For we are unto God a sweet savour of Christ, in them that are saved, and in them that perish: to the one we are the savour of death unto death; and to the other the savour of life unto life. 2Cor. 2:15,16
Has it ever struck you as being odd that when Paul and Silas sang praises to God and the foundations of the prison they were in shook and the prison doors sprang open and every one of the prisoners found the shackles that bound them falling away from their hands and feet and necks (Acts 16)… has it ever occurred to you as strange that none of the prisoners thought of taking their chances and escaping from the prison? When the prison guard came and saw the prison doors wide open he knew for a certainty that all the prisoners had escaped, and he drew his sword to kill himself, to die honorably. Paul jumped up and told him, “Do not harm yourself, Sir, we are all here.”
There is no belittling the fact that the earthquake was an impressive occurrence and there is no doubting the fact that it shook many things in that prison. It would therefore be the most natural thing to assume that the reason the apostles’ fellow prisoners did not run away immediately was because they were too shell-shocked to do anything. There was no other reason to prevent them from taking advantage of this great miracle and running for their freedom.
But I can assure you that something of even grander proportions happened in the hearts of all the men who were with Paul and Silas that night. There is a more profound reason as to why matters did not follow a natural course and why there was neither a stampede nor a mass prison break. I am sure the prisoners did not feel scared or threatened by the events that took place in that prison that night. What I believe happened is that the grace that was upon Paul and Silas so revealed the glory of God in that prison room to the extent that no one had the desire to leave. The prisoners did not want to, or were unable to leave the place where Paul and Silas were. Maybe, even, they wanted to hear more of those songs that Paul and Silas sang. They must have been the sweetest melodies any of them had ever heard in their lifetime!
It could well be that on that day many prisoners accepted the Lord Jesus into their lives and happily chose to serve out their prison terms with joy, in the full assurance that they would be serving God even in prison. Many scenarios arise as to what might have actually occurred in this account, but all point to the power of grace. These men – Paul and Silas – had grace and that grace manifested itself in the way it affected their fellow prisoners. That, I dare say, was of more importance than the physical shaking that the earthquake caused.
I would not want to believe that the prison guard and his entire family decided to get saved because they felt threatened by Paul’s God! Oh, no! On the contrary, the grace of God that was upon Paul and Silas’s lives reached out to them and touched their hungry hearts.
Paul would have explained it this way: “For the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness; but unto us which are saved it is the power of God” (1Cor. 1:18).
What is grace? Grace is not an explanation of the virtues of God. Grace is something that goes from us to impact other people’s lives. It is something that makes people say, “Thank you, Lord, for this man!” Grace can only be found where a life is given. That is why the scripture says “…It is more blessed to give than to receive” (Act 20:35). When someone’s life is given, lost, cast upon the waters through a revelation of the Cross in their lives, the life of Christ will be found in that person and people will be touched by it. The two – our life and Christ’s life – cannot co-exist. One is natural, the other is spiritual. One is life-giving; the other (ours) brings death. One of them must give way to the other.
But again, grace is not something that can materialize in our lives overnight, or even simply because we know scripture. It is the result of a work. It is a result of the working of the Cross in a man’s life. This work strips us of our lives, our carnality. Our natural, carnal lives can only die and give way to the life of Christ when we grasp the revelation of the Cross in our hearts and allow it to work fully in our lives. Only when this work has started in our hearts will we carry the Life of Christ in us and impact people’s lives.
The early Church did not explain grace. They defined grace through the lives they lived. They gave a face to grace. That is the same challenge facing today’s Church.