July 1 | Acts 16:16-36
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True Freedom and God's Surprises
by Pastor Jeff Morlock
In today’s reading, Jesus’ followers act in surprising ways that don’t seem normal, given their circumstances. Paul and Silas cast a demon out of a woman. Exorcism is not surprising. It was a central point of Jesus’ ministry as he confronted the spiritual forces of evil. And it still happens today. Also unsurprising is that people in power who benefited from the exploitation of this woman felt that an injustice had been done to them when Paul and Silas balanced the scales and set her free. They get Paul and Silas publicly flogged and thrown in prison. Not a surprise. This is how the Roman Empire worked, and how many places still work today.
At midnight, their wounds had not yet been treated. If it were me, I’d be complaining to my fellow prisoners, banging on the bars, and demanding my phone call. But Paul and Silas are praying. Praying isn’t a surprise. We always do that when we are in over our heads. But singing? Not sad songs, either. Not “Nobody knows the trouble I've seen,” but songs of praise! Now that’s surprising! The earthquake is not a surprise. God works through nature all the time. But what would you do if you had been unjustly imprisoned, and suddenly a giant hole opened up in the wall and your chains fell free? You’d “Shawshank Redemption” your way out of there as fast as you could, right? Instead, Paul and Silas think about the jailer, who assumes that his prisoners have escaped, and he will now be subject to capital punishment himself. He's about to fall on his sword when he realizes that all the prisoners are still there. Having been shown mercy, he asks, “What must I do to be saved?” He gets his family and they all go down to the river to get baptized. There's fried chicken and potato salad and everybody comes to know the Lord!
Is it surprising that Jesus’ disciples are free to care about people they dislike and don't agree with? Paul’s back story is that he was trying to destroy the church when Jesus knocked him off his horse and said, “You're on my team now." When you've been loved and forgiven in the moment of your greatest failure, you just might become the kind of person that will trust this love to hold you fast, even in jail. You might be free to sing. And demonstrate God's care to your jailer. You might even be free, when faced with a seemingly insurmountable problem, to trust that God has not brought you this far to abandon you.
Spend some time praising God for who he is as Provider and Deliverer. Thank the Lord for the specific ways that he has provided for you and delivered you in the past. Ask God to break the chains that continue to bind you and or others