman citizens, and have thrown us into prison; and do they now throw us out secretly? No! Let them come themselves and take us out.”
38 The police reported these words to the magistrates, and they were afraid when they heard that they were Roman citizens.
39 So they came and apologized to them. And they took them out and asked them to leave the city.
40 So they went out of the prison and visited Lydia. And when they had seen the brothers, they encouraged them and departed.

1. The Jail Was Shaken

25 About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them,
26 and suddenly there was a great earthquake, so that the foundations of the prison were shaken. And immediately all the doors were opened, and everyone’s bonds were unfastened.
27 When the jailer woke and saw that the prison doors were open, he drew his sword and was about to kill himself, supposing that the prisoners had escaped.
28 But Paul cried with a loud voice, “Do not harm yourself, for we are all here.”
What would have happened if instead of praying and praising Paul and Silas were complaining and grumbling?  They were so passionate about Christ and they understood how God works that they were not about to complain.
Remember when Peter and the others were placed in Jail and potentially facing the same fate that James and Steven suffered?  Did they complain and grumble against God?
Acts 5:41 (ESV)
41 Then they left the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name.

I am quite certain that it is God’s will for His children to endure suffering with joy.

When we endure with joy, other notice…
25 About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them,
What do you think the other prisoners were thinking as they listened?  They might have desired that they be quiet so they could sleep?  They may have welcomed the interruption of the mundane?  They may have even enjoyed the entertainment.  But whatever they thought, one thing was certain they all were puzzled.  Why would two men who had just been unjustly punished be praising God?

In the original language, it is clear that they sang for an extended period of time and the prisoners listened to them intently.

We know that God always answers the prayers of His saints.  We also know that God’s Word never returns void.  I wonder what songs they were singing?  A Mighty Fortress is Our God or __________________________________?

The jailer was also listening and wondering, How could or why would these two men be praising God for their beating?  Very odd.

Then, God answers…26 and suddenly there was a great earthquake, so that the foundations of the prison were shaken.

God doesn’t send an angel, like when Peter was in prison.  God simply takes His finger and shakes the ground.  There was a great earthquake.  The earthquake was so violent that the doors sprung open and their bonds were loosed.

This is no ordinary earthquake.  Everyone present that night, even the other prisoners, understood that God had sent this violent tremor.

 And immediately all the doors were opened, and everyone’s bonds were unfastened.
27 When the jailer woke and saw that the prison doors were open, he drew his sword and was about to kill himself, supposing that the prisoners had escaped.
28 But Paul cried with a loud voice, “Do not harm yourself, for we are all here.”
Even the other prisoners were so frightened at the hand of God as He answered Paul’s prayer that they stayed right where they were.  Nobody is leaving this jailhouse.

We understand that when a prisoner escaped the guard was very cruelly executed.  He was to be an example for others who might want to sleep their shift away.

2. The Jailer was Shaken

29 And the jailer called for lights and rushed in, and trembling with fear he fell down before Paul and Silas.
30 Then he brought them out and said, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?”
31 And they said, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.”
32 And they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all who were in his house.
33 And he took them the same hour of the night and washed their wounds; and he was baptized at once, he and all his family.
34 Then he brought them up into his house and set food before them. And he rejoiced along with his entire household that he had believed in God.
Most Roman jailers were noted as being hardened and cruel.  This was no doubt the condition of the jailer here.  He quickly obeyed the orders to thrust Paul and Silas into the inner prison and into the stocks.  The inner prison and stocks were his idea.  All that was commanded of him was to keep them secure till morning.

Now when God saved Lydia, He worked quietly.  He gently led her along causing her to see the need to worship Him and then her need for the Gospel.  With the slave girl, God needed to remove the demon and then replace the demon with the Holy Spirit.  Here, in the account of the Jailer, God had to bring him low and shake loose his pride and replace that pride with fear and humility.

29 And the jailer called for lights and rushed in, and trembling with fear he fell down before Paul and Silas.

What was this man afraid of?  I don’t think his fear was a result of the prisoners potentially escaping because at the moment of fear and trembling he knew they were still there.  So, what was it?  Remember, this was a man who was not afraid of much.  He had probably seen it all.  There was nothing that surprised him…except this earthquake.  He knew this was no ordinary tremor.  Macedonia had seen many seismic vibrations in the past.  There was something different about this earthquake as there was something different about these prisoners.  He now realizes that he is in the presence of God’s representatives and he has inflicted much pain on them.  This is very similar to the people at Pentecost in Acts 2…

Acts 2:36-41 (ESV)
36 Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified.”
37 Now when they heard this they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?”
38 And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.
39 For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.”
40 And with many other words he bore witness and continued to exhort them, saying, “Save yourselves from this crooked generation.”
41 So those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls.

God works in such a way as to bring hardened sinners to humble submission.  No longer would these Pentecostal worshipers trust in their goodness to bring them to God.  Neither would this Philippian Jailer disregard God’s leading.  It was now the moment that God had ordained for this man to be saved…
Peter’s Answer to the Question…What must we do?

38 And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.
39 For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.”

Paul’s Answer to the Question…What must I do?
30 Then he brought them out and said, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?”
31 And they said, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.”
Each answer is saying the same thing in slightly different ways.  Believe in the Lord Jesus.  That’s the answer.  It’s not just believing that someone once lived whose name was Jesus.  It’s not believing that He really existed.  To believe in the Lord Jesus is to trust in Him.  Do you completely trust Jesus Christ and submit to Him as Lord?  In another place, Paul would write:

Romans 10:9 (ESV)
9 because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.
Philippians 2:10-11 (ESV)
10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
Before this day, the Philippian Jailer was a hardened pagan who hated Christ and His followers.  In the twinkling of an eye, God changed this man.
He calls Paul and Silas…sirs.  Out of respect he calls them sirs.  He also removes what’s left of the chains and stocks and washed their wounds.  He took them out of the prison to his house and fed them.  Do you see the change?  Most amazingly, he was about to kill himself when he thought they had escaped from the prison but now he escorts them out of the prison and into his home to feed them and care for them.  This is a lot like Lydia who showed the mission team hospitality when she and her household was baptized.

This man was saved that night.  Luke writes something here that is amazing…

31 And they said, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.”

The family is the building block of the Gospel and of the Church.  When the father is saved most often the home follows.  Here is a wonderful example of this man’s family also believing and being baptized.  Our Presbyterian friends take this text to prove that children who belong to believing parents should be baptized.  Here is something we must look at.  In these cases when Luke reports that a household is baptized, he also seems to indicate a level of belief within the members of that household.

34 Then he brought them up into his house and set food before them. And he rejoiced along with his entire household that he had believed in God.
He rejoiced that he believed and they rejoiced that they believed.

Acts 2:39

39 For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.”

Many of those God calls to salvation will be found right inside the doors of the believer.

3. The City was Shaken

35 But when it was day, the magistrates sent the police, saying, “Let those men go.”
36 And the jailer reported these words to Paul, saying, “The magistrates have sent to let you go. Therefore come out now and go in peace.”
37 But Paul said to them, “They have beaten us publicly, uncondemned, men who are Roman citizens, and have thrown us into prison; and do they now throw us out secretly? No! Let them come themselves and take us out.”
38 The police reported these words to the magistrates, and they were afraid when they heard that they were Roman citizens.
39 So they came and apologized to them. And they took them out and asked them to leave the city.
40 So they went out of the prison and visited Lydia. And when they had seen the brothers, they encouraged them and departed.
If you remember the charges brought against Paul and Silas were…
Acts 16:20-21 (ESV)
20 And when they had brought them to the magistrates, they said, “These men are Jews, and they are disturbing our city.
21 They advocate customs that are not lawful for us as Romans to accept or practice.”

These men were disrupting the city.  They prayed and God sent a violent earthquake to disturb the city.  This would come into play later as there would be a disruption when a church is formed in Philippi.  We have the Letter to the Philippians.  The city is also disrupted when the Gospel has the final word and the city officials literally come down to Paul and Silas and ask them for forgiveness.  The mighty Roman Empire bows down to a couple of missionaries.
For now, they leave the city.  Tell Lydia and the brothers goodbye and begin their journey to Thessalonica leaving the small infant church in Philippi.  Guess what the Gospel takes root and begins to grow.
The Church at Philippi begins with Lydia and her family, a slave girl, and a Jailer and his family.  The Gospel takes root in Macedonia amidst pain and suffering.
That small church would also endure pain and suffering in the days to come…
Paul would write these young believers words of encouragement…
Philippians 1:27-30 (ESV)
27 Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel,
28 and not frightened in anything by your opponents. This is a clear sign to them of their destruction, but of your salvation, and that from God.
29 For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake,
30 engaged in the same conflict that you saw I had and now hear that I still have.

Philippians 1:21 (ESV)
21 For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.
As Paul writes this letter, he is thinking of Lydia and her family, the slave girl who no one loved but Jesus, he’s thinking about the jailer and his wife who prepared a table of food for some exhausted stinky missionaries.  He’s think about their children who also believed.

What must I do to be saved?  Love and Trust the Lord Jesus.  John Calvin writes that Jesus is the mark that our faith must aim at.

Are you a believer today?

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