Today’s scripture passage is the continuation of yesterday’s story from the book of Acts.
“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 jailer 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 jailer 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.” – Acts 16:24-34
The picture Bible I read as a child included this story from Acts. I remember the drawing of the jailer frantically looking through the rubble. This story stayed with me because Paul and Silas stayed. They likely would have known that if they had left, the jailer would be punished. Despite the fact that they were innocent that it appears as those God has set them free with the earthquake, they remained.
Yet what I find truly interesting is that the story implies that others remained too.
- “About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them”
- “immediately all the doors were opened and everyone’s chains were unfastened”
- “But Paul shouted in a loud voice, ‘Do not harm yourself, for we are all here.’”
Paul and Silas are the good guys of the story. Of course, the heroes of the story are going to do the right thing and remain so that the jailer isn’t punished. Yet what about the other prisoners? Surely not everyone in the prison was innocent. Why did they remain? What prompted them to stay incarcerated when they had a clear path of escape? Had they been moved by the hymns Paul and Silas sung? Did they believe they would simply be caught again if they tried to escape? Or did they believe that staying put was the right thing to do? There is so much about the other prisoners that we do not know.
What we do know is that the fact that they all remained was a, if not the, significant reason why the jailer and his whole household were transformed that night. His night would have looked very different if one of the prisoners had escaped. The piety of Paul and Silas is put front and center yet there are clearly others who remain nameless in history but who also contributed to saving that household.
Paul and Silas remained because they believed that God had a bigger plan in mind then jailbreak. And while I don’t know what the others believed, the fact that they stayed behind reminds me of some core theological principles. God is working through others in ways I cannot even imagine and while I cannot imagine how God is working through others I can imagine that God is weaving it all together for the healing and salvation of creation.