“A Story of Freedom”Dr. C. Von Reynolds Acts 16:16-34 Year C - Seventh Sunday of Easter
Freedom is a precious word. How we treasure freedom. Freedom can be defined as the right to act, speak, or think as one chooses without restraint. Freedom can also be defined as the state of not being imprisoned or enslaved. We find both definitions of freedom in this passage of Scripture.
Acts 16:16-40 tells of people in Philippi who were in bondage and people who were free. Who in the story is truly free? Let’s see!
II.The Slave Girl and Her Masters
A fortune teller, described as a slave girl who had a spirit, was making money for her masters. We are not told in the scripture what the girl’s name was, but there in the streets of a Roman colony, known as Philippi, this slave girl had the reputation of predicting the future. Humanity has always been allured by the thought of knowing what tomorrow holds. I have heard countless times the phrase, “I may not know what the future holds, but I know who holds the future!” Of course, this is a statement of faith in the providence of God.
While Paul the Apostle and others were on the way to a prayer meeting, they met up with the fortune teller. She began to follow them and make a great display by shouting, “These men are servants of the Most High God, who are telling you the way to be saved.” For those who believed the slave girl had a gift to prophesy, no doubt it raised a few eyebrows. But for those who believed this slave girl was just performing to raise funds for her masters, they pretty much ignored her. However, she was relentless in her prophesying, so much so, that Paul had had enough. Determined that she was creating too much of the wrong kind of attention for him and his followers, Paul turned in his tracks and said to the spirit that was in her, “In the name of Jesus Christ I command you to come out of her!” And at that very moment, she was set free from the evil spirit within her.
Finally, this slave girl was free from the bondage of the evil spirit within her. But the fact remained, she was still the slave of her masters. She was a money-maker for her slave owners. And all that was to change. Free from the evil spirit, the woman no longer pretended to have the gift or spirit of divination. The owners of the slave girl realized that their source of income had just been cut off. If you ever want to get someone really upset with you, then mess with their money or source of income! These men of means dragged Paul and Silas into the hub of the city, the marketplace, to bring their charges to the authorities.
This reminds me of the day Jesus healed a demon-possessed man by casting the legion of demons out of the man and into a herd of swine on the hillside (Luke 8:26-38). For doing this to their swine, the local Pork Dealers Association promptly asked Jesus to leave them!
The slave girl, chained her whole life to the horror of demon possession, now was free! There should have been a celebration. But no, there wasn’t a celebration because her masters were not themselves free! Greed and self-centeredness had enslaved each of them.
In this narrative, religion gets mixed up in economics and politics, and so her owners do what vested interests always do when threatened: Stop it by all means! They said to the judges, “These men are not our kind of people and are doing and saying things that are unlawful for us Romans. We’re not against a little religion—as long as it’s kept in its place and doesn’t cause disturbance.” (vv. 20-21).
Paul and Silas were thrown into jail. These two men who were liberators became imprisoned. In the name of Jesus, a pitiful slave girl was set free, but it resulted in the loss of freedom for Paul and Silas.
III. The Jailer
The character known as the jailer teaches that having the key to someone else’s prison door doesn’t make you free! Also, we learn that iron bars do not a prison make!
While in prison, Paul and Silas show no signs of being in bondage to anyone. What do they do? Are they fretfully begging for mercy? Do they sit and worry, curse and seek to blame others for their situation? Do they seem concerned about themselves as people who are living in prison? NO! They choose to pray and sing praises to God. They choose to testify to the great power of God as others in the jailhouse listen.
God shows up and intervenes in a mighty way: Around midnight, He causes an earthquake to shake the foundation of the prison, opening all the doors, and loosening the prisoners’ chains. This is the original Jailhouse Rock!
Of course, the jailer is rudely awakened from his sound sleep, and discovers the prison doors open. Assuming every prisoner had escaped, he drew out his sword to kill himself, knowing full well that those prisoners were his responsibility, and he would be executed for allowing escape. Out of the chaos and darkness, Paul cried out to the jailer, “Don’t harm yourself! We are all here!”
Undoubtedly, the jailer must have wondered why the prisoners had not escaped. After all, he himself would have escaped if he were a prisoner and was given the chance.
The jailer called for lamps to be lit in the darkened prison cells so he could see for himself that the prisoners were still there. Rushing into the cell of Paul and Silas, the jailer fell trembling like a leaf before the imprisoned men. He brought the men out of the cell and asked a life-changing question: “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?”
The jailer, who once thought he had all power over his prisoners, addressed them as “Sirs.” The jailer found himself humbled before them as a hungry man stands begging for a piece of bread. The jailer may not have realized that he was asking his prisoners how he could be set free.
Paul and Silas did not hesitate to answer the jailer, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved – you and your household” (v. 31). Paul and Silas proceeded to share “the word of the Lord” to the jailer and to all the others in his house. These missionaries of the gospel shared with the jailer the wonderful truths about Jesus and His salvation that is received by faith. No doubt the jailer was under the conviction of the Holy Spirit and was drawn to the truth of the gospel
Accordingly, the jailer and his household believed and were baptized. Rather than being their jailer, he became a fellow servant with Paul and Silas, a sign of being set free by Jesus Christ. He washed their wounds and brought them something to eat. Joy filled them all, another sign of salvation.
At the beginning of this narrative, it was reasonable to think that the slave girl was the only one who lacked freedom; however, by the time this story ends, it seems that everyone who at first appeared to be free – the slave girl’s owners, the judges, and the jailer – were, in actuality, the real slaves to this world’s way of thinking.
In John’s Gospel, Jesus said to the Jews: “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (8:31-32).
And the Jews answered him, “We are Abraham’s descendants and have never been slaves of anyone. How can you say that we shall be set free” (8:33)?
And Jesus replied, “I tell you the truth, everyone who sins is a slave to sin…So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed” (8:34,36).
Could it be that this narrative has revealed to you that real and lasting freedom comes by faith in the One who wants to set you free? For you, as He did for me, Jesus died to set you free. Like the slave girl, the jailer and his family, come, “Believe in the Lord, and you will be saved!”
Jesus stated, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (14:6).
About the writer:
Dr. C. Von Reynolds is the pastor of Reedy Fork Baptist Church in Seneca, SC. Rev. Reynolds completed his bachelor’s degree at Furman University and earned the Master of Divinity and the Doctor of Ministry from the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He and his wife, Gloria, are the proud parents of three children and the grandparents of two grandsons.
Scripture and Music:
Revelation 22:12-14, 16-17, 20-21.
The Head That Once Was Crowned
My Hope Is Built
Jesus Shall Reign
Hail the Day That Sees Him Rise
Crown Him with Many Crowns
Christ Is Alive!
Redeemer of Israel (Mack Wilberg)
Gracious Spirit, Dwell with Me (K. Lee Scott)
Ye Shall Receive Power
God Is Our Refuge and Strength (Allen Pote)
Sing unto God (G.F. Handel)
How Excellent Is Thy Name (Eugene Butler)
Shout for Joy (Stan Pethel)
I Know That My Redeemer Liveth (G.F. Handel)
Calvary s Love (Mohr)
There Is A Savior