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The Prison Experiences Of The Bible

Sermon #7


Acts 16:16-26


Intro: Having lost in a fire virtually everything they owned, the Spafford family made new plans, including a move from Chicago to France. Horatio Spafford planned the trip for his wife and four daughters to be as trouble-free as possible. To transport them from America to France, he booked passage on a huge ship, and made sure they had Christians with whom to fellowship in route. He planned to join them a few weeks later.

In spite of much careful preparation, Mr. Spafford's plans suddenly dissolved when the ship carrying his loved ones was rammed by another vessel and sank, carrying his four beloved daughters to the bottom. His wife arrived in Wales safely nine days later and telegraphed her husband the awful news that all four of their children had drowned. Spafford left Chicago to go and bring his wife home. As they cross the Atlantic, the captain came and told him when they were passing over the spot where his daughters had died.

At that place, Horatio Spafford took a pen and paper and wrote these words while passing over the spot where his daughters perished:


When peace, like a river, attendeth my way,

When sorrows like sea billows roll;

Whatever my lot, Thou has taught me to say,

It is well, it is well, with my soul.


It took great faith for Horatio Spafford to write those words. God took the worse prison experience of his life and turned it into a prison of praise and hope.

Paul and Silas found themselves in a difficult prison of oppression and suffering. In that prison they experienced the great grace of God. They received everything they needed transform a prison of pain into a prison of praise. I would like to examine their experience for a little while today. It may be that someone here is locked away in a prison of pain. I want you to see that God can take your pain and turn it into praise for His glory. Let’s notice some of the facts pointed out in this passage as we think on the subject: The Prison Of His Praises.



(Ill. When Paul and company arrived in Philippi, they expected great things to happen. After all, the Lord had very clearly sent them to that city, v. 6-12. His will was further revealed when Lydia and some others came to faith in the Lord, v. 13-15. As soon as the Lord started blessing, however, the devil began his work. Ill. The Context of verses 16-24. These men were in the Lord’s will, doing the Lord’s work and still trouble came into their lives. They found themselves in a place of misery. Let’s examine that place together.)

A. v. 19-21 The Misery Of The Accusations Ill. The context. Paul and Silas are falsely accused by selfish men, who cared for nothing but money. These men did not care for the poor demon possessed of whom they made their living. They were not above lying and scheming to exact revenge on those they felt had done them wrong.

The problem with their story is the fact that nothing those men said about Paul and Silas was the truth. All they had done was preach the Gospel and set a poor tortured soul free from bondage. They were doing their best to serve the Lord and still trouble came. Have you ever been there?

B. v. 22-23 The Misery Of The Arrest Ill. The Context. When the rest of the people of Philippi heard the false accusations of the men, they turned on Paul and Silas like a pack of rabid dogs. They hauled them into court; there they were beaten and thrown into prison. The word “cast means to throw something with no concern for where it lands. These men were beaten like common criminals and thrown into prison. All they had done was preach the Gospel and try to help someone and their troubles got worse and worse. Have you ever been there?

C. v. 24 The Misery Of The Accommodations Ill. The Context Paul and Silas were handed over to the jailer and thrust then into the inner prison, and then their feet were locked in the stocks. This was no prison like anything we have in this country. Our modern prisons would have been like a five-star resort compared to where these men found themselves.

Most likely, they would have been thrown into a deep, dark cell that would have been the nastiest place you could ever imagine. They would have been chained amid mud, filth and human waste. It would have been a dank, dark, dreary, dirty, disgusting, dangerous dungeon. They were there for no other reason but for faithful, obedient service to the Lord Jesus Christ. Have you ever been there?


(Note: I know that I touch this note a lot in my preaching, but God never said this life would be easy. The Bible is very clear that the opposite would be true. Ecc. 2:17, “Therefore I hated life; because the work that is wrought under the sun is grievous unto me: for all is vanity and vexation of spirit. Ecc. 2:23, “For all his days are sorrows, and his travail grief; yea, his heart taketh not rest in the night. This is also vanity. Other verses teach the same truth, Job 14:1; 5:7.

Jesus told His disciples that trouble was not a possibility; it was an absolute certainty, John 16:33! I guess you have noticed by now that this life is hard. It seems sometimes like God’s children bear more than their share of trials and troubles, Ill. Asaph and Psalm 73.

There are going to be some rough times along the way. There will be some hard times, times when trials and suffering will dominate you life. There will be times when you will do your best to serve the Lord, but He will still put you in a prison situation. It will be a place of misery and suffering. Sometimes it will be worse than you can ever imagine. Spouses die, diseases come, children rebel, marriages fail, and sometimes life hurts. And all the good deeds, good prayers, good hopes, good wishes, and good thoughts will not be able to prevent you from going into a prison experience from time to time.

I know that is not what anyone wants to hear, but those are the facts as the Bible declares them. There will be some places of misery along the path of life. Have you ever been there?

If you have, I need to tell you that you will probably go there again. If you haven’t I can say that you will go there some. If you are there right now, I want you to know that there is hope in your place of misery.)



A. A Place Of Personal Ministry When Paul and Silas found themselves in this prison experience, they were hurting, humiliated and in need of some encouragement. After all, they had followed the Lord to Philippi and now they are sitting, chained in a cruel Roman prison. In their hour of need they had no man to whom they could turn for help. They turned to the only source of help available to them. They turned to God and lifted their hearts to Him in prayer.

These men knew something that so many saints never get a handle on. They knew the best place to find the help of a Friend in a difficult situation is to turn to the throne of grace. The saints have a Friend Who cares deeply about them, Heb. 4:15-16. He has promised to hear their prayers, Jer. 33:3. He has promised to answer their prayers, 1 John 5:14-15.

When you find yourself locked away in a prison experience, you can always find a friend Who cares and Who is available to help you. Learn to lean on Him in prayer and your prison will be transformed.

B. A Place Of Profound Ministry As they prayed, their prison was transformed from a place of pain into a place of praise. Paul and Silas began to sing songs of praise unto the Lord. We do not know what they sang, but we can be sure that they did not sing “Gloom, despair and agony on me. Deep dark depression, excessive misery. If it weren’t for bad luck we’d have no luck at all. Doom, despair and agony on me.

These men are in a terrible predicament. They have been serving the Lord faithfully. They followed Him even when His will did not make sense to them. Now they are in a prison because they did the right thing. They are in a prison because they have been lied about. They are in a prison, wounded, bleeding and chained. Yet, they are filled with the praises of the Lord. They had learned the profound truth of Job 35:10 and Psa. 42:8.

Ill. Charles Spurgeon said, “Any fool can sing in the day. It is easy to sing when we can read the notes by daylight; but the skillful singer is he who can sing when there is not a ray of light to read by.... Songs in the night come only from God; they are not in the power of men.

When we find ourselves in one of the bitter prisons of life, and we turn to the Lord for the help we need to make it through that prison, God can turn our sighing into song. He can turn our trials into testimony. He can turn our pain into praise. He can take a time of profound heartache and transform it into a time great help.

May God help us to do as many of the great saints of God have done. May He help us to have a song in the midnight hour. May He help us to be like Job, Job 1:20-21. May He help us to be like Paul, 2 Cor 12:9-10. May He give us grace to praise Him when the pressure is on!

C. A Place Of Powerful Ministry and the prisoners heard them This phrase means that the other prisoners were listening intently to Paul and Silas as they prayed and praised the Lord. They were amazed by what they were hearing! Here were two men who had been severely beaten, carelessly thrown into the inner prison and fastened down in the stocks. Yet, they are not moaning and groaning. They are praising their God and singing love songs to him. That is a powerful ministry!

I would just remind you that a lost world is watching you and me as go through our prison experiences. They could care less about us when we are filled with joy and everything is going well; but they are all eyes and ears when trouble comes into our lives. They watch us to see how we will react when the pressure is place on our lives. They want to see if our faith is real when we go into the prison house of suffering.


(Ill. I have seen saints on both sides of this thing. I have seen some fall to pieces when trouble comes. I have seen others lean on the strong arms of a loving God and praise Him in the face of overwhelming pain and suffering. I can tell that those who can praise the Lord in their trials have a powerful testimony. Their testimony says, “My God is real when things are going well and my God is real when everything falls apart. He is God and He is sufficient! That is a powerful testimony; and it is a testimony that we should all strive to have in our lives! Ill. Psalm 84:6)



(Ill. How you and I respond in the prisons of life is something we should pay close attention to. After all, God may have sent us there just so we could help someone else to see that God is an ever present, all-sufficient, all mighty God. Let’s notice how God used this prison to get glory to His name and to bring others to Himself.)

A. v. 26 The Majesty Of God’s Power Notice the language of this verse: Suddenly, foundations of prison shaken, immediately This is a verse packed with action! All of a sudden, God moved in power and one moment all the prisoners were chained down and the next moment, they were all free! One moment, things looked bleak, but in the next moment, the power of the Lord changed the situation and things began to look better!


(Ill. Whether you recognize it or not, the prison is a place of power! God may change your situation as He did for the Disciples on the ship, John 6:17-21. Or, He may change you in your situation as He did Paul and Job. Either way, you can be sure that He will move in power when the time is right and set you free. He has a plan to set you free! He has not forgotten about you. He knows where you are. He knows the pressure. He knows about the horrors of the prison and He knows how to set you free.

Did you notice that even though they were free, they were still in prison? They were made free while they were still in their prison experience. God can and will do that in your life. When He does, it is a display of awesome, Almighty power!)


B. v. 27-33 The Majesty Of God’s Providence Why did God allow these men to go through this prison? All they had done was serve the Lord! After that are released, they go meet with the brethren and immediately leave town. Is it possible that God allowed Paul and Silas to be beaten, thrown into prison and locked in the stocks just so He might use them in Philippi? Is it possible that God allowed them to endure all that pain and suffering just so God could get glory in Philippi? Is it possible that He sent them to prison just to save a jailer and his family? If you look at the outcome of this event, you will see that God used these events to save the jailer and his family, v. 27-34; to testify to the city officials, v. 35-39; and to encourage the saints and to teach them that God was greater than any prison or problem they would face, v. 40.


(Ill. Sometimes you never get an answer to the why questions. Sometimes God will send you into a prison experience for His Own purposes and you may never know why these things have happened to you. But, does it really matter as long as He is honored and we are used as a vessel of honor for His glory? You can rest assured that even when life makes no sense at all, God has a purpose for everything He allows in your life, Rom. 8:28; 2 Cor. 4:15-17. Paul understood this truth, Phil. 1:19-22. He knew the truth of Psalm 46:1-2, “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore will not we fear, though the earth be removed, and though the mountains be carried into the midst of the sea.

What we face in life is part of God’s plan for us. His plan is a good plan and He knows what He is doing. Our duty is to trust Him at all times and realize that even the things that hurt us are sent to grow us and to shape our lives for His glory, Heb. 12:6-12; James 1:3-4; 1 Pet. 1:7-8. Blessed is that saint who will allow the Lord to have His way in that saint’s life!)


Conc: When the prison door slams behind you and you find yourself locked down tight in the shackles of your pain and problems, you may feel that there is no reason to praise the Lord. If you will turn your heart toward Heaven, He will hear you and He will help you to lift your voice in praise to Him. You will also find that He will give you peace in your heart that He will use your prison for His glory and for your good.

Malcolm Muggeridge, a Christian writer, said this, “Contrary to what might be expected, I look back on experiences that at the time seemed especially desolating and painful with particular satisfaction. Indeed, I can say with complete truthfulness that everything I have learned in my 75 years in this world, everything that has truly enhanced and enlightened my experience, has been through affliction and not through happiness.

If you are in a prison experience today let me encourage you to bring your need to Him. Let me encourage you to allow Him to turn your prison of pain into a prison of praise. If there are needs, bring them to Him.

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