The Conversion of the Jailer

Acts 16:6‑40  •  14 min. read  •  grade level: 7
Acts 16:6.40
The events related in this sixteenth chapter of Acts have a peculiar interest for us as Gentiles, because, you will observe, this was the first time that the gospel got into Europe. The way in which it comes out is exceedingly interesting. The Apostle Paul is going on with his work in Asia; he tries to go this way and is hindered, and then he tries to go in another direction and is hindered again, and he does not know what to do. God sends him a vision in the night: he sees a man of Macedonia beckoning to him and saying, "Come over... and help us." Nothing could be plainer than this; here was a man who felt his need. "Come over... and help us" is the language of a needy man.
Paul wakes up and evidently understands the vision, "Assuredly gathering that the Lord had called us for to preach the gospel unto them." v. 10. He was at this time at Troas, a large maritime city of Asia Minor, and there gathered assuredly that the Lord would have him preach the gospel in Europe. Immediately, therefore, he goes down to the harbor and finds a vessel ready to take him over. And God gives him a fair wind, for he gets across in a day and a half, whereas you will find that when he is coming hack he takes five days (chap. 20.6). The Lord loves to send the gospel to sinners, and I think the Holy Ghost delights to record God's readiness to meet the needy soul. There was a hungry heart in Macedonia—a needy sinner—and God orders everything so that His messenger with the gospel of His grace may reach that needy one speedily.
Well, the voyage is made, and Philippi is reached. Paul and his company go into the city, and they look all around for the man, but they do not see him. They find quite a number of women going to a prayer meeting. I do not gather that there was any set preaching to these women on the part of Paul and his companions. From the words which the evangelist Luke uses it would seem that they had just a little free conversation: "We sat down, and spake unto the women which resorted thither." I do not know anything
better than that. I believe there are far more people converted by earnest Christians sitting down by their side and having a quiet talk with them than by sermons from pulpits or preachings from platforms.
The next thing we read is that Lydia's heart was opened. Clearly she received the gospel. I have no doubt that Lydia was an anxious soul, an inquiring one, who knew herself a guilty sinner, but anything she had ever heard up to that moment had not met her soul's need.
A void, no doubt, was in Lydia's heart; and oh, with what gladness does this simple, anxious woman hear the glad tidings of the blessed Savior, His coming into the world, His life, His death, His resurrection, the descent of the Holy Ghost, the joyful news of forgiveness, and pardon, and peace through His name! Her heart was opened, she drank in the good news; and when her heart was opened, her house was opened too. She received the gospel of Christ into her heart, and she received the servants of Christ into her house (v. 15). She came boldly out for the Lord; she was not ashamed to own the Lord. She is real; she has the courage of her convictions.
She not only confessed with the lip, but in deed: "She besought us, saying, If ye have judged me to he faithful to the Lord, come into my house, and abide there. And she constrained us." v. 15. I think the heart of the Apostle Paul was exceedingly happy when he found himself under Lydia's roof.
Now the devil does not like that sort of thing, and if he can hinder the work he will. First he tries to spoil the work by what I may call patronizing the apostles. He puts a poor girl "possessed with a spirit of divination," the slave and tool of Satan, upon the track of the apostles; and day after day she follows them, saying, "These men are the servants of the most high God, which show unto us the way of salvation." v. 17. The devil tries to mix himself up with God's work in order to discredit it. It is always so; wherever you find God working, be sure Satan will come in and try to spoil it. I am afraid most of us would have accepted this girl's testimony, for it sounded fair. But the Apostle Paul would not have Satan's help in proclaiming the truth of God. So Paul "turned and said to the spirit, I command thee in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her.
And he came out the same hour."
Immediately there was a great uproar, and why? Because the masters of this poor damsel saw that their money-making had been stopped. These men are in a rage, catch Paul and Silas, bring them to the rulers in the market place, stir up the people, and put the whole city into a tumult.
I do not doubt Satan thought he had put a stop to the spread of the gospel in Europe when these two servants of the Lord were taken. They received summary justice, and without more ado were stripped, beaten, and handed over to the tender mercies of a brutal, callous man, the jailer of the city prison, who, commanded to keep them safely, "thrust them into the inner prison, and made their feet fast in the stocks." v. 24. This eastern dungeon was not at all like the prisons of today, but a damp, loathsome place, such as Roman cruelty knew how to prepare in the way of a prison. The jailer evidently takes a sort of brutal pleasure in thrusting God's servants into the inner prison, and then making their feet fast in the stocks.,
But this is the man God is going to save. This is the man who is marked out by grace to be truly converted to God. Having effectually secured the servants of the Lord, as he supposed, he left them in this horrible dungeon, with their feet fast in the stocks, and himself retired to sleep. No doubt the enemy thought that the work of the Lord was arrested. But you cannot check the grace of God, or the energy of the Spirit of God; and what looked like a great defeat, really became the opportunity for a wondrous display of divine grace, and the winning of a victory that only God could win.
But midnight approached, and what was heard in that prison? These two men, Paul and Silas, were praying and singing praises unto God, and the prisoners heard them. Their feet were fast in the stocks, their backs were sore and bleeding from the stripes they had received; they were hungry and cold, and yet they were not only praying, but praising. They were exhibiting the character of holy priests, and were soon to act as royal priests. As holy priests they were turning to God in prayer and intercession, and offering up to God praise and thanksgiving. They were able to thank and bless the Lord in the most adverse circumstances.
Now see what followed. God stepped in. It was midnight, and as the other prisoners heard what was going on—these songs of praise going up to God—we can imagine their astonishment. The particular nature or character of their prayer we are not told, but it strikes me very forcibly that it was connected with the testimony of God which they had come to render at Philippi. While others might be buried in slumber, and darkness reigned, the cry of prayer was going up from these two devoted servants of God for the testimony of Christ, and God heard them. He heard their prayer, and He answered it in this remarkable way: "And suddenly there was a -great earthquake, so that the foundations of the prison were shaken: and immediately all the doors were opened, and every one's bands were loosed." v. 26. God answered the faith and confidence of His servants in this instance by an earthquake, and not only one earthquake, I think, but by two. There was a physical earthquake which shook the prison at Philippi to its very foundations, but this became the means of a moral earthquake in the soul of the poor godless heathen jailer, and he wakes up to find where he is, and what he has been doing.
God had stepped in; the prison was shaken, the doors opened, and every prisoner's bands loosed: "And the keeper of the prison awaking out of his sleep, and seeing the prison doors open, he drew out his sword, and would have killed himself."
God has various ways of waking up a soul. Here in Philippi was a man whose course had been one of ignorance of God, and brutal harshness in the exercise of his prison duties, but God had His eye upon him for mercy. The intervention of the earthquake was undoubtedly a testimony that God was pleased to give in connection with the introduction of the gospel of His Son into Europe, but it was also His direct interposition to reach this man. First he was rudely awakened, and finding the doors open, and everyone's bands loosed, he immediately inferred, "The prisoners are all gone, and my life is not worth preserving." The rule that applied to Roman jailers was that the jailer's life went for the life of the prisoners whom he had lost. He concluded that the prisoners were gone, and his own life therefore forfeited, and he was just on the verge of committing suicide.
But notice how beautifully the grace of God interposed. The voice of God's servant, whom he had treated so rudely and cruelly a few hours before, was heard saying, "Do thyself no harm: for we are all here." See the effect upon this man. It was the earthquake that woke him up out of his sleep, yet I do not think it was the earthquake that touched his conscience, but this: that he heard a man, whom he had so lately treated in the most brutal manner, calling to him in the most tender, loving way, and preventing him from taking away his own life, which he otherwise would have done. Is not that a lovely word for every sinner, "Do thyself no harm"? How many are doing themselves harm, fighting against God, fighting against the truth, refusing to bow to Jesus.
That word of affectionate pleading went to the heart of the poor wretched jailer; his conscience was reached; he called for a light, and sprang in, and came trembling, and fell down before Paul and Silas. It was in the darkness that Paul had spoken, and the jailer must have thought within himself, "How could that prisoner know that I was going to make away with myself? How could he know what I was about in the darkness?"
He had a sense in his soul that God was there.
No doubt this poor man was in a great state of trepidation. He came trembling; he was in real exercise; he was an awakened sinner. A little while ago he was a careless sinner, doing Satan's work, but now by the grace of God he became an exercised man in the throes of the new birth, and deeply convicted of his sinful state.
This awakened, convicted man now brought out Paul and Silas, and put to them the most momentous question that a man could ask: "Sirs, what must I do to be saved?" He had heard before, no doubt, that these men showed the way of salvation, but those words had no meaning for him. Now his eyes are opened, his conscience is aroused, he sees that up to this point he had been on the road to eternal damnation. You must remember that up to this hour he was a poor dark heathen who had never heard the gospel, who had never heard of Jesus, nor of the love of God, but now, awakened and convicted, with a sense of his sins pressing on his soul, he cries out, "What must I do to be saved?" And, you may depend upon it, it was with gladness of heart that Paul and Silas heard
the jailer's query. "What must I do? ' he cries, because when a man is awakened, he always supposes there is something he must do, something which must be performed or brought forth by him, to put things right between his soul and God.
But what is the jailer told to do? God's answer to man's query is exquisite in its simplicity. "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved, and thy house," falls on the ears of the awakened sinner. How divinely simple. He had only to believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and he would be a saved man. There is no word of anything that he must do in order to get salvation. This is a gospel that exactly meets helpless sinners without strength, and no wonder the jailer believed at once. His conversion was a rapid one indeed. One minute asleep in his sins, the next awake and deeply anxious about these sins—and straightway thereafter he hears the gospel and believes it, and rejoices in God with all his house.
We see what an immense difference one word makes. What shall I do? cries the jailer. He is not told to do anything but believe. I know that people have got in their heads the idea of being saved by works, but you will find in Scripture that men are not saved by works, but by simply hearing and believing. Faith rests on God's Word; faith comes by hearing.
But you might say to me, What did this man know about the Lord Jesus Christ? I do not think he knew anything whatever about Him up to that moment, and therefore the next verse is very important: "And they spake unto him the word of the Lord, and to all that were in his house." They did not stop with merely saying, "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ," but unfolded the gospel to him; they brought out the glorious truth of the Person of the Lord Jesus Christ. Observe, he was not told to believe on Jesus merely, but on the Lord Jesus Christ. This is very important, because His full title sets forth what the Savior is—He is Lord of all, His name is Jesus, which signifies Jehovah the Savior, and His character is that He is the Christ, the anointed One of God. He is more than a mere man. Yes indeed, were He not more than mere man, He would be no Savior for you and me. If He were not very Man He could not stand in our stead, and if He were not the eternal Son of God He could not rise to the height of God's claims.
The jailer heard the gospel, "Believe... and be saved." He believed and he was saved. Manifestly he believed with his heart, and confessed with his mouth, for we read, "He took them the same hour of the night, and washed their stripes; and was baptized, he and all his, straightway." He did not wait till the morning.
What a wonderful change did grace make in that jailer's history.
Saved and blessed, he was manifestly on the Lord's side, and his whole life and ways bespoke the radical nature of his conversion. How different the way he dismissed the Lord's servants to that in which he received them. "Depart, and go in peace," are the last words we have from his lips, as in the morning he brought his guests out of his house. The lion had became a lamb. The servant of the devil had become the happy servant of Christ.