Saturday, May 15, 2010

Hi, Dad. I'm in jail.

In the lectionary this week is the story of Paul and SIlas in jail.  As we ave been studying Acts for the apostles' stories, I thought it would be nice to do a thematic study.  This will also serve as a good introduction to Paul, whom I think we'll do next week as a good way to end the year.  Or we'll be studying Pentecost.  Tough choice!

The scriptures under consideration:
Acts 5:17-39
Then the high priest and all his associates, who were members of the party of the Sadducees, were filled with jealousy. They arrested the apostles and put them in the public jail.  But during the night an angel of the Lord opened the doors of the jail and brought them out. “Go, stand in the temple courts,” he said, “and tell the people the full message of this new life.”

At daybreak they entered the temple courts, as they had been told, and began to teach the people.  When the high priest and his associates arrived, they called together the Sanhedrin—the full assembly of the elders of Israel—and sent to the jail for the apostles. But on arriving at the jail, the officers did not find them there. So they went back and reported, “We found the jail securely locked, with the guards standing at the doors; but when we opened them, we found no one inside.”  On hearing this report, the captain of the temple guard and the chief priests were puzzled, wondering what would come of this.

Then someone came and said, “Look! The men you put in jail are standing in the temple courts teaching the people.”  At that, the captain went with his officers and brought the apostles. They did not use force, because they feared that the people would stone them.  Having brought the apostles, they made them appear before the Sanhedrin to be questioned by the high priest. “We gave you strict orders not to teach in this name,” he said. “Yet you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching and are determined to make us guilty of this man’s blood.”  Peter and the other apostles replied: “We must obey God rather than men!  The God of our fathers raised Jesus from the dead—whom you had killed by hanging him on a tree.  God exalted him to his own right hand as Prince and Savior that he might give repentance and forgiveness of sins to Israel.  We are witnesses of these things, and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey him.”

When they heard this, they were furious and wanted to put them to death.  But a Pharisee named Gamaliel, a teacher of the law, who was honored by all the people, stood up in the Sanhedrin and ordered that the men be put outside for a little while.  Then he addressed them: “Men of Israel, consider carefully what you intend to do to these men.  Some time ago Theudas appeared, claiming to be somebody, and about four hundred men rallied to him. He was killed, all his followers were dispersed, and it all came to nothing.  After him, Judas the Galilean appeared in the days of the census and led a band of people in revolt. He too was killed, and all his followers were scattered.  Therefore, in the present case I advise you: Leave these men alone! Let them go! For if their purpose or activity is of human origin, it will fail.  But if it is from God, you will not be able to stop these men; you will only find yourselves fighting against God.”
Acts 12:5-17:
So Peter was kept in prison, but the church was earnestly praying to God for him.  The night before Herod was to bring him to trial, Peter was sleeping between two soldiers, bound with two chains, and sentries stood guard at the entrance.  Suddenly an angel of the Lord appeared and a light shone in the cell. He struck Peter on the side and woke him up. “Quick, get up!” he said, and the chains fell off Peter’s wrists.

Then the angel said to him, “Put on your clothes and sandals.” And Peter did so. “Wrap your cloak around you and follow me,” the angel told him.  Peter followed him out of the prison, but he had no idea that what the angel was doing was really happening; he thought he was seeing a vision.  They passed the first and second guards and came to the iron gate leading to the city. It opened for them by itself, and they went through it. When they had walked the length of one street, suddenly the angel left him.  Then Peter came to himself and said, “Now I know without a doubt that the Lord sent his angel and rescued me from Herod’s clutches and from everything the Jewish people were anticipating.”
Acts 16:16-39:
The crowd joined in the attack against Paul and Silas, and the magistrates ordered them to be stripped and beaten.  After they had been severely flogged, they were thrown into prison, and the jailer was commanded to guard them carefully.  Upon receiving such orders, he put them in the inner cell and fastened their feet in the stocks.

 About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening to them.  Suddenly there was such a violent earthquake that the foundations of the prison were shaken. At once all the prison doors flew open, and everybody’s chains came loose. The jailer woke up, and when he saw the prison doors open, he drew his sword and was about to kill himself because he thought the prisoners had escaped.  But Paul shouted, “Don’t harm yourself! We are all here!”  The jailer called for lights, rushed in and fell trembling before Paul and Silas. 30He then brought them out and asked, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?”

They replied, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved—you and your household.”  Then they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all the others in his house.  At that hour of the night the jailer took them and washed their wounds; then immediately he and all his family were baptized.  The jailer brought them into his house and set a meal before them; he was filled with joy because he had come to believe in God—he and his whole family.

When it was daylight, the magistrates sent their officers to the jailer with the order: “Release those men.”  The jailer told Paul, “The magistrates have ordered that you and Silas be released. Now you can leave. Go in peace.”  But Paul said to the officers: “They beat us publicly without a trial, even though we are Roman citizens, and threw us into prison. And now do they want to get rid of us quietly? No! Let them come themselves and escort us out.”  The officers reported this to the magistrates, and when they heard that Paul and Silas were Roman citizens, they were alarmed.  They came to appease them and escorted them from the prison, requesting them to leave the city.
Acts 24:22-27:
Then Felix, who was well acquainted with the Way, adjourned the proceedings. “When Lysias the commander comes,” he said, “I will decide your case.”  He ordered the centurion to keep Paul under guard but to give him some freedom and permit his friends to take care of his needs.

Several days later Felix came with his wife Drusilla, who was a Jewess. He sent for Paul and listened to him as he spoke about faith in Christ Jesus.  As Paul discoursed on righteousness, self-control and the judgment to come, Felix was afraid and said, “That’s enough for now! You may leave. When I find it convenient, I will send for you.”  At the same time he was hoping that Paul would offer him a bribe, so he sent for him frequently and talked with him.  When two years had passed, Felix was succeeded by Porcius Festus, but because Felix wanted to grant a favor to the Jews, he left Paul in prison.

2 Timothy 1:6-12.
For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands.  For God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline.

So do not be ashamed to testify about our Lord, or ashamed of me his prisoner. But join with me in suffering for the gospel, by the power of God, who has saved us and called us to a holy life—not because of anything we have done but because of his own purpose and grace. This grace was given us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time, 10but it has now been revealed through the appearing of our Savior, Christ Jesus, who has destroyed death and has brought life and immortality to light through the gospel.  And of this gospel I was appointed a herald and an apostle and a teacher.  That is why I am suffering as I am. Yet I am not ashamed, because I know whom I have believed, and am convinced that he is able to guard what I have entrusted to him for that day.
The study from these scriptures I want to bring out both what the apostles were willing to suffer, as that is a great testament to the truth of their message, but the power of knowing the Lord is with you.  I plan on sharing the story of my friend Liz Walters, an IHM nun who was sent to federal prison repeatedly for nonviolent protests against nuclear arms.  She was shunted around, kept from friends and family and put in with the most violent offenders.  Often converting them and never coming to harm.  She really practiced the Jesus Way.

Scientists estimation of what
Paul of Tarsus might have looked like.
Doesn't capture his passion!
 Hi, Dad.  I’m in Jail

Early on the authorities tried a traditional way to stop the apostles – put ‘em in jail!  But from the first time it didn’t work.  In Acts 4, the Sadducees jailed Peter and John.  And then threatened them when that had no effect.  Then were just amazed when the threats had no effect.  Sometimes the authorities just couldn’t hold them.  The apostles, of course, were preaching life after death, and the Sadducees didn’t even believe in that.  Let alone Jesus.  Read Acts 5:17-39

1)    Why are Peter and the others willing to go to jail?  Why aren’t they afraid?

Peter also got sent to jail on his own.  Shortly after Herod had James, the brother of John, put to death, we can read about Peter's next imprisonment in Acts 12:5-17.

2)    Why would God set Peter free?  If you were Peter what would you do next?

Paul was in jail a lot, and it didn’t seem to bother him a bit.  After they freed a slave girl from an evil spirit, the owners had them beaten and locked up.   Read Acts 16:16-39.

3)    How are Paul and Silas able to praise God while jailed?  For what do they have to be thankful?

4)   How hard would it be to do something nice for your jailer?  Why would this event bring the jailer to believe?

But the apostles did not have a ‘Get Out of Jail Free’ card.  Many disciples were jailed long term or executed.  In Acts 24:22-27 it describes Paul spending two years in jail.  When he has a chance to be freed by convincing a king of his innocence, he insists on being sent to Rome for a trial.  Finally the new governor Festus sends him to Rome to be judged by the Romans.  On the way there’s a shipwreck and a viper… but that’s another story.

5)    How can it make a difference during tough times – even in jail – to know that God is with you?

6)    Why does sometimes God seem to help those in trouble and sometimes not?

These are not just old stories.  People today are jailed for proclaiming Jesus publically in places like China, where the government wants to control religion, India, where Hindus are offended by the idea of one God, and countries where Islam is a state religion and it is illegal to try to get anyone to change religions.  More often, Christians can be the victim of violence for being public or telling others about their faith.  Not everyone is called to suffer for their faith, or to be open to persecution.  That kind of testifying should only be the answer to prayer, when you know that God is calling you to do it.  It should also not be decided on alone, but prayed and discussed with other serious believers.  God’s direction will be clear.

But we are going to have hard times, and times when you could feel abandoned by God.  Like Joseph in the old testament when he was down the well or in jail in Egypt.  But the truth is that God is with us, as much as he was with Peter walking out of jail or Paul in prison for two years.

Paul wrote several of his epistles from prison or house arrest.  Here he writes to Timothy, his protégé, in 2 Timothy 1:6-12.  I’m sure Paul worried for Timothy’s faith since his teacher was in jail.  Take a minute to read the passage.

7)    If you could share with Paul your worst problem, what do you think he might tell you?

1 comment:

  1. Very interesting study, John. And how about the willingness of Nelson Mandela to forgive all his jailers, even after 27 years at Robben Island in
    apartheid South Africa? Isn't forgiveness one of
    our most challenging but important acts as Christians?