What links a jail, earthquake and baptism?
Updated: Oct 23, 2021
Description: Two apostles were thrown into jail yet God sent an earthquake to free them. But they didn’t run. The good news and baptism mattered more.
Apostle Paul was in Philippi with his companion Silas. He had been called in a vision to preach the gospel in Macedonia (Acts 16.9-10). This was a Roman colony where the people enjoyed the same privileges as the citizens of the city itself.
After early and notable successes, he was attracting crowds. He also attracted the attention of a fortune-telling slave girl. Trouble was looming. She started following Paul and his group, shouting, ‘These men are servants of the Most High God, who are telling you the way to be saved,’ (Acts 16.17). This might sound acceptable, but the woman was possessed by a spirit (Acts 16.16). As happened elsewhere in the gospels, evil spirits were correctly identifying the Lord’s spiritual work. After several days, her persistence triggered a response from Paul and he said to the spirit, ‘In the name of Jesus Christ I command you to come out of her!’ And it did, bringing trouble in its wake.
The girl’s overseers had been making money out of her fortune telling. When they discovered their income source had dried up, they were decidedly annoyed, particularly as they hadn’t personally harassed Paul or Silas. They took their case to the magistrates and – neglecting to mention their financial interests – cashed in on anti-Jewish attitudes by accusing Paul of ‘advocating customs unlawful for us Romans to accept or practise,’ (Acts 16.21).
This caused an uproar and led to the magistrates ordering Paul and Silas to be stripped, severely flogged, and thrown into prison – and not just thrown in. The jailer was told to guard them carefully, so he fastened their feet in stocks and stuck them in the inner cell.
How did the apostles react?
Having been severely flogged and chained up in a dark cell, what did Paul and Silas do? They worshipped God. They prayed. Wow! This really showed their commitment and faith, and God moved his plan forward to the next step. He sent an earthquake – not enough to hurt anyone, just violent enough to open up all the doors and make the chains fall away. The other prisoners could hardly miss the connection. Neither could the jailer. Figuring that none of his prisoners would be hanging around, he took his sword ready to kill himself. But Paul hadn’t been praying for release and no one had escaped, even though they’d clearly been offered a God-given opportunity. He shouted out to the jailer, telling him not to harm himself, and so saved the man’s life. (Acts 16.25-28).
Trembling, the jailer took Paul and Silas from the cell and asked the key question, ‘Sirs, what must I do to be saved?’ and Paul gave his answer, ‘Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved – you and your household, (Acts 16.30-31). And after listening to Paul, they did believe and all were baptised that same night.
What does this all mean?
Most importantly, it shows that Paul and Silas were far more concerned about salvation for the gentile jailer and his family than in freedom for themselves. Even when the magistrates ordered their release, the apostles refused to leave. Paul was a Roman citizen and had been treated illegally. He insisted that the magistrates come personally and escort them from the jail (Acts 16.37). This must surely have made a massive impact on the Philippians, as the growing Christian community amply shows. So, a jail cell, some baptisms and an earthquake were all firmly connected and Philippi went on to become the first Christian church in Europe. One more important thing: there’s definitely power in prayer (but no requirement for a dark Roman cell!).
Unless otherwise stated, Scripture quotations taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version® Anglicized, NIV® Copyright © 1979, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.®Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.