By Charles Woodruff
The book is titled “The Acts of the Apostles”, but is more accurately “The Acts of the Holy Spirit”, for He is truly at work throughout the book in every event. Chapter 16 is remarkable in many ways. First of all, at Lystra Paul meets Timothy, who was the son of a Greek father and a Jewish mother. Paul takes him under his wing and brings him along on his missionary journey. After giving to churches in the region the decrees of the apostles regarding the things decided in Jerusalem, they wanted to go to Asia, but the Holy Ghost forbade them.
Then there was the Macedonian call. “And they passing by Mysia came down to Troas. And
a vision appeared to Paul in the night; There stood a man of Macedonia, and prayed him, saying, Come over into Macedonia, and help us. And after he had seen the vision, immediately we endeavoured to go into Macedonia, assuredly gathering that the Lord had called us for to preach the gospel unto them” (Acts 16:8-10).
They went to Philippi in Macedonia and soon discovered one reason the Spirit sent them there:
“A certain woman named Lydia, a seller of purple, of the city of Thyatira, which worshipped God, heard us, whose heart the Lord opened, that she attended unto the things which were spoken of Paul” (Acts 16:14).
Later they met a girl possessed of an evil spirit: “And it came to pass, as we went to prayer, a certain damsel possessed with a spirit of divination met us, which brought her masters much gain by soothsaying: The same followed Paul and us, and cried, saying, These men are the servants of the most high God, which shew unto us the way of salvation. And this did she many days. But Paul, being grieved, turned and said to the spirit, I command thee in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her. And he came out the same hour” (Acts 16: 16-18).
Because it took away monetary gain from those who used her divination powers, these unscrupulous people had the Philippian magistrates put Paul and Silas in Jail, after beating them severely. This brings us to our main focus: “And at midnight Paul and Silas prayed, and sang praises unto God: and the prisoners heard them. 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. 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. But Paul cried with a loud voice, saying, Do thyself no harm: for we are all here. Then he called for a light, and sprang in, and came trembling, and fell down before Paul and Silas, And brought them out, and said, Sirs, what must I do to be saved? And they said, Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved, and thy house. And they spake unto him the word of the Lord, and to all that were in his house. And he took them the same hour of the night, and washed their stripes; and was baptized, he and all his, straightway. And when he had brought them into his house, he set meat before them, and rejoiced, believing in God with all his house” (Acts 16:25-34).
We notice that Paul and Silas were not worried, or defeated even though they had been severely beaten. They were praying, and singing praises to God at midnight, and the prisoners heard them. This was a wonderful witness to all who heard, that God would take care of His own. Instead of being in despair, they were having a praise service. These apostolic preachers taught us all how to behave under persecution, and many Christians since, such as John Hus, Polycarp, and Wycliffe, as well as many in our modern day, have followed their path.
Prison was a rough place to be in the Roman empire. Many of today’s prisons in America are like country clubs compared to a Roman prison.My late friend, Simion Motz, who for his Christian witness, served four years of a seventeen year sentence in the hellhole communist prisons of his homeland. He told me that later, when he went to preach at prisons here in the free world, he was shocked to find that the prisoners had recreation rooms complete with televisions, ping pong tables, and various games, magazines, books, and even a swimming pool! He said these prisoners had it better than most common people had it in communist Romania. My late friend, Haralan Popov, writer of Tortured for his Faith telling of his 13 years in Bulgarian prisons, said much the same thing. We see that Paul and Silas had no luxuries. Only misery!
Yet these men of God were not complaining, though I am sure they were suffering much pain. Instead they were praying and singing praises to God. I don’t know what they were singing, but it must have been God honoring music similar to “Amazing Grace”, “Rock of Ages”, or some psalms, or spiritual songs. I’m sure they were not singing rock, hip hop, country or some other “contemporary” concoction patterned after the world’s music. It was midnight, but they were singing praises unto God, and the prisoners heard them.
Then came the astounding earthquake. The Lord of heaven and earth can shake the earth anytime he wants, and here was just the right time. It was such a shaking that the very foundations of the prison were shaken.. To further show that this was miraculous, and not a natural phenomena, the doors were all opened and everyone’s chains were loosed.
Now remember the jailer, or keeper of the prison, was charged by the magistrate to firmly secure Paul and Silas in stocks, and carefully guard them. The leaders were set on stopping the preaching of these “strange gods”. So the jailer feared for his life, but would rather kill himself than suffer the shame and humiliation of letting the prisoners escape. He thought all the prisoners had escaped, and he was going to die anyway, so why not get it over with.
You can imagine his shock when he heard Paul cry out loudly “Do thyself no harm, for we are all here”(v.28). Not one of his charges had left, though all were loosed. So he called for a light in that dark dungeon and rushed in trembling. He was trembling, not because of the earthquake, nor because of possible escaped prisoners, or fear of his superiors, but because the power of the Holy Ghost brought conviction to him. Unlike Felix (Acts 24:25), who trembled when Paul preached to him, the jailer trembled, and asked a very important question.
No, my friends, the words he next said were not from worry of escaping prisoners, or reprisals from his superiors, but from Holy Ghost power brought to his own soul. He had no doubt heard why they were in jail. Maybe he had heard all the commotion brought about by the possessed girl who said “These men are servants of the most High God which shew us the way of salvation” (v. 17). What she said was true, just as when the demons identified Jesus as the Christ, and He rebuked them because His time had not yet come. The damsel was causing a distraction and a hindrance. So when Paul rebuked the demon in her, the handlers lost their meal ticket, and that is why they wanted the apostles arrested.
But the jailer said “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” (v. 30) This is not the normal way a jailer would address a prisoner. He wouldn’t say “sirs” to them. They were more used to speaking harshly, and abruptly to those arrested and in their care. But he was under Holy Spirit conviction, and crying out for help for his lost soul. No doubt he saw his sins. Maybe he was a great sinner. Like Lydia, Cornelius, and the Ethiopian Eunuch, he was a Gentile, yet he knew he needed what these Jews had. Remember, Paul and Silas were sinners also. We all are. Remember Paul wrote “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners; of whom I am chief”( I Timothy 1:15). If Paul was the chief, and God saved him, it is a not a problem for God to save the jailer, or you and me!
What must I do? Well, he could do nothing to save himself. All he could do was provide the sinner -- God did the rest. Note that the apostles did not say to keep the law, join the synagogue or church, seek psychiatric help, repeat a soul winner's prayer, sign a card, or give us all your money for future blessings. But they said “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and thou shalt be saved". Believe totally -- trust in, rely on, cling to Christ Jesus. Note that Paul and Silas did not say "might be saved", but "shall be saved". It is a surety with God.
This is the gospel message in a nutshell again as in I Timothy 1:15; I Corinthians 15:3-6; Romans 10:9-10; and perhaps Acts 2:38, 39.
“And thy house”. That his house would believe was a statement of prophecy as well. What a blessing that the gospel floodgates were opened so that all those who believed may enter in. The evangelists preached Christ to him and his house. How would you like to have been in that meeting? Yes, the jailer really was converted. One indication it was real, was his immediate compassion for those he and others had wronged. He washed their stripes. These two that were roughly treated under his care were now cared for as brethren. What a change when Jesus Christ comes into one’s heart! His house still had to believe for themselves, but with his example and the power of the Spirit, it was done. All of them were saved!
The evangelists were satisfied that the conversions were real, for the jailer and all his house were baptized the same night. It was believer’s baptism for sure. Was it immersion? Was there a nearby lake or pond? As a Baptist by conviction, knowing the meaning of the Greek baptizo (Strong‘s defines it as “to make whelmed, i.e., fully wet”), I have to believe it was immersion. Yet I can’t prove it unconditionally from these verses, but many other places in scripture indicate immersion as the proper mode. Suffice it to say, salvation had come to the prison keeper’s house, and they were baptized after believing.
Then there was a celebration meal. “He set meat before them and rejoiced, believing in God with all his house” ( Acts 16:34). Note that both Young‘s concordance, and Strong’s define "rejoiced" as " jumped for joy” (S), or "leaped for joy” (Y). Yes it was a glorious celebration. It always is when the awakened children of God embrace Christ; confess Him; close with him. Regeneration (the making alive), always comes first. Then conviction, repentance and conversion. Have you been awakened to YOUR need of Christ, dear reader? Just as He was the only one who could save the jailer and his house, He is the only one who can save you and your house. It has never been popular to preach “Christ and Him crucified” (I Corinthians 2:2), yet He said “ I am The way, the truth and the life, no one comes to the Father but by Me”(John 14:6).
It is illegal in some countries to preach Christ. It may be here in the USA if we keep going as we are. You or I may go to jail, or even die for believing in Christ. The point is; we still have it relatively easy here, but that is changing rapidly. The followers of Mohammed (At least many of them), have vowed to destroy Christianity and take over this country. May God forbid! But if that happens great tribulation will come for the true Christians. Are you ready?