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"Tortured For Christ"
Message summary: Acts 16 describes a prison experience that Paul and Silas had in Philippi. In the account we are probably most familiar with the conversion of the jailer. But let us try to feel what they felt in the three verses we have selected today.
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"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" (Acts 16:23-25).
Richard Wurmbrand wrote the book "Tortured For Christ" chronicling his 14 year imprisonment, persecution, and suffering during the time of Communist occupation of Romania following WW2. Later he started what is now known as "The Voice Of The Martyrs", a ministry calling attention to persecuted Christians everywhere (and sadly that's a lot of places).
For many years we have appreciated the ministry of "The Voice Of The Martyrs" and have been to conferences they sponsor as well as their headquarters several times in Bartlesville Oklahoma. Perhaps you receive a monthly magazine like we do and regular emails reminding us of how so many of our brothers and sisters are being persecuted all over the world.
We just watched a movie available on YouTube that tells his story along with his wife Sabina. (LINK BELOW) As we watched it I considered the time of his suffering was not in the ancient times or middle ages but actually during my life time. As I was growing up in Belton, a small town near Kansas City, Missouri he was undergoing excruciating suffering. My world was rather small and sheltered at that time in part from a desire of my parents to protect me from the harsh realities. However they probably didn't even know just how many were suffering around the world.
But ultimately Wurmbrand's story is one of victory. He was prepared to die for Christ and had a deep assurance that he would go to be with the Lord. His captors knew this and opted for slow torture in ways practically unimaginable. After watching the movie last night Brooksyne and I went to bed with heavy hearts and even this morning images of the types of persecution still came to our minds that were so deeply troubling.
“I have seen Christians in communist prisons with fifty pounds of chains on their feet, tortured with red-hot iron pokers, in whose throats spoonfuls of salt had been forced, being kept afterward without water, starving, whipped, suffering from cold—and praying with fervour for the communists. This is humanly inexplicable! It is the love of Christ, which was poured out in our hearts.” – Richard Wurmbrand.
Acts 16 describes a prison experience that Paul and Silas had in Philippi. In the account we are probably most familiar with the conversion of the jailer. But let us try to feel what they felt in the three verses we have selected today.
"And when they had inflicted many blows upon them". Growing up I received spankings several times both at home and at school (both were legal and socially acceptable back then and generally benefitted the one who was being disciplined). It was a just form of discipline for wrongdoing and applied to a part of my anatomy that even then had adequate cushioning to prevent any harm, save the sting of the paddle and the humiliation. Our principal had a big paddle that hung in his office as a visual warning saved for occasions like I experienced.
But I have never been beaten in the slightest way similar to the way Paul and Silas and Wurmbrand and scores of others have experienced.
"They threw them into prison, ordering the jailer to keep them safely." I have never been thrown into prison for wrongdoing let alone for obeying Christ. To "keep them safely" probably has the sense of not allowing them to escape rather than keeping them out of harm's way since the next verse states "Having received this order, he put them into the inner prison and fastened their feet in the stocks." I have never had my feet fastened in stocks which sounds brutal if for very long at all.
That surely must have put Paul and Silas in a foul mood with accompanying cursings and so forth. They would surely be very anxious and fearful about what the next day would hold. But as you know that wasn't the case!
"About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God." Wurmbrand describes how they actually used the shackles of their chains as musical instruments while they sang together in prison, striking a rhythm just as people do clapping their hands to a rhythm. (This is shown in the movie and it is moving to observe those imprisoned for their faith seeking to give God the glory even while restrained and physically suffering; many times they were beaten again for continuing to pray after being told not to do so.
"And the prisoners were listening to them" We can be a witness for Christ in any setting we find ourselves. People are watching and listening!
As we study the lives of the persecuted, and specifically as described in this movie, we wonder, could we withstand such cruelty and suffering and still respond in loving concern for the souls of those who hurl the abuse. But we're also reminded that God gives us grace for any situation He allows us to experience and He will supply it at the moment we need it most.
Be encouraged today, (Hebrews 3:13)
Stephen & Brooksyne Weber
Daily prayer: Father, we pray for our persecuted brothers and sisters as they work to advance the gospel despite growing opposition. Grant them endurance for the days ahead that will help to make them “strong and very courageous” as mentioned in the Bible. Paul asked fellow believers to “pray also for me, that whenever I open my mouth, words may be given me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it fearlessly, as I should.” We also say the same prayer for those who are presently suffering for their faith, that they will be fearless and declare the gospel message no matter the opposition they face. And may the presence of the comforting Holy Spirit be as an anesthetic to their pain as our dear Brother Jesse Dourte often prayed. In the name of Jesus we pray. Amen.
See Ephesians 6:19-20
Brooksyne's Note: A group of Korean business leaders were visiting Donnelson Fellowship just outside Nashville, when Pastor Morgan asked them about the plight of Christians in North Korea. One leader responded, "They have suffered greatly, there has been terrible persecution and thousands of Christians have died for their faith, yet many believers still worship despite danger and death threats. When they gather it's in complete secrecy; and when they sing, it is done in silence. They open their mouths in unison, but they allow no sound from their voices for fear of being overheard."
I had heard this same story from Russian refugees years earlier whom we befriended through our chaplaincy role at their company in Lancaster. I shared their story with our congregation the following Sunday and led them in singing silently for a stanza or two from a hymn to give them the feel for what our persecuted brothers and sisters experience weekly in the underground church. I believe it made us sing with more intensity and gratitude when we resumed our normal style of singing.
Ruth Bell Graham said something to the effect: "We should sing when we feel like it, for it is a shame to miss such an opportunity; we should sing when we don't feel like it, for it is dangerous to remain in such a condition."
Brooksyne's Note 2: I awakened through the night and turned on WDAC our local Christian Radio Station and listened to guest speaker Olesia from the Ukraine share the realities of war in Ukraine. Can the war in Ukraine be used for God's glory and the good of His people? Olesia is there, and her faith says, "Yes," even when human reasoning can't understand it. Be encouraged, and learn how to better lift our brothers and sisters in Eurasia up in prayer. Here's the link if you care to listen.
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Scripture references are from The Holy Bible: New International Version. © 1984 by International Bible Society; NEW AMERICAN STANDARD BIBLE®, Copyright © 1995 by The Lockman Foundation, New King James Version (NKJV) Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. and the King James Version.
Personal Mission Statement: "I am created by God to bring Him glory. Through God's Son Jesus Christ I have been redeemed and make it my life's goal to please the Lord. My mission in life is to honor God through my faith and obedience and prepare myself and all whom I may influence for eternity."
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