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What Must I Do To Be Saved?


Praise, Panic and Prayer. 

Acts 16:25-34

What must I do to be saved?”  The prison officer’s question has been written in the minds of thousands of people, and I’ve no doubt has been instrumental in awakening people to their need of salvation.  So, it is our responsibility to read the passage, in context, and with a correct understanding of the work of God in salvation and the correct response of men and women to that work of God.  However, we start with…

1 Praise in Their Reversal. 25 About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them,

Now, let’s remind ourselves, again, of the condition of these two prisoners.  They are, obviously, in prison and from a natural viewpoint, it’s a serious reversal, a set-back.  Let’s review the previous verses, Acts 16:22-24 

Prison Stocks – Image by Momentmal from Pixabay

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  • Humiliation.  So they have been publicly humiliated, stripped naked in front of the howling crowd, a procedure designed to reduce them to a laughing stock, to make them feel embarrassed and foolish.  
  • Physical abuse. They have been beaten with rods.  When you were beaten with rods by the Roman ‘lictors’ the physical abuse you received was horrendous.  It left your back ripped to shreds, a seething painful mess of skin and blood and gore, the flesh torn from the bone. 
  • Imprisonment.  They are placed in the most secure cell.  We are told here that they are placed in stocks – but why, when they are already in the most secure dungeon?  Again there’s a reason for this.  It was to induce maximum discomfort, for the stocks bent their already painful backs and any relief from the searing pain of the beating was denied them.  They couldn’t stretch, or move or ease their muscles.  

Now, this is total agony, enough for some men to die from the pain.  At the very least they should be complaining about the unfairness of it all, but instead, in the midst of these awful circumstances, Paul and Silas prayed and sang praises to Almighty God.   It’s easy for us to say – “Whatever your circumstances, pray and praise God.”  Not so easy when you are actually IN those circumstances.  Yet Paul and Silas were suffering for Christ, and remember, He had suffered for more for them, so prayer and praise arose from their gratitude to God.  Psalm 34:1-7, 

2 Panic of His Realisation

We may have some idea of the state of mind of the gaoler, when he discovered that all the prisoners under his care were free to walk away!  Under normal circumstances, that event would not only be life changing, but life ending.  Let’s see how the situation evolved:-

  • Divine Intervention. v26 Now let’s think about this divine intervention, because I think that the act of deliverance was in the timing rather than in the effects of the earthquake.  Earthquakes are a natural event,  and Philippi was particularly susceptible to them.  The doors would have been fastened by a wooden plank, slotted into two upright brackets at either side of the door.  There were no security locks! The movement of the walls in a huge earthquake would have dislodged the locking mechanism.  Same with the stocks.  No, the miracle was that everything works according to God’s perfect timing.    Romans 8:28  God could have intervened to miraculously free Paul and Silas like he did with Peter in Acts 12, when Peter alone was led out of the prison by an Angel.  But here, at Philippi, all the prisoners were set free!  It was a miracle of God’s perfect timing, an earthquake happening at exactly the right place and time. It was no coincidence that Paul and Silas were praying and praising when it happened.  
  • Serious Consequences.  v27   It was a serious situation for the jailer.  In Roman law, a public servant would pay heavily for such failure in office, and to lose a gaol full of prisoners was a capital offence.  You can almost feel the sudden sense of dread that overcame the man.  After all, if you were a prisoner in a Roman gaol and an earthquake had opened up the doors, wouldn’t you take the opportunity to escape?  I would.
  • Calming Reassurance. 28-29   Why did the prisoners not take the opportunity to escape?  Why did Paul and Silas not simply walk away?  Paul was no quitter.  Paul has already shown on his first missionary journey, after he was beaten and left for dead, that he would defy his enemies by walking back into the very city where the beating had taken place.  Acts 14:19-20  But there’s another reason, and we’ll come to that in our next study.

3 Prayer After His Reprieve.

Now, we come to the most important part of this story, for a soul is about to pass from death unto life, in more ways than one!  

  • The most important question.   30 It’s a question we would hear today from many who think that they can be saved by something they do!  In fact there is NOTHING you can do to be saved, for Christ has already DONE everything that is necessary for us to be saved.  Paul’s answer reflects that:-
  • The importance of a response. 31 It’s all done – just believe and accept that!  Believing is NOT a work, its a simple acceptance of what has already been done!  
  • The need to hear the Word.  32 Imagine, – this man had seen the power of God at work, and he had been spared from personal tragedy, by the honesty and integrity of the apostles, – but he still needs to HEAR the WORD OF GOD!  
  • The testimony of a new life. Look at how genuine the man’s conversion really was in the actions he took afterwards:-
    • He ministered to the prisoners.   33 And he took them the same hour of the night and washed their wounds;   
    • He was baptised. and he was baptised at once, he and all his family.  
    • He fellowshipped with the Christians.  34 Then he brought them up into his house and set food before them.   
    • He rejoiced in his belief in God. And he rejoiced along with his entire household that he had believed in God.  

The most important challenge for believers in this passage is Paul’s answer to the jailer’s question.  A man who has flung himself to the floor in desperation, and in the face of death, asks ‘What must I do to be saved?’ needs a very urgent answer.  Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, – that’s the simplest way to explain the way of salvation to a dying man.  It’s all we need – to know the life changing forgiveness that is God’s free gift in Christ.

© BobMcEvoy January 2021

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