Week 17 of The Way: a new series on the Book of Acts
As I listened to Tim teach on Acts 16 this Sunday, I was especially struck by the story of the Philippian jailer. Paul and Silas meet the jailer after they are arrested for expelling a spirit of divination from a slave girl earlier in this chapter (v. 16-18). Expectedly, the owners of the girl become upset, having lost a source of income and arrange for Paul and Silas to be beaten and then arrested. Once they become confined, they are placed under the charge of an unnamed jailer from Philippi who becomes a key figure in this chapter.
It soon becomes clear, in v. 24, that the Philippian jailer has been given a very important task. As such, he places Paul and Silas in the inner most chamber of the prison and fastens their feet in stocks (think of this as an ancient form of a maximum security prison). The jailer takes extra precautions because he knows that if anything were to happen to Paul and Silas, he will be held responsible.
The seriousness of the jailer's mission is revealed when an earthquake suddenly causes the doors of the jail to break open and the prisoners' chains to become undone. Seeing the damage, the jailer immediately fears that the prisoners have escaped and proceeds to draw his sword to kill himself. The jailer knows that if the prisoners are gone, that he will then be killed. We can assume that he sees it as better to end it on his own terms than at the hands of the brutal government of ancient Rome.
Before he can go through with it, however, Paul calls out to the jailer from inside his cell pleading with the Philippian not to kill himself. I would point out here that a close reading of the text suggests that Paul could not actually see the jailer at this time. V. 29 reveals the jailer calling for a light so that he can see into the cells. How was it that Paul knew the jailer was about to kill himself? If the jailer could not see Paul, it seems likely that Paul also could not see the jailer. Nevertheless, Paul is able to discern that the jailer is about to take his own life and cries out to prevent it.
When the jailer finally enters into the innermost cell, he falls down at the feet of the apostles. He then proceeds to ask what he must be do to be saved. In this moment, the jailer probably isn't thinking about the message of Jesus Christ, but rather, his own personal safety. Remember, the doors are all still broken along with the chains. There would be no way to hide that from the authorities, and the Jailer most likely can think of no logical explanation for how they got that way. After all, who is honestly going to believe that an earthquake broke all of the prisoners' chains?
Let’s rephrase the jailer's words in v. 30 to say, "What must I do to live?". One can imagine a smile forming on Paul's face as he hears the words coming out of the jailer's mouth. The jailer doesn't even know what he has just asked, but he just hit the nail on the head.
And so Paul and Silas proceed to tell the jailer the Good News, and he believes! Not just because of the miraculous events that jailer has just witnessed, but because God meets him at his darkest moment. When the Philippian jailer loses all hope, God shows up and provides him with the way to everlasting life.
The apostles in this story are simply doing as they always had; when God shows up, they tell the world who he is. We are living in a world where people all around us are searching for life. Chances are, like the story of the Philippian jailer, God is already moving in these peoples' lives; all they are lacking is someone to introduce them to the One Who Loves Them Most.
-Andrew Nelson, ASC Partner and Blog Coordinator
Who can you introduce God to this week?
How can you point people towards the source of life?
Where do you see God's love in your own life?