Summary: 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.

Acts 16:16-34

“Freedom in a Prison Cell”

There is a lot to be learned from the example of Christians who live in third-world countries, and don’t have the freedom we might often take for granted.

Will Willimon tells the story of a Bishop from Angola who came to visit America a few years back.

The Bishop was speaking to a group of Christians.

“Is the new Marxist government supportive of the church?” the Americans asked.

“No,” said the Bishop, “but we don’t ask it to be supportive.”

He then went on to tell how his country’s government had banned many church meetings, but how the Christians stubbornly went on meeting, all the same.

“What will you do,” the Americans asked, “when the government becomes stronger?”

“We shall keep on meeting,” the Bishop replied.

“The government does what it needs to do. The Church does what it needs to do. If we go to jail for being the Church, we shall go to jail. Jail is a wonderful place for Christian evangelism.

Our church made some of its most dramatic gains during the revolution when so many of us were in jail.

In jail, you have everyone there, in one place.

You have time to preach and teach.

Sure, twenty of our pastors were killed during the revolution, but we came out of jail a much larger and stronger church.”

The Bishop continued, “Don’t worry about the church in Angola; God is doing fine by us.

Frankly, I would find it much more difficult to be a pastor in your country.

Here there is so much.

So many things.

It must be hard to be the Church here.”

This lesson from Acts is a story about freedom.

But it takes place in one of the most horrible places on this earth, a place where freedom seems so distant: a prison cell.

But, behold!

Paul, Silas and most likely the author of Acts—Luke--are in jail…

… “praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening to them.”

Perhaps jail is a wonderful place for evangelism after-all!!!

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!

In our Scripture Lesson, Paul, Silas and Luke are in the city of Philippi where they’ve been doing some preaching and teaching.

One day, though, as they are headed to a place of prayer, things go terribly wrong.

There is a slave girl who through the clouded confusion of her mind manages to string together words that sound, to some, like fortune telling.

And, she had fallen into the hands of some men who were using her to turn a profit.

She had become their bread and butter.

Feeling compassion for the girl, Paul turns to her, heals her, and she is suddenly in her right mind.

What a fantastic miracle!!!

But the owners don’t like this so much; their “product” is no longer viable.

So, playing on the natural anti-semitism of the crowd they haul the apostles to court.

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.

They just keep on evangelizing!

They are able to remain happy, and at peace even in such a difficult situation.

And this is a most amazing witness to the rest of the prisoners, who perhaps, have not experienced freedom in a long time.

And certainly, they have never seen nor heard the kind of freedom that Paul and his friends are experiencing.

This is the freedom that comes only from the abiding presence of Christ!

This is the freedom which is much bigger than any prison walls, and much stronger than any stocks or jail cells.

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.

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