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Acts Lesson 39 - Amazing Grace, Part 1

Acts Lesson 39 - Amazing Grace, Part 1

by Stephen Davey
Series: Sermons in Acts
Ref: Acts 16:19–34

In a world full of suffering and death, what is the greatest question we could ever ask? A Philippian jailor asks it in Acts 16:30: "What must I do to be saved?"



Acts 16:19-34

In our last discussion, Paul confronted the slave girl who had been the voice of the python – predicting future events by means of demonic insight.

This confrontation took place in Acts 16 – and Paul commanded the demon to leave the girl – immediately, the demon exited and so did the profitable business that the slaves masters had been enjoying for some time.

As I mentioned last Lord’s day, these masters were probably priests from the local Apollo Temple – a temple that honored Apollo, the god of prophecy and the serpent/python that represented this form of religion.

That exorcism created an explosion from the priests and the population.  Listen, it’s alright for you to pray down by the riverside with the women – but don’t mess with our religious institutions; and most importantly, don’t mess with our profit margin.

Paul and Silas have robbed the coffers of Apollo’s temple – and Apollo’s leaders explode with anger.  Let’s pick our story back up at that point – 

v. 19 But when her masters saw that their hope of profit was gone, they seized Paul and Silas and dragged them into the market place before the authorities, 20 and when they had brought them to the chief magistrates, they said, “These men are throwing our city into confusion, being Jews, 21 and are proclaiming customs which it is not lawful for us to accept or to observe, being Romans.”  22.  And the crowd rose up together against them, and the chief magistrates tore their robes off them, and proceeded to order them to be beaten with rods.

In order to get the picture, the marketplace, or the agora, was the open forum in Philippi.  In fact, Philippi has been excavated and the very area where Paul and Silas were judged was actually uncovered.  On the northwest side of the agora was a raised platform with stairs on each side.  A podium was there where the two chief magistrates sat and heard and decided civil cases.  The city prison was located directly off to one side of the agora.  The magistrates had officers, called policemen in verse 35.  They were actually the enforcement officers of the magistrates – their name in Latin was “Lictors” – from which we got our expression, “You got your licks – or your beating.”

I found it fascinating that the symbol of this office was a bundle of rods with an axe protruding from the middle, tied together with a red band called the fasces.  This symbol was actually revived by Mussolini for his “fascist” movement. 

The Jews who suffered under Mussolini’s fascist movement were not the first to suffer – according to verse 22 Paul and Silas suffered a beating that would leave their backs a swollen bleeding mass of lacerated skin.

Notice verse 23 And when they had inflicted many blows upon them, they threw them into prison, commanding the jailer to guard them securely; 24 and he, having received such a command, threw them into the inner prison, and fastened their feet in the stocks.   In other words, he is going to treat Paul and Silas as if they are dangerous, hardened criminals – they are taken to the inner portion of the prison – you could call it the hole, or the dungeon and, even though they are in the maximum security section, this callous, uncaring  Jailer still puts Paul and Silas in stocks – wooden beams that fastened over the criminals feet – which means that now they won’t even be able to sleep unless they lie on their bloody backs.

It would be a miserable night!

What would you do next?  Plot your revenge – call your lawyer – nurse your wounds – cry out your story that everyone would know of your innocence – shout obscenities – demand a fair trial – get upset with God that He led you there and allowed this to happen and it’s all His fault!

Let’s find out what they did!  Verse 25 But about midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns of praise to God, and the prisoners were


listening to them;

Imagine that!  Loss of blood, hunger, thirst, rat infested dungeon. . .

Silas says,  “Hey Paul how you doing?” 

Paul – “Oh my back is an open wound – how about you Silas?”

Silas – “Same here, I’m so thirsty and my legs are beginning to cramp from the stocks . . . do you think they’ll beat us again?”

Paul – “No, not once they realize they’ve broken the law by beating Roman citizens . . .by the way, I’m so glad Timothy and Dr. Luke were spared this beating because of their Gentile heritage. ”

Silas – “Me too Paul, but could we use Luke’s medicine now . . . what are we going to do now?”

Paul – “Well, Silas, I was just remembering the words of our Lord as he said, “Blessed are you when men shall persecute you for my sake, for great is your reward in heaven.”  Imagine Silas, right now, we’re considered especially honored and blessed by God – and He’ll reward us in heaven one day because of it - I feel like thinking Him and singing to Him.”

And so they prayed – that is, they cast their burden on Him.

And they sang – that is, they cast their praise upon Him. 

The prison walls echoed with hymns composed only recently by the early church – the inner dungeon resonated with harmony – and the prisoners were listening to them – the verb tenses indicate they continued to listen intently to them as Paul and Silas continued to pray and sing.

How do you sing at midnight?  Well, it an act of compliance – Paul and Silas knew that God was in control – so that this couldn’t have happened without God’s permission – so in order to sing to a God who allowed such a thing requires mature compliance.

Secondly, it requires mature character.  Galatians 5 tells us that one of the fruits of the Spirit is joy – the submission of everyday life to thecontrol of the Spirit produces the fruit of joy – “contented composure regardless of circumstance.”

Maybe today, you’re experiencing a midnight hour.  It could be physical pain and illness; difficult circumstances; betrayal and abandonment by a close friend or spouse; unjust treatment by someone at work or home; perhaps from the unsaved it’s ridicule and rejection for your faith; the sense of an absent Heavenly Father.

Would you ever consider singing in times like these.

Maybe it was easier for Paul to sing because he was next to Silas – their faith buoyed one another – well, the church family should do the same.

I find it interesting ladies and gentlemen, that while Paul were thrown into prison during the evening hours, it wasn’t until midnight that they began to pray and sing.  Maybe for the first hour or so – they sat in stunned silence – they couldn’t believe it – God had led them to Philippi – they had responded to the Macedonia call – they had left everything dear and  familiar to them to  come to Europe – and this was their welcome.  Maybe they had a silent talk with  the Lord – I have no doubt they expressed their concerns and amazement to one another – maybe there were some moments of frustration – they were human beings!

But sometime around midnight – maybe then, they complied, surrendered. 

Will you, Christian?  Will you, son or daughter of the King, submit to the things He planned for you that make you anything but comfortable.  Will you sing. . .will you praise Him in advance.

When you praise God at midnight, that is what you call praising Him in advance . . . worshipping Him before you have an answer from God. 

Magnifying the Lord at midnight which reveals the work of the Holy Spirit by bearing the fruit of joy.

Now verse 26 – it isn’t any wonder to me that God responds to their demonstration of praise with a demonstration of His power.

26 and suddenly there came a great earthquake, so that the foundations of the prison house were shaken; and immediately all the doors were

opened, and everyone’s chains were unfastened.  Imagine some state penitentiary – it’s midnight, suddenly the building begins to violently shake, then all of a sudden, the security system works in reverse - all the doors swing open, the bars slide to the side, and every criminal is only a short dash away to escape in the night.   27 And when the jailer had been roused out of sleep – hold it – that tells us that he had slept through the concert – his little dwelling place was attached to the prison house – this crusty, callous prison warden heard the singing along with the other prisoners, but he’d closed his ears – those men are a bunch of kooks – so he sleeps though the worship service, but he’s roused from his sleep by an earthquake – ladies and gentlemen, his  descendants live among us today – they clock in to the nearest church service and yawn through it all – they’re not moved in the slightest by the singing and the praise and worship of God – you know as well as I do it’ll take an earthquake to rouse them from their spiritual slumber.- and some of you are praying for an earthquake of some sort to jar them from their spiritual complacency. 

Well, this jailer jolts out of bed – he looks down the hallway and maybe out a window and sees the prison house doors are wide open verse 27b says, “he drew his sword and was about to kill himself, supposing that the prisoners had escaped.  (Now why would he kill himself?  Because the Roman code of Justinian declared that if a jailer allowed a criminal to escape, he would be given the sentence of the criminal – so it’s obvious there are men in that prison who are on death row – he knows that he’s as good as dead, because men have escaped who’ve been condemned to die.)

28 But Paul cried out with a loud voice, saying, “Do yourself no harm, for we are all here!” 29 And he called for lights and rushed in and, trembling with fear, he fell down before Paul and Silas, 30 and after he brought them out, he said, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved.”

This is the greatest question in all the world!

This jailer had heard about the priests, the slave girl who was announcing that these men were bringing to Philippi a way of salvation, for he uses the same greek word for salvation that the servant girl had used – he had evidently heard about the demon that was cast from her – he had heard of this new name, Jesus Christ which had demonstrated greater power than Apollo – he had heard the singing and perhaps even the prayers.

He was asking, “What do I have to do to get what you men have – the power over demons, joy in the midst of suffering – a God who shakes the earth in order to release His servants. . .not only had the prison been shaken – he had been shaken – and now he asks, “What must I do to be saved?”

John Taylor Smith was the honorary chaplain to Queen Victoria and the chaplain general of the British Army during World War 1.  John Smith used to ask all the candidates for the chaplaincy one question:

“Now, I want you to show me how you would deal with a man.  We will suppose I am a soldier who has been wounded on the field of battle.  I have three minutes to live and I am afraid to die, because I do not know Christ.  Tell me, how can I be saved and  die with the assurance that all is well with my soul?”  If the applicant began to beat around the bush and hem and haw and talk about the church and the ordinances and so on, John Taylor would say, “That will never do.  I have only three minutes to live.  Tell me what I must do.”  As long as John Taylor Smith was Chaplain General, unless a candidate could answer that question, he could not become a chaplain in the Army. 

“Sirs, what must I do to be saved!?”

This is the greatest question in the world anybody can ever ask.  And the answer is the most important answer in all the world – it separates heaven and hell – it separates between those who are saved and those who are lost – it divides between those who will be allowed through the gates of the city of God and who will be cast away.

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

No lecture – no religious mumbo jumbo – nothing about how his parents raised him – no self-image test – no exhortation toward some sacrament or system of religion – no requirement of baptism or church membership, in fact, the church is not even mentioned!

This man has three minutes to live!

May I suggest that this answer provides us with several wonderful things::

1)  Paul’s answer provides the simplest invitation.

“What must I do to be saved?”  DO???  Paul and Silas reply in concert, you don’t do anything but believe in the One who’s done it all for you.

32 And they spoke the word of the Lord to him together with all who

were in his house.

John Paton first went out as a pioneer missionary to the New Hebrides islands, he found that the natives among whom he began to work had no way of writing their language.  he began to learn it and in time began to work on a translation of the Bible for them.  Soon he discovered that they had no word for "faith."  This was serious, of course, for a person can hardly translate the Bible without it.  one day he went on a hunt with one of the natives.  They shot a large deer in the course of the hunt, and tying its legs together and supporting it on a pole, laboriously trekked back down the mountain path to Paton's home near the seashore.  As they reached the house both men threw the dear down, and the native immediately flopped into one of the deck chairs that stood on the porch exclaiming, "My, it is good to stretch yourself out here and rest."  Paton immediately jumped to his feet and recorded the phrase.  In his final translation of the new Testament this was the phrase used to convey the idea of saving faith, trust or belief.  "Stretch yourself out upon the Lord Jesus Christ and thou shalt be saved."

Now that's easier said than done. . .why? Because there's no such thing as a free lunch!  I don’t know how many people have said to me over the years after I’ve finished telling them the gospel and how they can be saved, “That’s so simple!”

That’s why Paul reiterated in Romans, “If it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works; otherwise grace is no longer grace.” (6:11)

Other people have said, “That's too demeaning . . .God's just going to have to accept me the way I am...I'm not that bad."  Oh no my friend, you must say, "O Lord, I want you to accept me even though there's nothing about me that's acceptable."  Does that bother you?!

Now notice that the invitation is exclusive in it’s destination – “Believe in the Lord Jesus – 2)  He’s the only Savior.

The politically correct language of tolerance has opened the door to eastern religions.  Religions that are spiritually bankrupt and provide no escape other than through a series of reincarnations, hopefully into better and better life forms until you reach god-consciousness.

One such religion that is sweeping the country with interest is Buddhism – I have an article in my hand from September’s issue of World Magazine.

According to this magazine, two movies are being released – both ot them are expected  to do very well.  One of them chronicles the life of the Dalai Lama – it idealistically portrays Buddhism as the religion of compassion and tolerance - just perfect for an American audience. 

You say, Stephen, it’s only a movie – my friend in an interview recently, the director of the movie said that each day’s shooting would end with Tibetan monks praying over the set and crew – and leading the cast in singing Buddhist songs.

The east is coming – we in the west are their mission field – and today, according to this article:

According to this article, in southern California alone, a Buddhist temple is constructed every two months.  World Magazine, September 20, 1997

Earlier in Acts chapter 4 we listened as Peter preached, “There is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven given among men whereby we must be saved.”

 For those who place their faith in that Savior, 3rd, you are given the everlasting promise.   “Believe in the Lord Jesus and you shall be saved.”

I want to spend an entire session with you next time we meet around the Book of Acts – which will be in November – I want to fully discuss the nature of salvation – the definition of salvation – and a further discussion on what it means to be saved.

Now notice 4thly  - The Greatest legacy.

Paul says, “Believe on the Lord Jesus and you will be saved – you and your household.”  Now a lot of people stop here and come up with all sorts of covenant promises related to some sort of household salvation.

You just need to keep reading – 32.  And they spoke the word of the Lord to him together with all who were in his house.  (In other words, everyone in this man’s household will hear the gospel that night – you could amplify verse 31 to simply say, “Believe on the Lord Jesus and you will be saved – you and everyone else in your household who believes on the Lord Jesus.”  Your wife – if there was one – children – if there were some - everyone heard the gospel – and that is the greatest legacy for any household – for the man in that home or mom to make sure that every one under the roof has heard the gospel – sir- do you children know where you stand with God – do they hear you pray – ma’am, do your children come to you with questions about the gospel, knowing that you have the answer?  I want you to know that if I won 10,000 to Christ, it would never measure up to the legacy of my four children knowing Christ.) 

You have to understand, this jailer wants his household to hear – because verse 32 tells us he invites these prisoners into his home! 

And He does something else - 33 And he took them that very hour of the

night and washed their wounds, and immediately he was baptized, he and all his household. 34 (Then) he brought them into his house and set food

before them, and rejoiced greatly, having believed in God with his whole household.

Now take a look at the church in Philippi – the congregation is growing down by the riverbank – You have cultured, wealthy Lydia – you have a slave girl who’s been recently delivered by the power of Christ – and now the latest member – a crusty old jailer and his family – he probably hasn’t stopped smiling since the other night – and maybe a few former felons he’s brought along with him.

The church is now flying its flag on the continent of Europe.  It is the flag of grace – what amazing grace – the amazing grace of God!



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