A Living Mystery

used with permission from iBelieveBible.com

Preaching is a special kind of gift that some people have in abundance, while others feel frightened and uncomfortable about it. Nevertheless, Christians have been called to preach, to share, to demonstrate and explain their faith to others. For those who find the idea of preaching or public speaking daunting or intimidating, could there possibly be other ways to clearly and effectively make the gospel known?

Today I want to share a story with you where someone used singing to share the gospel - even though they were not necessarily a trained or professional singer.

In Acts 16:16-40 we find an arresting portrait of Christian witness that seems almost impossible to emulate. After Paul and Silas exorcise a fortune-telling slave girl’s demon, her furious owners have them arrested, severely flogged, and thrown in prison. As they sit in the dark, filthy prison surrounded by the smell of excrement and unwashed skin, legs and arms quickly becoming stiff clamped in shackles, their backs shredded and sticky with blood, they begin to do something the other prisoners have never seen before: they begin to sing. At midnight, Luke tells us, they were “praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening to them” (Acts 16:25 NIV), when a massive earthquake shakes the prison, breaks open the doors, and looses all of the prisoners’ chains. The sleeping jailer wakes up, sees the damage, and is ready to commit suicide rather than be tortured and executed for letting the prisoners escape when Paul stops him: not one of the prisoners has escaped.

Overcome by relief, astonishment, and awe at the power of Paul and Silas’s god, who has destroyed the Roman prison in seconds, the jailer falls to his knees and asks what he must do to be saved. Paul and Silas preach the gospel to them, he takes them back to their home and tends to their wounds, and “then immediately he and all his household were baptized” (16:33 NIV).

The sequence of events here is crucial: Paul and Silas face trials, they maintain their integrity and joy as they praise God, and in response to their actions the jailer asks how he can have the salvation that has clearly transformed their lives. The reality of the gospel has filled them with an incredible, celebratory joy that causes them to truly “give thanks in all circumstances” (1 Thessalonians 5:18 NIV).

This is their witness – both their vocal praise for God, and their quiet integrity after the earthquake as they don’t try to escape. As Cardinal Emmanuel Subard writes, “To be a witness does not consist in engaging in propaganda, nor even in stirring people up, but in being a living mystery. It means to live in such a way that one’s life would not make sense if God did not exist.”1

Related texts or passages to consider: 1 Peter 3:15; Matthew 5:16; Psalms 40:9-10; Isaiah 55:12