Don Cowie
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Watch: The Event

"I don't experience my life. It's my life that allows me to experience." - Peter Rollins

Our new life in Christ is not an experience, rather it essentially enables us to experience life, and life abundant. Furthermore, it changes everything we then experience as fully living beings.

The resurrection of Christ was indeed a kind of traumatic event, one which altered the course of all things. As we've discussed over the last few weeks, it profoundly altered the lives of everyone we meet in the book of Acts. We see the legalistic, prejudiced Peter declare that no one is "unclean." We see the violent, vengeful Paul become a man of non-violence and grace. We see the forsaken widow Dorcas given back her life. And we see Lydia, a successful business woman, also join in the resurrected life of Jesus and his community.

Throughout Acts we continue to see how this life changed and challenged everything, as in this amazing story. . .

What strikes you here? What ironies and reversals do you see? What about the story speaks to a newness of experience?

Theologian Walter Brueggemann describes how Acts 16 paints a picture of a greedy, self-deceiving, status quo society:

There is a used slave-girl fortune-teller who thinks that the future is all fated and can be programmed with certitude. There are money-making exploiters, the banker-pimps who use the innocent fortune-teller to generate private wealth. There are the magistrates who use their authority to maintain the status quo and prevent any social "disturbance." And there’s a prison that is a social statement about power and order that constitutes a threat to any who act "outside the box."

Paul frees the slave out of simple frustration (you get the sense that he didn't yet realize the powers he possessed!) - "Out! In the name of Jesus Christ, get out of her!" And it was gone, just like that.

The society Paul and Silas encounter here jails them for bringing freedom to a young girl. All the societal powers described above were aligned against the life-giving freedom offered by Jesus. Those powers were used to "beat with rods" and imprison those serving the vulnerable. (Why? Because it impacted profits.)

Key to this story is how Paul and Silas yield to these minor powers in order to see the ultimate power displayed. At no point in his arrest, beating or jailing does Paul claim his Roman citizenship (which may have made a difference). But more importantly, when the earthquake throws open the prison doors, they don't take it as a sign to run. Instead, they actually consider what might happen to the guard.

This speaks hugely to the transforming life of Jesus. Through him, we choose to put others, even our enemies, above our personal freedoms. And it gives us that supernatural perspective that although we may be physically free (freed from jail), without love and forgiveness we remain in chains. Freedom is found in loving others, in seeing them made free.

Yes, the resurrection had, overwhelmingly and traumatically, changed Paul, and in doing so also changed the way life was experienced for everyone he touched. No longer were these lives based on self-preservation, but on the self-giving love of Jesus - the one who didn't access all the power and might in the universe in order to save himself, but rather laid it down, out of love.

There is something breathtaking about the sovereign freedom the apostles exercise here. They are not intent on minimizing risk or saving their own skins. They don't use privilege to avoid disgrace. And so they appear undisgraceable.

Another key element in this story is how the resurrection power changes the experience of fear. Two parties are portrayed as fearful: the merchants, who fear loss of livelihood (position, power and prestige); and the jailer who fears for his life.

In stark contrast, Paul and Silas sit in chains, preaching, singing, praying, staying - acting anything but fearful. In fact it seems the only motivator at work in them was the fear, if you can call it that, that they would fail to love like Jesus loves.