READ : Acts 16:19-34
Are you someone who is curious, who likes to ask a lot of questions? I want to talk to you about the most important question you – or anyone else -could possibly ask.
The word philosophy literally means “love of wisdom.” A philosopher is someone who, as a lover of the truth, seeks the wisdom to answer life’s biggest and most perplexing questions. Questions like: Who am I? What does it mean to be human? Why am I here? What’s the purpose of life? Is there a God? What will happen when I die?
In a sense, all of us are philosophers, because we all have to come up with answers to those basic questions. We may not write books about them, or deliver lectures that try to help others understand them like the professional philosophers do. But that doesn’t mean we can dodge these vital issues. You may say you don’t think much about deep things like the nature and purpose of life, or your eternal destiny. But you simply cannot avoid making some kind of decision about these questions. Every last one of us answers these basic questions about existence and meaning, if in no other way than by the choices we make. And eventually we will face a crisis that will prove whether our answers can save us or not. That is what happened in the case of one man, a Roman jailor from the city of Philippi. Let me tell you his story.
IMPRISONED IN PHILIPPI
Paul and his companions, Silas, Luke, and Timothy, had crossed the Aegean Sea from Asia to Europe. They went first to Philippi, a Roman colony in Macedonia (northern Greece). There they preached the good news about Jesus to a small gathering of people who were worshipers of God, and soon a church was begun. But the apostle and his friends promptly got into trouble. One day as Paul and Silas were walking through the city, they came upon a young slave girl who was tormented by an evil spirit. In the name of Jesus Christ they drove out the demon and delivered the girl from her spiritual bondage. But in doing so, the apostles had disrupted a lucrative (though evil) business. This demon-possessed girl was being used to make money for her owners by telling people’s fortunes, and those men were furious over their lost source of income. You know, God cares so much more about people than about property or business or profit. He is always ready to overthrow a money-making enterprise if it involves the violation of human rights.
Unfortunately, in our world money talks, as they say. When compassion for people interferes with making money, it’s usually the rich who win and the poor who suffer. So Paul and Silas were dragged before the authorities and accused of trouble-making – still a common charge against Christians today – then they were beaten and thrown into prison. This is what happened there:
25 About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening to them. 26 Suddenly there was such a violent earthquake that the foundations of the prison were shaken. At once all the prison doors flew open, and everybody’s chains came loose. 27 The jailer woke up, and when he saw the prison doors open, he drew his sword and was about to kill himself because he thought the prisoners had escaped. 28 But Paul shouted, “Don’t harm yourself! We are all here!”
29 The jailer called for lights, rushed in and fell trembling before Paul and Silas. 30 He then brought them out and asked, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?”
Paul and Silas were locked away in the inner prison, a dark, foul, infested dungeon. Having been secured there in the stocks as an extra cruel measure, sleep was out of the question, so the two men passed the night in prayer and hymn singing! An earthquake jarred the doors open and chains loose, and the jailer sleeping nearby awakened and rushed into the prison. Seeing the cell doors standing wide open and thinking that everyone had escaped, he was about to take his own life until Paul’s voice rang out from the darkness to stop him. The jailer, shaken and trembling, looked at these two prisoners with awe. Then he asked them the most important question of his life.
THE JAILER’S QUESTION
“What must I do to be saved?”
Of all the questions we face in life, none is more important than this one. Think for a bit about the man who asked it. About a century earlier the city of Philippi had been taken over by the Romans and made into a colony for the settlement of army veterans and their families. This meant that the jailer in Philippi was probably a retired soldier. He was a rough and hard man in a rough and hard job. But he was the real prisoner that night. Paul and Silas were free. They could sing, even with their arms and feet securely fastened and their backs bloody from the whip. Yet they were free of fear, hatred, anger. The jailer, however, was a captive. He was a prisoner to his past, to his sin and its guilt, a prisoner to his lostness and his ignorance. Like so many of us, this man probably didn’t even recognize his need for God. He was blind as well to his terrible peril of dying and going to hell. It took an earthquake and the threat of perishing in order to wake this man up, not just physically, but spiritually.
We don’t really know any details about the jailer’s background, but one thing we can know for sure from his question is that he had come to recognize his true condition. He was lost, separated from God, and he knew it. He needed saving. What did this man mean when he asked how to be saved? How much did he really understand about the gospel, or about Christ and the salvation from sin that he offers? Probably not a lot. Perhaps the jailer had heard that Paul and Silas had been proclaiming some strange new religion in the city, a different “way of salvation” through Jesus, but he couldn’t have understood much about it. He didn’t know a lot, but at least he understood the very first thing. The jailer knew he needed something more than what he had. He knew he needed saving.
The first thing for us to learn is our own great need. Many of us know so much more than that Philippian jailer did. You may come from a religious background. Perhaps you were raised in the church. Maybe you went to Sunday school when you were a child. You might think you know enough about God, Jesus, and the Bible. But if you don’t know that you need to be saved, you fall far behind this pagan jailer in understanding. Because apart from Jesus Christ, you are just as lost as he was. You don’t have to be a monster of evil to be lost. You don’t have to be a mass murderer or a child molester. You don’t have to be running a stinking Roman prison and make your living by torturing other human beings. No. You can be a fine upstanding citizen and still be lost. You can be a member of the best family and be lost. You can have a good job or a successful career and be lost. You can be sitting respectably in a church pew week after week and be lost -spiritually dead, far from God. Because if you are living without Christ, that is your condition. People, especially relatively good people, don’t like to be told they are sinners under the judgment of God, lost sinners who need to be saved. But it is true nonetheless. Have you ever asked life’s most important question for yourself: What must I do to be saved?
The second thing the jailer’s question reminds us of is our great responsibility. “What must I do to be saved?” Here is a profound truth for which we must be eternally grateful: the good news is all about grace. Salvation is a gift. The gospel is from God, through Christ, from beginning to end. We do nothing to earn it, we take no credit for receiving it, we claim no merit in obeying it. All praise is to him!
But that does not mean we can be completely passive. We have the responsibility to act, to respond to the grace of God. Like the Philippian jailer, I must do something in order to be saved. It’s no good sitting around expecting someone else to do it for me. I can’t hope to be saved by my parent’s response to the gospel, or my husband’s, or my wife’s, or my child’s, or my pastor’s. No. I must decide; I must act for myself. And I cannot blame anyone else -including God -if I don’t respond. God has provided a wonderful way of salvation; it is your and my responsibility to make use of it. “How shall we escape if we neglect so great a salvation?” (Heb. 2:3).
THE APOSTLES’ ANSWER
It was one thing for the jailer to ask Paul and Silas what he had to do to be saved. But what was the all-important answer?
31 They replied, “Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved – you and your household.”
The jailer cried out for an answer. He got one. There is a dangerous trend these days to assume that it’s enough just to ask the big questions about life, without really coming to any definite answers about them. In fact, a lot of people think that these ultimate questions don’t have absolute or knowable answers. The questioning is the thing, they say, not the answering; the intellectual journey is what’s important, not the arrival at any destination. That’s like saying to someone who’s having a heart attack, “It’s enough that you are looking for the hospital; it doesn’t matter whether or not you actually get there.” We need to ask life’s crucial questions. But even more we need to learn their answers from the Word of God.
The first part of Paul’s answer – and how beautifully simple it is – involved faith. “‘Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved – you and your household.’” When we come to understand what we must do in order to be saved, we immediately realize that we don’t actually do anything. We trust rather in what God does for us. We believe. Saving faith has two parts. Negatively, it means repentance, the sorrow for our disobedience and sin, and the turning away from sin toward God. Positively, faith means trusting in the Lord, giving ourselves to him. More that just knowing about Christ, it means to know him in a relationship of trust.
But faith by itself isn’t the whole answer. “Believe in the Lord Jesus,” the apostle said. Paul told the Philippian jailer to put his faith in the Lord Jesus. We can’t accept Jesus as Savior without also surrendering to him as our Lord, and that means our lives must change as we begin to obey Christ. In the case of the Philippian jailer, the change was instantaneous.
32 Then they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all the others in his house. 33 At that hour of the night the jailer took them and washed their wounds; then immediately he and all his family were baptized. 34 The jailer brought them into his house and set a meal before them; he was filled with joy because he had come to believe in God -he and his whole family.
This man’s new faith had an immediate effect upon his behavior. The rough hands that had fastened the apostles’ arms and legs in the dungeon’s stocks now tenderly bathed their wounds. The jailer immediately took Paul and Silas into his home. Instead of curses and blows, the apostles were served a meal. They spoke the word of the Lord to all who were present, and faith took root. Not only was the jailer’s life changed, his entire family’s situation was affected. This tough old Roman soldier assumed the spiritual leadership, and openly identified his new allegiance to Christ by being baptized with his whole household.
What must we do to be saved? Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and be changed! Now for the most important question: Are you doing that?