Paul and Silas were in Philippi preaching. They had met Lydia along a riverbank, and Lydia and her whole household had converted to Christ. As Paul continued preaching in Philippi, he and Silas encountered a servant girl who had a spirit that allowed her to tell the future. Some local men were exploiting that young woman for their own monetary gain. She started following Paul and Silas around shouting, “These men are servants of the Most High God, and they have come to tell you how to be saved” (16: 17). At first, Paul didn’t respond. After several days of this young lady following and shouting, Paul became exasperated and cast the spirit out of the girl.
Well, that got the attention of the girl’s handlers. Apparently, these men weren’t too concerned with Paul and Silas until their preaching impacted their bottom line. These men brought Paul and Silas up on charges before the city’s authorities saying, “They’re teaching things that are illegal for Romans to practice.” The city authorities had them beaten and thrown into prison. To make sure they didn’t escape, they were placed in the inner dungeon and placed in stocks, which were basically a torture device designed to limit a person’s capacity to move. I would say Paul and Silas were in a crisis.
“Around midnight…” the crisis gets worse. Around midnight, an earthquake hits the city and shakes the prison to its foundations. Luke records that the doors of the prison were opened and the stocks broke loose. Enter the jailer, who now has his own crisis to deal with. He’s awakened by the earthquake to find the prison in shambles, and he knows without a doubt that his prisoners have all escaped. His immediate reaction is to contemplate suicide. After all, custom dictated that if a guard allowed a prisoner to escape, the punishment that was due the prisoner was given to the guard instead. But Paul intervened, and said, “Stop! Don’t kill yourself. We’re all here.” The jailer called for a light, went into the dungeon, fell at Paul and Silas’s feet and proclaimed, “What must I do to be saved?” Paul said, “Believe on the Lord Jesus and you will be saved, you and all your household.” Luke says that “even at that hour,” the guard’s life was transformed, and he cared for the prisoner’s wounds, showed them hospitality and the home was filled with joy. This double crisis became the vehicle whereby God would transform a Philippian jailer and his entire family.
I see three implications from this story that I hope will be meaningful for us. First, adversity is a fact of life. There is enough adversity to go around for everyone in this story. Paul and Silas are in prison. If that wasn’t enough adversity, consider that they have been imprisoned while they were closely following God’s will. They were doing exactly what God desired them to be doing. Being in the center of God’s will is not always a pleasant place to be. Oh, there is abundant blessing there, but it’s not always pleasant. The center of God’s will can often be the most challenging, frightening and difficult place to be.
And, this poor guard…really, this poor guy is just doing his job. He’s a mid-level government bureaucrat simply trying to raise a family and do the right thing. In an earthquake at midnight, in one fell swoop, he’s about to lose his job and his life. Not a great place to be. I would call that a crisis moment. It just goes to prove how much of life really is beyond our control. How helpless this poor guy must have felt! In the grand scheme of things, he did nothing to put himself in this situation. Life just happened. Yet, it is in the deepest, darkest crises of life that God does his greatest work.
Are you in a crisis? Take heart, you may just be right where God is about to do his greatest work in you. None of us will escape adversity. Jesus even warned his disciples, “I have told you all this so that you may have peace in me. Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).
Jesus’ instruction to “take heart” leads me to the next two implications. First, as we have just seen, adversity is a fact of life. Secondly, midnight always precedes morning. We can’t get to the morning without first going through midnight. Midnight may seem like the darkest hour of the night, but midnight doesn’t last forever. Charles Swindoll wrote, “Midnight might seem like the darkest hour, but one minute after midnight is officially morning.” The Psalmist, too, had his take on the subject: “Weeping may last through the night, buy joy comes with the morning” (Psalm 30:5b).
God didn’t take Paul and Silas out of the prison. Here’s the thing—they weren’t looking for deliverance. They could have easily made their way out of the prison. Instead, they were looking for a purpose. They discovered their purpose when they encountered the Philippian jailer. My friends, don’t look for deliverance from the midnight, look for purpose in it.
The final implication is this: attitude determines altitude. There are two attitudes we can choose when we face the midnight. We can be joyful or we can be hopeless. Paul and Silas chose joy…they chose to sing praise to God in the adversity. The jailer chose hopelessness. He was ready to kill himself. Notice this, though: Paul and Silas’s attitude, their faith, opened the door for God’s transformation in the life of this jailer. Their reaction made all the difference. Faith leads to praise and praise leads to peace. Praise married to peace opens the door to proclamation. Paul and Silas shared the word of the Lord with this jailer and it changed him and his entire family. Faith is a gift. Where do we get the gift of faith? Faith is a gift from God. Our faith is strengthened when we watch the lives of other faithful folks. Faith is revealed in faithfulness.
Don’t ever doubt the transformations that come at midnight…in the crisis. God does great work in the dark. He did it for a Philippian jailer. He’ll do it for the likes of you and me.