“The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
and recovery of sight for the blind,
to set the oppressed free,”
Luke 4:18, NIV
Have you ever been in a prison? Maybe you, or a loved one has served time in prison. I was in a prison once as a little girl, watching my mom’s tap dance group perform for the inmates. I don’t recall giving it much thought at the time, or being fearful. They were trying to do some good for the incarcerated.
Prisons are terrible places. They are supposed to be. They are designed to punish. Prisoners spend countless hours inside tiny cells. Freedom is gone. Our modern American prisons look like a hotel stay compared to the old Roman ones. Ancient Roman prisons were horrific.
The most famous Roman prison can still be visited today. It is located just outside the Forum Romanum buried at the foot of the Capitoline Hill. It was Ancus Marcius, the fourth king of Rome, who, sometime during his reign (640-616 BC) constructed this dark, damp and foreboding subterranean structure.¹
Roman historian Sallust described it as about twelve feet deep into the ground. “Its appearance is disgusting and vile by reason of the filth, the darkness and the stench.” It was into this room, 6 1/2 ft. high, thirty feet long and twenty-two feet wide, that prisoners who had been condemned to die either by strangulation or starvation were thrown. One attributes the phrase “to be cast into prison” had its origins here.²
Roman prisons were not used to punish criminals, but instead served only to hold people awaiting trial or execution.
Paul and Silas in Prison
While in Philippi, a slave girl who had a spirit that could predict the future was following Paul, Silas, and their entire group.
17 She followed Paul and the rest of us, shouting, “These men are servants of the Most High God, who are telling you the way to be saved.” 18 She kept this up for many days. Finally Paul became so annoyed that he turned around and said to the spirit, “In the name of Jesus Christ I command you to come out of her!” At that moment the spirit left her. (Acts 16:17-18, NIV)
The slave girl’s owners were angry since she made them a lot of money. They grabbed Paul and Silas, and brought them to the authorities. (Acts 16:19)
20 They brought them before the magistrates and said, “These men are Jews, and are throwing our city into an uproar 21 by advocating customs unlawful for us Romans to accept or practice.” (Acts 16:20-21, NIV)
The crowd goes crazy and joins the attack against Paul and Silas. They are flogged, and thrown into the inner cell of the prison. Their feet were placed in stocks. (Acts v.22-24)
Paul and Silas were wrongfully accused, stripped, beaten, and severely flogged. Their backs would have been bloody, raw and ripped to shreds. The pain would have been unimaginable. After being beaten, almost to death, they are thrown into a horrible Roman prison. Things were looking bleak. If that were me, I would have given up. I would have asked, “Where are you God?” “You have abandoned us.” “You don’t care.”
Paul and Silas never curse God.
Paul and Silas never question God’s will or His plan.
Paul and Silas never give up.
Paul and Silas trust God.
Paul and Silas pray and sing hymns to God!
25 About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening to them. 26 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. 27 The jailer woke up, and when he saw the prison doors open, he drew his sword and was about to kill himself because he thought the prisoners had escaped. 28 But Paul shouted, “Don’t harm yourself! We are all here!” (Acts 16:25-28, NIV)
And the best, most exciting part is God did a miracle! All the prison doors flew open, and everyone’s chains came loose. Not just Paul’s and Silas’ chains. Every prisoner who was in the prison that night experienced a miracle. Their chains came loose. Prison doors flew open. What were all these prisoners thinking? What were Paul and Silas thinking? I can only imagine the unexpected joy they all must have felt. God showed up mightily.
29 The jailer called for lights, rushed in and fell trembling before Paul and Silas. 30 He then brought them out and asked, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?”
31 They replied, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved—you and your household.” 32 Then they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all the others in his house. 33 At that hour of the night the jailer took them and washed their wounds; then immediately he and all his household were baptized. 34 The jailer brought them into his house and set a meal before them; he was filled with joy because he had come to believe in God—he and his whole household. (Acts 16:29-33,NIV)
In the morning Paul and Silas get released and everybody lives happily ever after. At least for that moment. If you want to read the entire story it’s Acts 16:16-40.
Because of being wrongfully accused, beaten to near death, and thrown in prison, a bunch of people accepted Jesus Christ as savior. Paul and Silas remained faithful. God answered their prayers and did a miracle. The jailer, and his entire family, and all other occupants in his house got saved. Who knows how many of those prisoners and guards came to know Jesus as their savior. They all witnessed a miracle. How could you not be forever changed. They experienced the mighty hand of God.
Do you have chains of affliction? Are you in your own kind of prison? You’ve prayed, and prayed, yet feel trapped. Hopeless. You stopped praying. Stopped believing.
Your prison has a purpose. God wastes absolutely nothing. Whether you put yourself there by your choices, or circumstances out of your control put you in that prison, God is still able to make a way. He opens prison doors.
God is a chain breaker.
If you are bound up in chains then pray, and sing hymns to God. Look to Him. Declare the truth of His word over your life and circumstance. Surrender everything to God and wait to see what He does with your mess. No one can do for you what God can. Keep trusting Him.
Jesus came to set prisoners free.
I love you and praise you. Thank you for being in the miracle business. There is none like you. I lift up every person who is in chains right now. They are trapped in their own prison. Comfort them. Reveal yourself to them. Open those prison doors and loose those chains. Set all those captive, free. And for those in actual prison, set them free too. Even if they have years left of incarceration, they can still experience your freedom. Come Lord Jesus to the prisons, and to homes, and hearts. You came to set all of us free.
In Jesus mighty name,
Love you all,
Photo credit Pixabay Desertrose7
- & 2. https://www.unrv.com/government/roman-prisons.php