Summary: A sermon on the Philippian Jailer
One of the most amazing things about reading the Bible is the more you read it, the more you discover. No matter how many times you read or preach a passage, you can always find more gold if you keep digging.
Psalm 119:127 Therefore I love Your commandments More than gold, yes, than fine gold!
There is no telling how many times I have read and reread the Scripture I want us to look at today. I’ve preached sermons and taught lessons on it before, but as I reread this story recently, I discovered more gold. I want to share it with you this morning in a true story I have entitled The Night the Jailer Found His Freedom.
The story begins in Acts 16:16, where a doctor named Luke, records how he, the apostle Paul and are missionary coworker named Silas are headed to a prayer meeting in a city called Philippi. On their way they’re met by a young slave girl who is possessed by demon. Imagine the devil coming to meet somebody on their way to prayer meeting!
Being an apostle of the Lord Jesus Christ, Paul casts the demon out of her, and everybody rejoices to see this young lady finally free from the devil’s grip. Not really---you see, there are these low life men who’ve been using this poor slave girl to make their living. Come see the demon girl tell your fortune! Get in touch with the spirit world! For only a small fee, she can see your future! But all that’s over now. Paul has robbed them of their financial security.
So back in vs. 20 Scripture tells us these fine upstanding citizens bring Paul and Silas to court, charging them basically with being trouble makers, and disturbing the peace. In a Roman court, the Romans always win, so the magistrates order Paul and Silas to be stripped and beaten, and then given over to the custody of the character I want us to consider this morning—an unnamed jailer who doesn’t know that before the night is over, he will find his freedom.
This jailer enters the story as a seemingly minor character in vs. 23-24. He’s just the man with the keys, the man who takes custody of two bruised and beaten missionaries and puts them in jail for safekeeping until their trial. If this were a movie the jailer would be one of the bit parts. You’d never know who played the jailer unless you watched all of those tiny credits at the end of the film. But by the time you get to vs. 34, you almost get the feeling that he is a very important person in this drama.
We don’t even know his name, and yet there are some things about this character we can be sure of.
He is obviously a trusted, well respected man in his community. You don’t hand the keys of the jail to just anybody. He’s a man who knows how to handle responsibility. He knows how to take orders and to give orders. When the magistrates order him to keep them securely in vs. 23, he doesn’t just put them in jail—he puts them in the inner prison and fastened their feet in stocks (v. 24).
He’s probably a man who’s seen a lot others never see. Imagine the criminals he has escorted to prison. He’s seen the murderers, the revolutionaries, the thieves, the lunatics. Nothing much phases him. He doesn’t pay much attention to why they go to jail, only on doing his job and taking them to the dungeon and keeping them there until they are called for. He carries a sword to handle anybody who gets out of line. As he escorts Paul and Silas to their cells and places them in their stocks, he’s probably not impressed one way or the other.
This story also mentions the fact the jailer is a family man—a husband, a father, maybe with a rather large family. He doesn’t spend all of his time locking up prisoners. He has a home where his wife calls him sweetheart, and his kids call him daddy. He is not only the breadwinner, but the leader of his home. I think this story lets us know that he takes his duties as husband and father pretty seriously. He wants the best for his family, and works hard to see they get it.
If you think of this jailer as just an ordinaryman living an ordinary life, you’ve got the picture. He’s a lot like most of us today: ordinary men and women, boys and girls, doing the best we can to make the best of life. But there’s one more thing I want to point out to you about this jailer: he’s a prisoner. He is a prisoner in what I call the prison of maximum security illusion.