Prisoners

The crowd in Philippi joined in the attack on Paul and Silas,
and the magistrates had them stripped
and ordered them to be beaten with rods.
After inflicting many blows on them,
they threw them into prison
and instructed the jailer to guard them securely.
When he received these instructions, he put them in the innermost cell
and secured their feet to a stake.About midnight, while Paul and Silas were praying
and singing hymns to God as the prisoners listened,
there was suddenly such a severe earthquake
that the foundations of the jail shook;
all the doors flew open, and the chains of all were pulled loose. 
When the jailer woke up and saw the prison doors wide open,
he drew his sword and was about to kill himself,
thinking that the prisoners had escaped.
But Paul shouted out in a loud voice,
“Do no harm to yourself; we are all here.
He asked for a light and rushed in and,
trembling with fear, he fell down before Paul and Silas.
Then he brought them out and said,
“Sirs, what must I do to be saved?”
And they said, “Believe in the Lord Jesus
and you and your household will be saved.”
So they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to everyone in his house.
He took them in at that hour of the night and bathed their wounds;
then he and all his family were baptized at once.
He brought them up into his house and provided a meal
and with his household rejoiced at having come to faith in God.
Acts 16: 22-34
 

This morning I heard a homily on this passage that highlighted something I’ve never noticed before–Paul says “we are all here,” meaning none of the prisoners ran away when they had an opportunity. If you go a little further up in the passage the writer St. Luke notes that the prisoners listened as Paul and Silas “were praying and singing hymns to God.” And he notes that “the chains of ALL were pulled loose.” So, wait a second–these prisoners are all set free, but they don’t leave when they have the opportunity. Why?

Could it be that staying and listening to the prayers and songs of Paul and Silas was sweeter than freedom? Could it be that those things actually are freedom itself? Could it be that before their chains were unbound, hearing the Gospel had left the prisoners unbound in a more fundamental way? Could it be that they’ve found the pearl of great price, for which they are willing to do anything–even stay prison?

And isn’t that just like us… we find that the world is a prison, that traps us with lies, deceit, unkindness, or we trap ourselves in sin, but then, suddenly, we meet The One who makes our existence meaningful, whose peaceful love shows us the true order of the universe. And so we stay to listen to Him, to try to understand better the work He has laid out for us. We risk danger or we appear foolish, but suddenly those externals matter a whole lot less. Because we’ve experienced an earthquake, a taste of freedom, and we want more.

Let us all live in freedom! Let us allow Christ to set us free even in those parts that we hide from everyone, including ourselves. Let us allow Him to break down all barriers that keep us from a more complete union with Him.

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