The Expository Files

Conversion At Midnight

Acts 16:16-34

The gospel works twenty-four hours a day. People have been converted to Christ in very unusual circumstances. Sometimes, we may refrain from speaking about Christ because we just do not think the circumstances suggest a very favorable outcome. We could be making a wrong choice when we think that way.

Consider one such set of unfavorable circumstances. The time just isn't right; it is very late. The place is inappropriate; the two believers are in a dungeon. Besides that, the teachers themselves are suffering from physical injury.... oh, and another thing; they are not in a position to move around very much because they are in stocks. Finally, the potential convert is a heathen jailer who has seen it all.

Some Preliminary Points
The text for this article is found in Acts 16:16-34. The believers are Paul and his coworker Silas. They had come to Philippi to teach the gospel. Philippi was in Macedonia. It is the first example we read about the gospel being proclaimed on the European mainland. The Holy Spirit had sent Paul and Silas from Asia Minor to Macedonia to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ (Acts 16:6-10).

The first convert was a business woman by the name of Lydia. She and her household were baptized into Jesus Christ (Acts 16:14,15). In the New Testament, it is only believers that are baptized, so we must conclude that Lydia's household was made up of people old enough to believe the gospel (Mark 16:16; Acts 8:37).

As Paul and Silas continued to teach the gospel, a servant girl who was controlled by an evil spirit began to follow them. Everywhere they would preach, she would cry out "These men are bondservants of the Most High God, who are proclaiming to you the way of salvation." (Acts 16:17). The statement was true, but it was disruptive. A look at the messages of Paul shows that his discourses were always well reasoned and logical. He wanted people to concentrate on the message. It was not just empty catch phrases or emotional outbursts, but an intellectual pursuit of truth. He wanted people to think about what they heard, but the girl's ranting made this difficult. The evil spirit was cast out of her. Now everyone can be happy. Well, not everyone.

Arrest and Prison
"But when her masters saw that their hope of profit gone, they seized Paul and Silas and dragged them into the marketplace before the authorities." (Acts 16:19).

The girl had been used by her masters to "tell fortunes" and so forth. People figured she had a "gift" and paid money for her services. Her owners accused Paul and Silas of throwing the city into confusion and proclaiming customs unlawful for Romans. Paul and Silas were severely beaten with rods and thrown into prison. The jailer, told to guard them securely, put them into the inner prison in stocks. This would be where the most hardened of criminals would be kept (Acts 16:19-24)

Making the Best of Things
"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).

In prison; in stocks; bruised and bleeding and surrounded by the very worst criminals. What does one do? Pray and sing praises to God, of course! Well, that's not the usual thing that is done, but these two are not your usual prisoners. They were more interested in pleasing God than men, and God had given them great boldness and confidence even there in that awful place. See Paul's later remarks about this ordeal (1 Thessalonians 2:1-4).

Imagine the impact of the things said in prayer and hymns on the jailer and the other prisoners. It was a far cry from the oaths, threats and curses usually heard in such places. The message had its effect on the listeners, it always does. The kind of effect depends on each individual heart, but it is always there.

It was about the midnight hour that an earthquake shook the dungeon. The chains dropped from everyone's arms and legs and the prison doors swung open. The jailer, certain that prisoners have escaped, prepares to do the thing expected of him. He failed his assignment so he must die. The most honorable thing to do, in this heathen society, is to take his own life (Acts 16:26-27).

Paul assured the jailer that the prisoners all remained in the prison. Perhaps it was for fear of the earthquake that the other prisoners did not escape. Maybe it was because they knew they were seeing the power of God at work. But the jailer knew enough about these two preachers from the things he had heard to ask the most important question that can be asked; "Sirs, what must I do to be saved?" (Acts 16:28-30).

It is the word of God that tells us what to do to be saved. It is a proper question because there is a proper response to make to grace (1 Peter 1:22; Acts 10:34,35). There is something we must do!

The jailer needed to believe in the Lord Jesus. This means to put his trust into the Lord, and doing so involves action. It involves submission and obedience (Acts 16:31).

This means that the jailer would need further instruction about the One he must put his trust into, and about the will of that One, the Lord Jesus. Paul and Silas spoke "the word of the Lord" to the jailer and his household so that they would know what they must do (Acts 16:32).

The jailer washed the wounds of Paul and Silas, and then, that same hour of the night, he and his household were baptized into Christ. He and his whole house rejoiced that they had put their faith in Christ (Acts 16:33-34). There is no example in the Bible of any new believers waiting days to be baptized.

Yes, the gospel has the power to save souls, and we have the responsibility to teach it. The gospel can work effectively in all kinds of circumstances if we will have the kind of faith that Paul and Silas had. What are you doing with the Gospel of Jesus Christ?

By Jon W. Quinn
From Expository Files 7.5; May 2000