Acts 16 – Sometimes the Best Place to Be Is Jail

Acts 16 Bible with Strauss Parra Dark Chocolate

Today’s ChocolateParra Dark Chocolate

Today’s PassageActs 16

We’ve got a few different events that we could conceivably talk about from today’s chapter of Acts. Timothy makes his first appearance, the high-class fabric merchant Lydia becomes a Christian, Paul exorcises a spirit of divination and gets in trouble for it, and Paul and Silas go to and get out of jail. I could dig into any one of these events, and there’s a good chance I’ll hit more than one. But before I do, I want to hit an event so subtle you might easily miss it: the introduction of Luke.

Luke never mentions himself by name in his writings, similar to John. John goes out of his way not to identify himself as the author of his gospel until the very end, where he notes, “This [i.e. the disciple of whom Jesus said, ‘If I want him to remain until I come, what is that to you?’] is the disciple who is testifying to these things and wrote these things, and we know that his testimony is true” (23-24). But Luke isn’t present at all for any of the events of his gospel, instead presenting himself as collector of the eyewitness accounts that comprise its narrative. And in Acts, he appears even more subtly. He writes, “When [Paul] had seen the vision, immediately we sought to go into Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to preach the gospel to them” (10). Up until this point, Paul and crew have been “they” to Luke. But now he includes himself with them, and we can infer that he joined the missionaries while they were in Troas.

Truth be told, I might not have remembered Luke’s first appearance if my dad hadn’t marked the pronoun “we” who-knows-how-long-ago in his Bible, and if that weren’t the Bible I do my Chocolate Book readings from. Thanks, Dad!

That said, let’s turn our attention to Paul and Silas in jail. And this time around, I have neither unanswered questions, nor dry academic observations, nor original-language trivia for you, but rather an observation that may well be applicable to your own contemporary life! It is nothing short of a miracle.

See, Paul and Silas find themselves beaten and imprisoned for being Jews doing Jewish things (20-21). Later that night, as they’re praying and singing hymns, a sudden earthquake frees all the prisoners. The jailer, supposing they’ve all taken advantage of the opportunity to escape, prepares to kill himself. But Paul calls out: “Do not harm yourself, for we are all here!” (28). Shaken, amazed, and grateful, the jailer asks how he can be saved, and he ends up coming to faith and being baptized as Paul tells him the gospel.

And here’s the thing: there is no better place for you to be than the place where God wants you right now. So if it’s God’s will for you to be in jail, and you find yourself in jail, you’re in the best possible place you could be. When that truth sinks in, you might even find yourself praying and singing hymns in jail. Yesterday I went to work in a warehouse. I may not have gotten there by making powerful enemies when I preached the gospel and cast a spirit of divination out of a servant-girl, but I have no reason to believe that warehouse was not where God wanted me. And today I will almost certainly go to work in the warehouse again, because to the best of my knowledge, that’s where God wants me. And if God had a purpose for Paul, a devout man and rigorously educated Pharisee, in a jail, then why should I not believe that God has a purpose for me and my blistering intellect in that warehouse?

There’s an amusing bit at the end where, when the jailer informs Paul that the magistrates have ordered his release, Paul sends word to inform the magistrates that he’s a Roman citizen. And they’d had him beaten and sent to prison without trial! The magistrates urge Paul and his companions to leave the city, so by the end of the chapter, they’re out of jail and on the road again.

Also, despite all the last chapter’s emphasis on the relative unimportance of circumcision, in this chapter Timothy gets circumcised.

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