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“What Must I Do to Be Saved?”
Acts 16:25-34


Pastor Kevin Vogts
Holy Cross Lutheran Church
Dakota Dunes, South Dakota
The Baptism of Our Lord–First Sunday After the Epiphany—January 9, 2011

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

The climax of today’s dramatic reading from the Book of Acts is the famous question asked of Paul and Silas by the jailer at Philippi: “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?”  Finding the answer to that question is why you are here this morning.  That question is the reason for the existence of the Christian Church, the reason for the existence of this congregation.  And no matter how eloquent, how entertaining or how informative a sermon may be, it is an utter failure if it does not clearly give the correct answer to that question, “What must I do to be saved?”

“Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved.”  We just celebrated at Christmastime how the Lord Jesus Christ came down from heaven and was made man.  During Epiphany we celebrate how the Lord Jesus Christ was revealed as the Son of God, as at his Baptism when a voice came from heaven proclaiming, “You are my Son, whom I love.”  During Lent we will meditate on how Christ bore our sins in his body on the cross, as an atoning sacrifice not only for our sins but also for the sins of the whole world.  And at Easter we will celebrate with joy his great victory for us over sin, Satan and death itself by his resurrection from the dead.

“Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved.”  Through faith in Jesus, you receive the forgiveness of sins that he earned for you.  Through faith in Jesus, you receive eternal life.  “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.”

That is the main point of the story of the jailer at Philippi: The way of salvation is through faith in Jesus Christ.  But there are also in this story many practical lessons for daily living.

“About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God.”  The reason Paul and his assistant Silas were in prison was because of something good they had done.  Earlier that same day they had freed a slave girl from a demon that had her under its spell.  But, the owners of the slave girl were upset because they had been using that demon to make money by fortune-telling, and so they stirred up a crowd against Paul and Silas and brought them before the magistrates.  The magistrates had them savagely beaten and thrown into prison.

Paul and Silas were bleeding and sore from their wounds as the jailer threw them into the deepest dungeon and locked them into stocks.  And what do Paul and Silas do in such a situation?  “About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God.” 

This is where Paul learned in life-experience what he later wrote about in Philippians: “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! . . . Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God;” and in 1st Thessalonians: “Pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances;” and in Ephesians: “Pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests . . .  Speak to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. Sing and make music in your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

The Devil will always attempt to use the suffering and tragedy and misfortune of you or your loved ones to drive you away from the Lord.  The sad thing is how often he succeeds.  But, when you or your loved ones are facing suffering or tragedy or misfortune, like Paul and Silas in prison at Philippi, trust in the Lord’s love and take it to him in prayer.  As Paul would later write in Romans, “I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed to us. . .  If God is for us, who can be against us? . . .  Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? . . . No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.  For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

“About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening to them.”  Here Paul is putting into practice what he later wrote in Colossians: “Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity.”  Paul and Silas were presented with a wonderful opportunity to witness to these prisoners, and they made the most of it.  Maybe that’s why Paul and Silas were put into that prison in the first place; maybe there was someone inside that prison the Lord wanted to bring the Gospel to through them.

And maybe that’s why the Lord has put you in certain situations, because there is someone the Lord wants you to witness to in your life.  That may be why you live in a particular neighborhood, why you belong to a certain club or organization, why you work at a specific place or attend a certain school, even why you belong to a certain family.

“Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity.”  Paul and Silas could have shouted complaints about their situation; they could have cursed the magistrates who had them beaten and the jailer who threw them into the dungeon and locked them up in stocks.  But what kind of witness would that have been for the Lord?  “And the other prisoners were listening to them.”  In the same way, those around you are listening and watching; make the most of every opportunity.  As Paul says in Philippians, “Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ.” 

“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.”  Paul says in Romans, “We know that God works all things together for the good of those who love him.”  An earthquake would almost always be considered a bad thing.  But in this instance, God uses what we would consider a bad thing for the good, to rescue Paul and Silas.  In the same way, God is working all things together in your life for the good.

“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.”  To the jailer at Philippi, this earthquake seemed at first like the worst possible thing that could have happened, because the punishment for losing a prisoner was suffering whatever punishment the prisoner would have received, and apparently some of the prisoners at Philippi had been sentenced to death.  So for the jailer at Philippi, it at first seemed that this earthquake meant his death.

“But Paul shouted, ‘Don’t harm yourself! We are all here!’” For some reason the prisoners had not taken advantage of their chance to escape.  Perhaps they had already been converted by the witness of Paul and Silas, and they understood escaping wasn’t the right thing to do.

“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?’  So they said, ‘Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved, you and your household.”  At first it seemed to the jailer that this earthquake would mean the his death.  He could have never dreamed that this earthquake would end up instead bringing eternal life to him and his family.  In the same way, we usually cannot comprehend how in our lives God is working all things together, even bad things, for the good, but he is.

“Then they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all the others in his house.  At that hour of the night the jailer took them and washed their wounds; then immediately he and all his family were baptized.  The jailer brought them into his house and set a meal before them; he was filled with joy because he had come to believe in God—he and his whole family.”  The jailer at Philippi responds to the Gospel in five ways:

First of all, he responds to the Gospel by believing the message, by putting his hope for salvation in the Lord Jesus Christ.  Follow his example; trust in Jesus as your Savior; “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved.”

Secondly, the jailer at Philippi responds to the Gospel by inviting Paul and Silas to tell him more and to share the Good News with his family.  “Then they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all the others in his house.”  Follow his example by hearing and reading and studying the word of the Lord and by seeing to it that your children are brought up in the training and instruction of the Lord.

Thirdly, the jailer at Philippi responds to the Gospel by showing Christian love to Paul and Silas with concrete acts of kindness.  “At that hour of the night the jailer took them and washed their wounds . . . The jailer brought them into his house and set a meal before them.”  Follow his example by truly showing Christian love in your life.  As the apostle John says, “Let us not love only with words or tongue but with actions and in truth.”

Fourthly, the jailer at Philippi responds to the Gospel by being baptized and having his family baptized.  “Then immediately he and all his family were baptized.”  Follow his example bringing yourself and your children to the Lord for Holy Baptism.

Finally, the jailer at Philippi responds to the Gospel by rejoicing.  “He was filled with joy because he had come to believe in God—he and his whole family.”  Follow his example, especially by worshiping here in the house of the Lord, as Psalm 100 says, “Enter into his gates with thanksgiving and into his courts with praise.”

In the story of the jailer at Philippi we learn first of all the answer to that most important question, “What must I do to be saved?”  “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved.”  And we see in this story, in the example of Paul and Silas and the jailer himself, practical ways to live out that faith in your life.

Amen.

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