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The Aftermath – Acts 16:35-38


The Mission at Philippi is Concluded (for now)

Acts 16:35-38

A new day has dawned.  When we left the apostles in our last study, they were at the Prison Officer’s home. Acts 16:34 But the following morning finds them back at the prison.  The disciples and the prisoners hadn’t run away when the prison doors were opened, for their confidence was in the Lord.  Now, what will the new day bring for them?  There’s a very simple sequence of events.

New dawn

1  Freedom is Granted to the Prisoners. v35  

So the town councillors have sent the police round to the prison to instruct the gaoler that the imprisonment of the apostles was to be ended.  These ‘officers’ or ‘sergeants’ were the ‘Lictors,’ the rod-bearers – the very same minor government officials who had beaten them the day before.  Now they must go to the prison to arrange their release.   But they were sent by the magistrates…     

  • Midnight Terrors.  I wonder what happened to change the mind of the ruling city elders?  Paul and Silas had been singing and praising God when that happened, but you can be sure that the superstitious Philippians were not so happy about their circumstances.  They weren’t singing, – I’m sure they weren’t sleeping either!  They must have been tossing and turning in their beds, worried about the actions they had taken!  So, at the very break of day, they arose and determined that the apostles should be released and sent the lictors to arrange their release.
  • The Parting Blessing.  It’s the jailer’s job to give the news to Paul and Silas.  He broke what he would have thought was the good news that the apostles were free to go.  

2 Paul Stands his Ground. V37  

Given the opportunity to walk out of the door of the prison, a free man, Paul digs his heels in and and says NO.  Paul obviously wanted to make a point.  I wonder what that point was?  Perhaps he wasn’t leaving  because…

  • There is a time when it is right to say NO to the government.   I know that Paul himself, in Romans 13 argues that the Christian should be subject to the higher powers. We should obey the government, when the government is ruling in its own kingdom, but the when it legislates in contravention of God’s law, then we have a responsibility to say NO.  
  • The wellbeing of the church is more important than walking away free. If Paul slopes off secretly, it will look to that church like he is defeated, and backing down and there will be no doubt that with the apostles safely out of the way the authorities can clamp down on the activities of the church.  This has to be done in such a way that the church will see that Paul has not capitulated or run away.
  • The people who ordered their maltreatment needed to be humbled, to make them consider their actions.  After all, Paul’s arrest and humiliation and beating had been publicly administered, why should the authorities not publicly admit their error and publicly put it right? 

Paul’s refusal to leave is compounded in that he declares, for the first time in Philippi that he is a Roman citizen.  To beat a Roman Citizen without a fair trial was a very serious offence indeed.  What I’m wondering is why Paul didn’t declare his citizenship before he was beaten?  And why proclaim his citizenship now?  Was that because he needed the authorities to see that among the believers were people with influence and authority, who were not to be despised or looked down upon?  In any case the city fathers had well exceeded their authority, and that was enough to make them tremble. The city authorities backed down, and meekly went to the prison at Paul’s demand.  V38 -39 

3 The Church is Encouraged V40  

So, Paul and Silas are about to leave Philippi and make their way to their next destination, Thessalonica, but before they leave, let’s see what they are leaving behind…

  • A Final Meeting.  That must have been some meeting!  They ‘seen the brethren!’  What joy!  Can you picture the scene at that  gathering, the tears the laughter, the happiness and finally the praise!  And of course the encouragement, for our text specifically tells us that before they left, they encouraged the brethren.  It’s a farewell service to remember!  
  • A Strong Church.  It was a mixed crowd, full of strange characters from all different backgrounds, – all with one amazing thing in common, they had all met Jesus and their lives had been changed.   And the missionary cause in Europe has been established.   
  • A New Pastor.  There’s a grammatical change here that we should be aware of.  At Troas, Luke had changed the way he wrote about the apostolic missionary band from THEY to WE but now, when he writes of them leaving from Philippi to go to Thessalonica, he reverts back to the third person plural.  THEY left.  Luke did not leave.  That makes many commentators think that Luke was left behind at Philippi for a reason, as an experienced Christian, to care for the flock and to continue the work of evangelism.  Acts 20:1-6    Philippians 4:3   

If we have learned anything from Acts 16, and indeed from the book of Acts as a whole, it is that Paul’s life story is one of great adventure, travel, trouble, success in mission, fearlessness, and others have emulated him in later years.  Christians have gone across the globe, to bring the gospel to unreached lands.  Not all of us can be adventurous missionaries like Paul.  But every Christian life is an adventure for God, – an adventure in faith!  The same Holy Spirit who led Paul the Apostle leads us, and brings us through life until we too, like Paul can say, 7 I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. 8 Finally, there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give to me on that Day, and not to me only but also to all who have loved His appearing.  2 Timothy 4:7-8.

© BobMcEvoy January 2021

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