Summary: The praise and worship that we bring to God in spirit and truth will surely move the natural, physical and spiritual realms so that it brings glory to God.
Opening illustration: While worshiping with our mentors in Tharmaid during a meeting at an underground church, we encounter a woman who was possessed with an evil spirit. What transpired during the worship time was a powerful move of God’s deliverance for that woman.
Introduction: Some strange things were about to take place in that prison on this particular night. Can you imagine being incarcerated in that prison and hearing the sounds of singing echo through those stone corridors? I’m sure the sounds of cursing were often heard, as badly beaten men expressed their wrath toward God and man. But these were the sounds of men rejoicing, not men singing some mournful dirge. This was not something akin to “Nobody knows the trouble I’ve seen . . . .” This was much more like “Amazing Grace.” Luke tells us that “the prisoners were listening” (verse 25). I’ll bet they were listening. The praise and worship that night made the impact in the lives of many around Paul and Silas, especially those who were bound. ‘In everything give thanks … (1 Thess. 5: 18)’
How our praise & worship to God impacts those who are around and bound?
(A) God moves the ‘Natural Realm’ ~
(i) People are drawn to listen (v. 25)
And doubtless with astonishment. Prayer and praise are not common in a prison. The song of rejoicing and the language of praise is not usual among men lying bound in a dungeon. From this narrative we may learn:
(1) That the Christian has the sources of his happiness within him. External circumstances cannot destroy his peace and joy. In a dungeon he may find as real happiness as on a throne. On the cold earth, beaten and bruised, he may be as truly happy as on a bed of down.
(2) The enemies of Christians cannot destroy their peace. They may incarcerate the body, but they cannot bind the spirit, they may exclude from earthly comforts, but they cannot shut them out from the presence and sustaining grace of God.
(3) We see the value of a good conscience. Nothing else can give peace; and amidst the wakeful hours of the night, whether in a dungeon or on a bed of sickness, it is of more value than all the wealth of the world.
(4) We see the inestimable worth of the religion of Christ. It fits for all scenes; supports in all trials; upholds by day or by night; inspires the soul with confidence in God; and puts into the lips the songs of praise and thanksgiving.
(5) We have here a sublime and holy scene which sin and infidelity could never furnish. What more sublime spectacle has the earth witnessed than that of scourged and incarcerated men, suffering from unjust and cruel inflictions, and anticipating still greater sorrows; yet, with a calm mind, a pure conscience, a holy joy, pouring forth their desires and praises at midnight, into the ear of the God who always hears prayer! The darkness, the stillness, the loneliness, all gave sublimity to the scene, and teach us how invaluable is the privilege of access to the throne of mercy in this suffering world.
Illustration: Dave’s encounter with an unbeliever near the UI grounds.
(ii) Occurrence of earthquake (v. 26a)
An extraordinary and unusual one; which did not arise from natural causes, from wind being pent up in the earth, but from the prayers and praises of the saints, going up to heaven; when God was pleased to testify his presence and power this way; and the effects which followed upon this earthquake, show it to be a supernatural one.
Illustration: The Red Sea & Jordan experience for the Israelites. What are our ‘Red Seas?’ Killing of Graham Staines results in cyclones in the Bay of Bengal and devastating earthquakes in Western India.
(B) God moves the ‘Physical Realm’ ~
(i) Shaking of strongholds (v. 26b)
In such circumstances, was regarded as a symbol of the presence of God, and as an answer to prayer. The design of this was, doubtless, to furnish them proof of the presence and protection of God, and to provide a way for them to escape. It was one among the series of wonders by which the gospel was established, and the early Christians protected amidst their dangers. What are our strongholds?
(ii) Opening of closed (impossible) doors (v. 26)
An effect that would naturally follow from the violent concussion of the earthquake. What are those impossible situations in our lives?
(iii) Loosing of chains (strongholds) (v. 26)
This was evidently a miracle. Some have supposed that their chains were dissolved by electric fluid; but the narrative gives no account of any such fluid, even supposing such an effect to be possible. It was evidently a direct interposition of divine power. But for what purpose it was done is not recorded. Grotius supposes that it was that they might know that the apostles might be useful to them and to others, and that by them their spiritual bonds might be loosed. Probably the design was to impress all the prisoners with the conviction of the presence and power of God, and thus to prepare them to receive the message of life from the lips of his servants Paul and Silas. They had just before heard them singing and praying; they were aware, doubtless, of the cause for which they were imprisoned; they saw evident tokens that they were the servants of the Most High, and under his protection; and their own minds were impressed and awed by the terrors of the earthquake, and by the fact of their own liberation. It renders this scene the more remarkable, that though the doors were opened, and the prisoners loosed, yet no one made any attempt to escape. And yet so eminently did God’s providence conduct everything, that not one of the prisoners made his escape, though the doors were open, and his bolts off! What are those bindings in our lives?