25 About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening to them. 26 Suddenly there was such a violent earthquake that the foundations of the prison were shaken. At once all the prison doors flew open, and everyone’s chains came loose. 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!”
“There’s not a friend like the lowly Jesus; no not one, no not one!” the one that Paul and Silas sang? No! But, we can be assured the praises and melodies they were singing before the Lord was just as spiritually moving.
That’s one of the dramatic things about this night. After being beaten with rods and receiving many stripes these songs of praises could not be silenced. Some of it fell on deaf ears yet, some were listening. If it were just Paul and Silas, then they could have quietly worshipped and kept it to themselves. But, they were not alone in this prison, on this night. Other inmates needed to believe that there is still a reason to rejoice in the midst of these darkest times.
Not everyone was attentive. The melodious tune was not picked up by all as a listening pleasure. The jailer, whom earlier was given the charge to keep the prisoners locked up securely (Acts 16:23), was fast asleep. So deep was his slumber it took the earth to begin to quake to rouse him from his midnight dreams.
Once awakened, the dreams dissipated and the reality of all that appears to have transpired sets in. The prison doors are not only unlocked, but they are fully opened giving free course of exit to any who wished to leave. After all, it is a prison and who would rightly want to stay beholden by chains.
The jailer knew the vehement attitude the multitudes had against the two who were bound in the inner prison. The charge to contain them at all cost was serious. So serious, the jailer thought, “Since I have fallen asleep on my duty and have given the opportunity of freedom to them that were bound, I must now seal my failure with my own death. For surely, when the magistrates come and find out my fault, I shall pay with my life anyway.”
Determined not to let this go any further, the jailer drew his sword to perform the unthinkable. When out of the dark, a voice arose above his desperation and called out, pleading with him to spare his own life.
What would it have been like? What would it have been like to walk in the Philippian jailer’s shoes on that night? One moment, he is captured by failure and facing death to sighing audibly a cry of relief at the voice of deliverance.
The law was the law and had he not heard that calling voice, he would surely be dead by now.
Unbelief demands evidence. Grabbing the closest light, he runs back into the depths of the prison walls and comes face to face with the convicted. “But, what’s this? Why didn’t they flee? The shackles are loosed; the doors are opened, and yet, they remain?” He thought, “Why?”
The jailer found out that though these men were convicted and sentenced by law, they carried a deeper conviction in their souls. Beaten, yet they sit. “Surely, this can’t be possible?” his mind racing, trying to grasp everything at once and take it all in.
Then, as if a new page was turned in a book, a new chapter began in his life. “Whatever faith and conviction these men have is superior to that which we have learned under Roman rule.”
“Sirs, what must I do to be saved?”
What would it have been like to be the Philippian jailer, you ask? Though we are not guards during the ancient rule, any of us can associate with the lost state of the jailer on that night. He was condemned physically because of his failure. He was condemned spiritually because, as David said, “I was shapen in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me,” (Psalm 51:5, KJV). The reality for the need of this salvation these men possessed pressed on the jailer as it did on us.
At one point or another, we have all had to run to the proverbial “altar” seeking, “What must I do to be saved?” as the jailer did. Therefore, though much time has passed between him and us, the same cry of heart gets the attention of the same God.
How many times had he kept guard of the convicted? How many times had he led the bound to their deaths? We don’t know. But, we do know that it only took one time for him to come face to face with his own mortality to realize there has to be a change in his life.
“Then they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all who were in his house. And he took them the same hour of the night and washed their stripes. And immediately he and all his family were baptized,” (Acts 16:32-33, NKJV). The humbleness of all that happened in those few short hours promoted an attitude of service and repentance. He was ready to be cleansed and made whole from the inside out. “Who knows what tomorrow would bring, but tonight, I have to get right with God,” he must have thought as he contemplated it all. And, the Bible tells us that he was baptized!
You ask, what would it have been like? My response, “Don’t you know already?” To be surrounded by death every day, and as quickly as one comes up out of the water, they have crossed the threshold into the newness of life.
That’s the epitome of salvation for the jailer and for us. “Having believed in God,” (Acts 16:34, NKJV), and have our whole lives turned around. The jailer may have been the guard on duty that night, but he was the one set free! For that’s what salvation does for all that come to Him.
What would it have been like? I think we already know. The circumstances may be different but the salvation is the same.
In the end, it all worked out. The jailer may have wondered what tomorrow would bring. After all, he wouldn’t feel right about locking these men back up, would he? At the same time, their freedom still meant his death. The Bible tells us, “When it was day, the magistrates sent officers, saying, ‘Let those men go,’” (Acts 16:35, NKJV).
Could it be that God allowed Paul and Silas to go through all of that to save one soul, one household? Using pure speculation here, I’d say, “Could be!” To the reader it would appear so for the Bible doesn’t talk about anyone else making a life changing conversion on that dramatic night.
The jailer may have sighed with relief when hearing the voice call out in the night, but now he really experiences what it feels like to be free. God spared his life physically (again) and spiritually (forever).
The Bible doesn’t tell us what happened after the jailer received new life. Does he stay on working as a guard? Did he give it all up to spread his testimony of what God had done in his life? We don’t know. But, what we do know is that like us, his life was never the same again.
Joy Beyond Amazing
One of my favorite Bible stories is the story of Paul and Silas in the Philippian jail. They were beaten; they were imprisoned; and who knew what would happen to them the next day? “But at midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them” (Acts 16:25).
The kind of joy that gets you singing in jail at midnight with your back bleeding and your life hanging by a thread that’s joy worth cultivating!
In our culture of instant gratification and constant amusement, it’s hard to understand the suffering the apostles endured for the sake of the Gospel. We’ll do anything to avoid trials and tribulations.
But often, in an attempt to keep anything uncomfortable from touching us, we miss the very thing God wants to use to lead us to greater joy in Him. We can’t avoid difficulties, but in the midst of all our troubles, there is God and His effervescent love.
This doesn’t mean we are to deny or disguise our feelings. Nor does it mean we can or should shrug off pain or disappointment, or try not to feel sorrow when we have good cause. It means we place our trust in God, and He opens the door to a joy beyond anything we can know on our own: the joy of knowing we are in His hands forever.
Our Joyful Savior
When we’re in a right relationship with God, He rejoices. And it’s only through that relationship that we experience joy in its fullness.
Jesus was completely comfortable at joyous events. In fact, Jesus’ first miracle took place at a wedding celebration. It was performed in a setting of rejoicing, not a setting of mourning; it was a wedding, not a wake or a funeral.
Throughout the New Testament, the Lord generously imparted His joy to others. One day He healed a crippled woman. She stood straight up and began praising the Lord (Luke 13:13). The Samaritan leper healed by Jesus returned to thank him, “praising God in a loud voice” (Luke 17:15 NIV). When the lame man at the Beautiful Gate was healed, he got up and went into the temple, “walking, leaping, and praising God” (Acts 3:8).
We must get better at living life joyously!
Describing joyous moments like these, Paul wrote: “The kingdom of God is…righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit” (Romans 14:17) Many Christians have the righteousness part down and maybe even the peace part. But they’re clueless when it comes to joy. Instead of enjoying the Christian life, they seem to merely endure it.
The Day God Has Made
I speak for many who are Christ-followers: We must get better at living life joyously! Jesus experienced and expressed joy in life, and so should we.
When I wake up in the morning, I often repeat these words of the psalmist, taking liberty to replace we with I: “This is the day the Lord has made; I will rejoice and be glad in it” (Psalm 118:24).
Try it. Write down this verse, and keep it by your bed so it’s the first thing you see in the morning. Say it aloud or in your heart to yourself and to God.
Trust me. This one small act will begin opening your heart to joy.