About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening to them. Suddenly there was such a violent earthquake that the foundations of the prison were shaken. At once all the prison doors flew open, and everybody’s chains came loose. The jailer woke up, and when he saw the prison doors open, he drew his sword and was about to kill himself because he thought the prisoners had escaped. But Paul shouted, “Don’t harm yourself! We are all here!”
The jailer called for lights, rushed in and fell trembling before Paul and Silas. He then brought them out and asked, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?”
They replied, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved – you and your household.” (verses 25-31)
Let’s enter into this passage, reading between the lines and fleshing out the story.
I imagine the Philippian jailer was sound asleep that night in his own bed, having gotten there well before midnight, content in the knowledge that he was fully in control of his world. After all, the prisoners were immobilized in stocks and heavy chains, securely locked behind prison doors. Yes, he’d been given especially severe instructions about his latest two prisoners, the preachers of some strangely un-Roman customs, but they weren’t going anywhere. Nor were any of the others. The jailer dozed soundly, worry-free.
Meanwhile, Paul and Silas were completely out of control. They’d lost all freedom. Their rights had been stripped away. Unlike the jailer, they were definitely not in control of their own world. But, then, that was nothing new. They’d relinquished control long ago, in fact acknowledging they’d never actually possessed it in the first place. Rather, their path and their times were fully in the hands of the Sovereign Lord – and they knew it. In a real sense, their position in that Philippian prison cell was no different than it had been earlier that same day when they had walked the streets freely. So, now, in the Lord’s hands, they sang to him from their hearts. They prayed, exalting his name and lifting it high from the depths of a filthy Roman prison.
Then the earthquake hit. The thrill of its shock ran through their guts. The ground heaved, stone foundations quaked, shaking loose chains and stocks and doors on their frames. The impediments of Roman security were undone. Yet Paul and Silas sat still, waiting.
Meanwhile, the jailer’s awakening was incredibly rude. The violent shaking woke him, but the earthquake in his soul was far worse, pushing him over the edge. He could see the open doors of the prison and knew he’d lost control. His only hope was the quick finish his own sword could bring.
“Don’t do it !”, the voice cried out. “We’re all still here.” The guard, still quaking, rushed to the cell, falling before Paul and Silas, and blurting out, “What must I do to be saved?”
It’s a remarkable response in the moment. I imagine he’d heard Paul preach. I bet he was in town on one of those days, listened in, thinking it strange, but walked away wondering if the story of a once-dead Saviour could actually be true. Now, in this moment, he hoped it was. He’d been brought to the brink, out of control, knowing he needed rescue. “What must I do?”
“Believe.” The command was as stunningly abrupt as an earthquake. “Believe in the Lord Jesus.” That name, like a cry of rescue, was ready to stave off disaster. “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved.” And with that the guard found himself waking up to hope, not fear.
So, he received the gift. He took the outstretched hand. He believed. His life was never the same thereafter – no longer in control, but held safe in the hands of the now-living Saviour. So good.
Praise you, Lord, for providing rescue in the midst of disaster. You have rescued me. With thanksgiving, I acknowledge I am not in control – I relinquish it all into your hands.
Reflect: When have you felt such desperate need for rescue? Perhaps when you first came to faith? Perhaps at many points along the way since? Remember, and give thanks to the Rescuer.