Summary: Only Jesus can make a jailhouse rock as he puts a song in Paul's heart and a spring in the jailer's step.
In a 1957 movie, Elvis Presley made prison look like a rip roarin’ time when he sang “Jailhouse Rock.” The truth is Jesus made a jailhouse rock long before Elvis did and it was no staged production. It was a real-life event punctuated by an earthquake, a jail break, and a midnight confession of faith. If you’re feeling imprisoned by life’s problems and challenges, listen carefully to how Jesus put a song in the Apostle Paul’s heart and a spring in a jailer’s step. With his powerful love, Jesus wants to do the same for you no matter what your life’s circumstances.
Jesus’ jailhouse rock took place in the Greek city of Philippi some 2,000 years ago. It was there that the Apostle Paul was imprisoned for casting a demon out of a slave girl. Now you would think that her owners would be thankful for this divine intervention, but they weren’t. Instead they were furious because they had made a lot of money from that girl’s demon-induced fortune telling. So they dragged Paul and his companion Silas to court where they accused them of advocating customs that were unlawful for Romans to practice. This charge was neither true nor did it have anything to do with why the slave owners were upset. Still, the magistrates ordered Paul and Silas beaten with rods and thrown into prison with their hands bound and their feet in stocks (Acts 16:24). Can you imagine how uncomfortable that must have been? With their hands and feet bound, Paul and Silas would not have been able to lie down nor would they have been able to tend to their sore and bleeding backs.
How would you have reacted to this treatment? I would have demanded a lawyer, for it was against the law to flog a Roman citizen and throw him in prison without a trial. But instead of demanding justice, Paul and Silas prayed and sang hymns – and not just silently to themselves, mind you, they sang so that the other prisoners could hear what they were singing (Acts 16:25)!
Friends, we may be good at singing hymns of praise to our God here in church, but how good are we at singing God’s praises outside of these walls where others can hear us? And do we sing God’s praises on bad days when our computer crashes, or when we’ve been waiting for hours at the doctor’s office? Or does the tune we carry sound more like the world’s wailing and complaining? It’s only natural to sing the blues when things aren’t going our way, but we need to remember that it’s also sinful. God hates our temper tantrums. He hates our grump-induced stony silences and he’s told us to get rid of all bitterness, rage, and anger.
But how can we sing God’s praises when our world is falling apart? Well how did Paul and Silas do it? They didn’t just ignore their pain. They didn’t pretend like that jail cell was a five-star hotel. No, they took their concerns and pains to God in prayer. But they didn’t stop there. They also listened to the encouragement that God offered them through the very hymns they sang. Since the Old Testament book of Psalms was the standard hymnal in those days, I can imagine them singing Psalm 46: “God is our refuge and strength, and ever-present help in trouble.” Or Psalm 27, “The Lord is my light and my salvation of whom shall I be afraid?” Or Psalm 23, “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.”
Brothers and sisters, if Jesus can make a jailhouse rock with hymns of praise, think of the hope and comfort he can bring you in the midst of your despair. He will do that when you pour out your heart to him, and then turn to his Word to be reminded that he has not abandoned you, and that he will use your current challenge to bless, not to curse. What happened next in Philippi proves this truth.
While Paul and Silas rocked the jailhouse with their hymns of praise, God rocked the jailhouse right off of its foundations when he sent a huge earthquake. This earthquake flung open the cell doors and shook loose the chains that bound the prisoners to the walls. Was God providing a means of escape for Paul and Silas? God did have a rescue in mind, but his target was someone other than Paul and Silas. God meant to rescue the jailer and his family by making known to them the way to eternal life. This is how it all unfolded.
When the Jailer awoke because of the earthquake and saw the open cell doors he cried out in despair. Losing prisoners meant more than being fired from his job, it meant facing the firing squad. Since the Jailer thought that he was as good as dead anyway, he took out his sword to plunge it into his heart and end his life.