The God Who Sets People Free

The God Who Sets People Free

Reading: Acts 16:16-40

Paul and Silas in prison

16 Once when we were going to the place of prayer, we were met by a female slave who had a spirit by which she predicted the future. She earned a great deal of money for her owners by fortune-telling. 17 She followed Paul and the rest of us, shouting, ‘These men are servants of the Most High God, who are telling you the way to be saved.’ 18 She kept this up for many days. Finally Paul became so annoyed that he turned round and said to the spirit, ‘In the name of Jesus Christ I command you to come out of her!’ At that moment the spirit left her.

19 When her owners realised that their hope of making money was gone, they seized Paul and Silas and dragged them into the market-place to face the authorities. 20 They brought them before the magistrates and said, ‘These men are Jews, and are throwing our city into an uproar 21 by advocating customs unlawful for us Romans to accept or practise.’

22 The crowd joined in the attack against Paul and Silas, and the magistrates ordered them to be stripped and beaten with rods. 23 After they had been severely flogged, they were thrown into prison, and the jailer was commanded to guard them carefully. 24 When he received these orders, he put them in the inner cell and fastened their feet in the stocks.

25 About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening to them. 26 Suddenly there was such a violent earthquake that the foundations of the prison were shaken. At once all the prison doors flew open, and everyone’s chains came loose. 27 The jailer woke up, and when he saw the prison doors open, he drew his sword and was about to kill himself because he thought the prisoners had escaped. 28 But Paul shouted, ‘Don’t harm yourself! We are all here!’

29 The jailer called for lights, rushed in and fell trembling before Paul and Silas. 30 He then brought them out and asked, ‘Sirs, what must I do to be saved?’

31 They replied, ‘Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved – you and your household.’ 32 Then they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all the others in his house. 33 At that hour of the night the jailer took them and washed their wounds; then immediately he and all his household were baptised. 34 The jailer brought them into his house and set a meal before them; he was filled with joy because he had come to believe in God – he and his whole household.

35 When it was daylight, the magistrates sent their officers to the jailer with the order: ‘Release those men.’ 36 The jailer told Paul, ‘The magistrates have ordered that you and Silas be released. Now you can leave. Go in peace.’

37 But Paul said to the officers: ‘They beat us publicly without a trial, even though we are Roman citizens, and threw us into prison. And now do they want to get rid of us quietly? No! Let them come themselves and escort us out.’

38 The officers reported this to the magistrates, and when they heard that Paul and Silas were Roman citizens, they were alarmed. 39 They came to appease them and escorted them from the prison, requesting them to leave the city. 40 After Paul and Silas came out of the prison, they went to Lydia’s house, where they met with the brothers and sisters and encouraged them. Then they left.


It’s just a load of rubbish! Nothing but a bunch of fairy stories! (Not very long a follower of Jesus until someone tells you this.)

How do we deal with this? They seem to have equated our faith with once upon a time stories?

Once upon a time quip is a good place to start.

Could point out time is something the Bible mentions quite often. ¾ of the Hebrew Bible locked into history.

Remember Isa. 6:1 ‘In the year that King Uzziah died…

Even in exile Daniel locks the writings into the 2nd year of Nebuchadnezzar. (606 B.C.)

When we turn to the New Testament…why we even know the Caesar in power at that time, which of the Herods etc. and we haven’t even touched on the geography.  The fact is when travel restrictions are lifted you can walk where Paul walked. You can hide in the caves of En-Gedi like David.

Far from being a load of rubbish this book is one of the best attested of all time. This type of attack Nothing new. Even in first century AD this was used as a counter to the preaching of the gospel. Look what Peter tells us. ‘We did not follow cleverly invented stories when we told you about the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eye-witnesses of his majesty.  2 Peter 1:16

We see straight away Peter wasn’t following someone else’s script, but speaking from his own experience.

Luke 1v2 ..’they were handed down to us by those who from the first were eye-witnesses and servants of the word.’

In our passage today from Acts 16 you’ll see just this. So if you want to get your Bible and open it. We have an eye-witness account coming up.

Jonny touched on this 2 weeks ago. Look at v.8

‘So they passed by Mysia and went down to Troas.’

v.10 ‘After Paul had seen the vision, we got ready at once to leave for Macedonia.’

Look who just showed up. Another one of those first hand accounts.This is the first of the 3 famous ‘we’ passages in Acts where you can follow when Luke joins the team and when he leaves as in v.40 Then they left..

You can check out the other 2 occasions for yourself.

Acts 16 v.16-40          The God who sets people free

We’ve already seen Lydia become a believer and this section opens in the same area.

v.16’ a slave girl who had a spirit by which she predicted the future.’

Sadly she is enslaved twice over.

  1. She had been bought as a piece of property….in order to make money for her owners.
  2. ‘she had a spirit’ Here is a person who has dabbled in the supernatural and a demon has possessed her. In other words we are not dealing with a circus act or some clever performer. She was under the authority of the power of this spirit. Would call her a medium today.

Someone with her abilities would have had a giant client base among the superstitious Romans in Philippi. C. Swindoll

Never mind the superstitious Romans, the growing interest in these things is disturbing. Sales during lockdown of books of spells, hits on occultic websites and on utube about the dark side of the supernatural all had massive increases.

Sales of £1 Ouija boards by Poundland didn’t help either.

God has always forbidden this kind of behaviour throughout the Bible. Why? Because this is no laugh. It is real. There is a dark evil side to the supernatural.

We are warned only to seek the supernatural Holy Spirit who is perfectly good.

The transformation of King Saul from one who expelled mediums to one who consulted a medium at En-dor in 1 Sam 28 graphically illustrates his fall.

The girl follows them about day after day in an almost creepy way but look what she is shouting.

v.17 These men are servants of the Most High God who are telling you the way to be saved.

What’s wrong with that? She is actually telling the truth -reminds us of the early days of Jesus’ ministry.

Mark 5v6 What do you want with me, Jesus Son of the Most High God?

Do you see how this book is one joined up story. Not one verse here and one there but there is a pattern and significance to each part.

Paul and Silas are uneasy about this. This compromise where I recognise you and you recognise me and we can all keep on doing our thing but finally Paul has had enough. Note in v. 18 Paul spoke to the spirit not the girl. He commanded the spirit to leave, not by his own authority, but by the name of Jesus Christ.

Paul makes sure everyone realises, the distinction between the gospel and the work of this girl.

Shows God is so much stronger than the power of evil.

Immediately the spirit left her. She is released. The girl has been set free.

No more being controlled by an evil spirit, no more fortune telling…but no more nice little earner for her captors!

They are furious. Who cares about the girl? It was always about the money.

This is where I get excited about the Bible. How can this ancient 1st century document be so up to date time and time again?

Don’t know if you’re familiar with Lord Morrow’s recent bill here in Northern Ireland. The Human Trafficking and Exploitation Act 2015…also known as Anna’s law -A girl who was snatched from a London street near where she lived and taken to Galway where she was sold for 30K Euros. Brutally treated she was forced to work in brothels in Galway and then in Dublin and in Belfast. She made that for her captors in 13 days. Her captors destroyed her life for money.

v.19 They seized Paul and Silas and dragged them in front of the authorities.

They couldn’t very well say these men have rescued this girl and now we have to work for a living!

They used the usual ploys to stir up the crowd. Superstition, misinformation & half truths. These men are Jews (maybe that’s why Luke and Timothy weren’t taken!)

Because the Jews tend to keep to themselves in every place to maintain their special identity, anti-Semitism was never far away. Sadly like today.

Look at v.20 ‘throwing our city into an uproar……that got them going as Romans prided themselves on order.

But they also prided themselves in justice but here they tore up the rule book.v22-24

They were stripped, beaten and thrown into prison -talk about a city overreacting….the jailer picks up on it and puts them in the inner cell and feet in stocks. A big change from the comfort of Lydia’s home.

This passage makes a nonsense of those who peddle their health and wealth gospel. This is just a different way of using people for money!

V25-28 Can’t a convict get some sleep around here? No

Those new inmates are singing and praying. (looking forward to asking them what psalms and songs they were singing) Did you see the state of their backs when they passed! They aren’t swearing and yelling (and we know they could have proclaimed their innocence v.37) Who are these guys? The jailer is the only one asleep…v.27 probably a retired Roman soldier he has seen it all before and could sleep through anything!

And then God joins in. He shakes the prison with an earthquake and sets everyone free.

Earthquakes nothing new in this part of the world..but this is a supernatural God controlling a natural disaster. Why do I say that?

The prison isn’t destroyed, no-one is hurt, all the doors are opened and v.26 everybody’s chains came loose. Here’s what David Pawson says about this:That earthquake was under complete control in God’s hands, and God shook that building just enough to get the bars out of the doors and to get the shackles out of the walls.”

This is the God of precision at work.

But rather than quick let’s get out of here -every prisoner is sitting in his own cell. This is the second miracle here, that they didn’t make a run for it. They seemed shocked by what has happened and maybe in awe because of the obvious supernatural happenings.

The jailer has to end it all as he considers the punishment that is coming to him. He’s on his sword!

But look. Paul could have delayed his shout and let him get what was coming to him. That is not how the gospel works.

v.28 Don’t harm yourself! We are all here!

The jailer knew like the prisoners that something supernatural was going on. He fell down trembling.  

He had already been spared from the quake, spared from suicide by Paul and now he wanted to be spared from God’s future judgement.

Filled with the fear of God, he asked the most important? a person can ever ask.

What must I do to be rich?  Not even close… This is what the girl’s owners had been asking. But you come in with nothing and you leave with nothing.

What must I do to be famous? /influential..You ask these questions when you discount the supernatural world. When you live as if there is no God.

No when a person has been staring death in the face they ask a deeper question. A question that takes in the fact that this life isn’t all there is. That one day we will all stand before a Holy God. But the Holy Spirit can open a person’s eyes in a split second to their whole life.

What must I do to be saved?

Remember what the spirit controlling the slave girl said, v.17 These men are servants of the Most High God who are telling you the way to be saved. This is exactly what Paul does.

He introduces the jailer to a person… the same person Peter mentioned in his defence in Acts4v12 Luke again is showing us how all the dots join up.

There is salvation in no-one else! God has given no other name under heaven by which we must be saved. NLT

Believe, trust and commit your life to the Lord Jesus. You will be saved and if the people in your house will do the same, they can be saved too. That’s what ‘and your household means’

v.32 ‘Then they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all the others in the house. He actually brings them to his house…wow

Look how jam packed the next few hours are!

While the jailer is hearing more about this Jesus, and his household (family, slaves, servants) are learning how they can be saved, this big, rough jailer washes their backs gently like a little baby.

Can you see it? What a change! The old has gone the new has come. The supernatural and the natural have got together and lives have been changed. This is how we are made new by the Holy Spirit, and without this work of God there aren’t going to be changed lives.  

Taking chpt 16 as a whole, notice no one comes to Christ in the same way.

Timothy -home influence of mother and granny 2Tim 1

Lydia -Conversation with Paul at the riverside

Jailor needed an earthquake. 1minute potential suicide the next he has stepped into a completely new life!

What about you? What will it take for you to just say humbly, What must I do to be saved?

V35 ‘When it was daylight…They are now back in the cells..but look at this. It’s as if the magistrates realise they haven’t a case and say, ‘Release those men.’

What do we make of v.37? Let them come themselves and escort us out.

Is he just being petty? Certainly not. Look at the way they were mistreated.

  1. By demanding that they come and release them personally, Paul is forcing the men to admit their wrongdoing.
  2. Leaving behind for the young church a measure of respect and awe.

Why did Paul not mention this citizenship before? Maybe he never got the chance. I think he took one for the church.

If there had been No jail…there would have been no converted jailer and family and perhaps some of the prisoners became converted.

v.40 Yes we are going but not yet!

Paul and Silas remained in Philippi long enough to visit the new believers and encourage them. Just think this tough jailer and Lydia the business woman now brother and sister in Christ in what was the first church in Europe.

Then they left.  They say good-bye to Luke who stays in Phillippi.

What can we take into this week?

You can trust this book start reading today

Read the book of Phillipians sometime this week. 15mins -most upbeat of all of Paul’s letters and he’s back in jail but for a much longer stay!

Check your spiritual pulse and heart rate. Are there any signs of spiritual life?

Do you need to ask the question of questions?

What must I do to be saved?

May God help us in this new week. Amen

Will McCallion


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