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Sermons and Outlines


Acts 16:16-34

JOY IN THE PRISON EXPERIENCES OF LIFE

Intro: In 1993, Charles Colson received the Templeton Prize for Progress in Religion. The $1 million prize is the largest prize for achievement in any field. It is ranked higher than the Nobel prizes in such fields as science and literature, in the belief that religion is more important. Colson, having served seven months in prison for obstructing justice in the Watergate cover-up, was known as the scandal's "hatchet man." His conversion later led to the founding of Prison Fellowship in 1976. In response to this award, Colson said, "Out of tragedy and adversity come great blessings. I shudder to think of what I would have been if I had not gone to prison." Adversity can be God's refining fire.

Most of us in this room have never served time in jail nor have we been locked up in prison. However, spiritually speaking, we have all been through what we might call "prison experiences" in life. Times when the Lord shut us up, in affliction, for His own purposes. Times when we wondered where He was and why He was doing this to us. You've been there, haven't you? Some of you are there tonight! Wondering how you got here and when will it end. Wondering why, if God really loves you, these kinds of things are happening in your life. Well, I don't have the answers to the questions you may be asking, but I find some encouragement in the passage before us this evening.

Have you ever thought that prison could be a blessing? If you had told that to Paul and Silas early in the evening hours, they might have laughed at you. But, when the midnight hour rolled around they discovered what a glorious place prison could be. I would like for us to look into this text tonight and talk about the thought, Joy In The Prison Experiences Of Life. You may not get all the answers you would like to have this evening, but if you will listen to the Holy Ghost, He will teach you about the availability and power of joy in your prison experience.

I. V. 16-24 THE PAIN OF THEIR PRISON EXPERIENCE

A. V. 16-21 The Setting - Ill. The Context. These men were obediently serving the Lord when they found themselves in this mess. (Note: It is always a shock to the spiritual system when you suffer as a saint. Ill. Asaph - Psa. 73:1-16.)

B. V. 22-23 The Stripes - Paul and Silas were beaten, probably with a cat-of-nine tails. (Note: When the prison experiences of life come, they tend to beat us down and leave us in torment. If you haven't been there yet, you will be some day! The first question is "Why?" The answer is "Why not?" As we pass through this life, we can expect our share of difficulty and trouble, John 16:33; Job 14:1. We tend to forget that the trials of life are God's chosen method for developing us into the image of His Son, Rom. 8:28-29; 1 Cor. 12:7-11.)

C. V. 23b The Sentence - These men were cast into the prison. The word "cast" means "to throw something without regard to where or how it lands." They were just tossed into the prison without any care for their well-being. The jailer then "thrust" (same word) into the inner prison. This refers to the dungeon, where it would have been dank, dark, dirty and discouraging. (Note: Describe conditions in an ancient Roman prison.) (Note: There are times in life when the Lord "shuts you up" in some prison. When this happens, it is never pleasant! During those time, it may seem that He doesn't care what you are facing. It may seem that He has just tossed you aside without any regard for your well being. Such is not the case! If you are His, then He is working out His perfect plan for your life. You are in that prison because the Lord loves you and has something special planned for you. Ill. Joseph and all his trials - Gen. 37-50.)

D. V. 24 The Stocks - As if it weren't enough to beat these men, throw them into prison and cast them into the dungeon, the jailer placed their feet in stocks and prevent any activity on their part at all. (Note: The prison experiences of our lives often serve to shut us down spiritually. God's purpose it to use us more greatly for His glory. But, the devil and the flesh seize the prison experiences of life as an opportunity to force us into inactivity spiritually. Ill. Elijah - He allowed a prison experience to cause him to quit on God - 1 Kings 19.)

II. 25a THE PRAISE IN THEIR PRISON EXPERIENCE

(Ill. We may wonder how anyone could praise the Lord under such circumstances. Yet, it is clear that your attitude in your circumstances determines your latitude in your circumstances.) (Note: They didn't start at midnight, but continued praying and praising until that hour.)

A. Involved Supplication - Instead of pouting, these men prayed. They rolled their burden onto the shoulders of the Lord. (Note: This is a valuable lesson for us tonight. When we are shut up in one of life's prison experiences, we need to learn to call upon the Lord, Phil. 4:6; Matt. 11:28.) (Note: Would to God that we would learn the lesson that prayer should be our first resort! If we could learn to resort to prayer, we would never retreat to worry!) (Note: Were they in pain? Yes! Were they scared? Yes! Were they uncomfortable and miserable? Yes! Still they did not allow their circumstances to defeat them. They went to God in prayer! That is what we need to do when we are locked away in one of life's prison experiences.)

B. Involved Singing - As they prayed before the Lord, He began to lift their hearts. Soon, they were filled with praise and they began to sing songs (Probably the "Hallel" Psalms - Psa. 113-118; 136.) To the Lord. As the Lord helped them, they forgot about their whereabouts and began to worship! (Note: One of the surest ways to overcome your prison experience is to learn the secret of praising God in the midst of your pain. We see this truth modeled in the life of Job, Job 1:20-22. Later, we see Job sitting in a pile of ashes, scraping himself with a broken piece of pottery, Job 2:8. Is it possible that those ashes are the remnants of his continual sacrifices to the Lord, Job 1:5? Now he has nothing left to offer God, but himself. He is locked up in a prison experience, but his heart is free and he can still praise the Lord.) (Note: Anyone can praise God when all is well in their life! But, it takes massive faith to praise His name when the bottom falls out from under you! In fact, if you really want to gage the depth of your commitment to the Lord and your love for Him, just see how you react when the pressure is on in your life! That is where the real you is most clearly seen!)

III. V. 25b-34 THE PRODUCT OF THEIR PRISON EXPERIENCE

(Ill. Their time in the prison wasn't wasted time. The Lord used these events, as He does all the events of life, for His Own glory and purposes.)

A. V. 25b Proved Their Faith - This verse tells us that "the prisoners heard them". This verb means "to hear attentively". These men had never heard anything like this before! Here were two old boys beaten to bloody pulps, locked in the nastiest place imaginable, with their feet locked in stocks, which, by the way, forced them to sit in the mire and the muck of the prison, and still they are able to praise the Lord! What a testimony to the grace of God! What a challenge to the church! (Note: Just a reminder: the world is watching you as you go through the prison experiences of life! As they watch you, they could care less about your joy when things are going well. But, just let tragedy come into your life, and they are all eyes and ears! They want to see if what you have is as real in the valley as it is on the mountain! There is no better testimony to the grace of God than a saint who can shout when the pressure is on! It says "My God is real!" It says, "My faith is real!" It says, "My relationship with God makes a difference in my life!" It is a powerful testimony for the glory of God. Ill. Job - Job 1:9-11; Job 2:4-5. Satan squeezed Job expecting to get bitterness; instead Job exuded blessings and praise!) (Note: Of course, the opposite is also true! When we moan and groan we say "God is dead!"; "My faith is dead!"; "I am no better than the lost man!")

B. V. 26 Produced Their Freedom - As they praised the Lord, God shook the prison and broke their bands asunder! Notice that they were still in prison, but they were free! Their bonds were gone and all the doors were opened. They could have bolted for freedom, but they willing remained where God had placed them! (Note: A joyful heart in the midst of difficulty has the power to loose your bonds and make you free, even when you are still in the middle of that prison experience! Please notice that faith in the prison of life may change your circumstances, John 6:17-21. More often, it will change you in your circumstances - 2 Cor. 12:9-10; Rom. 35-37. And that, after all, probably brings more glory to God than the other way! To see a saint walk in victory while the fire of life belches about them is a thing of extraordinary beauty and power!)

C. V. 27-34 Purchased A Family - Ill. The Context. The jailer and his family hear the Gospel and believe. (Note: The great change that comes over the jailer. Contrast verse 33 with verse 24.) The affliction endured by two faithful servants of the Lord was used by the Spirit of the Lord to open the hearts of these lost pagans and to bring them to faith in Jesus Christ. (Note: You will never know what the prison experiences of life are doing to those around you. As the world watches you walk in victory despite your problems, they will be stirred by your faith. That is why it is essential that believers learn to patiently endure the trials of life. Friends, we can either fight against what God is doing and suffer, or we can rest in what He is doing and have the victory. The choice is yours!)

Conc: During World War II, Dr. Victor Frankl was imprisoned by the Nazis because he was a Jew. His wife, children, and parents were all killed in the Holocaust. At one point, the prison guards cut his wedding band off his finger. Frankl said to himself, "You can take away my wife and children, you can strip me of my clothes and my freedom, but there is one thing no person can ever take away from me-and that is my freedom to choose how I will react to what happens to me." That is the secret to successfully surviving the prison experiences of life.

What are you facing this evening? Wouldn't you like to walk in victory in the midst of your prison experience? The first step is to get before the Lord and to pour out your heart in supplication and song. He will meet with you and help you. If there is a need, this altar is open this evening!


 
 
 
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