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 jailer 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 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.
"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 annoyance in today's story, but may wonder if some more patience could have saved him a lot of trouble! Perhaps he was stirred with pity for the unfortunate girl being exploited for profit by her boss. In any case, after his protest the situation changed dramatically and Paul and Silas were flogged and thrown in prison. The flogging could not normally be inflicted upon a Roman citizen, so Paul would later demand and receive a public apology from the magistrates.
During the night as Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, an earthquake broke down the prison gates. While the missionaries could have escaped, they remained within the prison. The jailer woke up, saw the prison gates open and drew his sword to kill himself, afraid of the consequences. Paul calms him down and after a quick instruction about Jesus, baptizes the jailer and his entire household. Then there is a feast to celebrate his newly found faith.What a roller-coaster of experiences.
Like Paul and Barnabas, the modern Christian often stands in need of spiritual help, from the Holy Spirit promised by Jesus. Crises like those met by Paul are not just a test of our personal character but can be the occasion to renew our trust in the love of the Holy Spirit. The love of Jesus surpasses our predictions and fears. He is no less able now than then to bring things to a happy outcome. Even out of the most threatening vortex, good can emerge and, as Julian of Norwich serenely believed, "All manner of things will be well!"
Jesus assures us that 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 were responsible for the death of Jesus concluded that Jesus must have been a sinner to have died in the way he did; his ignominious death showed that God had judged him. Therefore, those responsible for Jesus' death thought of themselves as in the right. They were right to put this sinner to death. Jesus declares that the Holy Spirit will demonstrate that this unbelieving world is totally wrong in these assessments. Jesus was not a sinner; he was not judged by God; those who put him to death were not in the right. We see here the 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 vindicated was considered judged or condemned by God. Those who saw themselves as in the right were judged by God to be completely in the wrong. Our perspective can be very wide of the mark. We need to keep growing into God's perspective, to see as God sees, to judge as God judges. It is the Holy Spirit, the Advocate, who gives us God's perspective. It is the Holy Spirit who enables us to see as God sees, to know as God knows, to understand as God understands, to be wise in the way God is wise. That is why we desperately need the Holy Spirit to keep filling our hearts and our minds afresh.