16 One day, as we were going to the place of prayer, we met a slave-girl who had a spirit of divination and brought her owners a great deal of money by fortune-telling. 17While she followed Paul and us, she would cry out, ‘These men are servants of the Most High God, who proclaim to you* a way of salvation.’ 18She kept doing this for many days. But Paul, very much annoyed, turned and said to the spirit, ‘I order you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her.’ And it came out that very hour.
19 But when her owners saw that their hope of making money was gone, they seized Paul and Silas and dragged them into the market-place before the authorities. 20When they had brought them before the magistrates, they said, ‘These men are disturbing our city; they are Jews 21and are advocating customs that are not lawful for us as Romans to adopt or observe.’ 22The crowd joined in attacking them, and the magistrates had them stripped of their clothing and ordered them to be beaten with rods. 23After they had given them a severe flogging, they threw them into prison and ordered the jailer to keep them securely. 24Following these instructions, he put them in the innermost cell and fastened their feet in the stocks.
25 About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them. 26Suddenly there was an earthquake, so violent that the foundations of the prison were shaken; and immediately all the doors were opened and everyone’s chains were unfastened. 27When the jailer woke up and saw the prison doors wide open, he drew his sword and was about to kill himself, since he supposed that the prisoners had escaped. 28But Paul shouted in a loud voice, ‘Do not harm yourself, for we are all here.’ 29The jailer* called for lights, and rushing in, he fell down trembling before Paul and Silas. 30Then he brought them outside and said, ‘Sirs, what must I do to be saved?’ 31They answered, ‘Believe on the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.’ 32They spoke the word of the Lord* to him and to all who were in his house. 33At the same hour of the night he took them and washed their wounds; then he and his entire family were baptized without delay. 34He brought them up into the house and set food before them; and he and his entire household rejoiced that he had become a believer in God.
The incident related to us in this passage of Scripture takes us back to a midnight approximately 2000 years ago. Paul and Silas were sitting in painful restraints deep in the bowels of a Roman jail. They had been severely beaten and then confined in this den of darkness, vermin and human waste, all as the result of being convicted on false charges. They had been falsely accused of trying to start an insurrection, but what they had really done was to cast a demon of “fortune telling” out of a slave girl. But, not even this was the true cause of their plight. The thing they did that was so awful was to financially hurt the owners of the girl who were making a great deal of money from her “talent.” You never know how angry someone can be until you get into their wallet.
In the midst of all this darkness, pain and filth Paul and Silas did the weirdest thing, they began to pray and sing praises to God. There are several lessons to be learned from their actions. First, it is far easier to experience pain in your body when your head is in Heaven. Second, Paul and Silas were “practicing what they preached.” (In all things give thanks.) Third, they were showing that how we act as Christians has a definite impact on those who see and hear us. Scripture tells us that the other prisoners were listening to them and the impact that it had is shown by what happens next.
Suddenly, there was an earthquake of a magnitude sufficient to loosen all the prisoners’ bonds and to throw open the doors of the prison. The jailer, who obviously lived with his family close to the prison, was awakened. He ran out of his house and saw the doors of the prison opened and assumed that the prisoners had escaped. After all, isn’t that what prisoners do when they have the chance? He then drew his sword and was going to fall on it to commit suicide. In those days, if a prisoner escaped, the jailer was executed and he must have felt the instant death of suicide was preferable to the form of death that awaited him at the hands of the Romans. Paul, evidently able to see him in the lighted courtyard from the darkness inside, called out and stopped him. No prisoners, not even those of a character far less than Paul and Silas, had escaped.
This had an immediate impact on the jailer. He grabbed a light, ran inside, fell at the feet of Paul and Silas and asked them, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” This man recognized that these two men were truly, in the words of the slave girl, “servants of the most high God which show the way to salvation.” This leads us to a fourth lesson from this passage. When we as Christians act like what we are, even in the face of adversity, miraculous things can and will happen.
Paul and Silas told the jailer and his family about Jesus Christ. They believed, were converted and were all baptized. The last lesson from this story, and a very important one, is this. After being saved the jailer immediately started acting like it. He tended to Paul and Silas’ physical needs. In other words, after becoming a Christian he started doing the things that Christ would do.
How do we act in the face of adversity? Do we bemoan our fate or do we praise God for the opportunity to grow through what we are experiencing?Do we let others see that even in our darkest times that we are never alone, that our God is always with us and listening to us. Are we prepared to answer the question of countless millions who ask, “What must I do to be saved?”