There is an amazing story in Acts 16 where Paul and Silas are arrested, beaten and imprisoned in the city of Philippi. Weirdly enough, they are not punished for preaching the Gospel that they're so passionate about … They actually make enemies by exorcising a girl whose possession was turning a tidy profit for some local businessmen. Interesting how sometimes people will persecute and even attempt to ruin you for preaching a Gospel that stands in the way of them making money … But that's a blog idea for another time …
Back to the matter at hand, Paul and Silas are in prison and they must be the most irritating prisoners that this jail has ever held. Despite being beaten with rods and unjustly incarcerated, it's midnight and they're still cheerfully singing and praying. One can only imagine how baffling this must have been for the jailer and for anyone else imprisoned there at the time.
There's no better way to infuriate your persecutors and accusers than to continue to be exuberantly thankful in the face of everything that they throw at you.
Suddenly, interrupting their joyful worship, there is a great earthquake. It shakes the prison and its foundations. The doors fly open. Their chains fall off. It's a miracle.
God has acted supernaturally to rescue them from their plight. They are free!
This is great news for Paul and Silas and the other prisoners. They must be ecstatic, overjoyed, blown away.
But Paul sees that what is great news for them is bad news for someone else. It's bad news for the jailer who will be held accountable and made to pay for this even though it was out of his control. He wakes and assumes that everyone has escaped so he pulls out his sword and is about to use it to end his own life.
Paul cries out loudly 'STOP! Do not harm yourself. We are all still here.'
The jailer falls before him, trembling and ask, 'Sir, what must I do to be saved?'
Paul and Silas explain their faith to him and then to his family and they move from being prisoners in jail to being guests in the jailer's home. The next day, the magistrates set them free (and Paul is pretty cheeky about it and demands an apology in person … but you can read that for yourself).
This story has been messing with my head for the last few days.
This passage is often used to tell 'non-Christians' how they can be 'saved' … I'm more interested in how it calls us as Christians to live …
Paul and Silas have a right to leave. The earthquake, their opportunity for escape is clearly understood to be from God. He is acting supernaturally to rescue them. God is making a way for them to get back on the road. They are entitled to leave. They have that right.
But they decline the opportunity that God presents. They surrender their right to freedom, they refuse the miracle … all because it is the jailer who will pay the price for their actions.
They refuse a miracle in order to become a miracle. The lay down their rights in a lavish act of love.
We all have our beliefs about our rights and entitlements, about what should be offered us because of our inherent awesomeness, rarely considering what this means for those around us.
There can be a tendency to think that miracles will draw people to God, that the supernatural will impress and fascinate and draw people to him.
My worry is that when that happens, they may come for the wrong reasons. Not for the God who loves them but for the benefits they begin to associate with following him.
Some say that the church needs more miracles. I'd argue the church needs more miraculous love.
As the Christmas season approaches, what are you entitled to that you're prepared to forsake in order to show someone life-changing love?