Read Acts 16.16-34
“What must I do to be saved?” This is the question the jailer asks of Paul and Silas. It is a question loaded with meaning and significance.
The jailer is poised, ready to take his own life. He has failed at his job, fallen asleep at his post. The doors are open, the prisoners have escaped. The jailer is distraught. He wants to take his own life, rather than risk public humiliation. Death seems to him his only escape. He readies himself, draws his sword from its sheath and prepares to face the unknown.
And then, a loud voice is heard, Paul shouting out, “Do not harm yourself, for we are all here.” Strange, the prisoners haven’t escaped. What possessed them to stay? The jailer had fallen asleep, had failed to watch over these prisoners and yet they had not escaped. The jailer flings himself at the feet of Paul and Silas, no doubt relieved and yet trembling, coming so close to taking his own life, he asks them, “What must I do to be saved?”
There are many ways to approach this question. The jailer may be asking: “How can I be saved from my bosses?” Paul and Silas, however, hear the deeper meaning behind this question. The jailer has just had a near-death experience. Faced with being a failure at his job, he found nothing else worth living for. Paul had seen this and even though the jailer had been rescued from the immediate crisis, there was still much missing in his life. Paul and Silas see this and hear the deeper question of purpose in “What must I do to be saved?” It is a question of ultimate importance, “What can I lean on when the going gets tough? Where can I turn when it feels like I’m going in circles? How can I get the faith you seem to have?”
Paul and Silas hear this deeper meaning and respond quite simply, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved.” They go on to say, “You and your household.” Should the jailer believe, not only will his life be affected, but his whole family’s life. Belief in this sense is an active verb, it means much more than to agree or consent that Jesus was real, or that faith is a good idea. Belief here means ultimate trust, risking your life for the sake of Christ, looking to Jesus for your purpose in life. For the jailer this would mean in his moment of crisis turning to prayer rather than the sword.
I am amazed at the power these simple words have in the life of the jailer. Clearly, he was ready to hear and respond. Immediately, he takes the risk of releasing these prisoners, inviting them into his home, washing and caring for their wounds, listening to their teachings, receiving baptism and rejoicing over a feast that he had become a believer in God. He turns from being ready to take his own life to rejoicing at a feast. It is awesome to think that such dramatic life changes could happen. It is even more awesome to know that they do.
Each of us in need of conversion. The salvation of God is more than just a one-time event, but an ongoing way, a path that leads us through the periods of crisis and difficult decisions in life. The salvation made possible through Jesus Christ, in his life, death and resurrection, is made real to us as we turn from the ways of the world, of sin and death, and turn to God, allowing the grace of God to bring us to tears, to produce the changes necessary in our lives.
The good news is that God is always ready to change us, even before we know change is needed. I’ve talked with a number of people who have felt themselves getting into ruts with their lives, struggling to overcome routines that once were meaningful but over time had become burdensome. People who can’t accomplish what they want because there is just so much that needs to be done and they wind up going through the motions and losing their sense of purpose or significance.
It is important when you find yourself in these ruts, or when you find yourself at a point of crisis to ask, “What must I do to be saved?” Ask it in prayer; ask it in faith with those you trust. God may well be moving you to a point of conversion, a life change that may not be as dramatic as the Apostle Paul falling off his horse, but could have an awesome impact on your life and the lives of others.
The way of salvation leads through the cross. The path of salvation leads us through dark valleys and long stretches of dry land. We can follow the path because we know that God walks with us and in the end, God will welcome us home with a feast. There will be much rejoicing and in our rejoicing even the dark places, the points of crisis, even the dry ruts have meaning and all things work together for the glory of God. We’re not there yet, but we’re on our way. Praise God. Amen.