Believe in the Lord Jesus
It was past midnight. Two Christians were in a strange town where they had been preaching the gospel of Christ. Opposition had grown, as it often does, and the town's leaders, urged on by an angry mob, had ordered the two Christians beaten with rods. Following this humiliating treatment, the two had been thrown into the maximum security section of the prison. All this, far from the comforts of home. One remarkable thing is that these two Christians were only there because they cared so deeply for the souls of others. Their unselfish concern and dedication had been answered with mistreatment and abuse. It must be time for hate. If ever there was a time to hate another human being, certainly this is it. No, it is not time to hate.
It must be time for vengeance. If ever there was a time to begin to plot vengeance, certainly this is it. No, it is not the time to seek vengeance.
It must be time to complain. If ever there was a time to offer complaint, then this is it. No, it is not the time to complain.
Then what is it time for? "But about midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns of praise to God, and the prisoners were listening to them." (Acts 16:25).
A GREAT EARTHQUAKE
"...and suddenly there came a great earthquake, so that the foundations of the prison house were shaken; and immediately the doors were opened, and everyone's chains were unfastened. And when the jailer had been roused out of sleep and had seen the prison doors opened, he drew his sword and was going to kill himself, supposing that the prisoners had escaped." (Acts 16:26,27). It was a mega-earthquake that rocked the prison that night! In fact, the Greek word translated "great" in "great earthquake" is the word "megas" so "mega-earthquake" is certainly an appropriate description of the event.
But this was not the only earthquake to strike the first century world. There was another. It was (and is) worldwide in scope, effecting every continent. Its first rumblings had begun in Eden when God had promised that the seed of woman would one day crush the serpent's head (Genesis 3:15). The rumblings had grown louder through the ages, with the announcements issued through God's forecasters, the prophets. Then, Jesus, the Son of God came and announced that it would be in that generation. It was on the day of Pentecost following His death, burial and resurrection that the earthquake had struck. The upheaval was described as "the sun turning to darkness and the moon turning to blood."
Of course, this additional earthquake to which I am referring is not a literal earthquake at all. Instead, it is spiritual in nature. It is a promotion of a new way to look at people and things. It challenges and overturns long held views of societies, then and now, even down to how we deal with our enemies. Well did the enemies of Christ describe the effects of the proclamation of the gospel by accusing its teachers as being "men who have upset the world" or "have turned the world upside down." (Acts 17:6). May the earthquake not be stopped by our lack of dedication to teach the gospel. May we never forget that it is the gospel that is the power of God, not human creeds and innovations; not social or recreational programs. It is the gospel that saves souls.
CONCERN FOR OTHERS
"But Paul cried out with a loud voice, saying, 'Do yourself no harm, for we are all here!" (Acts 16:28). I suppose it would only be later, after being taught the gospel, that the jailer would realize how close he had come to entering eternity in a lost state. His sword was drawn. He was only a moment away from eternal condemnation.
How anxious Paul seems to spare his enemy! Doesn't Paul realize that the jailer is "one of them"? In another second, he'll have one less enemy. All it will take is to hesitate, just a moment, until the deed is done.
Paul has a much higher aim for the jailer as well as the jailer's loved ones. Though there is no guarantee of how the jailer will react, Paul believes the risk is worth taking. It is always worth taking risks to save a soul. And, in this case at least, Paul's enemy will become his brother in Christ before the night is through.
THE MOST IMPORTANT QUESTION OF ALL
"And he called for the lights and rushed in and, trembling with fear, he fell down before Paul and Silas, and after he had brought them out, he said, 'Sirs, what must I do to be saved?" (Acts 16:29,30). How much of the gospel did the jailer already know? Paul and Silas had become well known in the city. He would have easily known something of them and their teaching even before their arrest, though the information might have been inaccurate. How much of the message of the hymns sung in prison had he caught before falling asleep? We don't know, but we know that he had heard enough of the gospel to ask about how he could be saved.
Some suggest that the jailer is asking about some other kind of salvation, like being saved from the earthquake or from the consequences of the other prisoners escaping. But that cannot be. The other prisoners are all there. None escaped. And the physical earthquake is over. This means that the jailer is interested in spiritual salvation, not physical.
THE ONLY RIGHT ANSWER
"And they said, 'Believe on the Lord Jesus, and you shall be saved, you and your household.' And they spoke the word of the Lord to him together with all who were in his house. And he took them that very hour of the night and washed their wounds, and immediately he was baptized, he and all his household." (Acts 16:31-34). One commentator said that, in answer to the jailer's question about what he must "do" to be saved, that "Paul's answer let him know he must 'believe' rather than 'do' in order to be saved." But "believe" is something we "do." Paul's point to "believe on the Lord Jesus" is certainly not an affirmation that nothing is to be done, but rather "what" is to be done.
"Believe on the Lord Jesus" means to have absolute confidence in Him. It denotes complete trust, surrender and obedience from the heart. Paul calls this the "obedience of faith" (Romans 1:5; 16:26) and affirms that it is when we "obey from the heart" that we are freed from our sins (Romans 6:16-18).
For this reason, Paul, after telling the jailer what was necessary, proceeds to speak "the word of the Lord" to him and his household. This is because "faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God" (Romans 10:17).
Then, just like Jesus taught (Matthew 28:18-20), the jailer "immediately" was baptized into Christ that same hour of the night. Baptism is a part of "believing on the Lord Jesus" and in doing so we are putting our trust in the working of God, not in ourselves; "...having been buried with Him in baptism, in which you are also raised up with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead." (Colossians 2:12). It was only when the jailer was baptized that he had adequately placed "his faith in the working of God." Baptism is a work of God, not a work of human merit, and it is a necessary work of God without which we cannot be saved.
It is after the jailer and his household have been baptized that the Bible says that he "...rejoiced greatly, having believed in God with his whole household." (Acts 16:34). This also shows that baptism was a part of the process which saved him, else he would have been rejoicing before his baptism (and could have even waited at least until the following day to be baptized). At any rate; the answer is the same today to life's most important question: "What must I do to be saved?"
"And they said, 'Believe on the Lord Jesus, and you shall be saved, you and your household.' And they spoke the word of the Lord to him together with all who were in his house."
By Jon W. Quinn
From Expository Files 3.5; May 1996