Take a look at Acts 16: we're reading about two men, Paul and Silas, who were some of the first missionaries who went from city to city spreading the gospel. Paul and Silas were focused on telling people that Christ died, was buried, and was resurrected so that through faith in Jesus and his work they could receive forgiveness and eternal life.
This is exactly what they are doing in a place called Macedonia when we pick up the story in verse 20. A lot of people in Macedonia didn't like Paul and Silas' message and their actions, and so they brought the two before the authorities of the city to try and charge them with crimes. Take a look at what happens:
20 They brought them before the magistrates and said, “These men are Jews, and are throwing our city into an uproar 21 by advocating customs unlawful for us Romans to accept or practice.”
Why did these people have a problem with Paul and Silas' message? What part of the gospel is unlawful? Think about it this way: who is in charge of the Roman empire? Caesar--he's the ultimate authority over everyone at the time, and he viewed himself on par with the Gods. But who were Paul and Silas declaring as the ultimate authority when sharing the gospel? Jesus! This is a big part of what was so scandalous about the apostles' claim, and why they were often thrown in jail.
You can hear this communicated anytime that Paul shares the gospel. For example, Romans 10:9-10:
9 If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved.
There are two major claims in this verse: (1) Jesus is Lord, the ultimate authority, and (2) Jesus conquered death, which means he has authority over life and death. So hold onto this idea as we keep reading--declaring the gospel means believing that Jesus is Lord and that he is the ultimate authority over your life and death.
22 The crowd joined in the attack against Paul and Silas, and the magistrates ordered them to be stripped and beaten with rods. 23 After they had been severely flogged, they were thrown into prison, and the jailer was commanded to guard them carefully. 24 When he received these orders, he put them in the inner cell and fastened their feet in the stocks.
Paul and Silas are beaten with rods--just enough to severely hurt them without killing them. They're thrown into jail, and their feet are bound up. How might you be feeling if you were in that situation? Really think about it! All they've done is help people, declare the gospel, and share the love of Christ, and this is how they've been repaid. If I were in this situation I'd certainly be angry, sad, upset, even hopeless--but listen to ho Paul and Silas react:
25 About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening to them.
They're praying and singing hymns to God! And what else is awesome, other prisoners were listening to them and probably getting to hear the gospel through their songs. Here's the point--Paul and Silas could have spent their time focusing on their unfair treatment, but instead they chose to focus on God. And God is faithful to use them to make a huge impact on people because they chose to be faithful to him. Read what happens next:
26 Suddenly there was such a violent earthquake that the foundations of the prison were shaken. At once all the prison doors flew open, and everyone’s chains came loose. 27 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. 28 But Paul shouted, “Don’t harm yourself! We are all here!” 29 The jailer called for lights, rushed in and fell trembling before Paul and Silas. 30 He then brought them out and asked, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” 31 They replied, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved—you and your household.”
Stop for a second--why would the jailer be about to kill himself? When he thought the prisoners had escaped, he knew he would be killed for his mistake; so, he thought it better to end his life now than to face the likely torture and punishment that would result from losing all the prisoners. But Paul and Silas and all the prisoners didn't leave--they call out to him, and their decision saves the jailer's life.
You've got to understand what just happened here--the jailer is literally dead in his mind; at the point where there is nothing but death ahead of him. but Paul and Silas call out to him and he realizes that death doesn't have to be his only end--what Paul and Silas do for this jailer literally brings him from death into life in that moment. And in response, the jailer asks how he can be saved--how he can go from eternal death into eternal life.
How do Paul and Silas answer? Believe in the Lord Jesus and you will be saved. Remember what they are truly saying--believe that Jesus is the ultimate authority over your death and life, not the Roman government, and that he leads all who call on him into eternal life.
32 Then they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all the others in his house. 33 At that hour of the night the jailer took them and washed their wounds; then immediately he and all his household were baptized. 34 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 household.
Despite their current circumstances, Paul and Silas chose to be faithful to God--and what happened as a result? The gospel was declared, the jailer and his whole household were saved, and Paul and Silas were released from prison.
Now let me draw your attention to the last verse--verse 34. What did they all do? They rejoiced. They had joy because they believed in God.
What is joy? I'll give you a definition--it's a good feeling in the soul, produced by the Holy Spirit, because he causes us to see and be excited about what God is doing in the world and in our lives despite our current circumstances.
Paul and Silas experienced joy because they chose to be faithful to God in the face of their difficult circumstances. In the same way, you and I can experience joy when we are faithful to God no matter what is going on in our lives.
What struggles and difficult circumstances are you facing? How can you be faithful to God in the midst of those circumstances?
It's my prayer that you will make a decision to experience joy today.
Middle School Pastor