Text: 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 everyone’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?”
31 They replied, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved — you and your household.” 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 household 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 household.
Teachers, especially at the beginning of the year, are very careful to remind their students that they should make sure and let the teacher know if they have a question. The teacher realizes that the only way to make sure that they understand is to ask a question, if they don’t. If there are no questions, the teacher assumes that they understand. Questions are vital for finding out the information that is needed. This morning we find a question that is more important than any other he asked his entire life. WHAT MUST I DO TO BE SAVED? 1. What Brought About The Question? 2. What Is The Answer To The Question?
Paul and Silas were in the city of Philippi on Paul’s second missionary journey. While they were there, they had cast a demon from a slave girl. This demon had allowed the girl to foretell the future. When the owners saw that their source of income was gone, they were enraged and incited a riot. The mob brought Paul and Silas before the officials, accusing them of promoting ideas that were not lawful for Romans to follow. There really was no trial. Paul and Silas were whipped and thrown into prison. There they sat.
You might expect to find Paul and Silas depressed, sitting there in the dark, mourning over the injustice that was dealt them. But, this was not the case, at all. We read in verse 25, “About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening to them.” Rather than being upset and complaining about their lot in life, they sat there in the darkness singing hymns of praise to God. They did not keep this to themselves: “the other prisoners were listening to them.” Although a maximum security cell might not seem like a place to do missionary work, they continued to praise God and the other prisoners heard them.
That night, we read, “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.” God caused an earthquake to happen and, from the shaking, all the doors flew open. In addition to this, everyone’s chains came loose. Can you imagine the turmoil that was going on in that prison? At that time, we read, “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.” The jailer rushed to the prison. There all of the doors stood, wide open. What else could he think? All of the prisoners were gone!
The jailer was about to kill himself. He did so because of a Roman law which said that, if a prisoner escaped, the jailer or guard was to suffer whatever punishment was due that prisoner. Evidently some of the prisoners were guilty of capital crimes. The jailer was ready to commit suicide rather than be executed by the authorities.
As the jailer stood there, ready to kill himself, a voice called out to him from the darkness of the prison: “Don’t harm yourself! We are all here!” This surprised the jailer who called for lights and rushed into the prison. It was just as Paul had said. All of the prisoners were in their cells. The jailer ran to Paul and fell trembling at his feet. The jailer had been brought to the brink of despair. Now he felt relief. He came to Paul with the most important question he would ever ask: “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?”
What brought the jailer to ask this question? He had just been through an earthquake and had almost ended his life. God allowed some pretty awesome things to enter his life. It brought him face to face with what was really important. He, all of a sudden, was reminded of his sins and he desperately sought the answer to soothe his troubled conscience.
God does similar things today. He might not use an earthquake. Rather, it might be a mild heart attack, a slight stroke, a small tumor, a microscopic virus or a minor accident. He might allow some trouble to enter lives that had seemingly been floating along quite smoothly. All of a sudden, all of the pleasures and treasures of this life pale. People who had been carefree about spiritual matters know that they must face their Maker and Judge. Their consciences bring up all of their past sins. They feel like the jailer and want the answer to the question: “What must I do to be saved?”
Why did the jailer go to Paul and Silas for the answer to this question? Very likely, he had heard Paul and Silas praising God as they sat in the darkness of the prison. They were praising God even under some very difficult circumstances. The jailer went to them. We can learn from Paul and Silas’ example. How do we react when setbacks enter our lives? Do we grouse and complain about our lot in life? Do we become angry and yell? What kind of example does that show? Are we showing that we believe in God and trust that everything that enters our life is for our benefit? People are quick to pick up on these things. If we act like we don’t have any more reason for hope than they have, why would they come to us when they are faced with the greatest question of their lives? May we live our faith in such a way that God might use us to bring the answer to the question, “What must I do to be saved?”
Paul’s answer to the man’s question was quite simple: “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved.” Note that Paul changed the man’s question. He had asked what he must do to be saved. Paul, in essence, is saying, ‘You don’t do anything. Trust in Jesus Christ, who did it all for you.’ Paul doesn’t say, ‘This is how you must act’ or ‘This is how you must feel.’ He pulls attention away from the man and places it on Jesus. Jesus is the only reason you can hope to be saved.
May we take this message to heart, again. Yes, it is something that many of us have heard from little on. But, it dare never lose its meaning for us. It is the only way that we can be saved. By nature, we like to think that we can save ourselves, or at least help God out a little bit. There is no place for this type of thinking in a Christian’s mind. If we want to try to help God out a little bit with our salvation, or even if we think that we are such good people that God has to owe us salvation, we need to beware. God tells us if we feel that way, we must be perfect 100% of the time. The fact is that we cannot do that.
We, too, must learn again and again what saves us. It is faith in Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior. Even that faith is a gift from God. He creates that faith in our heart that allows us to be saved. The Spirit-born faith allows us to reach out and accept the gift of the forgiveness of sins. That is why the answer to the question “What must I do to be saved?” is and always will be “Believe in the Lord Jesus and you will be saved.”
Look at the effect that this message had on the jailer: “At that hour of the night the jailer took them and washed their wounds; then immediately he and all his household were baptized. 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 household.” We can see the immediate effects of the faith that was brought into his heart. He acted on that faith and took care of Paul and Silas.
Does this mean that every time we tell someone about Jesus that they will be immediately filled with the Holy Spirit? It would be nice, but it doesn’t always happen that way. It might be years before that seed that was planted bears fruit. It might be frustrating because we can’t see immediate fruit. But, remember this. All we do is plant the seed. It is God that makes it grow. It might take a while before the message sinks in. In the meantime, we continue to broadcast the seed of God’s Word, the saving message of Jesus’ suffering, death and resurrection.
People ask us many questions during the course of a day. They ask for directions, help with homework, and many other things. May God make us willing and able to answer the greatest question: “What must I do to be saved?” with the words of St. Paul: “Believe in the Lord Jesus and you will be saved.” May we be as Peter wrote in his First Epistle: “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.”
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