Quite frankly, I think this is just about my favorite story in the book of Acts. So what can we learn from the passage?
First off, let’s ask a question. Why was the demon within this poor girl going around and proclaiming that Paul and his group were “servants of the Most High God, who are telling you the way to be saved.”? Obviously it didn’t want people to come to saving faith in Christ, did it? We can only speculate, but my guess is that it was meant as mockery and as a distraction. God’s Message doesn't need any positive testimonials from demons, thank you very much. As long as Paul and his friends were followed by this girl, they couldn’t concentrate on actually sharing the Good News with those who were ready to hear it. So Paul had enough and forcibly removed it from the girl.
Wonderful employers, weren’t they? They couldn’t care less about the obvious torment the spirit was putting this poor girl through. All they cared about was money. So they rounded up Paul and company and had them arrested. The authorities had them “severely flogged” (a decision the leaders would later regret) and had them cast into prison. The jailer fastened their feet with chains and stocks.
My friend, sometimes you get punished for doing the right thing for God. Paul and Silas hadn’t robbed anyone or beaten anyone or killed anyone. But here they were in a dark cold dungeon awaiting a certainly unpleasant fate. And what’s their reaction? Moan and whine and complain about their unfair treatment? No. Pray to God for deliverance? That was undoubtedly part of it, but there was more than that.
They sang. They praised the Lord. That cold dark dungeon was turned into a sanctuary for worship. And Luke makes sure to point out that the prisoners heard them. What was their response? Probably mixed. But we do know God’s reaction.
My friend, this shames me. How do I react when I go through any hardship, much less punishment for doing the right thing?
Again, we have to keep in mind that he doesn’t normally operate like this. We have no right to expect a physical deliverance when he hasn’t promised it. But he’s certainly capable of acting. He’s the Lord of the entire universe. He’s God Almighty. And he sent an earthquake which was precisely calibrated to shake off the bonds on their limbs and the doors off their hinges but not so severe as to cause the building to collapse. He can do things like that when he wants to.
When the jailer saw that the doors were open, he assumed the worst. He drew his sword, because he knew that if any prisoners got away, then suicide would be a much better alternative than anything his superiors would impose on him. But amazingly, Paul stopped him and told him that all the prisoners were still in their cells, a miracle in itself. And the jailer asked the most important question anyone will ever ask: “What must I do to be saved?” And the apostle gave him a straightforward answer: “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved—you and your household.” Yes, it’s that simple.
Like I said, an amazing story. The Enemy planned to use trumped-up charges to put Paul’s ministry to a halt. And just like always, the Lord used the Enemy’s own plans to bring about his own. It’s an amazing story, but an even more amazing God whom we serve.
Ray Boltz has an incredible song based on this (“I Will Praise the Lord”) which never fails to bring tears to my eyes when I hear it. Here it is.
Father, it’s so hard when I get punished for doing the right thing. I really need the attitude of Paul and Silas. By your grace, please change me.