I visited a dear friend in a hospital in the west of Pretoria in the early 1990’s regularly as she was in isolation for some time. Once, as I left the hospital, a staff member asked if I could help them as some patient from the psychiatric section was on the top floor balcony trying to get onto the roof. He was admitted because he swallow pieces of glass in an attempt to commit suicide. This having failed, he wanted to jump off the roof. As we were trying to reach him the paramedics and fire brigade arrived and cancelled our attempts. For whatever reason, maybe because of a mental condition or perhaps through some sin, disappointment or guilt he wanted to take his life. As we come to today’s passage we find the jailer wanting to commit suicide.
Ac 16:27 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.
1) A Roman Soldier’s response to failure.
Ac 16:27 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.
At this point he did not know what had happened to the prisoners. He thought that the earthquake and its effectives would have caused the prisoners an avenue of escape. To him and all Roman soldiers this would amount to failure and worthy of public execution. For the sake of dignity he pulled his sword and whilst holding it at his throat or heart … ready to kill himself, he hears a voice shouting out loudly … “Don’t harm yourself! We are all here!” Did the Holy Spirit impress upon Paul what the jailer was about to do? There were no lights. All there was, was the aftermath of the earthquake … and fear! As followers of the Lord Jesus we need to be extra cautious when it comes to what happens around us, our perceptions of things, our emotions and our personal sin. Our God who reigns know everything, all the time. He shall surely come to the assistance of His beloved children. Know this. Believe this and stay close to Him through prayer.
2) The unbelievable words of protection. How would the jailer interpret … “Don’t harm yourself! We are all here!” This was unbelievable and unheard of. Prisoners knew how harsh Rome punished them. They would use every opportunity to escape … and now this voice tells him not to injure himself because all prisoners are accounted for. Remember the magistrates instructed him to … guard them carefully. He was on edge … at the point of suicide … and then these words. Did he put the praying and singing together with these words? He must have because:
Ac 16:29 The jailer called for lights, rushed in and fell trembling before Paul and Silas.
He needed to see where he was going … lights were needs and then as suddenly as the earthquake come, so he leaped (meaning of rushed) into the inner cell and prostrated himself in fear before the missionaries. He was terrified! He now knew the praying and sing were coupled to the earthquake. Surely the hand of the God they prayed too and sung praises too was right there! Not one prisoner escaped. All were present and accounted for. Something supernatural did and was happening. This is the reason for him being terrified (the meaning of trembling). Those words of Paul are words inspired by the Holy Spirit and included in the Word of God. We must flee to the Word of God every time we feel poorly, depressed, anxious, lacking understanding why things happen to me or around me, lonely or fearful. It is the Words, inspired by the Holy Spirit that will hold us together when we feel we are at the end of our tether!
3) Asking the right question. Luke does not tell us what happens between the jailer falling on his knees and him removing them from the prison. Rather we read:
Ac 16:30 He then brought them out and asked, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?”
In true military respect he calls them “sirs”. He might have a god or gods that he worshipped … but the praying and singing followed by the earthquake and all prisoners accounted for made him realize that these men we related to or personally knew the God they praised. They were special. He then follows through with a question about salvation. Some commentators feel he wanted to be saved from the results of the earthquake and his Roman Masters. I feel that having been commanded to place them in high security, the stocks, the praying and praising, the quake and no prisoners escaping was the true God working in his heart, arousing his interest in the God Paul and Silas worshipped and followed. He must have realized that there was something special about this God because these prisoners did not complain, they praised. They did not escape, they protected his life. Him asking … “what must I do to be saved” … was from a genuine concern for his soul. As you read these Notes, you might have been realizing that you too don’t enjoy salvation and perhaps find yourself asking how you should to be saved.
4) The only way of salvation. It seems as though the jailer took them from the prison to his house. May the question he asked was at the prison or at his house or perhaps he repeated it when at home. Pagans in the Roman Empire worshipped all types of gods and idols (demons) from all the nations they came from. The missionaries are specific … there is no choice:
Ac 16:31 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.
The word “believe” here means “to trust”, but to trust also includes the act of repentance, for without repentance (turning from sin and rebellion) to follow Jesus exclusively, no one may be saved. In other words, “believe” is not just an intellectual exercise. It is practical. It is transferring faith from a previous god (or disbelief), though moral and ethical behavioral changes, required by the One, True, Living God of creation and salvation who revealed Himself in the person of the Lord Jesus Christ! We shall come back to the “household” tomorrow. For today … it was not just explaining the Gospel … included was speaking the Word of the Lord. That is … discipleship! There cannot be true salvation without educating converts in the content of the Bible. We can never neglect this because part of Jesus commission is teaching the Word!
Mt 28:18 Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”
Our Father, thank You for giving us all the ingredients enabling us to disciple souls in the complete Scriptures. Amen.