The crowd joined in attacking them, and the magistrates had them stripped of their clothing and ordered them to be beaten with rods. After they had given them a severe flogging, they threw them into prison and ordered the gaoler to keep them securely. Following these instructions, he put them in the innermost cell and fastened their feet in the stocks.
About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them. Suddenly there was an earthquake, so violent that the foundations of the prison were shaken; and immediately all the doors were opened and everyone's chains were unfastened. When the gaoler woke up and saw the prison doors wide open, he drew his sword and was about to kill himself, since he supposed that the prisoners had escaped. But Paul shouted in a loud voice, "Do not harm yourself, for we are all here." The gaoler called for lights, and rushing in, he fell down trembling before Paul and Silas. Then he brought them outside and said, "Sirs, what must I do to be saved?" They answered, "Believe on the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved you and your household." They spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all who were in his house. At the same hour of the night he took them and washed their wounds; then he and his entire family were baptized without delay. He brought them up into the house and set food before them; and he and his entire household rejoiced that he had become a believer in God.
I thank you, Lord, with all my heart,
you have heard the words of my mouth.
Before the angels I will bless you.
I will adore before your holy temple. (R./)
I thank you for your faithfulness and love
which excel all we ever knew of you.
On the day I called, you answered;
you increased the strength of my soul. (R./)
You stretch out your hand and save me,
your hand will do all things for me.
Your love, O Lord, is eternal,
discard not the work of your hands. (R./)
"But now I am going to him who sent me; yet none of you asks me, 'Where are you going?' But because I have said these things to you, sorrow has filled your hearts. Nevertheless I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you. And when he comes, he will prove the world wrong about sin and righteousness and judgment: about sin, because they do not believe in me; about righteousness, because I am going to the Father and you will see me no longer; about judgment, because the ruler of this world has been condemned."
We can sympathize with Paul’s indignation at being thrown in prison, even if prudence could have saved him a lot of trouble! When Paul spoke up on behalf of the unfortunate girl whose frenzy was exploited for profit by her boss, he and Silas were arrested, flogged and thrown in prison. Such a flogging of a Roman citizen was against the law, so Paul later demanded and received a public apology from the magistrates.
In gaol during the night, as Paul and Silas were singing hymns to God, an earthquake broke down the prison gates. But although they could have escaped, Paul and the other prisoners remained where they were. When the gaoler woke up he saw his prison gates open and drew a sword intending to kill himself rather than be painfully executed for neglecting his duty. Paul took pity on the man and calmed him down. Then after a quick instruction about Jesus, he baptized the gaoler and his entire household. The grateful gaoler then threw a party for those who had been his prisoners. What a roller-coaster of experiences for the two missionaries.
Like Paul and Barnabas, Christians today are at a loss to know just where God is leading our church. Situations of crisis are not only a test of our character but can lead to renewing our trust in the Lord. The love of Jesus is no less able now than then to bring things to a good outcome. Even from a threatening vortex like a viral pandemic, some worthwhile changes may emerge and, as Julian of Norwich serenely believed, “All manner of things will be well!”
Our first impressions in a crisis can be wide of the mark. We need to seek divine guidance, to see others as God sees them, to judge as Jesus judges. It is the Holy Spirit who gives us God’s perspective, lets us see as God sees, be wise as God is wise. That is why we call on the Holy Spirit to fill the hearts of the faithful.
When the Advocate, the Holy Spirit comes, he will show the world how wrong it was about sin, about who was in the right and about judgement. Those who approved of Jesus being crucified thought he must have been a sinner to have died in the way he did - for this form of death showed that God had judged him. They believed they were right to put him to death, for leading Israelites astray from the law of Moses. Clearly we consider their assessments totally mistaken. Jesus was no sinner; he was not judged by God; his judges and executioners were not in the right. What an enormous disparity between God's perception and human perception. The one whom God looked upon as a beloved Son, others looked upon as a sinner. The one whom God sent was considered condemned by God. The Sanhedrin was completely in the wrong.
Human judgments can be very wide of the mark. We need to keep seeking God's perspective, to see others as God sees them, to judge as God judges. It is the Holy Spirit, the Advocate, who gives us God's perspective. It is he who enables us to see as God sees, to know as God knows, to be wise as God is wise. That is why we need the Holy Spirit to keep filling the hearts of the faithful.