The sight was enough to shock anyone else in the room.
The soldier was now an accepted member of their house church, and yet there was still a sense of hesitation whenever he knocked on the door for the meetings. These were people, after all, who had been conditioned to hate and fear the Romans. What’s more, they had learned from experience what could happen to those in Philippi who were caught at such Christian meetings.
There was imprisonment, beatings, and perhaps death waiting.
There was, then, a mixture of rejoicing and apprehension when the soldier started coming to the worship times. People were admittedly skeptical – perhaps he was a spy sent there to feign allegiance in order to ferret out the believers. But he had proven himself to be genuine and caring, if a little quiet and reserved.
But tonight was different. He was visibly shaken with emotion and sobs racked his body in the back corner.
It wasn’t that everyone else wasn’t moved emotionally – they were, after all, reading a letter to their church from their beloved Apostle Paul. But when his words about the sacrifice of Jesus, the way he denied his own freedom and privilege for the sake of others, were read, the soldier collapsed in tears. He seemed to be inconsolable.
Somehow, these words had touched him at a deeper level than the others in the room. And then one by one, the people in the room started to understand. They remembered how this soldier came to be in their fellowship in the first place.
They remembered how he was on guard duty when Paul was imprisoned. They recalled that he had held the whip that had bloodied the apostle’s back. And then they remembered how Paul had been singing songs of worship late in the night when the earthquake had come. The prisoners were freed – miraculously so – and one by one they began to walk out of their cells.
The soldier knew what that meant. He would have to pay with his life. So he picked up his sword to do his duty. He leveled his blade against his chest and closed his eyes. And that’s when he felt the hand on his shoulder. He looked up into the smiling face of the man he had beaten the night before. Paul, when given the chance to escape, had chosen to stay. That’s why these words had the emotional punch they did.
This man had seen Paul live out the example of Jesus. Much like Jesus had the choice to stay on His throne but abdicated his position for the sake of mankind, so Paul had willingly stopped walking out of the cell for the sake of this soldier. This soldier who then believed in the message of the one who stayed. The soldier who believed in the message of the One who came.
He wept loudly. And the people in the room began to joyfully join in.
(Based on Acts 16:11-34)