Suffering and Persecution (Acts 16)

Acts 16v16-34 : 16 “As we were going to the place of prayer, we were met by a slave girl who had a spirit of divination and brought her owners much gain by fortune-telling. 17 She followed Paul and us, crying out, “These men are servants of the Most High God, who proclaim to you the way of salvation.” 18 And this she kept doing for many days. Paul, having become greatly annoyed, turned and said to the spirit, “I command you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her.” And it came out that very hour. 19 But when her owners saw that their hope of gain was gone, they seized Paul and Silas and dragged them into the marketplace before the rulers. 20 And when they had brought them to the magistrates, they said, “These men are Jews, and they are disturbing our city. 21 They advocate customs that are not lawful for us as Romans to accept or practice.”22 The crowd joined in attacking them, and the magistrates tore the garments off them and gave orders to beat them with rods. 23 And when they had inflicted many blows upon them, they threw them into prison, ordering the jailer to keep them safely. 24 Having received this order, he put them into the inner prison and fastened their feet in the stocks. 25 About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them, 26 and suddenly there was a great earthquake, so that the foundations of the prison were shaken. And immediately all the doors were opened, and everyone’s bonds were unfastened. 27 When the jailer woke and saw that the prison doors were open, he drew his sword and was about to kill himself, supposing that the prisoners had escaped. 28 But Paul cried with a loud voice, “Do not harm yourself, for we are all here.” 29 And the jailer[e] called for lights and rushed in, and trembling with fear he fell down before Paul and Silas. 30 Then he brought them out and said, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” 31 And they said, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.” 32 And they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all who were in his house. 33 And he took them the same hour of the night and washed their wounds; and he was baptized at once, he and all his family. 34 Then he brought them up into his house and set food before them. And he rejoiced along with his entire household that he had believed in God”.

Throughout the book of Acts we see God partnering with ordinary men and women to advance the Gospel. As the disciples boldly proclaimed the message of Jesus many people came to repentance and put their faith in him. The church grows from a handful of disciples following Jesus’ death to a church of thousands.

However, the cost for the disciples to preach the Gospel was extremely high. Many followers of Jesus in the book of Acts are beaten, tortured and even killed for this. Despite the suffering and persecution that they face, they continue to be committed to sharing the good news of Jesus with the world around them. Throughout the book of Acts God uses the disciple’s faithfulness amid many trials to draw people near to himself. The persecution of the church becomes a catalyst for the spreading of the Gospel.

In Acts Chapter 16, Paul and Silas are severely beaten and put in prison for sharing the Gospel with a slave girl. It’s difficult to imagine undergoing the excruciating pain Paul and Silas had to endure. They were beaten and left swollen and lacerated. Their wounds would have left them unable to lie down in their prison cell. Their feet were placed in wooden stocks that were fastened to the wall which meant they were unable to find a comfortable position to rest in.

As modern-day followers of Jesus living in Durban today we are unlikely to face the same level of persecution that we see in Acts Chapter 16. BUT, as we boldly proclaim the Gospel and live out our faith in this city, we will at times face trials and opposition.

Following Jesus and sharing the Gospel could mean that we are rejected by our friends and family. Perhaps we could lose our status among our peers, it could harm our reputation and how people view us. For some it may mean losing our jobs, or employment discrimination. We may suffer for the Gospel because of our commitment to following Jesus.

What will our response be when we are faced with persecution and suffering because of our faith? We see that Paul and Silas choose to continue to praise God. They lifted their voices in prayer to God and sang worship songs to him.

In the midst of their suffering, as they continued to put their faith in God, we see that God rescues them. There is an Earthquake and suddenly all the prison doors open and the prisoner’s chains come loose. The jailer is about to commit suicide over this when Paul and Silas reveal that they have not run away from the prison. The jailer’s response is to turn to God.

The jailer would have known the reason that Paul and Silas were in prison as he had been involved with their incarceration. The jailer would have heard them praising God despite all they had faced. God uses Paul and Silas’ faithfulness to the Gospel to draw the jailer to himself. Paul points the jailer to the only name that saves, and he and his entire household become followers of Jesus.

As we put our faith and trust in God in moments of opposition, do we believe that others might come to put their faith in Jesus? Do we believe that God can use these moments to minister to those around us who are witnesses to our stories?

As followers of Jesus we know that ultimately Jesus has won the victory through his death and resurrection. No matter what we face in our lives we know that our future is secure in Jesus. In John 16v33 Jesus encourages us by saying, “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”

Because of this we can face these momentary troubles with courage and faith. We can trust that God will use these moments in our lives to bring glory to himself so that many may come to know him. We can continue to confidently proclaim the Gospel.