The Philippian Jailer (Part 1)

Angela our daughter travelled back to the USA yesterday. She needed a PCR test done that lasts for three days. That means from the day of departure until she lands in Chicago. The flight was from OR Tambo to Nairobi to JFK to Chicago. She had one 4 plus hour layover and another one of about 6 hours. A PCR test means “polymerase chain reaction”. It’s a test to detect genetic material from a specific organism, such as a virus, in her case COVID-19. They do a nose swab PCR test because it is an accurate and reliable test for diagnosing COVID-19.

When she called to make the appointment they told her it would take 24 hours to get the results. Once the test was done she needed to sign where it said the test would take 48 hours. We were concerned because the test was done just after 7.00 am on Friday and she needed to board at 11.20 am on Saturday. Timing was crucial! In 48 hours she would be on the flight from Nairobi to JFK. She asked us to pray and she asked her husband and sons to pray … and in less than 12 hours the test results were available to print. God works when His people pray!

In Acts 16 we see that before the conversion of Lydia and her household, the demon possessed slave girl and the Philippian Jailer and his household, the missionaries prayed! Although Angela’s prayer request did not have anything to do with anyone’s salvation, God heard and responded in super quick time. You will recall I spoke of a sort of interruption between conversions two and three. Look what happened as these missionaries prayed and praised the Lord whilst the other prisoners listened:

Ac 16:26 Suddenly there was such a violent earthquake that the foundations of the prison were shaken. At once all the prison doors flew open, and everybody’s chains came loose. 27 The jailer woke up, and when he saw the prison doors open, he drew his sword and was about to kill himself because he thought the prisoners had escaped. 28 But Paul shouted, “Don’t harm yourself! We are all here!”

What a profound and sudden working of God. Have you noticed in our working through selected passages in Acts how God always authenticated His Gospel with some sign or wonder?

(a) A Violent Earthquake. The prison building did not collapse, but the effects shook the foundations, prison doors “flew” open and the prisoners’ chains “came loose”. I can understand the effects of the earthquake as we had one in the Western Cape in the 1960’s, but that it happened whilst the missionaries were praying … and couple this to locked jail doors “just” opening and chains “just” falling off the prisoners.

(b) The jailer was beside himself. When you consider the effects of the earthquake, open doors and no chains … if just one prisoner escaped the jailer would be responsible and his penalty would be death … that is the reason for wanting to commit suicide.

(c) Paul’s desperate plea. It seems as though the jailer was close to Paul … and maybe he could see him in the dark or hear the jailer mumbling. He shouts at him to arrest his attention by saying all prisoners were accounted for.

Oh … you have to see God at work here. God has a plan and unlike man, He uses the most unconventional methods to achieve the results he requires. We saw this with Lydia going to prayer with her household. We saw this with the demon possessed slave girl following the missionaries shouting out that they spoke from God with a message of salvation. This led to Paul and Silas being imprisoned where they prayed to and praised the Lord followed by an earthquake with dramatic results. God was working and God was working, perhaps to get the prisoners attention but more so the jailer’s attention and latter his family’s. If this man became a believer can you imagine the effect he could have on the prisoners he needed to guard? They would hear about Jesus … a captive audience! Here we see a huge picture of how God works and brings things together … and although it might not be as dramatic or as big when He works in your life and circumstances … He works. Often we don’t understand how He works. Sometimes we can’t see the bigger picture until we have been through being scared, angry, disappointed, confused … and maybe upset with God because as things progress and as we pray, what we see and experience is not what we want, expect or need. Then slowly as things unfold we start to see the greater picture with God being glorified. Then we feel bad because of the emotions we expressed displayed lack of trust in God’s greater plan for our lives and perhaps even those around us. When Angela’s Kenyan Airways Flight landed at JFK, her Delta Airline connection was problematic. Delta said there was no booking, yet Kenyan said not only was there a booking, their client (Angela) had paid for the Delta Flight. She contacted Roy and he send out another urgent prayer request. We supported Angela and her family in prayer and soon thereafter the right person from Kenyan Airlines contacted someone in the Delta Head Office and literally said “Help the passenger. We can argue about who is at fault later.” In minutes she had her ticket and boarding pass. What is the bigger picture in her case? We might never know how her incident will affect others (if it does). There are many such situations and we as Christians know …

Ro 8:28 And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose

… but for Angela, her family and us, the lesson is to trust and depend upon God all the more, especially through faith coupled to prayer. In the jailer’s case we are about to see the bigger picture of how God is about to work. Maybe the lesson here for you and me is to see that whatever we go through, big or small, God has His hand in our life. He wants us to trust Him and be patient, waiting upon God to show us what He wants for us as He unveils His will for our lives.

Our Father as we consider the circumstances leading to You arresting the attention of the Jailer, we realize there is so much happening in our lives that we don’t understand, yet You’re at work. Help us to trust Your plan in Jesus. Amen.

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