About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God…. 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. – Acts 16:25-26
I’d like to begin by asking a very simple question: What do you think Paul and Silas were praying for before this miraculous earthquake? What would you be praying for if you were in prison under trumped-up charges? Would you be praying for freedom? I know that I would be.
However, I would like to suggest to you that Paul and Silas were probably not praying for their freedom. Why not? Well, because they didn’t leave! If you keep reading after these verses above, you will see that Paul and Silas stay in the custody of the jailer overnight and until they are completely exonerated. If they had been praying for freedom, don’t you think that they would have taken this earthquake as a sign that God wants them to walk free? If an incredibly precise, violent earthquake that somehow opens doors and loosens chains, but doesn’t kill anyone isn’t a sign from God, I don’t know what is.
That brings me back to my original question. What were Paul and Silas praying for? If they weren’t praying for their freedom, what were they praying for? I want to suggest that they were praying for the jailer. You see, the jailer was the real prisoner in this story. He was a slave to the Roman authorities of his day (authorities who had other jailers killed for similar situations, see Acts 12), and ultimately, like all people who haven’t found their freedom in Christ, he was a slave to sin. So this is actually a story of the jailer and his household finding freedom (see verses 30-34), not Paul and Silas. And even if they began the night praying for their own freedom, at some point in the night, their prayers moved away from their own needs and onto the needs of others. By the time midnight rolled around, I think that Paul and Silas were so aligned with the heart of God that they interpreted this miraculous sign of the breaking of chains, not as a sign that points to their freedom, but as a sign that points to the freedom of the jailer.
For Paul and Silas, there was something more valuable than freedom. They chose obedience, sacrifice, and imprisonment, for the sake of others, instead of their own freedom. Wow! And sure enough, that jailer and his whole family found true freedom that day. May it be true of us as well.