One of life’s most important questions
By Terry Broome
While Paul and Silas sang praises to God from within the Roman jail at midnight, a jailer slept while on guard duty, unaware, no doubt, of the importance of the hour. Little did he realize that he would soon encounter the mighty power of God. This man already understood authority, power, responsibility. He was answerable with his very life for the prisoners in this dungeon to those who had authority over him. Soon he was to witness a power that superseded that of Roman emperors, Roman idols, and Roman chains. In response to this Power he would eagerly do whatever it took for salvation.
When this Philippian jailer of Acts 16 felt the earthquake, saw the jail cells opened and the chains removed from his prisoners, but that they had not escaped, he recognized he was not dealing with ordinary people or ordinary powers. We cannot understand that he immediately knew all the answers. I doubt seriously if he even understood all the questions. He just knew that he had experienced an encounter with a genuine and ultimate authority – the real thing. He was at least vaguely aware that he was dealing with a power greater than the Roman government and all the Roman “gods” combined.
Whatever he knew, whatever he meant by the question, after this experience he immediately sought the answer to what has no doubt brought more sermons to their conclusion than any other, “What Must I Do To Be Saved?” (Acts 16:30). Undoubtedly, this is the most important question ever asked in the whole existence of mankind. The answer to this question will determine where one spends eternity.
The answer recorded in Acts 16:31 is the hope of the world: “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved, and thy house.” This man did not already believe on Jesus, and could not start believing in one whom he did not even know. He had to be introduced to Jesus. “For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved. How then shall they call on him in whom they have not believed? and how shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard? and how shall they hear without a preacher?” (Romans 10:13-14). So verse 32 of Acts 16 continues the message of salvation: “And they spake unto him the word of the Lord…” He was so convinced of this “word of the Lord” that he was baptized into Jesus that very same hour of the night.
It becomes apparent in the text that in preaching to the jailer about Jesus, just as it was with Phillip preaching to the Ethiopian about Jesus, recorded in Acts Chapter Eight, that somewhere in those sermons the new believer was told to be baptized. Otherwise they would not have responded by being baptized. In the recorded book of Acts, when one preached that message of Jesus, and belief followed, the listener always wanted to immediately be baptized. So it was here in Acts 16, and so it was in every case of conversion in the New Testament. No doubt, the response of baptism was consistent with the Apostle Peter’s answer to the Pentecostians in Acts Chapter Two. When they asked “men and brethren, what shall we do?” (Acts 2:37), they were not told to believe in Jesus.
They had heard the sermon about Jesus and did believe. They were pricked, convicted in their hearts that they had crucified the Son of God (see all of Acts Chapter Two). They were convicted so much that they longed to know “what must we do?” Peter’s response was, “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins….” (Acts 2:38). Salvation in the New Testament was always more than just saying “I believe.” The hearing that produced that faith led the hearer to ask “What must I do?” and the believer was told exactly what was lacking and what was necessary to be saved. First, the jailer needed to become a believer. The new believers on the day of Pentecost were told what was still needed beyond belief.
How can there be so much disagreement in the religious world on such an important subject as salvation. We can only wish that everyone would be as sincere as the jailer was. In essence his message was, “Lord, I’ll do anything it takes.” There was no argument about it. He was baptized that very same hour of the night. Let us all maintain that same open and willing mind in our search for salvation.
The author can be reached for comments at 256-574-2489.