April 6, 1984 (Friday)
Accepting Hardship For Jesus
Reading : Acts 16:22-30
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, charging the jailer to keep them safely.
24 Having received this charge, he put them into the inner prison and fastened their feet in the stocks.
~The Philippian Jailer Converted
25 But 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 every one's fetters 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 he called for lights and rushed in, and trembling with fear he fell down before Paul and Silas,
30 and brought them out and said, "Men, what must I do to be saved?"
Paul and Silas had learnt one important truth about Christian living that many Christians today have not learnt. That important truth is that we must be willing to accept sacrifice if we are to be like Jesus. Not all of us may be called by our Lord to go to prison, or to become a missionary in a foreign country, or to die. But we must be willing to accept anything and all things if we are to be true servants of God.
That is why Paul and Silas were happy in jail. They were in jail for the wrong reasons - but they didn't complain - it was just part of being a Christian. Not only did they not complain, but they also sang songs and prayed loudly. And then, when the earthquake came and they could have run away, they simply stayed where they were, accepting the trials they were going through.
I was reminded of this incident in Paul's life by hearing a story about one of the present day "missionaries" in the Philippines. A Catholic priest, Father Brian Gore, and some other priests and laymen, have been arrested and jailed by the authorities in the Philippines. Since Father Brian is an Australian, the Australian media have been very interested in the story and Peter Philp, the media director of WVA, has been in close contact with some of the reporters who went to the Philippines for Father Brian's trial and who interviewed him in prison.
The reporters, without exception, felt that Father Brian was being unjustly tried. I do not know enough about the case to comment on whether that is true or false, but it is very clear that Father Brian and his colleagues are being a very powerful witness for the Christian life in the Philippines.
Father Brian's story reminded me of Paul's visit to jail because like Paul, it would be very easy for Father Brian to escape from his jail - but he chooses to remain and accept the hardships as he suffers for his Lord, Jesus Christ. When the Australian reporters went to the jail, they found no-one guarding the gate. They knocked, but there was no answer. So they opened the gate themselves and walked straight in. As they crossed the prison grounds, a man came to meet them. But he was not a guard either - he was a prisoner.
"Can I help you?", the prisoner asked.
"Yes," replied the reporters, "we've come to talk to Father Brian Gore."
"Follow me" So the reporters followed the prisoner across a yard, into a building and down a corridor, until they were taken into an office where they met Father Brian who was sitting at a desk. They had not seen even one prison official.
They discovered that this prison has 700 prisoners and only 3 guards. The prisoners do not escape, because they believe that God is asking them to fight injustice, by paying the price for someone else's lack of justice.
They are not running away from sin and evil, they are taking the punishment for the sin and evil of other people, by willingly accepting the jail sentences which they believe they do not deserve. They are simply doing what they believe Jesus did when he died on the cross for our sins.
The transformation in the jail has been remarkable. Father Brian has set himself up in the governor's office because that is where the telephone is and he is constantly on the telephone to the media, issuing statements and press releases. His influence on prison life is also evident, as the prisoners work to provide a sewerage system for the jail. You can be sure that the prison officials were surprised when the prisoners offered to fix the jail's sewerage system. The exercise yard is being dug up so that new pipes can be laid.
Every day, busloads of people, Catholic and Protestant, Christian and non-Christian, arrive to encourage Father Brian and the others at the jail.
God used Paul and Silas to make a deep impression on the man who ran the jail in which they were imprisoned. It is clear that God is also using Father Brian Gore and his friends to witness to the modern world about what it means to live out of the love of Jesus Christ.