First Presbyterian Church of Blackwood
21 E. Church Street
Blackwood, NJ 08012
Sermon Notes (Sunday, September 5, 2021)
Rev. Dr. Mouris A. Yousef, Pastor
“About Midnight …!”
As we get to Acts chapter 16, the Church of Jesus of Nazareth is about 20 years young. In less than 20 years, the Church reached north Africa, Asia Minor, and parts of Europe. The year is 49 AD and Paul decided to take his second missionary journey around the Mediterranean; a journey that took him 3 full years. According to the estimate of Professor William Barclay, the first missionary journey finished about five years before the events of Acts 16. I bet Paul was anxious to see for himself how the work of the Lord continued among these churches he founded five years before.
So Paul and his fellow traveler, Silas, made it to the city of Philippi. Through the ministry of Paul and Silas, God did some wonderful things in Philippi including casting an evil spirit out of a slave girl. Paul and Silas were thrown into prison for what we today would probably call “disrupting the peace.” The two men were beaten, thrown in jail, put under close guard, and placed in the inner cell with their feet bound in stocks. It was not a pleasant situation for sure.
So what do you do when you have been arrested, beaten, imprisoned, placed under guard, with your feet bound in stocks, for nothing more than preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ? What did Paul and Silas do as they suffer this injustice of being condemned without a trial, humiliated in public, abused, and injured, now bleeding and stiff-legged and cramped on the cold floor of the jail cell? Did they whine and complain shouting their angry cries of outrage? In Acts 16:25, Luke tells us, “About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening to them.”
What do you do at midnight? What do you do when you feel the thickness and the weight of that midnight hour? What do you do when you feel that your life is a mess? What do we do when we find ourselves in that jail cell at midnight? We all have our own prisons. It doesn’t have to be in Philippi; it’s right here where you and I live. It could be the prison of fear and anxiety. It could be our prison of insecurity. It could be the prison of depression and loneliness. It could be the prison of doubt and disbelief.
The account of Paul and Silas in the ancient prison of Philippi has always moved me and I believe it has so much to say to us today. Two ways this story speaks to us today:
First: When Facing Midnight Hour, Turn to God
The first thing that we see is that Paul and Silas turned to God. Acts 16:25 states, “About midnight, Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns.” Don’t skip over this. This isn’t just some throwaway phrase. They were actually communing with the Father in heaven. From there prison cell, they were connecting with God. It would have been so easy for them to just complain and grumble, “Why? Why does God allow this to happen? We are His servants. This should not happen to us.” But instead, they said, “No, we need to speak with God.” The first thing they did is turn to God in prayer.
“About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening to them.” Praying and singing hymns to God.” Often times we become like the Jews exiled in Babylon who couldn’t worship and sing the songs of Zion in the land of their captivity. Listen to these words from Psalm 137:1-4, “By the rivers of Babylon we sat and wept when we remembered Zion. There on the poplars we hung our harps, for there our captors asked us for songs, our tormentors demanded songs of joy; they said, “Sing us one of the songs of Zion!” How can we sing the songs of the Lord while in a foreign land?”
When facing midnight hour, turn to God. Remember His faithfulness. Pour out your heart before Him. Commune with Him. I love the words we use sometimes when we celebrate the Lord’s Supper “It is very meet, right, and our bounden duty, that we should at all times, and in all places, give thanks unto thee, O Lord, holy Father, almighty and everlasting God.” But there is another important lesson and it has to do with the value of faithful companionship.
Second: The Value of Faithful Companions
When facing the midnight hour, it’s extremely important to have faithful companions. Paul and Silas are first mentioned together after the Jerusalem Council in Acts 15. In Acts 15:32, Silas is called a “prophet” who “said much to encourage and strengthen the believers” in Antioch. Silas himself was an encourager. After Paul and Barnabas parted ways, Paul chose Silas as a traveling companion, and they ministered together on the second missionary journey (Acts 15-18). Paul knew he would need some encouragement. For three years, they led a wonderful ministry together. They planted churches, encouraged believers, shared the good news of Christ with so many, and also endured so much together for Christ.
From the Biblical record of Paul and Silas, we learn the value of faithful companions. The words of Ecclesiastes 4:9-12 continue to prove true, “Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their labor … If either of them falls down, one can help the other up. But pity anyone who falls and has no one to help them up … Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.” Their companionship is a model of how believers should relate to each other today.
Friends, the Prophet Isaiah foresaw a time when God’s people will put on “a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair” Isaiah 61:3. It may be a midnight hour in your life right now. It may be midnight for our world today. As followers of Christ, midnight hour is a time to turn to God. It’s not a time for weeping or crying; rather, it’s a time for praying. It’s a time for seeking strength, companionship, and deeper fellowship with God’s people, with the Body of Christ.
Though we may still struggle with daunting challenges, and not see a way out, the invitation for us today is to turn anew to God and to learn how to lean on each other. “Weeping may stay for the night, but rejoicing comes in the morning,” says David in Psalm 30:5. “About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening to them.” In the Name of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen!
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