Bethel Evangelical Lutheran worshiping Jesus at 8th and N. East Ave. in York, NE.402-363-0022

January 7, 2018 Sermon

Click HERE for an audio version posted on our Facebook page.

Acts 16:25-34

Dear Friends in Christ,

Today I want to start at the end of the story, the last thing Luke tells us about the Jailor in the city of Philippi. Luke tells us that this jailor was filled with joy because he had come to believe in God, or I think it’s better to translate, “he had come to believe God.” What had he come to believe?

The first thing he came to believe was that the God to whom his prisoners, Paul and Silas were praying, and about whom they were singing hymns of praise, was a very powerful God. He realized that the earthquake that had occurred during the night was not a normal earthquake. Experiencing an earthquake so strong that the foundations of his prison were shaken is frightening enough, but this earthquake was different. It didn’t knock the building down, it just knocked the doors open. And maybe that could be explained away as a strange coincidence, but how could you explain the chains of the prisoners coming off? It seems that the jailor recognized that something supernatural had just happened. The God to whom Paul and Silas had prayed had answered their prayer powerfully, sending an earthquake to open the prison doors for them and loosing their chains.

As you heard, the jailor’s response was to pull out his sword and prepare to take his life. He knew the rules. If prisoners escaped from your jail, then you would receive the punishment that they were to receive. He didn’t want to suffer such disgrace and torture. But there was more that was troubling him. If such a powerful God existed would he have to face this God? His conscience told him that he would. His conscience told him that he had offended this God who could cause earthquakes, and if he could cause earthquakes, just imagine what he could do to punish him!

The jailor experienced something we all need to experience. He felt terrors smiting his conscience because he realized that he was mortal and that he deserved to have the almighty God punish him for his sins. We need that experience because it makes us realize that we are helpless to save ourselves. No matter who we are; no matter how many good things we have done; no matter how much money we have; we need to feel the terror that comes when God’s law says to us, “You have sinned and deserve to have God use his almighty power to punish you.” If you have not experienced that in your life you will always be thinking that God owes you something good; and you won’t experience the joy that the jailor later felt and expressed.

The second thing the jailor came to believe was that the God to whom Paul and Silas were praying was a God of mercy and love. It might have seemed at first that the God of Paul and Silas was angry at them because, even though they seemed to be serving him faithfully, he allowed them to be severely beaten and imprisoned. But now he sent an earthquake to rescue them. And, his servants, Paul and Silas, reflected the mercy of their God because they didn’t run as soon as the doors were knocked open and their chains fell off. They stayed where the jailor had put them, and, instead of being silent as he was about to kill himself, they called out to him and begged him not to do harm to himself. He surely would have expected that most prisoners, if they had still been there, would have let him fall on his sword, or would have attacked him and killed him as they hurried to escape.

We who have received mercy are called to be merciful. We who know that God loved us even when we were his enemies, dead in sin, are called upon to show love and mercy to our enemies. Remember, if it wasn’t the jailor himself who had beaten them, he was aligned with those who had. Yet, instead of getting revenge when they had the opportunity, Paul and Silas showed mercy. They showed by word and example that the God they served is merciful.

The earthquake, the hymns and prayers that could be heard by the jailor and everyone in the prison, thinking that he was about to die and that he didn’t know for sure what would happen to him if he did die, all these things moved the Jailor to ask the most important question, the question that everyone needs to ask. What must I do to be saved, saved from the punishment I know I deserve for my sins?

The answer must have been surprising to this jailor, as it is to many still today. The answer was not a list of things he would have to do before he died. Paul and Silas didn’t tell him to climb Mt. Olympus and present an expensive offering there. They didn’t tell him that the way to be assured of paradise was to attack a group of unbelievers and take as many with him as he could before they killed him. They didn’t tell him that he would have to read the Bible daily and follow the Ten Commandments in order to be saved. Their simple answer was, and still is for us today; believe in the Lord Jesus and you will be saved. There is nothing to “do”, just believe.

But notice that they didn’t say “just believe” period. They made sure to tell him what he needed to believe, who the object of his faith was to be.

He was, and we are to believe in the Lord Jesus. We are to believe what they must have explained to him as they spoke the word of the Lord to him, that Jesus is the one who was born in fulfillment of God’s promises. He was born of a Virgin, the seed of a woman, a descendant of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and David. But he “epiphany-ed” himself, he showed himself to be the Son of God as well as a son of man. The Father declared as much at his baptism when he spoke from heaven, you are my Son whom I love. He revealed his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth by the many miracles he performed and by his resurrection from the dead, not to mention by the wonderful and gracious words that he spoke, words that had power and authority. They must have explained to him what we see during this season of Epiphany, that Jesus is a real human being who walked and talked, ate and slept, who was tempted just as we are, but who is also the Son of God. He is exactly who he needed to be in order to be what his name says he is, Jesus, the one who saves his people from their sins.

The jailor believed God. Notice it doesn’t say that he believed Paul and Silas. He believed that the God Paul and Silas told him about was the only true, almighty and merciful God. He believed that this God sent his son, Jesus, to keep his laws in our place and then to be punished in our place on the cross. He believed that salvation has been won for all by Jesus and that this salvation is, as Paul and Silas told him, received through faith in the fact that Jesus is Lord and Savior. When Paul and Silas explained to him that Jesus had given baptism as a means of assuring people that they are his redeemed and forgiven children, he and his whole household were baptized.

Now it can’t be proven beyond any doubt, but it seems likely that children were included among those who were baptized. And, since it was the middle of the night and it is unlikely that there was any place in the house in which those who were baptized could be immersed. It seems likely that the baptisms were done by sprinkling, or pouring water on those who were being baptized in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

In one night, in a matter of just a few hours, the jailor had experienced the terror of thinking he was about to die and face unimaginable punishment, and then experiencing the inexpressible joy of knowing that his sins had been washed away by Jesus and that when the day of his death did come, he would be in heaven with Jesus.

He rejoiced that he had come to believe God. His joy and gratitude found a way to express itself. He didn’t make Paul and Silas stay in prison. Although he was certainly putting himself at risk of punishment, or at least losing his job, he brought them to his home, cleaned their wounds for them, and put healing salve on them. He set a meal before them, and, the impression given is, that he couldn’t stop thanking and praising God for saving him and his family.

How about you? You profess to know and believe what the jailor did, that Jesus is your Lord and Savior; that only in him is anyone saved. Like the jailor, you believe God, that because he sent his Son to live and die in your place, you are redeemed, set free from the prison of sin and death. Like the jailor you have been baptized and had God give you the assurance that your sins are washed away by Jesus’ blood shed for you. All too often we take these things for granted. All too often we don’t let our joy show. We are afraid to risk something, as the jailor did. We need to be reminded that Jesus also paid for the times we take him for granted and the times when we are afraid to be identified with him, or to let the joy of our salvation show. As we are reminded that these sins are also forgiven, may we follow the example of the jailor and express our joy in words, and in deeds of service to each other. Rejoice that you have come to believe God.