Summary: There was a certain course of events that led to the salvation of the Philippian jailer, and these have certain implications with reference to our witnessing today.

The Jailer Who Received Jesus

Text: Acts 16: 29-34

Intro: The portion of scripture we’ve just read is filled with suspense and excitement—the result of a midnight earthquake and an attempted suicide. Lest we view this account as merely a Bible story, let me be quick to remind us that these events literally happened. This is a real-life account of how a whole household came to trust Christ as Savior.

In studying this account I was struck by the series of events that led to the salvation of the Philippian jailer and his family. So many of the implications from this account are applicable to us today. For instance, in anyone’s salvation experience, there is a series of events that lead up to a person receiving Christ. In this particular situation there were a number of parts that came together: (1) The saints’ part, (2) The Savior’s part, and (3) The sinner’s part. God will often go to great lengths to bring a lost soul to salvation. But ultimately the sinner must make a choice—they must see their need, humble themselves before God, and receive His free gift.

As we study this account today, may we determine to be available to God to do our part that others might be brought to Christ.

Theme: What are the events that led to the jailer’s receiving Jesus?

I. THE SINGING OF GOD’S PRAISES (The Saint’s Part—Joy And Christ-likeness)

A. Paul And Silas Rejoiced In Spite Of Their Beating.

Acts 16: 19 “And when her (the soothsayer’s) masters saw that the hope of their gains was gone, they caught Paul and Silas, and drew them into the marketplace unto the rulers,

20 And brought them to the magistrates, saying, These men, being Jews, do exceedingly trouble our city,

21 And teach customs, which are not lawful for us to receive, neither to observe, being Romans.

22 And the multitude rose up together against them: and the magistrates rent off their clothes, and commanded to beat them.

23a And when they had laid many stripes upon them, they cast them into prison…”

NOTE: [1] Verse 19 tells us that this young woman’s masters “drew” Paul and Silas into the market place. One translation of this section says, “…having seized Paul and Silas, dragged them by the heels into the market place to the civil rulers…” (Kenneth S. Wuest, The New Testament, An Expanded Translation, published by Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, Grand Rapids, Michigan; pg. 314).

[2] After being dragged by the heels before the magistrates, Paul and Silas were falsely accused of causing trouble in the city, and spreading unlawful customs. They were then beaten with rods. “It was customary to inflict the blows on the naked body” (Alvah Hovey, D.D., LL.D., Editor, An American Commentary On The New Testament, Vol. IV, published by The American Publication Society, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; pg. 189).

B. Paul And Silas Rejoiced In Spite Of Their Bonds.

Acts 16: 23 “And when they had laid many stripes upon them, they cast them into prison, charging the jailer to keep them safely:

24 Who, having received such a charge, thrust them into the inner prison, and made their feet fast in the stocks.”

NOTE: [1] The stocks, which were used here, are described as follows:

This was an instrument for torture as well as confinement. It was a heavy piece of wood with holes into which the feet were put, so far apart as to distend the limbs in the most painful manner.

Ibid, pg. 189.

[2] One would have thought that Paul and Silas had just murdered someone by the way the officials had them confined. After having been severely beaten with rods, they were not only placed in the stocks, but also in the “inner prison;” or in other words, the most remote and secure cell of the prison.

C. Paul And Silas Rejoiced In Spite Of The Blackness.

Acts 16: 25 “And at midnight Paul and Silas prayed, and sang praises unto God: and the prisoners heard them.”

NOTE: [1] Think of it folks. Paul and Silas had been beaten (not to mention being publicly humiliated), placed in bonds, and were now sitting in the blackness of midnight; and yet they still blessed God with songs of praise. Can you hear them singing “Amazing Grace?” “How could that be?” you might ask. Tertullian said it best: “Nothing the limb feels in the stocks when the mind is in heaven.”

[2] The world notices how Christians respond to trials. I am convinced that some people may never be saved because they’ve seen too many “sad sack” Christians. As far as they can tell, there’s no benefit to being saved. I’m not saying that a Christian should never be discouraged or shed tears. What I am saying is that walking around in “the dumps” should not be a way of life for the Christian.

Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., was a member of the U.S. Supreme Court for 30 years. His mind, wit and work earned him the unofficial title of “the greatest justice since John Marshall.”

At one point in his life, Justice Holmes explained his choice of a career by saying: “I might have entered the ministry if certain clergymen I knew had not looked and acted so much like undertakers.”

Moody Bible Institute’s Today In The Word, June, 1988, p. 13.

[3] Paul and Silas rejoiced when things seemed to be at their very darkest. Only a heavenly mindset can produce that kind of response. Someone has said, “Joy is the byproduct of obedience” (Source Unknown). These two servants of God were suffering because they had obeyed God. Why shouldn’t they be filled with joy? I believe these men’s joy in the midst of adversity played a big part in the Philippian jailer’s salvation.

II. THE SHAKING OF THE PRISON (The Savior’s Part—Revealing His Power To Save)

A. The Jail Was Shaken Ajar.

Acts 16: 26 “And suddenly there was a great earthquake, so that the foundations of the prison were shaken: and immediately all the doors were opened, and every one’s bands were loosed.”

B. The Jailer Was Suddenly Awakened.

Acts 16: 27 “And the keeper of the prison awaking out of his sleep, and seeing the prison doors open, he drew out his sword, and would have killed himself, supposing that the prisoners had been fled.”

NOTE: [1] This jailer was physically asleep until an act of God awakened him. In a similar fashion, many people today who are spiritually asleep need to be awakened by the prayers of the saints and the power of the Spirit.

[2] Sometimes God will use drastic measures to awaken the hearts of the lost. Paul once told the Thessalonian church, “Therefore let us not sleep, as do others…” (I Thess.5: 6a). The word translated “sleep” makes reference to “spiritual lethargy and insensitivity” (John F. Walvoord and Roy B. Zuck, Editors, The Bible Knowledge Commentary, New Testament Edition, published by Victor Books, Wheaton, Illinois; pg. 706). The idea here is that spiritual lethargy and insensitivity is the norm for the world. 9/11 may have been one of God’s drastic measures to wake some folks up. And I often fear that there are more on the way.

C. The Jailer’s Suicide Was Safely Averted.

Acts 16: 27b “…and seeing the prison doors open, he drew out his sword, and would have killed himself, supposing that the prisoners had been fled.

28 But Paul cried with a loud voice, saying, Do thyself no harm: for we are all here.”

NOTE: [1] The escape of a prisoner was an automatic death sentence for a Roman guard. Having been startled awake by the rumbling of the earthquake, and noticing the prison doors open, this jailer assumed the worst. He decided it was better to die at his own hand than to be executed in disgrace.

[2] In one sense, this Roman jailer knew that “…the wages of sin is death…” (Rom.6: 23a). However, a few moments later, Paul would help this jailer to realize that death was not necessary. There was a way of escape, both physically and spiritually. This is exactly what we Christians of today must help the lost to realize; for God’s Word says, “…but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Rom.6: 23b). Jesus has already suffered death for their sins.

III. THE SEARCHING FOR GOD’S PEACE (The Sinner’s Part—To Search Out The Answer For His Soul’s Unrest)

Acts 16: 29 “Then he called for a light, and sprang in, and came trembling, and fell down before Paul and Silas,

30 And brought them out, and said, Sirs, what must I do to be saved?”

NOTE: [1] The jailer’s question might seem abrupt to us. But remember that Paul and Silas had been preaching in Philippi for a number of days before being arrested. This jailer may have actually heard their preaching concerning Christ. He would have at least known that they professed to be the servants of God, and claimed to preach the way of salvation.

[2] Though an earthquake had just shaken the prison, no one had been killed. And though all the prisoners’ bonds had been loosed, no one had escaped. This jailer seems to instinctively realize that this miracle was because of Paul and Silas. This was all he needed to finally convince him that what they’d been preaching was true. He now wanted to know their God.

IV. THE SHARING OF GOD’S PROMISE (The Saints’ Part—To Be Available To Share God’s Message)

Acts 16: 31 “And they said, Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved, and thy house.

32 And they spake unto him the word of the Lord, and to all that were in his house.”

NOTE: [1] Paul and Silas didn’t answer this man’s question with a list of good works to perform; only that he “believe on the Lord Jesus Christ” (Acts 16: 31). The word “believe” means to “trust in” or “rely upon.”

[2] The Greek rendering of this portion of verse 31 is more emphatic, translating these words as, “…Put your trust at once, and once for all in the Lord Jesus…” (Kenneth S. Wuest, The New Testament, An Expanded Translation, published by Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, Grand Rapids, Michigan; pg. 315). That’s exactly the message of something Paul once told the Corinthians: “…Behold, now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation…” (II Cor.6: 2b).

[3] I also like the rendering of The Amplified Bible here:

…Believe in and on the Lord Jesus Christ—that is, give yourself up to Him, take yourself out of your own keeping and entrust yourself into His keeping, and you will be saved…

The Lockman Foundation, The Amplified Bible, published by Zondervan Bible Publishers, Grand Rapids, Michigan; New Testament, pg. 202.

[4] Jesus, through Paul and Silas gave this man one of the greatest promises a person could ever receive: “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved, and thy house” (Acts 16: 31). Be rest assured, “You can’t break God’s promises by leaning on them!” (Source Unknown).

V. THE SAVING OF SIN’S PRISONER (The Savior’s Part—To Save The Sinner In Response To His Faith)

A. His Changed Actions Proved His Salvation.

1. We find this jailer showing instinctive compassion.

Acts 16: 33a “And he took them the same hour of the night, and washed their stripes…”

2. We find this jailer identifying with Christ.

Acts 16: 33b “…and was baptized, he and all his, straightway.”

B. His Changed Attitudes Proved His Salvation.

Acts 16: 34 “And when he had brought them into his house, he set meat before them, and rejoiced, believing in God with all his house.”

NOTE: [1] To share a meal with someone was considered, in the custom of the day, to be not only a matter of hospitality, but fellowship as well. Here are people who were once technically, enemies of Christ and Christians, now having fellowship together.

[2] Not only are they having fellowship with Christians, but also they are rejoicing over Christ.

Theme: What are the events that led to the jailer’s receiving Jesus?