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A Toughened Heart

Acts 16:22-40

 

Is there someone you know who needs to be saved, and you would label them as “a tough case”?  Have you ever been discouraged, thinking, “oh, they’ll never get saved, they’re too hardened”?

 

A good subtitle for this message would be:  Jesus CAN save the hard cases.

 

Paul and Silas were imprisoned for preaching the gospel.  Last time we saw the slave girl delivered from demonic possession.  She had psychic abilities, supernatural powers, not of God.  Her masters were making a lot of money off of her, and when she got saved, they got mad, so they trumped up false charges against them…and this resulted in one of the greatest conversions recorded anywhere in the Bible.

 

1.     The Persecution

How many here thought that when you got saved, it would be an end to all your problems?!  If so, then since that time you’ve learned that man’s days are few and full of trouble [man born of woman/as sparks fly upward!]  Jesus didn’t come to save us from all of our troubles, He came to get into trouble with us!  If getting saved is the end of our problems, it’s the FRONT end! 

Problems you’ve never had before are ushered in:

II Tim. 3:12

    Yea, and all that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution.

 

Paul and Silas here in ch. 16 are in trouble, not because they’re out of God’s will…but because they’re IN God’s will!  Not for doing the wrong thing, but the RIGHT thing!

 

3 things they did to this pair:

A.    They beat them.

v. 23        many stripes – that’s easy for us to just read right over, but what does this really mean?  What is the full impact of that? 

        Each Roman province had a group called the “lictors”, they were brutal policemen…the strong arm of the Roman gov’t, and they were commanded by the magistrates.  Each carried a rod like a policeman’s night stick.  And if a magistrate commanded a lictor to beat someone, he’d beat them half to death, w/ welts on their back and all.

 

B.    Cast into prison

v. 23-24           Just eliminate from your mind the images you have of today’s prisons.  This was nothing like that…it was a hole in the ground, much like a dungeon.  And they were in the “inner” prison, which would be the deepest, darkest part.  It was damp and cold, and history says this kind of prison would be rat infested.  It would be impossible to lie down or relax w/out rats nibbling at you…this is a far cry from the cable tv, college degree rehab farms we have today.  This place would have had lice, no restrooms, and little ventilation.  It would have been crowded, and the sounds of moaning and groaning of many others would fill the air.

        In prison and jail visits in my ministry today it’s unpleasant…mostly the crowd in there and the anger in the air…well, imagine back then!

 

C.    Put in stocks [& bonds!]

v. 24        The stocks were intended for 1 purpose…to induce pain.  They would spread the prisoner’s legs as far as they could, until the hips were almost out of joint, and then their legs would be locked in that position.  Leg cramps would ensue.  Ever had one of those?  They’re bad, but you walk it off…they couldn’t!

 

So, by this point they have raw, bloodied, bruised backs and they’re undergoing painful punishment in this hell-hole of a prison…and all for preaching the Word of God!

 

Let’s get practical.  When was the last time that you actually suffered for your faith?  What have you endured for the purpose of the Word of God and the work of God going forward?  If this story does anything to us at all, it ought to challenge each of us to put away our pettiness, and quit “playing church” and get our eyes on the goal…the main thing!

 

It’s amazing what we spoiled American Christians get upset about.  They say the level of your character is measured by what it takes to get you to quit.  And it’s amazing how little it takes for some people to leave the great cause of Christ. 

 

I just heard of a Baptist church in the area, in danger of a split, and all over pettiness. 

Joke--          A man was stranded on a deserted Pacific island for years.  Finally one day a boat comes sailing into view, and the man frantically waves and draws the skipper's attention. The boat comes near the island and the sailor gets out and greets the stranded man.

After a while the sailor asks, "What are those three huts you have

here?"

     "Well, that's my house there."

     "What's that next hut?" asks the sailor.

     "I built that hut to be my church."

     "What about the other hut?"

     "Oh, that's where I used to go to church."

      (By the way, please don't write to remind me that the church is a

group of people, not a building -- I'm aware of that, but I think

there's another lesson to learn here).  There are some legitimate

reasons for "changing churches," but there are also some people who

change congregations every couple of years simply because they have

trouble getting along with other folks.  Someone at church said

something that made them mad, or one of the songleaders doesn't pick out

songs they like, or they decided to change the time of services,

etc. etc.  The reasons go on and on, and you just about mark on the

calendar when they'll leave to go to the next church.  It makes you

wonder if they would be happy in a church by themselves.

      Each of the New Testament epistles is filled with instructions on

how to get along with others in the church.  There are a couple of

reasons for that.  It is important and it is difficult for all of us at

times.

Romans 12:9-10, 15-16, 18

    Let love be without dissimulation. Abhor that which is evil; cleave to that which is good. [10] Be kindly affectioned one to another with brotherly love; in honour preferring one another;

    Rejoice with them that do rejoice, and weep with them that weep. [16] Be of the same mind one toward another. Mind not high things, but condescend to men of low estate. Be not wise in your own conceits.

    If it be possible, as much as lieth in you, live peaceably with all men.

 

Dr. Curtis Hutson used to tell the humorous story of a church that actually split over a chicken leg.  Many at that place believed strongly in predestination, but another group was against that.  It was the Hatfield’s and the McCoy’s around there, divided down the middle.  At fellowship dinners, one group would sit on one side of the table and the other group would sit on the other side.

At one of these dinners a man stood up to get in a “dig” and make a point:  He held up a chicken leg and announced, “ladies and gentlemen, it was foreordained by God before the foundations of the world, that I would eat this here chicken leg on this very day.”

A guy on the other side grabbed it and said “not this time!” and took a big bite!

        That was the last straw and they split over a chicken leg!

[there’s some things worth separating from, but if our eyes are on Jesus, the petty things won’t bother us!]

 

While we’re busy fighting in churches today over small stuff, there’s real Christians all over the world suffering, and many are dying for Christ.

[china/sudan/middle east]

 

This story should deliver us from our pettiness.

 

That’s the persection…when is the last time you were persecuted for being Godly?

 

2.     The Praise

v. 25        In this condition, what would the ordinary Christian be doing right now, deep in that prison in stocks, after trying to serve God?  Complaining!

We would be complaining to God… “Lord, can’t you take care of us, your servants, any better than this?  If you’re really there, why have you let us go to jail?  Is this what we get for doing right?

 

We would be complaining to each other… Silas would be saying “hey Paul, whose bright idea was this anyway?  I thought you knew the will of God!  [mocking] ‘we have heard the Macedonian call today…we’re in jail, we’re in jail!’

        Paul would say, “shut up, you got those slave masters all riled up…why I oughta…*%!*”  or, “if you think you can do better, get to it!”

 

It’s not that way here…they’re not complaining, they’re singing and praising God…it was a gospel music fest, and look WHEN it took place:

 

v. 25        1st 3 words:  “and at midnight…”  That represents the darkest part of the night, when the situation is the bleakest, and the blackest!  Have you ever been to the midnight hour in your life?  At the end of your rope?

        I’ve walked w/ some of you at the midnight hour of death/divorce/illness/tragedy/ruin.  Do you have a song in that hour?  I’ve been on both sides of that street.

Anyone can sing when the sun is shining brightly, on the mountaintop, but when problems are mounting, in the midnight hour…that’s when our faith becomes real!

Job 35:10

    …Where is God my maker, who giveth songs in the night;

Psalm 42:8

    Yet the Lord will command his lovingkindness in the daytime, and in the night his song shall be with me...

 

There is no better testimony we can have than to have a song at midnight in our lives!

 

v. 25b      “and the prisoners heard them”  It’s amazing how the Holy Spirit stuck that in there.  The word “heard” means they listened attentively, they gave ear to it, it made an impression on them!

        These prisoners are cursing God and each other, and then they hear this singing…and later in this passage we see they all have a chance to escape but they don’t do it!

C.H. Spurgeon said, “any fool can sing in the day, it’s easy to sing when we can read the notes by daylight…but the skillful singer can sing w/ never a ray of light to read by…songs in the night come only from God, not in the power of men.”

 

I heard a preacher tell the story of losing his father, and all the pain he went thru with that loss, but at the cemetery he saw the recent grave of a child…and he realized that would be one of the greatest pains any person could ever bear, and he told how his heart broke as he read the inscription toward the bottom of the stone which said, “oh God, how can we give up our little angel…”  He said the despair in that statement pulled at his heart, and made him realize his pain could be much worse, and he thought of how he would like to talk to those parents and share w/ them about the wonderful grace of God to help them.  He said that tears flowed down his cheeks, and then he began to weep uncontrollably, and he actually fell on his face at that grave, and then he saw it, he noticed that the grass was tall around the bottom of the headstone, and his hands were holding it down, revealing 1 more line in the inscription:  it said, “oh God, how can we give up our little angel…to anyone but Thee!”

 

When you put God in the equation, everything becomes alright…for in any circumstances we can know:

  • He’s a good God who makes no mistakes.
  • All things work together for good to them that love God.
  • His grace will always be sufficient, and if we look for it, He’ll give us a song in the night!

 

The persecution, the praise…

 

3.     The Power

v. 26        God must’ve heard their singing and started tapping his foot, and shook up this situation!  And everyone there knew it was God, the prisoners, and the jailer…and he fell to his knees and asked that important question, “What must I do to be saved?”  [7 important words!]

 

v. 31        The simple answer…it’s gloriously simple, but simply glorious! 

 

The fact that the jailer asked how to be saved tells me that Paul has already been witnessing to him.  I have a feeling he didn’t stop preaching because he was arrested, and he likely used illustrations of the blood as his own blood dripped, and told of Jesus’ beating as he received his, and talked about the gates of hell being unlocked and captivity being led captive as he was locked into his cell…and then God worked in power, and God broke that toughened heart, and he hit bottom, thinking he’d be executed, but then shot to heights sublime realizing he was ok and God had done all of this for him to be saved!

 

Even today, the hard cases get serious when they’re flat on their back, and then they look up! 

 

The jailer got baptized, started doing good works, tried to make restitution, and told his household, and they got saved!

        He put those stripes on their backs, and now is washing them.

        He deprived them of food, and is now feeding them.

 

When you really get saved you really get changed!

 

Nobody’s so hard that God can’t soften them and save them!

 

Ill.—soldier on a battlefield/he lay dying/chaplain knelt beside him, told him he wouldn’t make it, asked if he could do anything for him/the young man had led a wicked life and had hurt a lot of people deeply/said, sir, there’s nothing anybody can do for me right now, what I need is somebody who can “undo” some things for me…

       

        Is that what you are needing?  Jesus is the answer!

 

Many stumble over salvation, not because it’s difficult, but because it’s so easy…Jesus did the hard part.

Acts 16:31

    And they said, Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved, and thy house.

 

That carries some commitment…you’ll notice he was baptized, not because he needed to in order to be saved, but because he had been saved and wanted to follow the Lord obediently, which is what we all should want to do!

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