There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus. – Galatians 3:28
In ancient times every devout Jewish man began each day with a prayer of thanks: “Thank You, God, that I am not a Gentile, a woman, or a slave.”
Saul of Tarsus, a devout Pharisee, a “Hebrew of Hebrews,” as he later described himself, no doubt began his days with that prayer.
When a strange new cult arose, one centered around a Carpenter from Galilee who allegedly rose from the dead, Saul saw it as a threat to his people’s way of life. He set out to stop the rebellion in its infancy, getting letters from the high priest authorizing him to round up the believers and take them prisoner to Jerusalem.
But a funny thing happened on the way to Damascus. Acts 9 tells the story in detail, but in short, Paul got knocked off his horse by something – or Someone. The witnesses merely “saw a light” and “heard a sound,” but Saul was blinded and heard the voice of Jesus, asking him,
“Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?”
“Who are you, Lord?” Saul asked.
“I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting,” he replied. “Now get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do.” – Acts 9:4-6
Saul remained blind for three days, not eating or drinking anything, until God sent a believer in Jesus named Ananias to come place his hands on him and pronounce him healed. “Something like scales” fell from his eyes, and immediately Saul began to preach Jesus as the Messiah.
As many of you know, this was the apostle Paul, writer of about a fourth of the New Testament, who founded many churches in the first century all over the Mediterranean. One of these churches was the church at Philippi.
On the first Sabbath they were in Philippi, Saul – “also called Paul” – and his companions went outside the city, where a group of women were having a prayer meeting at the river. The men began to speak to the women, one of whom was a wealthy business woman named Lydia. She came to faith in Jesus when “the Lord opened her heart,” and after she and her household were all baptized, she persuaded the men to come stay at her house.
Later Paul and his companions encountered a slave girl with a spirit of divination, who followed them for days, shouting, “These men are servants of the Most High God, who are telling you the way to be saved.” (Acts 16:17) Paul finally turned and rebuked the spirit, and it left her. Most scholars believe that this slave girl then became a believer.
The owners of the slave girl were so enraged at losing their source of income that they dragged Paul and Silas before the authorities, charging them with stirring up trouble in their city. Paul and Silas were stripped and beaten severely, then placed in the inner cell of the prison with their feet in the stocks.
Next comes one of my favorite stories in the Bible:
At midnight Paul and Silas were not feeling sorry for themselves, but rather singing hymns to God while the other prisoners listened. Instead of applause, what they heard next was a violent earthquake that shook the foundation of the prison. The doors flew open, and everyone’s chains fell off!
Considering the situation and how dark it was, it’s easy to understand why the jailer assumed the prisoners were all escaping. This was a serious and shameful blunder for a Roman jailer, who would be executed for dereliction of duties. (I guess the Roman Empire didn’t accept “violent earthquake” as an excuse.) The poor jailer drew his sword to kill himself, but Paul called out to him that they were all still there.
The jailer called for lights, rushed in, and fell trembling before Paul and Silas. He then brought them out and asked, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?”
They replied, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved – you and your household.” (Acts 16:29-31)
Paul and Silas then gave a brief Bible teaching to the jailer and the others in his house, telling them about how Jesus came to save all of us by giving His life on the Cross to pay for our sins. They told them all that anyone who believed in Him and His atoning sacrifice would be forgiven, saved, and assured of eternal life with Him in heaven.
All the people believed! The jailer washed the disciples’ wounds, then he and his whole household were baptized, having received Jesus Christ as their Savior and Lord.
THAT’S RIGHT, FOLKS. The man who once began each day thanking God he wasn’t a Gentile, a woman, or a slave, founded what was to become his most beloved church, the Church at Philippi, whose first members were a woman, a slave girl, and a Gentile jailer.
Prayer: Lord, You have such creative ways of humbling our proud hearts. Thanks You for giving us the happy gift of laughing at ourselves. Help us never to take ourselves too seriously or think too highly of ourselves, but to recognize that every person You created is of equal importance, deserving our respect, and eligible for citizenship in Your kingdom. In Jesus’ name, amen.
P.S. The gospel that Paul and Silas taught to the jailer and his household is just as true today as it was back then, and as Paul learned, you don’t have to be a Jewish man to believe in Jesus and be adopted into God’s family. You only need to acknowledge your sin and need for a savior, believe that Jesus died for your sins, and surrender to him, asking Him to be the Lord of your life. Connect with him each day through prayer (talking to Him) and reading the Bible, and ask Him to lead you to a good fellowship of believers (church). This could begin the biggest, most glorious adventure of your life. For more details, check out this two-part series: