This week we are looking at an event from history that is recorded for us in a letter in the New Testament of the Bible called the book of Acts. In Acts 16:16, Luke, who is the author of the book of Acts, was accompanying the Apostle Paul, Silas, and Timothy on what would become known as the Apostle Paul’s second missionary journey.
Upon arriving in the city of Philippi as Paul and his traveling companions were traveling to the place of prayer to engage the Jewish residents of the city with the claims of Christ and the message of the gospel, they were met by a slave girl who had a spirit of divination. This was a girl who was a slave and who was possessed by a demon.
As a result of being possessed by a demon, she was empowered by the demon to predict and proclaim the futures of people. Upon crossing paths with this demon possessed slave girl and her masters, the slave girl cried out with a loud voice "These men are bond-servants of the Most High God, who are proclaiming to you the way of salvation."
Day after day, as Paul and his companions made their trip from the city of Philippi to the place of prayer and back, this demon possessed girl and her masters would publicly proclaim this message while following closely behind them. After putting up with her presence and proclamation for several days, Paul, annoyed with the situation, confronted the demon who had possessed this girl and, through the power of the Holy Spirit, rid the girl of the demon.
However, while the girl was now freed from the enslavement of a demon, she was not freed from the enslavement of her earthly masters. And Paul’s intervention on her behalf was not appreciated by the girl’s masters, as we see in Acts 16:19-24:
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 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. 23 When they had struck them with many blows, 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.
Upon recognizing that they would no longer be able to exploit the slave girl for a profit, her masters responded by grabbing Paul and Silas and dragging them into the marketplace. In the Greco-Roman culture of the 1st century, the marketplace was the center of civic life and also served as the place where civil and legal cases would be heard before a local magistrate, or judge. Luke tells us that Paul and Silas were accused before the magistrate of disturbing the peace and order of the Roman civil and religious practices by advocating and promoting that the residents of the city become Jewish.
You see, while the Roman Empire allowed people to practice their own religions, to attempt to evangelize and convert Romans citizens to another religion was strongly discouraged and was, in some cases, illegal. Since there were very few ethnic or religious Jews in Philippi, the men who accused Paul and Silas had very little knowledge of Jewish religious practices and simply assumed that since they were Jewish, they were promoting Judaism.
Evidently, there was an undercurrent of anti-Jewish sentiment evident in Philippi. This was demonstrated not only with the charges that Paul and Silas were accused of; this was also demonstrated that Luke and Timothy, who were with Paul and Silas but were not Jewish, were not arrested. As a result of the accusations and the anti-Jewish sentiment in Philippi, Luke tells us that the magistrates pronounced a judgment where they were handed over to the local jailer to be incarcerated for an unspecified period of time.
Now in the culture of the 1st century, the jailer most likely was a retired Roman soldier. During this time in history, and especially in Philippi, Roman soldiers were respected and looked up to. And as a retired Roman soldier who was now serving as a jailer, life would have been easy and life would have been good. A retired Roman soldier who was a jailer would have a great deal of authority and a great deal of freedom when it came to how he treated and handled the prisoners. As a result, jailers were often treated prisoners harshly.
A retired Roman soldier who was a jailer would receive good pay and would have a comfortable life that did not need much of anything. After all, if you were a jailer, you only have one job, which is to keep the prisoners from escaping. After being ordered by the magistrate to guard Paul and Silas securely, Luke tells us that the jailer placed Paul and Silas in the inner prison, which was most likely the most secure cell that was located in the center of the prison. And to make sure that Paul and Silas had no chance to escape, the jailer placed both men in stocks.
Now stocks were used for low-status prisoners not only to secure them but also for punishment and torture. You see, the stocks could be positioned in such a way that a person’s legs would be locked into various painful positions. The jailer, having done his job by locking Paul and Silas in stocks after placing them in a secure cell in the center of the prison could relax. For the jailer, life was easy. For the jailer, life was comfortable. For the jailer life was comfortable because he was enjoying the rhythm and routine of his life. All of his hard work as a soldier placed him in a position to have financial stability and a comfortable lifestyle. A comfortably simple and stress-free life. For the jailer it was time to coast and catch some sleep because he was confident and comfortable in his comfortable life that was smooth sailing.
Maybe you can relate to the jailer. Maybe life is good, life is flowing with a rhythm and routine that enables you to coast and be comfortable. Sure, there are occasional bumps in the road, but you are comfortable and content with a lifestyle that enables you to coast through life. You are at a place where you are able to have all of your needs met and even some of your wants fulfilled, you really don’t need anything. Maybe you are at a place in life where you are coasting through life because you are comfortable where you are at in life.
However, while the jailer was asleep enjoying his comfortable life, something was about to occur that would shake things up literally and figuratively for the jailer. Something that Luke records for us and that we will look at on Friday...