As gospel preachers, we are able to offer hope to a world filled with doom and despair. Study Acts 16:23-34 and see a man’s despair turned to joy and hope.
The loss of money caused a greedy group of men to have Paul and Silas thrown into jail. As they endured “many stripes,” with their “feet fast in the stocks” in the inner prison, these two fearless men of God “were praying and singing hymns unto God, and the prisoners were listening to them.” Suddenly there was a great earthquake and immediately all the doors were opened, and everyone’s bands were loosed. Listen to Luke tell the rest of the story. He said,
[T]he jailor, being roused out of sleep and seeing the prison doors open, drew his sword and was about to kill himself, supposing that the prisoners had escaped. But Paul cried with a loud voice, saying, Do thyself no harm: for we are all here… he called for lights… sprang in… trembling for fear, fell down before Paul and Silas… and said, Sirs, what must I do to be saved? And they said, Believe on the Lord Jesus, and thou shalt be saved, thou and thy house. And they spake the word of the Lord unto him, with all that were in his house… he took them the same hour of the night… and was baptized… immediately (Acts 16:26-33).
Before The Jailer Was Converted
Here was a man about to kill himself (Acts 16:27). His sword was drawn. He preferred to die by his own hand instead of suffering the imposed penalty for allowing his charges to escape. As a Roman soldier in charge of prisoners, he knew that when the captives escaped his life was not worth the stone slab upon which he stood. Zophar gives us the mindset of those like the jailer. He said, “But the eyes of the wicked shall fail, And they shall have no way to flee; And their hope shall be the giving up of the ghost” (Job 11:20 ASV). The jailer trembled at his hopeless situation (Acts 16:29).
I cannot imagine being in a life and death situation and being without hope. The jailer probably felt a lot like the news reporter who was caught in the Mount St. Helen’s eruption in 1981. The man ran for his life. As he ran, his camera was rolling and his mike caught the vivid nightmare. In the midst of the spewing steam and miles of ash being thrown into the air, as he gulped some of the ash into his lungs, the panic-stricken reporter breathed laboriously, sobbing for God’s help. Here are the desperate man’s last words: “Oh, God, oh, my God, help! Help! Oh, Lord God, get me through. God, I need you, please help me; I don’t know where I am.” More sobbing, more rapid breathing, spitting, gagging, coughing, panting, then, “It’s so hot, so dark, help me, God! Please, please, please, please. . . oh, God!!” Where is his hope? Gone! Such was the jailer’s doomed situation.
Job asked, “For what is the hope of the godless…When God taketh away his soul?” (Job 27:8 ASV). The jailer’s spiritual predicament was as hopeless as his physical. He was, “at that time separate from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers from the covenants of the promise, having no hope and without God in the world” (Eph. 2:12 ASV). He had no idea who Jesus was. He did not know that Paul was going to have the chance to tell him of the wonderful Savior.
Without Christ, we are doomed to hopelessness. “But we would not have you ignorant, brethren, concerning them that fall asleep; that ye sorrow not, even as the rest, who have no hope” (1 Thes. 4:13 ASV). Jesus said, “I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth on me, though he die, yet shall he live” (John 11:25 ASV). If one does not believe in Jesus, he has no hope.
Recognizing something special about Paul, the jailer sought salvation. Was he asking for physical or spiritual salvation (Acts 16:30)? I am not sure it matters. The fact is, Paul gave him what he needed. Salvation is for those who seek it (Rom 2:4-9).
The Jailer’s Conversion
In response to the jailer’s question, Paul commanded him to believe (Acts 16:31). Errorists have seized on these words and pounded their faith only doctrine into the reading populace. However, the account does not stop with just this one answer.
Paul preached to them because they did not know Jesus. Faith comes by hearing the message of heaven (Rom. 10:17). Hearing and believing, the jailer and his house were baptized. The baptism of Christ is for believers and not infants, and it is essential unto salvation (Mark 16:16; Acts 2:38).
After his obedience, the jailer rejoiced greatly (Acts 16:34). Years later, Paul wrote to these same brethren, exhorting them to be filled with the joy that is only in Christ: “Rejoice in the Lord always: again I will say, Rejoice” (Phlp. 4:4 ASV). Take special note of the sphere of rejoicing: “In the Lord.” The jailer rejoiced after being baptized because baptism places one in Christ (Gal. 3:26-27; Rom. 6:3-4).
The jailer who, at the beginning, had a cloud of doom and despair encircling his soul, now, like Paul, has the promise of an eternal future of bliss. Paul said, “For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. But if to live in the flesh,—if this shall bring fruit from my work, then what I shall choose I know not. But I am in a strait betwixt the two, having the desire to depart and be with Christ; for it is very far better” (Phlp. 1:21-23 ASV). Do you have this desire? If not, then something is wrong—terribly wrong.
Eternal salvation is the Christian’s goal and prize. Paul reminded the jailer of these things, saying, “I press on toward the goal unto the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus” (Phlp. 3:14 ASV). If you fail to heed the gospel call, you are doomed to suffer eternal despair. If you trust and obey, then the jailer’s hope is your hope.