Perhaps it was like any other night – a jail full of captives under the watchful eye of a faithful guard in the evening’s waning hours.
It was midnight and the guard had fallen asleep to the sounds of prayers and hymns, acclamations made by Paul and Silas despite their seemingly hopeless circumstances. The two had been dragged into the marketplace, mocked and beaten, carried away to prison, and placed in the innermost cells where their feet were fastened into stocks. With no other recourse, praise seemed appropriate.
Their voices reverberated off the prison walls (the passage tells us other prisoners were listening) and, at one point as they prayed and sang, the earth began to shake. The rumble of the ground breaking, the very foundations of the jail trembling. The doors of the prison cells flung wide, the prisoners’ bonds were now loosened.
The guard, awakened by the chaos and instantly panicky, rose to find the prison doors now open. Supposing the prisoners had already escaped and resolving to avoid the shame of it all, he reaches for his sword and goes to turn it on himself. For this guard, saving face would mean losing his life. Or so he thought.
From somewhere within the bowels of a prison cell, the Apostle cried out:
“Do not harm yourself, for we are all here.” (Acts 16:28)
As it often is, the incredulousness of the situation is the breeding grounds for gospel hope. Though they had every reason and every opportunity to get away, Paul and Silas stayed.
“…for we are all here.” No one left.
“…for we are all here.” No one left.
Italics mine. Italics important.
Everyone stayed. No one left.
Circumstances will not always bend to our needs, our comfort, or our well-being. And yet the call of God on our lives, free of demand for self-sustaining effort, will require us to be faithful. To stay. To be present for the gospel.
Often we may not realize what lies on the other side of our obedience. Granted, the conditionality of our faithfulness isn’t easily explained, it is worth noting the jailer’s next words to these men as he knelt before them: “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” (Acts 16:30)
Will our faithfulness always bear out the A+B=C side of the evangelism equation? Probably not.
Should we recognize the fact that the faithfulness of these men preceded the conversions of the jailer and his family? You bet.
Suffice to say, Paul’s cry to the Philippian jailer could, in fact, be the heart-cry people in close proximity to you need to hear today. The single mother in your church family. The co-worker desperate to prove himself to the world and those around him. The addict who’s lost hope. The young teenager considering an abortion. The well-to-do father of four with a beautiful wife, living in a nice house and driving a nice SUV.
They need the redemption story of a God who came to save – the good news of a better way. They need the gospel. And they need you, too. They need to know you’re still here – that you’re still going to be here. They need to know that their mess isn’t too messy and that their problems won’t push you away.
They need to know, though their grievous sin may not be tolerated, their mere humanity isn’t too offensive.
Where is hope for the one who is to be restored? Where’s the first rung up for the one who’s hit rock bottom? And how else do wounded, wayward children find solace in the arms of their loving father?
They gaze into our eyes, cling tightly to our hands, and weep bitterly on our shoulders as we accept the weighty responsibility of carrying their burdens alongside them, imparting to them, over and over and over again, a blessed assurance that our faithful God is not in the business of leaving or forsaking. He has presented Himself to us in the Son, Christ Jesus – “For in Christ all the fullness of deity dwells bodily” (Col. 2:9) – and His steadfast love endures forever (Psalm 136).