A certain girl has a spirit of divination. With mantric spells and ritual action she unveils hidden mysteries and reveals the identity of strangers. People, ever anxious about the day and the future, seek her wisdom. Others, shrewd and wicked, take her, own her, and sell her skill for profit. She is, in a sense, a religious slave forced to negotiate with unseen powers for the financial gain of her abusing overlords. Where religion is, there you will find money also. Too often, money is the religion and every other consideration is subordinate to it. It is simply a fact of human history that any form of human trafficking that produces reliable profit has existed and exists today. They own her. She belongs to them. Her owners, though cognizant of what they do and why, suffer harm as well because the abusing and disgracing of a human life hurts those who do it.
When she speaks, she speaks the truth, forcefully, again and again. She says of Paul and Silas, “These men are slaves of the Most High God, who proclaim to you a way of salvation” (Acts 16:17). Initially, Paul is indifferent, and the girl’s owners do not object. Eventually, annoyed by her cries and persistence, Paul turns and says to the spirit, “I order you in the name of the Lord Jesus to come out of her” (Act 16:18). Now that freedom begins, the trouble begins.
The owners, seeing that “their hope of making money was gone” (Acts 16:19), seize Paul and Silas, drag them to the marketplace before the authorities, and accuse them of disturbing the peace of the city and their customs. The crowds join in attacking them, the magistrates have them stripped and beaten, they are placed in the innermost cell of the prison and their ankles put in stocks. Someone has to pay for this loss of income, and these alien healers are to blame.
The innermost prison is the end of the road, an image of death, the belly of the great fish. Who can save? Just as Jesus recapitulates human history toward redemption and restoration, he draws humanity yet further up in giving life from death, retelling in vivid scenes his resurrection in the life of his disciples. Enclosed by darkness and death, they sing unto the Lord. They are hopeful and defiant! The earth shakes and the foundations crumble as they did at the death of the Lord. The gate of death is broken open and chains fall off. Note that “all the doors were opened and everyone’s chains were unfastened” (Acts 16:26). Paul and Silas, saved in the Lord Jesus, are sent to announce and show in their very lives the freedom of everyone who turns to Christ.
The jailer, terrified and fearing for his life, reaches for his sword to cause his own swift end. Paul cries out, “Do not harm yourself, for we are all here” (Acts 16:28). It’s as if he says “We are all here for you.” Decisive moments follow. The jailer says, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” “Believe on the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.” Preaching: “They spoke the word to him and to all who were in his house” (Acts 16:31). Service and amendment of life: “he took them and washed their wounds.” Baptism: “He and his entire family were baptized without delay.” Hospitality and joy: “He brought them into the house and set food before them; and he and his entire household rejoiced” (Acts 16:29-34). The whole story of the death and resurrection of Jesus is reenacted in this riveting scene.
Look It Up
Read John 17:22. The glory he gives is spirit and power.
Think About It
The demons that guard the prison of hell are defenseless against “I am coming!”