“Open Doors” Series #5
"THE DOOR OF PRISONS!"
TEXT: Acts 16:16-40
INTRO: While most of us will not experience landing in jail or locked in a prison cell, there are ways that our heart can be taken captive and our minds locked up in painful situations! These times of "prison" are painful ... and we often wonder why God permits these. When such times come however, we need to be aware of the opportunities for ministry that await us ... and to look forward to the time when the door of the prison will be opened again! These are not wasted times in God's plans ... but there are certain things we need to do when such times come if we are to see God's hand at work ... and the prison doors opened for us by God's power!
As Christians there are times that come that are uncomfortable ... we are not exempt from "bad days!"
ILLUS: YOU KNOW IT'S GOING TO BE A BAD DAY WHEN:
* YOU WAKE UP FACE DOWN ON THE PAYMENT!
* YOU CALL SUICIDE PREVENTION AND THEY PUT YOU ON HOLD!
* YOU SEE A "60 MINUTES" NEWS TEAM WAITING IN YOUR OFFICE!
* YOUR BIRTHDAY CAKE COLLAPSES FROM THE WEIGHT OF THE CANDIES!
* YOU TURN ON THE NEWS AND THEY'RE SHOWING EMERGENCY ROUTES OUT OF THE CITY YOU LIVE IN!
* YOUR TWIN SISTER FORGETS YOUR BIRTHDAY!
* YOU WAKE UP TO DISCOVER THAT YOUR WATERBED BROKE AND THEN YOU REALIZE THAT YOU DON'T HAVE A WATERBED!
* YOUR HORN GOES OFF ACCIDENTLY AND REMAINS STUCK AS YOU FOLLOW A GROUP OF HELL'S ANGELS ON THE FREEWAY! – SOURCE UNKNOWN
Seriously, how we do handle those times when everything seems to go wrong, when our emotions become "imprisoned" and we feel trapped! What do we do when things go so wrong that we find ourselves in great pain, physically, emotionally, or spiritually?
If we are to see the prison doors open and see ourselves free there are certain things that can be done to facilitate this ... and when done, we will find ourselves being set free ... even if we are still in prison!
There is victory for those in prison!
PROP. SENT: The Bible teaches us that we are to maintain our confidence in God and continue worshipping Him even when we are overwhelmed with difficult circumstances. At such times, God will do great things in our lives and others if we remain faithful!
I. CHALLENGING MINISTRY! Acts 16:16-21
A. Opportunities Acts 16:16a
1. Paul and Silas were in Philippi and found very minimal opportunities for ministry.
a. Evidently, the only Jewish gathering for worship was down by the river, and this was mostly attended by women!
b. In order for a proper synagogue to be formed, there had to be at least 10 men ... if there was not, usually a small group would often meet by a water source for prayer ... this is what Paul and Silas find as they enter Philippi!
c. The first convert was a woman named Lydia ... no man turns to Christ here at first! Paul had come to this area because of his dream of a “man from Macedonia” calling to him to "come over and help us!" (See Acts 16:9!) ... Yet, the fulfillment of this dream was a woman named “Lydia!” So much for exact fulfillment of dreams!
2. Nevertheless, Paul and Silas are faithful to obey and go ... and even with such a small crowd of mostly women they join them for prayer ... God still has opportunities in the smallest of situations!
a. We must be careful not to minimize God's plans based on a perceived possibility of success!
b. God has often started His work in small ways!
3. To Paul and Silas, everything was an opportunity for ministry!!
B. Opposition! Acts 16:16b-21
1. As is often the case, where God makes opportunities, the Devil will offer opposition!
a. Here, Paul and Silas find they are harassed by a young demon possessed girl!
b. This girl had the power to predict the future, or at least to some extent had done so for profit in this town ... it was the first "psychic friends network" reported!
c. The term used for this gift is associated with the term for "ventriloquist." So it must have been that her voice had appeared to come from somewhere else when she spoke ... this gave her a sense of power that others were awed at!
d. It might be that this was what she was doing in following them and saying, “These men are servants of the most high God, who are telling you the way to be saved!” (Acts 16:17) ... throwing her voice and saying this as they attempted to minister!
2. While what she had to say wasn't bad, Paul and Silas finally shut her down by casting the demon out of her because they didn't want her demonic power to be associated with the Gospel!
a. No doubt the people would have mixed the two together later if she had been allowed to continue this!
b. It may be that her saying this and following them was also a cry from her heart to know this salvation!!
c. She is set free by the name of Jesus ... she has her prison door opened!
3. This opposition doesn't end with her deliverance however ... in fact it gets worse for Paul and Silas because now a number of men who used this girl to get themselves rich by her “so called gift” had lost their source of making money ... the "psychic friends network" collapsed, and with it their ability to get rich!
a. This set the stage for all that follows!
b. When people lose their wealth because of the Gospel ... things start to happen.
4. Ministry sometimes brings opposition; it means standing up against ungodly causes sometimes and taking the heat!
5. The accusations against them were that they were advocating customs unlawful for the area.
a. What this was all about was simple: Judaism was an officially recognized religion in Roman law and Christianity was not ... since these guys could not get Paul and Silas in trouble for losing their profitable business with this girl they instead accuse them of “propagating an unapproved religion” ... for which they could be jailed!
b. Satan often fights dirty!
6. Paul and Silas however are unruffled by this all ... for whatever the opposition, there will be new opportunities for ministry!
a. This is an important concept for us to embrace if we are to overcome the prison of our emotions at times when things go against us!
b. Paul would look for ways to continue ministry even if he is restrained!
ILLUS: YEARS AGO A SMALL JAPANESE GROUP OF BELIEVERS WERE HECKLED AND ABUSED WHENEVER THEY ASSEMBLED TO WORSHIP THE LORD. THE PERSECUTORS HOWEVER COULD NOT SHAKE THEIR FAITH HOWEVER, EVEN WHEN THEY ATTEMPTED TO STOP THE CHRISTIANS BY THROWING STONES AT THEM! THE CHRISTIANS CONTINUED TO MEET WEEKLY, EVEN WITH STONES PELTING DOWN ON THEM! AFTER A TIME, THE STONING BECAME SO SEVERE THAT THEY HAD TO STOP TEMPORARILY; BUT AS THINGS SETTLED DOWN AGAIN, THEY AGAIN PUBLICALLY BEGAN TO WORSHIP ... AND MANY TOWNSPEOPLE WERE SAVED. RETURNING TO THE SPOT WHERE THEY HAD BEEN FREQUENTLY STONED, THE BELIEVERS BEGAN TO PICK UP THE STONES AND WITH THEM THEY CONSTRUCTED A BEAUTIFUL BUILDING AS A HOUSE OF WORSHIP! THE VERY INSTRUMENTS USED AGAINST THEM CREATED THE EDIFICE THEY WORSHIPED THE LORD IN! RATHER THAN CRY IN THEIR AGONY, THEY SOUGHT WAYS TO TAKE WHAT GOD ALLOWED AND USED IT FOR THE KINGDOM OF GOD! OPPOSITION BECAME OPPORTUNITY AGAIN! – SOURCE UNKNOWN
II. CHALLENGED MINISTERS! Acts 16:22-28
A. Ordeal! Acts 16:22-24
1. When the authorities realized the whole crowd was also angry, they try to please the angry crowd by taking Paul and Silas and having them beaten and thrown into prison!
a. The prison was a rough one ... the doors were usually only locked by a wooden beam across it, thus later the explanation of why the doors were open at the earthquake ... to ensure extra security there were also stocks within the cells to hold the prisoners as an extra precaution!
b. These stocks were used in two ways, to secure the prisoners, and to torture them as well!
2. They were placed in these stocks after having been beaten, and no doubt they were sore, bleeding, and in great pain!
3. At such a point most Christians would have questioned God's love for them and why God was allowing this all to happen when all they did was minister!
a. Was God unfair?
b. Hadn't they been faithful to serve the Lord?
c. Why would God want them to experience so much pain and imprisonment?
4. These are often the thoughts of those who reject God ... that God is so unfair and unjust ... but God is at work to do something truly wonderful … and He is not indifferent to their suffering or our suffering!
ILLUS: IMAGINE A SCENE AROUND GOD'S THRONE ... BILLIONS OF PEOPLE ARE GATHERED BEFORE GOD. MANY ARE ANGRY WITH GOD FOR ALL THE PAIN AND UNJUST SUFFERING ON EARTH. THE CONVERSATIONS GO AS FOLLOWS: "CAN GOD JUDGE US?" SAYS ONE! "WHAT DOES HE KNOW ABOUT SUFFERING?" SNAPS A WOMAN AS SHE ROLLS UP HER SLEEVE TO REVEAL A TATTOOED NUMBER FROM A NAZI CONCENTRATION CAMP, SHE ADDS, “WE ENDURED TERROR, BEATINGS TORTURE, AND DEATH!" IN ANOTHER GROUP A BLACK MAN LOWERED HIS COLLAR AND SAID, "WHAT ABOUT THIS? THIS ROPE BURN ON MY NECK WAS FROM A LYNCHING MOB THAT HUNG ME FOR NO CRIME EXCEPT THAT I WAS BLACK! WE SUFFERED IN SLAVE SHIPS, BEEN TAKEN FROM OUR LOVED ONES, TOILED TILL DEATH GAVE RELEASE!” HUNDREDS OF OTHERS ADDED IN THEIR COMPLAINTS AND PAIN, EACH COMPLAINING THAT GOD PERMITTED EVIL AND SUFFERING IN THE WORLD WHILE HE ENJOYED THE COMFORTS OF HEAVEN WHERE THERE WAS NO FEAR, NO HUNGER, NO PAIN, AND NO HATRED! THEY ALL COMPLAINED THAT GOD KNEW NOTHING ABOUT ALL THIS AND WITH HIS SHELTERED PERFECT PAIN FREE LIFE COULD NOT SIT IN JUDGMENT ON THEM! EACH GROUP CHOSE A LEADER TO REPRESENT THEM TO COME UP WITH A PLAN TO MAKE GOD SUFFER, THERE WAS A JEW, THERE WAS A BLACK MAN, THE UNTOUCHABLE FROM INDIA, AN ILLEGITIMATE PERSON, A VICTIM OF HIROSHIMA, AND ONE FROM A SIBERIAN SLAVE CAMP. FINALLY THEY HAD THEIR PLAN AND THEY APPROACHED GOD! IF GOD WAS TO BE THEIR JUDGE THEN HE MUST SUFFER AS THEY ALL HAD ... THEIR DECISION WAS THAT HE WOULD HAVE TO LEAVE HEAVEN AND LIVE ON EARTH AS A MAN! BECAUSE HE WAS GOD, CERTAIN SAFEGUARDS WOULD BE TAKEN SO THAT HIS BEING GOD DIDN'T HELP HIM ... HE WOULD NOT BE ABLE TO USE ANY POWERS TO HELP HIMSELF! HE WOULD BE BORN A JEW, BUT HE WOULD BE BORN IN THE EYES OF THE WORLD AS ILLEGITIMATE WITH SERIOUS QUESTIONS AS TO WHO HIS REAL FATHER WAS! HE WOULD HAVE TO CHAMPION A JUST CAUSE, BUT DO IT SO RADICALLY THAT IT WOULD BRING DOWN ON HIMSELF THE WORLD’S HATRED, CONDEMNATION. THE EFFORTS OF EVERY RELIGION ESTABLISHED BY MAN WOULD FIGHT AGAINST HIM! HE WOULD HAVE TO TRY AND DESCRIBE WHAT NO MAN HAS EVER SEEN, TASTED, HEARD, OR SMELLED ... LET HIM TRY TO COMMUNICATE GOD TO MEN WHO AREN'T INTERESTED! HE WOULD HAVE TO BE BETRAYED BY HIS DEAREST FRIENDS! LET HIM BE INDICTED ON FALSE CHARGES, TRIED BEFORE A JUDGE THAT WAS PREJUDICED, INCLUDING A PREJUDICED JURY ... AND THEN BE CONVICTED OF BEING GUILTY EVEN IF HE ISN'T! LET HIM SEE WHAT IT IS TO BE TERRIBLY ALONE AND COMPLETELY ABANDONED BY EVERY LIVING THING! THEN LET HIM BE TORTURED AND DIE, AND TO DIE A HUMILIATING DEATH WITH COMMON THIEVES! AS THEY PRONOUNCED THEIR PLAN FOR GOD'S PUNISHMENT AND THE ENTIRE CROWD JEERED ... THEY SUDDENLY BECAME SILENT! NO ONE UTTERED A WORD, NO ONE MOVED, FOR SUDDENLY THEY ALL REMEMBERED, GOD HAD ALREADY SERVED THIS SENTENCE ... IN THE PERSON OF JESUS CHRIST! – SOURCE UNKNOWN
5. Their ordeal would not be wasted, if they stayed alert to the opportunities within the opposition!
a. God never allows things into our lives to destroy us!
b. Within the deepest waters, God has plans to deliver us and others!
B. Objectives! Acts 16:25-28
1. What do they do?
a. In pain, confused, they begin to worship God!
b. Notice that as they sang, the other prisoners were listening to the hymns and praise choruses they were singing!
c. They were preaching out of their pain!
2. At such times in our lives ... what do we do?
a. Do we act defeated ... become angry with God and others?
b. Do we pull away from God, from the church?
3. Paul had one objective in his life ... to glorify God in EVERYTHING!
a. Though in pain, tired, abused, etc. he finds that his heart is not imprisoned!
b. Silas joins him in worship!
4. There were no questions about God's will, about God's goodness, there was no "why me Lord?" ... just worship!
5. Crushing was only bringing out the “sweetest fruit” in their lives.
ILLUS: THE ANCIENT ROMAN WORLD THRESHED ITS WHEAT BY HAVING TWO MEN WORK TOGETHER. ONE MAN WOULD STIR UP THE SHEAVES WHILE THE OTHER MAN RODE OVER THEM IN A CRUDE CART EQUIPPED WITH ROLLERS INSTEAD OF WHEELS. SHARP STONES AND ROUGH BITS OF IRON WERE ATTACHED TO THESE CYLINDERS TO HELP SEPARATE THE HUSKS FROM THE GRAIN. THE SIMPLE CART HAD A NAME; IT WAS CALLED A "TRIBULUM" ... FROM WHICH WE GET OUR WORD "TRIBULATION!" WHEN GREAT TRIBULATION COMES TO US, WE OFTEN THINK OF OURSELVES AS BEING TORN TO BITS UNDER CRUEL PRESSURE, BUT NO THRESHER IN ROME EVER USED HIS “TRIBULUM” FOR THE MERE PURPOSE OF TEARING UP HIS SHEAVES TO DESTROY THE HARVEST, HE DID THIS CRUSHING TO BRING THE PRECIOUS GRAIN IN FOR A GREAT HARVEST! WITHOUT THE "TRIBULUM" HE COULD NOT ENJOY THE HARVEST! GOD STILL WORKS THIS WAY IN OUR LIVES WHEN "TRIBULATION" IS ALLOWED! – SOURCE UNKNOWN
6. How are you handling "tribulation" that has come into your life ... are you singing worship hymns at midnight ... or tossing all night in pain and anger?
7. In the midst of worship a great earthquake hits that opens the prison doors!
a. For Paul and Silas they were open already in their heart!
b. God knows how to set us free!
8. Ironically however, with the doors of the prison open Paul and Silas don't leave!
a. If they did they knew the jailor would die!
b. Any guard that lost a prisoner ... no matter the reasons was put to death by Roman law!
c. Their freedom would have cost the man who guarded them his life!
d. Paul could not enjoy his freedom at the expense of another man's life!
9. So, even as the jailor is preparing to end his own life quickly rather than suffer the humility of the Roman system putting him to death, Paul and Silas quickly holler out that they are all there ... including the other prisoners!
a. Why didn't the other ones leave? Perhaps they were too amazed at Paul and Silas's testimony when they were in pain to want to go, perhaps they too wanted to know what these men had that they didn’t have!
b. They realized they were in the company of men who knew God! They didn't want to go ... they were taken "captive" by their example of worship!
10. Paul's objective in life wasn't his own freedom ... but the freedom of those imprisoned by sin! The door of prison was open ... but freedom needed to come for others before he would walk out!
III. CHARACTER MATTERS! Acts 16:29-40
A. Openness! Acts 16:29-34
1. While most Christians would have seen the open door as an opportunity to get free while not worrying about anyone else ... Paul stays to minister to this man and his family!
a. The jailor falls trembling before Paul and Silas and asks, "What must I do to be saved?"
b. When our lives truly reflect the fact that we have died to self and are here to serve others and Christ, people will come to us and want to be saved!
2. We must never underestimate the power of our witness!
ILLUS: DURING THE REIGN OF NERO THERE WAS A SPECIAL GROUP OF SOLDIERS KNOWN AS THE “EMPEROR'S WRESTLERS.” THEY WERE MEN OF UNUSUAL STRENGTH AND BRAVERY, PICKED FROM THE GREAT ATHLETES OF THE ROMAN AMPHITHEATER. IN THE GREAT AMPHITHEATER THEY UPHELD THE ARMS OF THE EMPEROR AGAINST ALL CHALLENGERS. BEFORE EACH CONTEST THEY STOOD BEFORE THE EMPEROR'S THRONE, THEN THROUGH THE COURTS OF ROME THEY WOULD CRY, "WE, THE WRESTLERS FOR THEE, 0 EMPEROR, TO WIN FOR THEE THE VICTORY AND FROM THEE, THE VICTOR'S CROWN." WHEN THE ROMAN ARMY WAS SENT TO FIGHT IN GAUL NO SOLDIERS WERE BRAVER OR MORE LOYAL THAT THIS BAND OF WRESTLERS! THEY WERE LED BY THEIR LEADER VESPASIAN. NEWS ONE DAY REACHED NERO HOWEVER THAT AMONG THESE MEN THERE WERE SOME WHO HAD ACCEPTED THE CHRISTIAN FAITH ... SO HE DISPATCHED TO VESPASIAN THIS DECREE: "IF THERE BE ANY AMONG YOUR SOLDIERS WHO CLING TO THE FAITH OF THE CHRISTIAN, THEY MUST DIE!" THE DECREE WAS RECEIVED IN THE DEAD OF WINTER, THE SOLDIERS WERE CAMPED ON THE SHORE OF A FROZEN LAKE. WITH A SADDENED HEART, HE READ THE MESSAGE AND KNEW HE MUST OBEY HIS EMPEROR! HE CALLED ALL THE SOLDIERS TOGETHER AND ASKED ALL WHO CLUNG TO THE CHRISTIAN FAITH TO STEP FORWARD! 40 OF THE "WRESTLERS" STEPPED FORWARD AND SALUTED THEIR GENERAL! AS THEY STOOD AT ATTENTION, VESPASIAN PAUSED AND DECIDED TO GIVE HIS DEVOTED MEN OPPORTUNITY TO CHANGE THEIR MIND BEFORE HAVING THEM SENTENCED TO DEATH. HE ASKED THEM TO SLEEP ON THEIR DECISION TO FOLLOW CHRIST! THE NEXT MORNING HE AGAIN ASKED THOSE WHO FOLLOWED CHRIST TO STEP FORWARD, AND AGAIN 40 MEN MOVED FORWARD! VESPASIAN PLEADED WITH THEM, BUT WITHOUT LUCK. FINALLY HE SAID HE COULD NOT SHED THEIR BLOOD OR ASK THEIR FELLOW SOLDIERS TO SHED THEIR BLOOD EITHER, BUT THAT HE COULDN'T GO AGAINST THE EMPEROR EITHER ... SO HE ASKED THIS: "I ORDER YOU TO MARCH OUT UPON THE LAKE OF ICE, AND I SHALL LEAVE YOU THERE TO THE MERCY OF THE ELEMENTS." WITH THIS, HE HAD THEM ALL STRIPPED AND SENT THEM OUT! THEY LINED UP IN ROWS OF 4 AND MARCHED TOWARD THE CENTER OF THE LAKE OF ICE. AS THEY MARCHED, THEY BROKE OUT IN THEIR CHANT ... THOUGH NOW SLIGHTLY DIFFERENT, “FORTY WRESTLERS, WRESTLING FOR THEE, O CHRIST, TO WIN FOR THEE THE VICTORY AND FROM THEE, THE VICTOR'S CROWN!" THROUGH THE NIGHT VESPASIAN STOOD BY HIS CAMPFIRE AND WATCHED ... AS THE HOURS WENT BY THE CHANTING CONTINUED, BUT GREW WEAKER. AS MORNING DREW NEAR ONE FIGURE, OVERCOME BY EXPOSURE, CREPT QUIETLY TOWARD THE FIRE ... THUS RENOUNCING HIS LORD! FAINTLY THE OTHER 39 MEN STILL ON THE ICE BEGAN TO SING, “THIRTY NINE WRESTLERS, WRESTLING FOR THEE, 0 CHRIST, TO WIN FOR THEE THE VICTORY AND FROM THE, THE VICTOR'S CROWN!" VESPASIAN COULD NOT TAKE IT ANY LONGER, REMOVING HIS HELMET AND CLOTHING HE SPRANG TO THE ICE AND WALKING ACROSS THE FROZEN LAKE TOWARD THE OTHER 39 DYING MEN HE BEGAN TO CHANT, “FORTY WRESTLERS, WRESTLING FOR THEE, 0 CHRIST, TO WIN FOR THEE THE VICTORY AND FROM THEE, THE VICTOR'S CROWN!” THE POWER OF UNCOMPROMISING FAITH HAD ARRESTED HIS HEART! – SOURCE UNKNOWN
3. The jailor believes as does all within his household ... and they are all baptized!
a. Since those in the household "believed" they could not have been infants!
b. His entire family accepts Christ as Lord!
4. Paul and Silas’ prison experience was used by God to set others free!
5. They were not interested in their own physical freedom as much as the freedom from sin those others might have!
B. Obligations! Acts 16:29-40
1. Ironically when God had opened the prison doors so they could leave, they return in their own will!
a. The next morning the magistrates sent down the message that they can be set free!
b. God now opens the door of the prison a second time!
2. This second time however protects everyone ... including the jailor!
3. Imagine the joy in this jailor as he witnesses God's miracle in setting these men free again ... a second time the door of prison opens for them in such a legal way that no one is punished!
a. This time they are free to go, their work was done here!
b. Their suffering had resulted in someone else's salvation!
4. Paul however has one more obligation to take care of ... the church in Philippi!
a. He demands that the authorities come personally and apologize to him and Silas and escort them publicly out of town!
b. Why did Paul do this? Was he trying to get even? NO!
5. It was forbidden to flog a Roman citizen ... even one found guilty in a court of law! To do so could result in serious punishment to those officials who had ordered it!
a. Paul and Silas were both Roman citizens and had not even had a trial in Philippi before they were flogged!
b. Paul probably knew that if they were punished, the authorities would likely go after the other believers in town ... UNLESS they were afraid to do so!
c. By using his Roman citizenship as an issue here, he puts fear in the authorities, for he could get them into serious trouble for what they did to him and Silas ... no doubt Paul wanted a public apology so that they would think twice in the future about trying to go after the church in Philippi whom Paul helped oversee!
d. Paul was once again not thinking of himself as it at first appears here, he is thinking about the church's safety after he leaves!
6. Paul recognizes his obligations before God ... no matter the pain, to worship; no matter the freedom, to lead people to Christ; no matter the personal injury, to minister to others and protect the church!
7. For Paul the prison doors had always been open ... even before they opened! How about your prison doors?
ILLUS: IN OLD AGE, PIERRE AUGUSTE, THE GREAT FRENCH PAINTER, SUFFERED FROM SERIOUS ARTHRITIS. WITH A TWISTED AND PAINFUL HAND, HE WOULD PAINT, WINCING IN PAIN! A FRIEND OF HIS ONE DAY ASKED HIM, "WHY DO YOU CONTINUE TO PAINT EVEN THOUGH EACH MOVEMENT CAUSES SUCH STABBING PAIN, WHY DO YOU TORTURE YOURSELVES THIS WAY?" AUGUSTE REPLIED, "THE PAIN PASSES, BUT THE BEAUTY REMAINS!" – SOURCE UNKNOWN
CONCLUSION: What are the secrets to escaping from prison -- especially emotional and spiritual imprisonment? Paul and Silas discovered freedom in prison, they were never imprisoned in their minds ... they lived in victory no matter what the circumstances! They give us a guide to follow that will open the door of our prisons!