Signs and Wonders! — Week Six
There are two stories here. The first story concerns Paul, who — by the power of Jesus Christ — exorcises the demon from the slave girl, which her owners witness. As a result of this first act, Paul and Silas are brought before the authorities where they are accused of disturbing the city. A crowd attacks them and beats them; then they are thrown in prison. While in prison, Paul and Silas begin praying and singing; and the other prisoners and the jailer listen to them. Then there is an earthquake, and everyone in jail is set loose. Paul and Silas don’t run, but instead stay to minister to the jailer. Upon seeing the faith of the imprisoned disciples of Jesus Christ and then experiencing grace through Paul and Silas as they stuck around even when they could have run off, the guard at the jail was so moved by what he saw and experienced that not only did he not kill himself, but he converted to be a follower of Jesus. He and his entire household were baptized into the faith.
This story, like the other readings for this day, points to the importance of witness in bringing others to know the saving power of Jesus Christ. And clearly these stories show that the most powerful witness we can give is not by our words, but by our example. We can witness to the power of Christ to bring healing by responding to people even when we are initially annoyed by them, as shown in the first example. Paul is annoyed by the slave girl because she had been following them around for many days and publicly jeering them about their activities. But instead of responding to her with anger, Paul invoked the power of Christ to heal her.
What is the sign and wonder here? Perhaps it is tempting to focus on the miraculous power of Christ to exorcise a demon or bring about conversion in a non-believer. But I want to suggest another perspective on this. In a time when it is becoming increasingly popular for people to enthusiastically proclaim their atheism while at the same time jeering Christians for our perceived ignorance for believing in God, let alone Christ, it could be very tempting to give in to our feelings of annoyance or even anger. But how much more powerful would it be if we could follow the example of Paul, and instead of entering into an angry debate, simply invoke the power of Christ to bring healing to our broken world. We don’t have to tell folks that we are doing this; we can quietly witness to our faith by our example, by continuing to do what we have always done as Christians: by holding on to our faith and by praying and singing hymns to God.
As the words to the hymn proclaim, “they’ll know we are Christians by our love” more than they will know we are Christians by our failing to trust in ourselves more than we trust in God to sort out the problems in this world. I don’t know about you, but I’m tired of the constant pressure to defend my faith to folks who don’t want to hear it. It doesn’t do any good. What does do some good, I think, is to share about my own experience of feeling the power of Christ at work among the people I know, or to simply let my friends who are not Christians know that I love them as they are. It isn’t up to us to convince others of the power of Christ; that is God’s work. All I need to do is bear faithful witness to how I see God working in my own life and try to love God’s people with faith and hope and genuine Christian caring.