Sr. Pastor Darrell G Vaughn
                                                        Faithfulness - A Key Step to Happiness
May 16, 2010                                  "Freedom in a Cell!"

Sun Am Worship                         

Text: Acts 16:16-34 (King James Version)

 "Father, I am your servant, willing and desiring to be used to bless your people."

Acts 16:16   And it came to pass, as we went to prayer, a certain damsel possessed with a spirit of divination met us, which brought her masters much gain by soothsaying:

Acts 16:17   The same followed Paul and us, and cried, saying, These men are the servants of the most high God, which show unto us the way of salvation.

Acts 16:18   And this did she many days. But Paul, being grieved, turned and said to the spirit, I command thee in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her. And he came out the same hour.

Acts 16:19   And when her masters saw that the hope of their gains was gone, they caught Paul and Silas, and drew them into the marketplace unto the rulers,

Acts 16:20   And brought them to the magistrates, saying, These men, being Jews, do exceedingly trouble our city,

Acts 16:21   And teach customs, which are not lawful for us to receive, neither to observe, being Romans.

Acts 16:22   And the multitude rose up together against them: and the magistrates rent off their clothes, and commanded to beat them.

Acts 16:23   And when they had laid many stripes upon them, they cast them into prison, charging the jailor to keep them safely:

Acts 16:24   Who, having received such a charge, thrust them into the inner prison, and made their feet fast in the stocks.

Acts 16:25   And at midnight Paul and Silas prayed, and sang praises unto God: and the prisoners heard them.

Acts 16:26   And suddenly there was a great earthquake, so that the foundations of the prison were shaken: and immediately all the doors were opened, and every one's bands were loosed.

Acts 16:27   And the keeper of the prison awaking out of his sleep, and seeing the prison doors open, he drew out his sword, and would have killed himself, supposing that the prisoners had been fled.

Acts 16:28   But Paul cried with a loud voice, saying, Do thyself no harm: for we are all here.

Acts 16:29   Then he called for a light, and sprang in, and came trembling, and fell down before Paul and Silas,

Acts 16:30   And brought them out, and said, Sirs, what must I do to be saved?

Acts 16:31   And they said, Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved, and thy house.

Acts 16:32   And they spake unto him the word of the Lord, and to all that were in his house.

Acts 16:33   And he took them the same hour of the night, and washed their stripes; and was baptized, he and all his, straightway.

Acts 16:34   And when he had brought them into his house, he set meat

before them, and rejoiced, believing in God with all his house.

 

The other day I saw a guy who says he can predict earthquakes.
And he doesn't predict the actual day of the quake, he just looks for indicators that say a quake is likely during a certain period of time.
And he has indicators like the phases of the moon and the depth of the tides.
And he says, when you see these things, it's likely that an earthquake is going to happen.

Well, I can't predict earthquakes, but I can predict something else.
I can predict bad days.
I have a set of indicators myself that will tell you that a bad day is likely, if not a sure thing.
Here they are: You can be pretty sure it's going to be a bad day when:
1. You call suicide prevention and they put you on hold.
2. You see a 60 minutes news team waiting for you in your office.
3. Your birthday cake collapses from the weight of the candles.
4. You turn on the news and they're showing emergency routes out of the city.
5. Your twin sister forgets your birthday.
6. You wake up to discover that your waterbed has broken...and then realize...you don't have a waterbed!
7. Your horn gets stuck as you follow a group of Hell's Angel's down the freeway.
Now, these are not guarantees that you'll have a bad day, they're just indicators that the chances are pretty good!
Well, if I'd been writing this 2,000 years ago I might have included one more.
"You know it's going to be a bad day when...you're stripped, beaten and thrown in a jail cell."
That's exactly what happened to two men in the 16th chapter of the book of Acts.

Paul & Silas were called by God to take the gospel into the region of Macedonia.
But when they got there, instead of wide open doors, like they might have expected, they ran into opposition!
Big time opposition!

Opposition so powerful that they were able to convince the authorities to treat these men like common criminals.
But before we go to that particular jail cell, allow me a short side-road.

How many in here want to live a godly life in Christ?
If that's a goal of yours raise your hand.
Alright, with that in mind, let me read something Paul wrote to Timothy.

 

2 Timothy 3:12   Yea, and all that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution.

"Everyone..." he didn't say some people. He didn't say first century Christians, or apostles or prophets.
"Everyone...who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus..."
Now, if you raised your hand, that's you. Just as if your name was written right here in the Bible, the Holy Spirit is talking about you when he says, '
"Everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will..."
It doesn't say "might."
It doesn't say "could be."
It says, absolutely, unequivocally, without a doubt,
"will suffer persecution!"

Now, how many here still want to live a godly life in Christ Jesus?
Alright, but at least you go into it knowing about the downside!
You see, I think we've soft-pedalled the gospel sometimes!
"The Christian life is not a week at church camp. For every stirring campfire testimony and 'mountaintop experience' there are ten times when we struggle."

That's so true it hurts!

"Those who want to live a godly life in Christ Jesus WILL SUFFER PERSECUTION!"
"JESUS NEVER SAID FOLLOWING HIM WOULD BE EASY,
JUST THAT IT WOULD BE WORTH IT!"

God did not promise Christians an easy life!
He promised them an eternal one!

And so there are going to be those times when you're wrongfully accused and woefully mistreated.

So what's a Christian supposed to do?
Well, we just grit our teeth and hold on, right? Wrong!
We rejoice! And people might look at you funny.
But that's alright, because this isn't some "power of positive thinking" seminar.
It's not some Bobby McFerrin "Don't Worry, Be Happy" song.
This is a rejoicing that's rooted in reality!

I think I'm having a bad day if I break a shoelace!

Verse 25:
"But about midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening to them."
I wish I could say that's what I'd be doing, but I don't know if I could!

Paul and Silas was not the first one is a situation like this.
I look at Paul and Silas sitting in that dungeon of a prison and I don't see Paul and Silas.
I see others who have been where they were.
I see David in the cave of Adullam, cold, scared and hungry.
Running away from the very man he would have given his life for!
But instead he feared for his life!

I see Joseph in Pharoah's prison, sent there by jealous brothers but protected by a loving God.

I see righteous Daniel sleeping like a baby while the lions prowled around him all night, dreaming of Daniel soup..but God had closed their mouths.

When I look at Paul and Silas on that prison floor, bleeding and bruised, I don't just see Paul and Silas.
I see three young boys thrown into a fire so hot that it killed the men who threw them in!
And I hear King Nebuchednezzar say to his servants, (My favorite line in the Bible!)
"Weren't there three men we tied up and threw into the fire?" And they said, "Yes, O King."
And he said, "Look! I see four men walking around in the fire, unbound and unharmed, and the fourth looks like a son of the gods."

Paul and Silas weren't alone in that prison cell and they knew it!
They were surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses.
They were filled with the Holy Spirit!
They were encircled by the heavenly host.
Talk about prison overcrowding! This one was crammed!
And so they sang and rejoiced and praised God at the top of their lungs.

The next time you're in the prison of persecution or the dungeon of despair, look around!
Realize you're not alone, and then do something that may seem a little strange.
Sing a song. But don't be like this guy!

 

Jim Serian tells of the time when one of his congregation's organizations "The Women's League" wanted to announce a new project they had undertaken for the church. On that particular Sunday morning during the announcement time, the President of the Women's League came up to announce a new project that the women were going to take upon themselves. After a brief description, the President called for all of the ladies of the league (a group made up mostly of our 55 year old and up female saints) to "march up to the front of the sanctuary" so that the congregation could see the earnestness of their endeavor.
Serian was the pianist for the church, and decided to give the ladies a marching tune to encourage them as they came down the aisle. He started playing the children's chorus, 'The Lord's Army,' to keep in step with the march. He says: "In MY head, I was hearing the familiar words, 'I may never march in the infantry, ride in the cavalry, shoot the artillery...'

Unfortunately, everyone else was hearing the words of the original tune, 'The old gray mare, she ain't what she used to be, ain't what she used to be, ain't what she used to be...'"
He said "When the surprised Women's League President asked why I was playing that tune, I got so flustered, I couldn't answer, so I just left through the side door."

 

Verse 25 says, "and the other prisoners were listening to them."

Talk about a captive audience! This was it!

This lesson from Acts is a story about freedom.

It sure is interesting how God works.

One thing you can never take away from a Christian is God and the presence of Jesus Christ.

And with God there is freedom even in a prison, and at midnight there is light!

The magistrates have them "stripped and beaten," and thrown into jail where their feet are put in stocks and the jailor is ordered to "guard them carefully." But, as I mentioned, the apostles don't act like your typical prisoners.

Do we possess this kind of freedom?

Are we able to rejoice, even when the times get rough?

Or does our faith depend on everything "going our way?"

There is a cotton-candy like view of Christianity that promises all health and wealth, but it melts away when reality strikes.

Evil and pain can sometimes confuse and distort a person's views of Christianity.

Sometimes folks begin to blame their suffering on a lack of faith.
Many may give up on Jesus all-together.

And as a result, they become spiritually bankrupt and are left with little inner resources with which to battle the trials of life.

Paul and his friends were beaten and thrown into jail for doing what was right, good and lovely.

Sounds awful, doesn't it?

Well, it is..

..but when we read the New Testament we notice that this kind of treatment was routine for the early followers of Christ.

In 2 Corinthians Paul gives a litany of trials and tribulations that he and other Christians had to endure: "afflictions, hardships, calamities, beatings, imprisonment, riots, labors, sleepless nights and hunger."

As one writer puts it: "If Paul were here today, he'd be nauseated by those who tout a prosperity gospel."

For Paul, it wasn't so important how badly Christians were treated; he had been freed by a towering faith in Christ that enabled him to endure and rise victoriously over any opposition!!!

Through Christ, and Christ alone, we too can overcome the tragedies of life, and turn trouble into triumph!

For a number of years the license plates of New Hampshire had the slogan, "Live Free or Die."
Ironically, those words were stamped onto the license plates by inmates in the state prison.

They were kept in their prison by high walls and barred windows.

But many people today agree to stay in other sorts of prisons, when they have the opportunity to leave all along.

Something inside us wants to live free, but often we are unwilling to do what the Gospel of Jesus Christ says we must do to be truly free!

We cling to material possessions as if they could stay with us forever.

We allow pride and vanity to distort our view of what is truly beautiful in life.

We let fear control us; fear of what other people think and thus we run with fear from the Only One Who can truly set us free—Christ Jesus the Lord!!!

Paul was free.

It's true that he spent many of his years as a Christian disciple in Roman prisons, but he was free!!!

His freedom was rooted, not in this world's definition of the term, but in his spiritual awareness that he was a beloved child of God.

He knew he was called by God to proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and that he would be with God for ever after his mission on earth was fulfilled.

This freedom gave him the courage to speak and act without having to please the world and the power to respond to people's pains with the healing love of God.

How great is that?

In Acts, all the other inmates were listening with awe and wonder as the apostles praised God in prison, stocks and with bleeding backs to boot!

Then, "Suddenly there was such a violent earthquake that the foundations of the prison were shaken, and everybody's chains came loose."

But none of the prisoners took off for the hills.

That night they had seen what real freedom was, and they wanted it for themselves.

They had learned that true freedom did not come from anything outside the prison doors.

And when the jailer woke up thinking that all his prisoners had escaped, he was about to commit suicide until Paul shouted, "Don't harm yourself! We are all here!"

Talk about prison ministry.

This was like nothing the jailer had ever seen or dreamed of.

"Why had they not escaped?

And why do they care about me, the man in charge of keeping them locked up?

Surely, there is a great power at work in this place.

Certainly they possess something I lack!"

So, the jailer actually brought them out of the jail and asked, "Sirs, what must I do to be saved?"

In other words, "Sirs, what must I do to be free like you are free?"

Think about it, what causes other persons to have a desire to be converted?

Is it the things we say, or the cars we drive?

Is it the size of our church, or the color of our carpet?

Or is it about the way we live..

..and I'm not talking about being able to follow the Ten commandments to a T..

..I'm talking about an abiding relationship with God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost.

Ray Comfort and his Distorted Disciples will answer to God himself for the corruption they are sewing in the lives of people, in whom God is desiring to set free.

 

I'm talking about this relationship altering our lives in such a way that we are given a faith that can move mountains, a peace which transcends all understanding, a joy that doesn't make any sense, perseverance in the face of tremendous obstacles, a deep and unconditional love for all people—including our enemies, hospitality to strangers, a smile on our face and a skip in our step..

..and I could go on and on and on..

Paul and Silas could have stayed right there and had a jail ministry, but God had something else in mind.

Hear this if you hear nothing else, God can set you free!
You can't do it, don't even try!
How much of a chance did those men have of getting out of there on their own?
Could they chew through the chains, could they break down the doors, could they overpower the guards? NO!
They were absolutely, totally powerless to free themselves.
And they knew it.
And that's exactly what God was waiting for!

You see, that's how God operates!
Over and over in the Old Testament we see it!
He turns to Gideon in the 7th chapter of Judges and says, "Hey Gideon, you have too many men to win this battle, get rid of a few."
So Gideon whittles it down until there are only 300 men left.
And finally God says, "Alright, that's perfect!"
Then God tells him why he did it.
Judges 7:2 "...In order that Israel may not boast that her own strength has saved her."
You know what? Sometimes God looks at us and says, "You're too strong!"
"You have too many resources."
"If you get out of the mess you're in, you'll just look back and say, "It's a good thing I was strong enough to handle that!"

When your strength is gone and your resources depleted, know this:
God can set you free!
And he will set you free, and he does it because he loves you and he does it because he cares, but he does it for another reason, too.

When people see Christians living like Christians---they too want to be a Christian!!!

As I said, this is a story about freedom!

And quite simply, everyone in this story is imprisoned, in one way or another, except for three of the people who are in prison—the apostles themselves!!!

How free are we, really?

That night after the earthquake, the jailer and "all the others in his house" were saved!

The world was turning right way up at last, and what better way of showing it than a Roman jailer, who had been imprisoned by his own fear..

..at terror so great that he would rather impale himself on his own sword than face the wrath of his superior officers..

..throwing a midnight party for three battered but rejoicing heralds of King Jesus?

Yes, in Jesus Christ, we are offered freedom such as the world can never know.

In Him is healing and wholeness and strength.

There is no prison on this earth strong enough to keep Him out—or keep us in!!!

Praise God.

Several years later Paul wrote a letter to the church in Philippi and he said something that the Philippians knew to be true.
He said,
"I have learned the secret of being content in every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want." (And, he could have added, in a prison cell or out of one)
And then he topped it off by saying...
"I can do everything through Him who gives me strength."


Amen.