My God and My Neighbor

Jun 19, 2024

Near Death Leads to a New Life

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He almost killed himself. It was a normal day at work for this prison guard until two men were arrested that were unlike any prisoners he had ever seen. At first he was not impressed by them. But when an earthquake struck one night he started to commit suicide because he thought the prisoners had escaped. One of those two men assured him that all the prisoners were still there. That man was the apostle Paul. The fearless guard came out with a light trembling. He asked the most important question anyone could ask: “What must I do to be saved?” That night a man who came very close to leaving this world in a lost condition was baptized. This is the story of the Philippian jailor in Acts 16.


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Kerry Duke: Hi, I’m Kerry Duke, host of My God and My Neighbor podcast from Tennessee Bible College, where we see the Bible as not just another book, but the Book. Join us in a study of the inspired Word to strengthen your faith and to share what you’ve learned with others.

In Acts chapter 16, beginning in verse 16, we find the story of the conversion of the jailkeeper at Philippi. This is a good example of circumstances on the outside being just right and the conscience on the inside being tender and the Word of God coming together in a case of salvation. This is an example of personal work in the Book of Acts.

It’s not a one-on-one situation, but it’s actually a two-on-one case of personal work. And it’s interesting in the Book of Acts that the examples of conversion show us that personal work does not always happen in the same way. I think that sometimes Christians get the idea that they always have to be the ones to initiate the conversation.

And sometimes we feel a bit awkward about doing that. Well, sometimes in the Bible, the Christian approached the person who was lost. And he began the discussion. For instance, the Bible tells us that Philip approached the Ethiopian eunuch in Acts 8 verse 30 and he asked him, “Do you understand what you read?”

So there the Christian approached the non-Christian and started the discussion. But at other times, the lost individual came to the Christian and asked the Christian what to do. And that’s the case here in Acts chapter 16 beginning in verse 16. The story of his conversion begins with two Christians being thrown into jail.

Those two Christians were Paul and Silas. And why were they thrown into prison? They were thrown into prison because their preaching upset some people. The story begins in verse 16 when the Bible says, “It came to pass, as we went to prayer, that a certain damsel possessed with a spirit of divination met us, which brought her masters much gain by soothsaying.”

So this woman was a fortune teller and the Bible says that she had masters, which means that she was their property. She was a slave that was owned by these men. And the Bible says that because of her fortune telling, her divination, she was making them a lot of money. People in those days, especially in cities like Ephesus and Corinth and Philippi, were very superstitious.

And so this woman, with this ability that she had, caused these people to pay a lot of money to her masters. Well, the Bible tells us then, in verse 17, that “the same followed Paul and us and cried, saying, These men are the servants of the Most High God, which show unto us the way of salvation. And this did she many days. But Paul, being grieved, turned and said to the Spirit, I command thee in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her. And he came out the same hour.”

Then something interesting happened. In verse 19 the Bible says, “And when her masters saw that the hope of their gains was gone, they caught Paul and Silas and drew them into the marketplace unto the rulers.” What has happened here? This is a story that is all about money.

These men were making a lot of money through this woman. And when the Bible says that Paul and Silas cast this evil spirit out of her, they realized that the hope of their gains, that is, their means of making all this money, was gone. These men knew that they would not be able to make any more money off of this woman, and so they were very angry at Paul and Silas.

And the Bible says in verse 20, “And they brought them to the magistrates saying, These men, being Jews, do exceedingly trouble our city and teach customs which are not lawful for us to receive, neither to observe, being Romans.” Now it’s interesting here that the real motive behind these men having Paul and Silas arrested is that they are not going to be able to make the money that they once did.

That’s why they’re furious with Paul and Silas. But that’s not the accusation that they make against them. They claim that Paul and Silas are teaching things contrary to Roman law. That’s what they say in verse 21. And so they’re very deceptive about this. Many times people hide what their motive is, especially if that motivation is money.

People will come up with all kinds of charges and criticisms against somebody that they’re trying to destroy when their real motivation is money. The Bible tells us in verse 22, “And the multitude rose up together against them, and the magistrates ripped off their clothes and commanded to beat them.” So they’re going to be punished now, even though there has been no hearing, there has been no trial, and you have two innocent men now who are going to be punished by these Romans.

Then the Bible tells us that they took off their clothes so that their bare backs would be showing, and then they commanded those officers to beat them. And those officers then, the Bible says in verse 23, laid many stripes upon them. So these Roman officers took probably those whips, and perhaps even those scourges, and they laid many stripes upon them.

And after they did that, they cast them into prison, charging the jailer to keep them safely. So here are Paul and Silas, these two good Christian men who are trying to save people’s souls. They’re innocent of these charges, and they’re beaten. We know that they were bleeding because later the Bible says that the jailer washed their stripes.

So they were bleeding at this point, and the Bible shows that they were thrown in jail. So what happened was, these Roman officers beat them with many stripes. They were bleeding, then they put their clothes back on their backs and threw them straight into prison. There was no nurse there to give them any medical care.

There was no one to say, let’s wash those stripes. Let’s make sure that those wounds don’t get infected. Nobody did that. This is the kind of treatment that was given to Paul and to Silas. The Bible says then that they charged the jailer. Look at verse 23. They “charged the jailer to keep them safely, who, having received such a charge, thrust them into the inner prison.”

This is a high security part of the prison. “And they made their feet fast in the stocks,” perhaps wooden stocks. So this man saw Paul and Silas, but at this point, he had no interest in the gospel. They were just two more criminals to him, and he’s putting them into their cells. Now how did Paul and Silas take this kind of treatment?

Well, Paul and Silas didn’t get mad and curse their enemies. They didn’t cry and feel sorry for themselves, and they certainly didn’t get discouraged and quit. So here are these two Christians, in prison, in shackles, with their backs cut open, and what did they do? First of all, they prayed. The Bible says in verse 25, “And at midnight, Paul and Silas prayed.”

They were like David in the Old Testament. In Psalm 61, verse 2, David said, “From the end of the earth will I cry unto thee, when my heart is overwhelmed; lead me to the rock that is higher than I.” These two men cried out to God like the beaten Hebrew slaves did in Exodus chapter 2. But they not only prayed. The Bible says that they also “sang praises unto God and the prisoners heard them.”

What did they do? They sang. They didn’t sing popular tunes. They didn’t sing national songs. They certainly didn’t sing bar songs. They sang praises to God. It’s interesting that in James chapter 5, verse 14, James asks, “Is any merry among you? Let him sing psalms.” So, sometimes the Bible says that when you’re in a good mood, when things are going well and you’re happy, sing praises to God.

But here the Bible shows that it’s also good to sing praises to God when you’re in trying times, when you’re in persecution and affliction. Because singing to God is therapy for the soul. And any Christian can testify to that because when we go to church services and we sing those songs, it is comforting to our hearts to do that.

What we’re going to find in the verses that follow, beginning in verse 26, is that God opened doors in this situation. A great earthquake shook the building. In verse 26, “And suddenly there was a great earthquake, so that the foundations of the prison were shaken.”

We’re not talking about a small earthquake here. We’re not talking about a tremor. We’re talking about a major quake because it shook the building all the way down to the foundations. And the Bible says that immediately all the doors were opened and everyone’s bands were loose. So, the quake shook the foundation. It broke the stocks and it opened the doors.

It’s interesting here to stop and observe that just as the good forces of creation should move us to look above and recognize God, in other words, when we receive rain from heaven, we ought to be thankful, we ought to look up and thank God for what he’s given us. But when we see the bad things in nature, this should move us, especially as Christians.

But sometimes these adversities in life have an effect on non Christians, and sometimes they don’t. But the calamities of life ought to move a man to repent. For instance, in Luke chapter 15, verses 11 through 20, we read the story of the prodigal son. The drought was so severe that this young man was very hungry—so hungry that he wanted to eat the hog’s food.

So a catastrophe or an adversity caused by nature actually paved the way for his repentance. But this earthquake not only opened the doors of the prison; it also opened a man’s heart. Because in verse 27 the Bible tells us that “the keeper of the prison awaked out of his sleep. And seeing the prison doors open, he drew out his sword and would have killed himself, supposing that the prisoners had been fled.”

Now, it’s interesting here, that before this time, he’s asleep. He’s not concerned, he’s not afraid. He’s relaxed, and he’s sleeping. But now, after the earthquake has happened, and he sees the damage to the building, he thought that the prisoners had escaped, and he started to kill himself with a sword. Now, why would he do that?

Well, it was his duty to guard prisoners and it was an old custom that if a prisoner escaped, the guard was to be executed. You’ll find an example of that in 1 Kings chapter 20, even in the Old Testament. Roman law said that if you’re guarding a prisoner and that prisoner escapes, you die. And it’s interesting here that this Philippian Jailor took that warning seriously. He knew that they would kill him.

So, this was no idle threat like it is sometimes today. We have the death penalty here in this country, but oftentimes it’s so rarely used that people don’t take that as a threat or as a warning or even as some kind of danger to them if they commit a crime that is worthy of death.

It was not that way under Roman law. If you violated Roman law in this way, you would die. And this man knew it. So think of what is going through this man’s heart. Think of what is going through his mind. This man had no idea when he got up that morning that he was going to face a situation like this. He thought it would be work as usual, but now in his mind his life has come to an end.

After the earthquake, which came out of nowhere, the building is damaged, he thinks that these prisoners have escaped, and he might as well take his own life. So his world has turned completely upside down. This man who before was not interested and was sleeping while Paul and Silas sang praises to God is now shaking in fear.

And notice that it’s not the preaching of the gospel in this case that opened his heart, but it was the danger in the circumstances that he was in. He had to come a step away from death before he opened his eyes. Now, consider what had to happen for this man to be saved? Paul and Silas had to be beaten and imprisoned.

And think of this. What if Paul and Silas had never been thrown in jail? Well, this man, at least on this occasion, would never have met up with them. He would have never had the opportunity that he had that night. Now, it could be that later he would have had another opportunity. But in this case, if Paul and Silas had not been thrown in jail, this man would not have heard the gospel, he would not have been converted that night like he was.

So, it’s another lesson from the Bible of bad things happening to good people but having a good outcome. You might look at the situation of Paul and Silas, had you lived in that day, and you might have had regrets. You might have said, “It sure was bad what happened to Paul and Silas. Did you hear that they’ve been thrown in jail?”

And we might have moaned and groaned about that, had we been alive back in those days without this record. But it actually turned out for the good, didn’t it? So sometimes the worst things that happen in life actually have a good outcome to them. And the Bible shows here that not only did you have to have the situation of two good Christians being thrown into jail, but this man had to come to the point where he almost committed suicide. He almost took his own life.

But that’s not how the story ended, but I want you to observe and notice that all these bad and almost worse things had to happen before this man was actually converted. He almost took his own life. He almost ended his life. But Paul saved his life, and not only did Paul save his life, he ended up saving this man’s soul.

Look at verse 28. “But Paul cried with a loud voice.” Paul doesn’t whisper this. Paul doesn’t simply mention it in a normal tone of voice. He cries out, he hollers, or he yells with a loud voice saying, “Do thyself no harm, for we are all here.” The prisoners are safe. Nobody has escaped. There is no need in you taking your life.

Now I want you to think about Paul’s attitude here. Paul regarded this man’s life, and Paul was not a vindictive person. If you had been treated the way that Paul was, if you had been beaten and thrown into this prison, would you have been as merciful as Paul was toward this man? I’m saying that if Paul had been a different kind of man, he would have said something like this: “Let him go ahead and die. They did us wrong. He deserves to die. I don’t care if he takes his own life.”

Some people would have said that. Some people would have been vengeful. But not Paul. Paul saved his life, and the Bible says in verse 29, “Then he called for a light, and sprang in, and came trembling, and fell down before Paul and Silas.”

Now it’s interesting here what’s taking place. The Bible says that of course it’s after midnight. It’s very dark. He calls for light, and the Bible says that he sprang in. The New King James Version says that he ran in. He’s not kicked back asleep now. He’s not relaxed now like he was before. This man was asleep before the earthquake, but now he is trembling with fear.

The Bible says that he sprang in and he came trembling. He is shaking, literally, with fear. And remember that this man not only had been asleep before, but that he is used to dealing with very dangerous people. He’s use to dealing with criminals. This is a Roman soldier. He is armed with a sword and he is not afraid to use it.

He is not afraid of people. This man had dealt with the worst kinds of criminals before. That was his job. So it took a lot to scare this man. And now this very man that before was asleep is now trembling in fear. In verse 29, he fell down before Paul and Silas.

Now, notice the change of attitude. Before, when Paul and Silas were first put into prison, this jailer looked at them as just common criminals. They were just two more people that had broken the law, and he was putting them into jail. And once he put them into prison, the Bible says that he kicked back and he went to sleep. He wasn’t worried. He wasn’t concerned about a thing. But now the Bible says he is shaking in fear and he has fallen down before Paul and Silas.

He doesn’t look at them as being beneath him now. He’s showing them great respect. And the Bible says in verse 30 that he brought them out and said, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” Now this is very interesting also. He is asking Paul and Silas here. He’s not ordering them. He’s not telling them to be quiet.

He’s not telling them to get down on their knees or to get back into their cell. He doesn’t see himself in a position to tell them what to do. He’s looking at himself now as being in the lowly position of having to ask them and to have them to tell him what to do. Notice the question. “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?”

See, his question is not about his job. He doesn’t ask Paul and Silas about what he should do to keep his job or how he’s going to explain all of this. He doesn’t ask them what he should tell his overseers. He doesn’t even ask Paul and Silas, “What are you guilty of? What did you do? Why are you in here?”

His concern is the most important question in the world. It is the most important question of life. What must I do to be saved? Now this is very interesting also. This man is evidently a Gentile, and this man is asking, “What do I have to do to be saved?” And this indicates that this man knew quite a bit. He knew enough about right and wrong to know that he was lost.

He knew that he was lost. If he asked these people what to do to be saved, that means that he knew that he was a lost sinner. So he knew something about right and wrong. He knew enough about right and wrong to know that he was in the wrong condition. And he also had to know something about the hereafter because if he’s asking what must I do to be saved, he’s not talking about being saved from being executed because that’s all over.

The prisoners are there. Nobody has escaped, so he’s not in danger of losing his life. He’s not asking what must I do to save or preserve my life. He’s talking about the hereafter.

And that means that he knew that there was a hereafter. And he knew that there was a place of rest in the hereafter. And he also knew that there was a place of punishment as well. Now, I’m not trying to say that he knew as much about heaven and hell as we know as we read the New Testament, as we read the Bible.

But he did have a concept of it. He knew about the hereafter, and he believed that there was a place of punishment and a place of rest. And now he says, I don’t want to go to that place of punishment. And his question also reveals something else. His question implies that he knew that all people will not be saved.

He understood that. Now there are people today that think that everybody’s going to be saved. And those people do not humble themselves and ask the question, What must I do to be saved? Because they don’t think they have to do anything. And that’s because they think everybody’s going to be saved anyway.

They think they’re going to be saved regardless of what they do. They don’t believe in hell. They think that everybody’s going to heaven. And so they will never bring themselves to ask the question, What must I do to be saved? But there’s something else here I want you to notice. This man said, “Sirs, What must I do to be saved?”

He knew that he had to do something. He realized that God wouldn’t just save him without his faith and without his obedience. He knew that God was not going to reach down from heaven and do everything for him. He knew that he had to make a response. And I want to emphasize those words again. He knew that he had to do something.

“Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” And the answer begins in verse 31. I say again, the answer begins in verse 31. “And they said, Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved and thy house.” The Bible teaches that it is absolutely necessary to believe. Now, we have to believe in God. The Bible says in Hebrews 11, verse 6, “Without faith it is impossible to please him, for he that comes to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him.”

The Bible shows, then, that regardless of how good a man may be in the sight of other men, he must believe in order to be saved. But this passage also says it’s not enough for a man to say, “Well, I believe in God, and I’m a good neighbor. I treat people right, and I believe in God. So why should I ask the question, What do I have to do to be saved?”

Well, it’s because believing in God is not enough. The Bible says in James 2, verse 19, “You believe in one God? You do well. The devils also believe and tremble.” It’s a good thing to believe in one God, but just remember that’s not enough, James says, because even the demons of hell believe in one God. But the Bible also shows us that we have to believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God.

The Bible says that we must believe that he died, he was buried, and he rose the third day. In Acts 16 verse 31: “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved, and thy house.” In Romans chapter 10, verses 9 and 10, the Apostle Paul said, “If you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God has raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved, for with the heart man believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.”

Now what happens here with many Bible readers is that they stop right here. They don’t read anything else. And that’s not what we’re going to do in this lesson. We’re going to continue to read because we don’t have the full message yet. The Bible says in Acts 16 verse 32, “And they spake unto him the word of the Lord, and to all that were in his house.”

Now notice, the Bible says in verse 31 that they said, “Believe all the Lord Jesus Christ and you’ll be saved.” Now we haven’t even gotten around to talking about what it means to believe. But let’s continue here in verse 32 and then we’re going to work our way back to verse 31. They spoke to him the word of the Lord.

Why? Because that is necessary. This man needed to learn. He needed to understand what he was doing to become a Christian. The Bible says in Romans 10 verse 17, “So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God. He had to hear the Word so that he could believe in Jesus Christ. So they taught him in verse 32.

Now this again is what we see throughout the Bible. For instance, the Bible says in Mark 16, beginning in verse 15, “Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature. He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved, but he that believeth not shall be damned.” Now we find the same pattern taking place here.

They told him to believe, and then they preached the gospel to him (verse 32). And what happened in verse 33? The Bible says, “And he took them the same hour of the night.” Now, at what time of the night are we looking at here? The Bible says this was after midnight. Remember back in verse 2 the Scriptures say that it was at midnight that Paul and Silas prayed.

So this is after that. And the Bible says here that this jailer took them, Paul and Silas, the same hour of the night and washed their stripes. That is, he cleaned their wounds that they had received from this beating. And the Bible says that he was baptized, he and all his, straightway, that is, immediately.

Now the first thing to notice here is that this man did not wait. He didn’t say, “Well, I believe that Jesus is the Christ, so what’s the hurry about being baptized?” He knew that baptism was an urgent matter. He knew that it was something that could not wait. Now again, this goes hand in hand with what we see throughout the rest of the Bible because in Acts 22 verse 16—after Paul had seen the risen Lord on the Damascus Road after Jesus spoke to him and after Paul had been in the city of Damascus for three days praying to the Lord—the Bible says that Ananias came to him after all that praying and he said, “What are you waiting for? Arise and be baptized and wash away thy sins, calling on the name of the Lord” (Acts 22 verse 16).

Paul was not a saved man when the Lord appeared to him on the Damascus road. He was not a saved man when he was praying in Damascus because the Bible says that Ananias had to come to him in Acts 22 16 and tell him what to do to wash away his sins and that was to be baptized to wash away his sins.

Now we’re looking at the same thing here. We don’t find an instance like we sometimes hear about today of people saying, “Well, I got saved at church the other day” and somebody says, “So you were baptized?” “Well, no, I wasn’t baptized. I’m going to get baptized next month because we’re going to have a group of people and we’re going to have a big baptism.”

You never read about anything like that in the New Testament. When these people were taught and they wanted to become Christians, they were baptized right away. For instance, on Pentecost Day in Acts 2, verse 38 the people were told to repent and be baptized for the remission of their sins. In verse 41, the Bible says, “Then they that gladly received his word were baptized; And the same day there were added unto them 3, 000 souls.”

So they didn’t wait. They did not put it off. They didn’t say, “Well, we’ll believe right here, and then later we’ll be baptized.” That was not in their thinking. And not only that, you see stories like Acts chapter 8. When Philip taught the Ethiopian eunuch, he said, “See, here is water. What hinders me from being baptized?”

So the Bible says that Philip admitted, that is, he confessed his faith in Christ. They went both down into the water, and Philip baptized him. Why? Because it was urgent. It was needful. It was necessary. This man didn’t wait. Now let’s go back to verse 31, where Paul and Silas said to this man, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved, and thy house.”

When they said that—when they said, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ”—the word believe included baptism. That’s why they had to explain this to him in verse 32. Now, to make that absolutely clear, think about the idea of repentance. Did this man have to repent? Well, obviously he did. Luke 13:3 and many other passages say that a man must repent.

But we do not find the word repent in Acts chapter 16. We do not find that this man specifically was said to repent. But we know that he did because other passages tell us that a man must repent to be saved. And the same thing is true here with this man. He had to believe, he had to repent, he had to confess, and he had to be baptized.

All of that is summarized in this one comprehensive word: believe. So this man who shook with fear and tried to take his own life couldn’t be happier now. The Bible says that he believed in God with all his house and he rejoiced.

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