“And the prisoners were listening.” That phrase from the testimony story we just read in Acts 16 always sticks out to me. When Paul and Silas were unjustly thrown into the prison in Philippi, they didn’t bemoan their fate. The Bible says they were up at midnight in the prison, singing and praising God. And the prisoners were listening. That is a great reminder for us, by the way: the “prisoners” are always listening. People around us are always listening! We need to make sure that they hear something good from us when we speak – a witness for the Lord. “The prisoners were listening.”
But it was not only the prisoners who were listening – Acts 16 tells us that the jailer was listening also — and it led him to Christ. This morning we are going to look at the story of how the Philippian Jailer came to know Jesus as his Lord & Savior. As we do, make sure that YOU TOO are listening, to how you can know that you have a story of salvation as well.
I. THE CIRCUMSTANCES THAT CONVICTED HIM (:25-30)
Verse 25 tells us that while they were in prison, Paul & Silas were singing, and :26 says that a “great earthquake” shook the jail, and everyone’s chains were unfastened. Verses 27-30 tell us that when the jailer saw that the prison doors were opened and that everyone’s chains were off, he thought they had all escaped. And he despaired. They tell us it was customary for a jailer, if he allowed a prisoner to escape, to have to serve the punishment for the prisoner’s crimes. And earlier in Acts 12, when Peter had escaped from prison, Herod had ordered the guards to be led away and put to death. This jailer was not going to wait for that; he despaired of his own life, and was going to take his own life. And when, miraculously to him, he saw that Paul and all the prisoners were still there, he was so humbled, so shaken, so open now to whatever God had for him, that he cried out: “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” The circumstances were his worst nightmare; to him it meant the end of his life. But God meant for these circumstances to bring him to the beginning of his new life!
You know, God often uses adverse circumstances to lead people to Himself. Many people in the Bible were like that:
— it took this jailer almost losing his life for him to come to Jesus;
— it took the thief being on the cross for him to put his trust in Him;
— it took one man being blind, and another being paralyzed.
— It took the man in Mark 5 being taken over by demons;
— it took the woman in John 8 being caught in the act of adultery;
— it took the Prodigal Son losing everything that he had.
They all came to the Lord because of difficult and distressing circumstances they were going through.
We need to realize that one of the purposes for which God often uses our circumstances is to show us how much we need Him, and to get us turn our hearts to Him.
One of the new things we hope to do next year here at Pleasant Ridge is to have a World Mission Conference, in which we will focus on all of the missions connections we have, and share opportunities that each one of us has to give, and pray, and go on mission. Several years ago, we had a Missions Conference like that at our church in Louisiana, and one of the missionaries who came to our conference told us about a young man they had been witnessing to on the mission field for over a year. They had shared the gospel with him repeatedly, but he had never been responsive to it. Then that December his father got sick, and had to go to the hospital; they had no money to pay the bills; and this young man ended up losing his job – and he felt like he had just lost all hope. Then during this time, another one of his friends shared the gospel with him, and told him to read the Bible, and think about it. He did; and he ended up giving his life to Jesus as his Savior. The young man told his father: “I have found the True God!”
God used the very difficult circumstances of that young man’s life to help him see his need of a Savior, and to bring him to Himself. God often uses adverse circumstances to lead people to Himself. This may be true of YOUR life here today! You should ask yourself: why has God allowed some of the things that are going on in your life right now, to happen to you? The truth is, God may have allowed you to come into some difficult circumstances right now, to bring you to admit your need for Him. You may be here today because things have gotten difficult in your marriage, or your finances, or your health, or some other area of your life, and you are looking to God for help. God can help you in a lot of ways, but the first and most important thing you need to do is to make Him your own personal Savior and God through Jesus Christ. You need a “story” of salvation in your life! And it may very well be that He has caused or allowed this particular situation to come into your life today – just like He did with the Philippian jailer – so that you could have a story of how He brought you to Himself.
II. THE CONDITION THAT SAVED HIM (:31)
The question that jailer asked in this story is the most important question in the world: “What must I do to be saved?” This is the question everybody asks … all over the world, people are asking this very same question: “What must I do to be saved?” And different religions answer them, and tell them what they think they must “do” to earn their salvation:
— Islam tells a billion people: pray 5 times a day, at exactly 5:33 a.m., and at exactly 4 other times a day, and give alms to the poor, and visit Mecca on a pilgrimage, and fast during Ramadan … then perhaps your good deeds will outweigh your bad, and maybe you can be saved …
–Hinduism tells another billion people: make puja sacrifices, and bathe in the Ganges River, and perhaps you will be reincarnated into a higher state of life next time, and after a series of lifetimes of good works, perhaps you may be saved …
— even some so-called Christian religions tell people: get baptized, and go to church, and give money, and keep the commandments (which we saw a couple of weeks ago that none of us can keep!) and observe rituals and sacrifices, and then perhaps spend years paying for your sins in purgatory, and then you may be saved …
All these religions tell you what you must “do” to be saved. Had salvation depended on those things, there would have been no hope for the thief on the cross, whom we talked about last week. He had not time to do any of those things! He couldn’t be baptized; he could fast; he couldn’t give alms; he couldn’t do any good deeds. Had salvation depended upon good deeds; he would have had only despair.
But it would not have been that thief only who would despair; we would ALL be without hope! Can you be absolutely confident, with your eternal destiny depending upon it, that your good deeds would earn you a place in heaven? I will be honest: I have NO confidence today that my good deeds outweigh my bad; I have no confidence that my good THOUGHTS outweigh my bad (and you do know that God judges thoughts as much as deeds?!).
But do you know what is even worse? The standard for getting into heaven is not a matter of your good deeds outweighing your bad, or your good thoughts outweighing your bad. It is a matter of perfection! Jesus said in Matthew 7:48, “Therefore you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” God is a perfect God; heaven is perfect; there can be no sin there. The standard for getting into heaven on the basis of your good works is perfection itself. Now how does THAT make you feel? It ought to make you give up any hope of earning a place in heaven on the basis of your good deeds.
It would be as if there was a great “exam” to get into heaven — a test of 1000 questions about the Bible, faith and practice – but in order to get in, you could not miss ONE question. How much confidence would you have about getting in? You can’t miss ONE? I don’t think too many of us would have much confidence; I wouldn’t. There is no good answer for us in all the religions of the world, who tells us to try to earn a place in heaven.
But just as that jailer asked the greatest question in all the world, Paul & Silas had the greatest answer in all the world! In fact, it is THE greatest news ever. The news is so good that the very content of it is called the “gospel”, which means, “good news”! What is that “good news”? The good news is that you do not have to “do” anything to “earn” your salvation, but “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved”! The reason that is the greatest news in all the world is because it tells us that your salvation does NOT depend on you trying to compile all the things that you can do to impress God, but all you have to do is just TRUST the great thing that HE did for YOU on the cross! “Believe in the Lord Jesus!” We can do that! This is the greatest, the most liberating news in all the history of the world!
You can picture that good news like this: that just before you were getting ready to go in and take that 1000-question test to try to make a perfect score to get into heaven, at the last minute, just as you were getting ready to enter the doorway, with fear and trembling – Someone tapped you on the shoulder … and you look around, and it is Jesus, and He says: “May I take this test for you? You can have MY score; you do not have to do anything; just trust that I will pass it for you!” Wouldn’t you take Him up on that?
The truth is, this IS what Jesus has done for you! He passed every test of life, perfectly: Hebrews 4:15 says: “He was tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin.” Even His enemies said: “We find no fault in Him.” Jesus passed every test in life perfectly, and He says, “you can have My score – if you just trust what I did for you.” As II Corinthians 5:21 says “(God) made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” That means that God will GIVE us the perfect righteousness (the perfect “score”) of Jesus, that it takes to get us into heaven. You do not have to “do” anything to earn it; just trust that what He did will save you, just as John 3:16 says: “Whosoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have everlasting life.”
This is the greatest news, because it is available to everyone: A many dying on a cross – or in a hospital, or in a home – can believe. The smallest child can believe. The oldest adult can believe. A paralyzed man with no opportunity to do good works can believe. Anyone of any kind, from anywhere in all the world can do believe! YOU can believe! This is good news! Your salvation does not depend on what you can do for Jesus; it depends on you just believing what Jesus did on the cross for you: “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved!”
III. THE CHANGE THAT ASSURED HIM (:32-34)
Now, I want to make one thing very clear: this good news is NOT (what some call) “easy believism”; it is not a matter of just saying: “I believe that there was a person named Jesus who died on the cross.” There are too many people, especially here in the south, in the so-called “Bible Belt”, who think that because they “believe” that there is a person named Jesus – and even what He did – that they are right with God. Virtually everyone you talk to here “believes” in Jesus – and yet many of them show NO evidence of a life that has been touched and changed by Him. Listen to me: a person whose life has not been changed has not truly come in contact with Jesus! Saving faith is NOT just saying “I believe in Jesus.” James 2 says “the demons also believe and shudder” … the demons know very well who Jesus is, and what He did. But they do not have a personal faith in Jesus as their Lord & Savior. James goes on to say: “faith without works is dead.” In other words, works do not save you; faith in what Jesus did saves you. But if you really have that faith, you WILL have works that demonstrate that your life has been changed because your faith is genuine.
This jailer gave every evidence of a person who really believed in Jesus, and whose life was changed as a result. Look at the evidences in these verses of how his life had been changed:
— :33 tells us that he followed through his belief by being baptized. Baptism doesn’t save you; no religious work does. But getting baptized is one of the things someone who has really been saved will want to do, to testify to their faith.
— Secondly, :32, tells us that this man provided an opportunity for the gospel to be shared with his whole household, so that they might all believe too. When you really get saved, you want other people you care about to get saved too. This jailer showed that concern.
— Third, :33 tells us that after he was saved, he went that very hour and washed the wounds of Paul & Silas, and :34 says that served them a meal. He turned around and became a servant, and a minister to others — which is what happens when you really get saved: you want to serve!
So this jailer showed, by his baptism, by his sharing with others, and by his good works of mercy, that he really did believe. His life had been changed. Now understand: getting baptized and telling others and doing good deeds did not save him – it was “Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ” that saved him – but the deeds that the did after he believed demonstrated that his faith was real.
— And notice too his “before and after” story: before he came to Jesus, :29 says he was “trembling with fear”. But after he believed in Jesus, :34 says he “rejoiced greatly”, having believed with his whole household. Faith in Jesus had made a real difference in his life. This was no “easy believism”, but a genuine life-changing faith in Jesus.
This is what happens when a person has genuine saving faith in Jesus. II Corinthians 5:17 says, “If any man is in Christ, he is a new creature; old things have passed away; new things have come.” In other words, if you have really trusted Jesus, and He has come into your life, there will be some changes that happen in your life.. It does not mean that you will be perfect — you never will be as long as you live on this earth – but there will be change.
It is just like with that jailer. He had a “story” of change. If he were working on his “30-second elevator speech”, it might go something like this:
“Before I came to know Christ, I had great fears, lest a prisoner escape, and I would forfeit my life. One day, my worst fears came true, as an earthquake opened the prison, and I thought the prisoners had all escaped, and I would be executed. I decided to take my own life instead. But one of the prisoners explained to me how I could put my faith in Jesus, and ever since that time, I have had a peace and a joy that I never had before, and now I serve God by telling others about Jesus and by ministering to His people.”
That Philippian Jailer had a story of change in his life because of his faith in Jesus. Can I ask you today: Do you have a “story” like that? Do you have a story of change? Again, it may not be dramatic; it may just be: “as a child I was afraid of what would happen if I died, but then I found out that Jesus died on the cross to pay for my sins and give me a home in heaven, and since that time I have never been afraid of dying any more.”
Do you have a “before and after” story like that, of how you were before you came to Jesus, how you heard about Jesus, and how you have been different since? IS your life different than it was — or if you were saved as a young child, different from how it MIGHT have been? Does your life show the evidence of saving faith: Are you serving the Lord? Are you telling people about Him? Do you love to worship Him? Changing and serving and worshipping the Lord does not save you; but if you are saved, there will be a “before & after”; there will be things like this in your life. It will be the change that assures you that your salvation is real.
IV. THE COMPANY THAT ATTENDED HIM (:31-34)
The Impact His Decision Had on Others
When you get saved, other people will be impacted as well. We see that here in :31-34. Paul & Silas told this jailer, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.” And the result was, that his household WAS saved, :34 says.
Now, I need to say at this point, there are some religious groups, who believe in the baptism of babies, who point to this passage as evidence that a parent’s faith saves the child. They say: “See, this man AND his whole household were saved”, and so they baptize the child by the “proxy” faith of the parent. This is one of the few passages to which they can point to even try to support this belief. But if you look at these verses carefully, you can see there is actually NOTHING here to support such a practice! Notice:
— they told him: “You shall be saved, you and your household” (:31)
— but then notice :32 says “they spoke the word of the Lord to him together with all who were in his house.” So each person in his house got an explanation of the gospel! They didn’t just tell the jailer, and expect all the rest of them to be saved as a result; they explained the word of the Lord to all of them. AND, significantly, evidently those who were in his “household” were old enough to have the word of the Lord “spoken” to them so that they could understand it! These were not babies or children who were not old enough to understand. These were people who could be spoken to, and who could understand the gospel, for themselves.
— :34 then says that after they shared the meal together, that the jailer “rejoiced greatly, having believed in God, with his whole household.” So it says they ALL believed this gospel they had heard! They were all saved, because each of them had the word of God explained to them, and because they each personally believed. There was no “proxy salvation” here, in which the father’s faith saved the whole family. There is no mention of babies, or children, or anyone else who did not understand. According to the text, this is the story of the salvation of a number of individuals in a given family, who each had the gospel explained to them, and who each personally believed. There is no “group” or “proxy” salvation taught here whatsoever!
Now, hopefully having made that clear, I will say this: whenever a person comes to the Lord, there is almost always a great opportunity for them to bring others to the Lord with him. We see that in a number of places in scripture:
— In John 1, when Andrew first heard Jesus and believed in Him, the Bible says “he found first his own brother, Simon (Peter) and told him, “We have found the Messiah.” And the next verses tell us that Philip went out and found Nathaniel and told him, and he came to Jesus and was saved as well.
— John 4 tells us that when the woman at the well met Jesus, she went back and told her whole town about Him, and many of them consequently believed.
The same thing happened in our passage for today. When the Philippian Jailer was saved, his whole household ended up being saved with him. You can give example after example of this. Whenever someone comes to the Lord, they have a great opportunity to bring others to Him as well. And if it’s real in a person’s life, they want to bring the ones they love to Him! And if Jesus is real in someone’s life, the people around them will see it, and will want to come to Him as well!
Men, you need to know that this is especially true of a husband and father, like this jailer most likely was. When a husband and father gives his life to Christ, it does not guarantee his family’s salvation, but it is rare is the family that does not follow him. If the husband and father is committed to Christ, the wife and children almost certainly follow along. Men: this means that you have a great responsibility! What you decide about spiritual things does not only affect you, but also your wife and your children! And the same thing is true for each of us: your decision to follow Jesus will have an impact on others people around you. You need to be looking for the people around you that you can share your “story” with, and bring to Jesus!
B. But having pointed out the impact you can have on others, we also need to emphasize again that salvation is always an individual issue. God doesn’t save “groups”. He saves people one at a time. Just like we see here in Acts 16, each person must hear the gospel, understand it, and trust Jesus as their Savior personally.
— This means, first of all, that you need to make sure that you have YOUR OWN personal story of salvation. Just because your mom or dad, or grandma or grandpa, or some other relative are saved, does not mean that YOU are. You have to have your own commitment to Jesus as your Savior.
— And second: you always need to be very careful about getting saved “in a group”, or having your kids or loved ones saved as part of a “group”, because salvation is a very individual, personal thing. So many people have the testimony of how they made a so-called “decision” to follow Jesus which they did not really understand it, because they came in a group with others.
My wife Cheryl shared her testimony with one of our ladies’ Sunday School classes a couple of weeks ago, and her “story” is in our book here down front. When she was very young, 6 years old or so, they had a service at the church she grew up in, in Oklahoma, in which a number of youngsters went down to the front crying as a group. So Cheryl started crying and went down the front too. But she said later that she did not really know what she was doing at that young age. Later as a teenager, when her boyfriend broke up with her, she realized that there was nothing in her heart to help her — the Lord was not really there — so right then she prayed to receive Christ, and from that moment had peace that the Lord was really in her life, and He helped her through that time. For the first time, the Bible also began to really make sense to her as she read it. Several years later, she realized that this was her true salvation experience, and that it had happened AFTER she had been baptized as a youngster, so she was truly baptized there at our first full-time church we served as pastor & wife — as odd as it might sound — because she needed to have her baptism in the right order: after her genuine profession of faith. (And some of you here today may need to do the same thing!)
Just like the Philippian Jailer, my wife Cheryl has a story. Just like him, it was a crisis time in her life that brought her to it. But the important thing is that she knows that she has a “story” of how she genuinely put her faith in Jesus, how her life has been changed, and that now she has the confidence that she has a real relationship with the Lord, and that she is going to heaven.
My question for you is, do YOU have a story? Whether it’s just like Cheryl’s or not, or just like the Philippian Jailer’s or not, doesn’t matter. The single most important question of your life is: have you ever individually and personally received Jesus Christ as your Lord & Savior? Do you have a testimony to write, of which you can say, “This Is My Story”?