As we wrap up our discussion of Paul and Silas in prison and the difference that our praise can make in our witness and in the lives of those around us, there's one other aspect of this story that we need to talk about, and it centers around mercies.
After the chains fell off all of the prisoners, the guard realized what was happening and panicked. He knew it was his head on the line, and he was pretty sure he was about to lose it (his head, I mean). To be in charge of a prison in which all of the prisoners are suddenly freed is not a good look, and it's running through his heart that he's better off just taking his own life than letting his superiors get their hands on him. He might as well just take the honest, humble way out and save everyone else the trouble.
Then, a voice. "Stop. Wait. We're all here." Every one of the prisoners is still standing there, still sitting in that prison.
Of course, Paul and Silas could have let the guard just kill himself. After all, if you're a prisoner planning an escape, there's no better cover than the fact that there wasn't even a guard at all. If he's dead, you're probably less guilty of leaving than if you push past the guy, right? Not that Paul and Silas were planning an escape, but some of their fellow prisoners most definitely had it on their mind (were they not listening to the men who set them free). It just tidies up a lot of loose ends if you let the guard kill himself.
But it wouldn't have been truth. And if it's not truth, then it has no place in the testimony that Paul and Silas are building.
So the first mercy is that Paul tells the jailer the truth - there's no reason to panic, no reason to fret; all of the prisoners are still here and God, the God of all glory and grace, has not put this jailer's life on the line when He set the prisoners free. (Man, this is so important. We could talk for awhile about how God's freedom doesn't make more captives. But I digress. Or do I?)
Having heard the truth, the jailer looks around and sees for himself. And then, he returns the mercy - by washing Paul and Silas's wounds.
We can't overlook this. Paul and Silas have been sitting in jail with this jailer for hours by now, and at no point did this jailer offer, apparently, to even let them clean their own wounds. They're just sitting there, covered in blood and stinging in the raw places where their flesh has been ripped open, and this jailer has absolutely zero concern about this. Until he hears truth. Until he's offered mercy. Then, he offers mercy in return.
And in a twist that is so God, as the jailer is washing Paul and Silas's wounds, he asks them about being saved and the answer is...that God must wash his. God must wash the stinging flesh of the jailer if he wants to be saved. So, the mercy turns once more and Paul and Silas, whose wounds have just been washed, wash the wounds of the jailer - the last man in the prison to be set free.
This story is so deep, so wonderful. So amazing. It's got so many layers if you just follow the mercies through it, starting with truth and ending with grace, and we know that this is only the beginning of this story - we don't know what happens next.
This is the kind of story we ought to be writing in the world ourselves. This is the way that grace works itself out - through mercy. This kind of thing can absolutely happen today, and it should be.
It's like this: we tell the world the truth. The world sees that what we say is actually true and responds to us with tender mercy, a mercy it never had before. In the midst of that tender mercy, we start talking about grace. And bam, here we are - so-called prisoners setting the jailer free.
And it all started with a simple hymn of praise.