The crowd joined in attacking them, and the magistrates tore the garments off them and gave orders to beat them with rods. And when they had inflicted many blows upon them, they threw them into prison, ordering the jailer to keep them safely. Having received this order, he put them into the inner prison and fastened their feet in the stocks.
About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them, and suddenly there was a great earthquake, so that the foundations of the prison were shaken. And immediately all the doors were opened, and everyone’s bonds were unfastened.
Paul and Silas had been on their way to a prayer meeting when they were arrested. Dragged from the marketplace by a mob, accused of promoting unlawful practice, stripped by magistrates, beaten with rods and thrown into the most secure prison cell, their feet locked in stocks.
Imagine you had been treated like this by your townspeople, police and local magistrates. How would you feel? What would be going through your head? What would you be planning?
Here they were, victims of brutality, yet they were singing. The circumstances didn’t change the disciples’ connection with God. And look what happened: God sent an earthquake that bust all the doors open and released everyone’s bonds. A new church was planted that very night.
Perhaps it could be said the most consistent attitude of the early church was one of joy. It started with joy (Luke 24:51–52) which soon became so overflowing people thought they were drunk (Acts 2:12-15). Paradoxically, this joy was especially revealed as the Church suffered (Acts 5:41, Romans 5:3, James 1:2–3, 1 Peter 4:13).
It’s an incredible picture of what’s possible. They knew something we can often forget: Christ’s resurrection means an unstoppable joy, and Christ’s death means we can know his presence in a very real way through suffering.
Suffering because of our own unrighteousness is another matter entirely. When we’ve done wrong, broken right laws or hurt others, there’s no joy in that, only a responsibility to be honest and make amends. But when we truly suffer for Jesus, facing it with a trusting joy, there’s an inherent transformative power. We gain inner strength from our relationship with Jesus and have confidence in Him.
God wants to be our river of joy. Let us sing.