He [the Jailer] then brought them out and asked, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” Acts 16:30
With so much unrest in our regular life as citizens – minority groups wanting more freedom, more opportunities, more rights – it is not surprising that also those in prisons and penitentiaries should express their protests or demands in outbreaks of violence. A prison riot, usually accompanied by fire, wanton destruction, and death, is a terrifying experience.
In Philippi, Paul and Silas were in prison because an uproar ensued when Paul freed a slave girl from a spirit of divination and thus deprived her owners of income. When at midnight a sudden earthquake shook the prison to its very foundations, opened the doors, and unfastened every prisoner’s fetters, all the elements were present for a prison panic. With the prisoners free, a riot might easily have followed, with the inmates turning on the jailer and the jail guards.
But such an outbreak – and breakout – never took place. The reason was that two prisoners were exerting an unbelievably great Christian influence on their fellows. At midnight Paul and Silas “were praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening to them” (Acts 16:25). After the earthquake this was not forgotten. The other prisoners were willing to take their cue from Paul, this time not only hearing him but also heeding him. They made no attempt to escape.
Seeing the effects of the earthquake – and believing that all the prisoners had fled, as they would normally do – the jailer was about to commit suicide. But Paul called out loudly from the darkness to restrain him: “Don’t harm yourself! We are all here!” (Acts 16:28).
In the darkness of that prison Paul and Silas were letting their light shine as witnesses of Jesus Christ, the Light of the World. Their influence extended also to the jailer, for when he asked, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” the Christian missionaries replied, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved – you and your household” (Acts 16:31).
Everywhere in our world people are sitting in the darkness of sin and in prisons of their own making: selfishness, fear, anxiety, doubt, unbelief. What is needed is the message of Christ’s salvation which sets them free. The Gospel does “proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners,” as Isaiah 61:1 declares.
PRAYER: Lord Jesus, bless the ministries of prison chaplains. Amen.
(Devotions from "With Jesus Every Day" copyright 1997, CPH. All Rights Reserved. No part of this publication may be printed, reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, without prior written permission of Concordia Publishing House. Permission is granted for one-time emailing of this link to a friend. For information on other devotional material, please contact CPH at 800-325-3040 or visit CPH at www.cph.org.)