Study 10 THE PHILIPPIAN JAILER
TEN NEW TESTAMENT CONVERSIONS
by Francis Dixon
(Scripture Portion: Acts 16:16-34)
In this concluding study we are to consider the record of one of the most dramatic conversions. The emphasis is not only evangelistic but it is instructive, and in this passage we have a great deal of basic biblical truth. How thrilling to read of Paul and Silas who, although so cruelly treated, were able to pray and sing praises at midnight, when humanly speaking they were at a very low ebb! They were suddenly in the midst of a prayer and praise meeting in their prison cell, with other prisoners listening to them. That is when God stepped in and another soul was swept into the kingdom – in fact the whole of the jailer’s family were gathered in! What do we read about the jailer?
1. The shock he experienced (verse 26)
There was an earthquake. To gain the force of this read verses 19-25. The jailer was asleep because he felt confident that the prisoners were safe and secure in the inner cell. What a shock he received when the place began to shake and the prison doors were opened! And what a greater shock he received when he found that Paul and Silas had not tried to escape! What extraordinary prisoners these were! Read verses 27-28 and picture the scene. Every true conversion produces a ‘shock’ and in a sense every true conversion is accompanied by an earthquake – by a mighty spiritual shaking of the Holy Spirit. Such was the case here (verse 29). The jailer received not only a physical shock but a spiritual and emotional one, a shock in his conscience.
2. The question he asked (verse 30)
Did he have any concern at all about his soul’s salvation when he went to sleep? He certainly felt deeply concerned now. He probably knew of the conversion of Lydia (verses 14-15); of the demon-possessed girl (verses 16-18). What we can be quite sure about is that he suddenly became convinced that he was a lost man and that his greatest and most urgent need was to be saved. No-one asks a question like this unless he realises his awful peril and danger. It is when we realise that God’s wrath is upon us (John 3:36); that we are perishing (2 Corinthians 2:15); that we are spiritually dead (Ephesians 2:1); that we cry out (Acts 16:30)! Have you asked this most important question?
3. The answer he received (verse 31)
There is a whole sermon in this sentence and how ready Paul and Silas were to preach it! Some preachers are not – they are vague and long-winded – but these two men were ready to give in concise and clear terms the answer to the jailer’s question. Notice in verse 31 several vital truths:-
- 1. Justification is by faith alone, plus nothing. We learn this from the word “believe” – look up and compare John 3:16; John 5:24; Ephesians 2:8. It is not “believe and…” but simply “believe”.
- 2. The nature of saving faith. We learn this from the word “in”. The jailer did not have to believe about Christ only; he had to trust in Him (Romans 10:9-10).
- 3. Jesus is the only Saviour. This is made clear (John 14:6; Acts 4:12).
- 4. Our Lord’s full title. He is the Lord Jesus Christ, indicating His deity, His humanity and His Messiahship
- 5. The assurance of salvation. The jailer could be sure he was saved – “you will be”.
- 6. It is salvation now! We are saved the moment we believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and ever afterwards through faith in Him – look up and compare Luke 23:43; John 5:24.
- 7. Salvation is for everyone. The jailer could be saved by believing, and all his household could be saved in the same way – “all the others in his house” (verse 16) – look up Romans 10:11-13.
Now look at verse 32. We can imagine the careful and prayerful explanation of the gospel that Paul and Silas would give to this household – compare Matthew 28:19-20 (especially verse 20). There is a great need today for what might rightly be described as teaching evangelism!
4. The faith he exercised (verse 32)
It is clear that the jailer received Christ as his Saviour. Verse 33 gives the evidence of the great change which had taken place in the heart and life of this man. He actually “washed their wounds” and “set a meal before them”! A true change of heart will quickly show itself in a change of life (compare Luke 19:8). But notice that two lots of water were used as evidence of the true conversion of this household. A little water was needed to bathe the backs of Paul and Silas, but a lot of water was needed for another purpose. Think about this!
5. The confession he made (verse 33)
Undoubtedly the jailer and his family confessed the Lord with their mouths (Romans 10:9-10), which Paul and Silas would have explained to them. Notice about their baptism:
- 1. There was something urgent about it. Verse 33 tells us that it took place “immediately”.
- 2. There was something corporate about it. They were baptised with others – “he and all his family”.
- 3. There was much joy about it! Where does it say that? It does not actually say it, but who can doubt that it was experienced? – read Acts 8:39.