Message on Acts 16:16-34
7th Sunday of Easter
Pastor Karen Crawford
May 29, 2022
Link to recording of the live stream on Facebook: https://fb.watch/dn2jcDmaPe/
16 One day as we were going to the place of prayer, we met a female slave who had a spirit of divination and brought her owners a great deal of money by fortune-telling. 17 While she followed Paul and us, she would cry out, “These men are slaves of the Most High God, who proclaim to you the way of salvation.” 18 She kept doing this for many days. But Paul, very much annoyed, turned and said to the spirit, “I order you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her.” And it came out that very hour.
19 But when her owners saw that their hope of making money was gone, they seized Paul and Silas and dragged them into the marketplace before the authorities. 20 When they had brought them before the magistrates, they said, “These men, these Jews, are disturbing our city 21 and are advocating customs that are not lawful for us, being Romans, to adopt or observe.” 22 The crowd joined in attacking them, and the magistrates had them stripped of their clothing and ordered them to be beaten with rods. 23 After they had given them a severe flogging, they threw them into prison and ordered the jailer to keep them securely. 24 Following these instructions, he put them in the innermost cell and fastened their feet in the stocks.
25 About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them. 26 Suddenly there was an earthquake so violent that the foundations of the prison were shaken, and immediately all the doors were opened and everyone’s chains were unfastened. 27 When the jailer woke up and saw the prison doors wide open, he drew his sword and was about to kill himself, since he supposed that the prisoners had escaped. 28 But Paul shouted in a loud voice, “Do not harm yourself, for we are all here.” 29 The jailer called for lights, and rushing in, he fell down trembling before Paul and Silas. 30 Then he brought them outside and said, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” 31 They answered, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.” 32 They spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all who were in his house. 33 At the same hour of the night he took them and washed their wounds; then he and his entire family were baptized without delay. 34 He brought them up into the house and set food before them, and he and his entire household rejoiced that he had become a believer in God.
I have vivid memories of going to Sunday school as a child. How ‘bout you?
I was raised in a Lutheran church of about this size. Does anybody else have a Lutheran background? It was country at the time, where I was living, though today it is a bustling suburb of Washington, D.C. Cornfields and cow pastures mingled with homes and only a couple of stoplights paused traffic in the center of town.
This is what I remember of Sunday school. We met in the basement, where the fellowship hall was, too. We would gather in one group at the beginning, sitting on little wooden chairs placed in rows, singing songs with an old, upright piano. Jesus Loves Me, Jesus Loves the Little Children, This Little Light of Mine. Zacchaeus and Deep and Wide.
One of the leaders would say a few words and pray, and then, while the piano played, we would take an offering in a little basket before hurrying off to our classes. The rooms were separated by accordion dividers. Anybody remember those? We had refreshments—Dixie cups of apple juice or Kool Aid. We would eat cookies—homemade and store bought—or cupcakes with sticky icing.
Our teachers would tell us Bible stories illustrated with flannel board figures. We colored pages that went with the lessons and made simple crafts with paper, scissors, crayons, and glue. David and Goliath. Noah’s Ark. Adam and Eve. Samson and Delilah. Daniel in the Lion’s Den. Jonah and the Whale. The miracle stories of Jesus and his disciples. The missionary journeys of the apostles and the church’s beginnings in Acts.
This passage about Paul and Silas made a big impression on me when I was young. It has all the makings of a great drama, especially with God sending an earthquake to break the chains of the prisoners and set them free. Paul’s witness of kindness and mercy in a violent and oppressive world in the days of the Roman Empire touched my heart then—and touches my heart now, as we live in a violent world today!
I don’t want you to miss a precious moment in this scene. Before the earthquake, Paul and Silas can be heard with their fervent prayers and hymn singing. This is a witness to ALL the prisoners—and to us of what we should do when we are hurting and afraid. Sing and pray. I imagine they are singing the psalms of their childhood.
I can’t help but marvel at Paul for not just running away and saving himself and Silas after the earthquake. Instead, he stops the Roman jailer from killing himself with his sword rather than being executed for failing to stop a prison escape.
The apostle shouts in a loud voice, “Do not harm yourself, for we are all here.”
The jailer rushes in, finds them released from their chains, and, trembling at their feet, asks, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?”
The apostle answers without hesitation. “Believe in the Lord Jesus,” he says, “and you will be saved, you and your household.”
Why does Paul care about the salvation of one man—and his enemy, to boot??
Because he knows that God cares about this one man. The apostle knows from personal experience what happens when one man’s heart and life are changed. When he was a persecutor of Christ and his followers, zealous for his faith, he was so sure he was doing the right thing–until his dramatic conversion on the road to Damascus. Paul tells his conversion story, over and over, boasting of his weaknesses and lifting up the message of the sufficiency of God’s grace.
Since his conversion, countless other hearts and lives have been changed by their encounter with Paul in person and through his New Testament letters.
Hearing the apostle preach the word in the jailer’s home in middle of the night, many other hearts and lives are changed. Without delay, the jailer and his household are baptized! For the promise is for every believer and their families, including the children. Paul tells us in Romans 6:4, “We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.”
Food is set before the apostles, and they celebrate. The jailer who has been cleansed from sin in the waters of baptism, washes the wounds of his former prisoners. What a beautiful picture of the peace and reconciliation with God and human beings with one another in Christ Jesus.
I have lingering questions as I finish the study of this passage. Whatever happened to the slave who was released of the evil spirit? She was healed not out of compassion, as Jesus healed, but because she was following Paul and Silas for many days, annoying them. Could there be any happy ending for her—after she was no longer of any value to her greedy owners who had made a great deal of money off her fortune-telling gifts? We will never know.
And what will happen to the former jailer and his family now that he has turned his back on the Empire to follow Jesus? He would be a criminal for helping Paul and Silas, welcoming them into his home and walking away from his post.
Though the future won’t be like the past for the jailer and his family, the passage ends with the entire household rejoicing that he has become a believer in God—and they, with him. All because Paul so graciously and mercifully answered the jailer’s sincere question, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?”
Today, baby Charlotte’s baptism reminds us of the promises we have made for those baptized over the years—promises to help nurture them in the faith and support their parents. May we always remember that our promises to the children don’t end when they turn 18 or move out of the area. May we never stop praying for them and reaching out with love.
We who were blessed to have good Sunday school teachers and parents or grandparents who made sure we got to church now have the opportunity of passing on our faith to the next generations. It’s amazing to me how much I remember from Sunday school so long ago—and the stories my kind teachers taught me. Friends, if you teach Sunday school, you are making a difference in a child’s life!
One thing is sure; I wouldn’t be a pastor here today if it weren’t for these volunteers who gave their time and shared God’s love, sowing seeds of faith to the children in the church of my childhood. They are most likely in the Great Cloud of Witnesses today—with their Savior, but also cheering us on as we run the race of faith.
Claimed by Christ in the waters of our own baptisms, may we be filled with the grace, gentleness, and compassion of Christ, confident and bold to answer that life-giving question that Paul was moved to answer for his jailer.
“What must I do to be saved?”
Let us pray.
Holy One, thank you for the waters of baptism—and for your Son’s claim on our lives. Fill your Church now with your grace, gentleness, and the compassion of Christ to heal our broken world. Thank you for setting us free from the bondage of sin and giving us the power of the Spirit to live new lives, forgetting the mistakes of the past. Teach us to number our days—and not waste time and energy doing or worrying about things that don’t matter for all eternity. Open our eyes to see opportunities when we may help nurture children and youth in the faith. May we serve out of gratitude to you and to all who took time to share your love and sow seeds of faith. In the name of your Risen Son we pray. Amen.