Summary: Where can I find hope and strength when my life is terrible? God has answers.
Acts 16:25-34: HOPE AND STRENGTH IN THE MIDST OF TROUBLE AND ADVERSITY
One of the most common questions asked, when it comes to God and Christianity, is "Why does God allow evil to take place?" Some people call this the number one objection to Christianity - if God is so powerful, and if God is so loving, then why does he let bad things happen to nice people? Terrorists attack innocent people. Starvation. Disease. Hardworking people going bankrupt. Why does God let evil happen?
You've probably wondered this too, when you have problems, or when you see others go through difficult situations - why God? You're powerful enough to prevent this, and I know you love me, you love the world - so why?
I'm sure Paul and Silas were wondering what God was thinking. There story in Acts chapter 16 is one of the most amazing stories in the Bible. It really helps us to answer the question - why does God allow evil to take place in the lives of good people? These two guys, Paul and Silas, were basically placed onto a roller coaster by God. They experienced some very low moments, and some very high moments, and there were unexpected and violent twists and turns in this story that they could never have anticipated. Today, we're going to look at what happened in Acts 16. Really, it's not the story of Paul and Silas, and it's not the story of the jailer at Philippi being converted - it's the story of God, showing his grace and mercy to all the people in this story, using their trials for a greater good, an eternal good - something no one could ever have anticipated.
I want you to put yourself into the shoes of the Apostle Paul this morning. Earlier in this chapter of the Bible, he and Silas were told by God to go to the city of Philippi. They had tried to go to other places, but the Bible says that God had stopped them. God spoke to them through a vision at night, and told them - go to Macedonia. So Paul did - he obeyed God, and I’m sure that's what you would have done as well if you were in Paul's shoes. If God tells you to go somewhere, you go.
And when Paul and Silas listened to God, and their lives got harder. They arrived in the city of Philippi, and that's when their troubles began. There was a slave girl there who was demon possessed. She was being used by her owners to do some fortune telling, and she was making her owners a lot of money. When the demon possessed girl wasn't fortune telling, she was following around the Apostle Paul, screaming and shouting that Paul was a servant of the most high God - he's teaching you the way to be saved! (I'm reading from the Bible here). Would you like someone like that following you around everywhere you went? How can you get anything accomplished? I can picture Paul, trying to avoid her - the Bible says that he found it to be very annoying. "Why did God send me here," Paul must have thought. "For this?"
Finally, the Bible says that Paul couldn't take it anymore - this had been going on for many days. He turned to the girl and said to the Demon, "In the name of Jesus, come out of her," and the demon did. Finally, no more girl following her around and screaming. Did Paul's life get better? No, the Bible says his life got worse. The owners of the slave girl were mad at Paul - they couldn't make any more money with her fortune telling. So they went as a group and dragged Paul and Silas before the authorities. They made up all these false accusations that Paul was causing riots. "Why did God send me here?" Paul must have thought. "For this?"
And then things went from bad to worse. It was eerily similar to Jesus' trial before Pontius Pilate. A big crowd gathered and started screaming. The Roman authorities decided to have Paul and Silas stripped and beaten - severely flogged, the Bible says, just like Jesus. I don't want to get into all the gory details of a Roman flogging - but they experienced some very brutal treatment - the skin on their backs was torn off, there was a lot of blood, a lot of pain, open wounds. "Why did God send me here, of all places," Paul must have thought. "For this?"
After he was flogged, he and Silas were thrown into a Roman prison. Do you know what a first century middle eastern prison was like? There were different levels in the prison - at the least bad level, you could see sunlight. The jailer at Philippi placed Paul and Silas into the deepest and darkest part of the prison - the dungeon, a very dirty place. The air was hard to breathe, very damp and musty - like a bad smelling basement in an old house - typically all kinds of bugs were down there, along with rats and the mice, eating the left over prison food. This is where Paul and Silas were to spend the night. "Why in the world did God send me here?" Paul might have thought. "For this?"