In this contemplation on a delightful passage of scripture, (Acts 16:22-34) we see in verse 30 a question of supreme importance. It is quite remarkable that this sinful, callous pagan in circumstances fraught with life threatening realities did not ask questions like how did these doors get open? Or how come you prisoners are still here? But rather, "Sirs, what must I do to be saved?" It was as if, at this crucial point in his existence all other questions were of no consequence other than this most important, most critical, most life changing question for this very desperate man.
What prompted him to ask this supremely important question we shall deal with shortly but it is worthwhile, at this stage, to note that anyone who will ever be saved needs to come to a point of maximum awareness when all questions, other than this supremely important question, are regarded as superfluous or recklessly indulgent.
We are reminded of the soul's priority where on another occasion this important question is asked, "For what is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?" (Matthew 16:26) You need to think about this seriously and forget all the other things that might be occupying your thoughts and allow God to speak to your heart as we look at this question of supreme importance.
Let us first note the cause giving rise to the question
The question was engendered by failure
It dawned upon the consciousness of this Philippian jailer, as he beheld the state of the prison, that he was a miserable failure for the Bible states, "and seeing the prison doors open" (Acts 16: 27) Failure has the potential to elicit the most extraordinary behaviour in people and this jailer was about to commit suicide. (Remember how some stock traders reacted to the collapse of the stock market a few years ago by killing themselves?) When nothing seems to work for you and everything seems to fail then why not turn to Jesus who gives you this assurance, "him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out." (John 6: 37) Jesus is always worth trying as an alternative as many have joyously found.
The question was engendered by fear
If the prisoners had escaped the Roman law required that the jailer's life be forfeited as a consequence and this fear played a significant role in bringing this trembling jailer to the feet of Paul. Fear is probably the most irrational of all emotions for it can obscure clarity of thought and precipitate jittery reactions. This kind of fear the Bible counsels the Christian to be free from, "For God hath not given us the spirit of fear, but of power, and of love and of a sound mind." (2 Timothy 1: 7) To the unconverted, if you are full of misery and fear and they wake you up to the criticality of your situation then Jesus bids you come. As long as that urging is in your heart there is real hope for you.
The question was engendered by faith
Faith has many sides to its inestimable character. It was probably the case that this jailer was under conviction having witnessed the behaviour of Paul and Titus in difficult circumstances. Faith in Jesus Christ can be triggered in differing circumstances when one hears and responds to the Gospel message as witnessed by this jailer. It was truly remarkable that this jailer immediately lost all interest in securing the jail but set his sight on obtaining salvation. By faith you too can approach God and by trusting in his mercy and in the redeeming work and person of Jesus Christ have your needs met. Even to cry "Lord have mercy on me" as did blind Bartimaeus is an act of faith.
Next we observe the calm response to the question
The calm response acknowledged a person
The Apostle Paul in response to this supreme question did not hesitate to draw the jailor's attention to "the Lord Jesus Christ" (Acts 16:31a) People are free to think what they wish but at the end of the day the only person who can save you is the Lord Jesus Christ. The Bible affirms this over and over as here where Peter speaking of Jesus Christ states, "Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved." (Acts 4: 12) It is an exercise in futility as well as recklessly endangering your own soul to seek salvation from a source not provided by nor approved by Almighty God. Do not be fooled by alternatives for the Bible warns you about that danger, "There is a way which seemeth right unto a man, but the end thereof are the ways of death." (Proverbs 14: 12)
The calm response alluded to a plan
The plan of salvation is awesome but mighty simple and the jailer is told of this plan which is, "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ" (Acts 16:31b) This glorious plan, created in the mind of God and executed flawlessly by the Lord Jesus Christ have both been a blessing and a stumbling block to every member of the human race. It is based solely on the belief in and acceptance of Jesus Christ. It is by God's grace alone and not by any work of man for all you have to do is accept it. It is totally merit free and sinner friend, this plan includes you; why not take advantage of it now and see for yourself?
The calm response admitted to a promise
The Apostle Paul affirmed what Heaven decided and Jesus declared that by obedience in faith salvation was assured and so this jailer was promised, "and thou shalt be saved" (Acts 16:31c) To be saved is a powerful gift from God and means deliverance or preservation from danger, disease and particularly spiritual death and endowing with everlasting life. This promise is as good today as it ever was and God keeps his promises always, "The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness; but is longsuffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance." (2 Peter 3:9)
Finally we consider the consequences of the question
The question led to being saved by Christ
The supreme question had consequences for when Paul explained the scripture (Acts 16:32) the jailer and his household accepted Jesus Christ and were saved, "and rejoice, believing in God with all his house." (Acts 16:34d) Many make the mistake in thinking they are saved because they believe there is a god; that God exists. James gave the lie to that when he said, "Thou believest that there is one God; thou doest well: the devils also believe, and tremble." (James 2: 19) To be truly saved you need to acquire "saving faith" which is belief in the one and only true God and demonstrating it by commitment and obedience.
The question led to willing service to Christ
True conversion always exhibits the traits of a transformed life and the willingness to render Christian service as seen here, "And when he had brought them into his house, he set meat before them" (Acts 16:34b) Jesus reminds us that when we have rendered service to the least of his brethren we have done it to him. (Matthew 25: 40) Christians everywhere need to ask themselves if they are truly rendering willing service to our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. This is every Christian's sacred duty. To all of those who think they are saved and yet their life is not transformed then I urge you not to delay in putting things right.
The question led to joyous satisfaction in Christ
As happened to everyone who has ever been truly saved, an overwhelming sense of joy and happiness fills the heart to overflowing and this jailer was no exception for the Bible tells us, "herejoiced" (Acts 16:34c) Many are puzzled how the Christian can sing and be happy in the dark and chilly moments of adversity, as Paul and Silas did. This puzzlement arises because they have not been converted. All those not converted and secure in Jesus Christ are missing many things but in particular these three vital things.
They have no true lasting joy; only God gives you that.
They have no genuine peace of mind; this comes from God.
They have no assurance of heaven; this is God's gift.
God is closer to you than you think for the Bible says; "That they should seek the Lord, if haply they might feel after him, and find him, though he be not far from every one of us" (Acts 17:27). Here right now Jesus invites you to come to him and be saved. You are most certainly not coming to a religion or a theology or a set of does and don'ts but to a living, loving, liberating person in the form of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Ultimately that is the challenge facing all those confronted with this question of supreme importance. I can assure you that NO ONE has ever faced this challenge and gone away unchanged; either for the better or the worse. The decision as always is firmly in your hands.
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Dr. Henderson Ward received his Doctor of Divinity in theology, with distinction, from Masters International School of Divinity, USA, where he is currently a post-doctoral fellow. Dr. Ward's career involved pastoring, evangelism, and teaching. Copyright 2013