January 12, 2003: What Must I Do To Be Saved?

Let us pray: Dear Savior, remind us today that good will always win out over evil when we follow Your lead through faith. Remind us not to give up on Your way of truth in the face of tough times. Yes, remind us that when we walk by faith and not by sight we actually see what truly counts—Your kingdom of love and grace. Lord, keep our eyes focused on those blessed gifts. Amen

TEXT: Acts 16: 25-34

Fellow Redeemed Sinners:

This story of the jailer of Philippi is simply marvelous. Every time I read it I come away uplifted. Here we have St. Paul and his helper Silas thrown into the town jail. What was their crime? Well, there was a slave girl in the local marketplace who was demon-possessed. This enabled her to tell fortunes and made a lot of money for her owners. Since those demons who controlled her knew who Paul was and who Christ was, they prompted this slave girl to bother Paul day after day. Finally, he had enough. So Paul commanded those demons to depart from her. They did, too. But that only made the owners mad because now their fortune-teller couldn’t tell fortunes any more. So, they fomented the crowd against Paul and Silas and charged them before the local officials: “These men are Jews, and are throwing our city into an uproar by advocating customs unlawful for us Romans to accept or practice.” This was all a lie. But, no matter. Our Christians brothers were beaten and confined to the local prison. They were even put into the central cell with their feet chained in stocks to insure they wouldn’t escape!

On the surface, some would look at this and conclude: No good deed goes unpunished. But, God always has a way of turning evil into good. And that’s what happens here. “About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening to them. 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. 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. But Paul shouted, ‘Don’t harm yourself! We are all here!.’”

This paragraph provides many important insights. 1. God’s missionaries, Paul and Silas, took advantage of a bad situation. Since they couldn’t preach at the local synagogue, they preached in prison. They sang hymns in prison. Literally, they had a captive audience! They were even doing this until midnight! And the fact that none of those other prisoners tried to escape says they were listening and quite intrigued by it all. 2. God takes care of his faithful. This earthquake which burst their chains was not a natural occurance. It was God’s doing. 3. Obviously this jailer isn’t terribly impressed by them or their message.—After all, he falls asleep in the middle of it. But when he awakens and sees the doors all open he panics, draws his sword and is about to fall upon it. Why? The Romans had a unique way of making sure prisoners didn’t escape. The jailer was totally responsible. If they escaped, the jailer died a slow, tortuous death. Needless to day, this jailer knew a quick death was better than a slow one, so he is about to take his life. 4. But, God intervenes! None of the criminals ran away when they could and Paul calls out at just the right time.
“The jailer called for lights, rushed in and fell trembling before Paul and Silas. He then brought them out and asked, ‘Sirs, what must I do to be saved?’” Obviously this fellow has listened a little. He knew Paul and Silas were men of God. He knew something about their message of salvation. He knew this was all a miraculous happenstance. And he knew he needed their knowledge and guidance. In short, God got his attention, didn’t He?


That’s the key question here isn’t it? And there are basically three ways of asking this question. You can emphasis the word “I”, or the word “Do”, or the words “be saved.” If you ask: “What must I do to be saved?” Then you’re putting the burden of eternal life upon your own shoulders. If this jailer’s salvation was dependent upon himself, than why did he ask Paul this question at all? So, we’ll throw that first one out.

If you ask: “What must I do to be saved?” Again you’re engaged in playing “let’s make a deal” with God. People do that a lot. A loved one gets very sick, and mom or dad pray: “God, if you spare my son, I’ll give up gambling and go to church every Sunday.” Of course, we call that “living under the law.” Or trying to be good enough to have God accept you. But, who can every be good enough or perfect enough to have God accept them? That’s right, only Jesus Christ. And since such “deal makers” leave Christ out, God shakes His head at their foolishness.

That leaves the third way of asking the question: “What must I do to be saved?” On his own this jailer could do nothing to save himself.—After all, he was about to take his own life! So, by asking this question he was looking for help outside himself. Unlike many today who say all the answers to life’s questions are inside you and all you have to do is dig deep for them; this almost dead man looked inside and seeing nothing, quickly looked outside himself to the powerful God of Paul and Silas. Salvation came from the outside.

Then comes the direct answer: “Believe on the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved—you and your household. Then they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all the others in his house.” Note well what Paul did. He pointed the man to Christ. “Trust in Christ. Believe that His sacrifice on the cross was meant for you. Grasp hold of His forgiving love. Cling to His promise of eternal life. And when you do, you’ll be saved! But it doesn’t end there. For when you trust in Jesus, naturally you’ll share such joy with your family, and by the Spirit’s power, they, too, will be saved!”
If you’re on a cruise ship and it sinks, what should you do? Either get into a life boat, or cling to a life preserver until you’re rescued. Right? If you’re in an airplane and it is going down, but you have a parachute, what should you do? Jump, pull the cord, and be saved! So, let me ask you this: what saved you? Your pulling the cord, or the parachute? Well, it was the parachute, wasn’t it? Without it you’d have nothing to pull. In other words, faith saves—not because you or I decide to believe—but because it clings to Christ. Christ is our lifeboat, our life preserver, our parachute. Weak and feeble our grip may be, He never lets us down!

Many Christian evangelicals hear our text and focus on turning faith into a work of man. They make faith all about a human beings willpower and strength of character. Folks, that is entirely wrong. This jailer had neither willpower nor strength of character. He had nothing. But Christ gave Him everything! Paul says elsewhere that “Faith is a gift of God, not of works, so that no one can boast.” That says it all. Everyone has faith in something or someone. But only the humble Christian has faith in Jesus Christ. That’s the difference. God provides each of us with the parachute of His word of forgiveness, with His life-preserver of baptism, and with His saving food in the Lord’s Supper. So, in tough times will you cling to those Godly gifts, or will you simply choose to have faith in your faith? I know what the jailer chose. He chose Christ because Christ chose him. May it always be so for you, as well. Amen