I read a statement the other day which appears to me to be a relatively good description of today’s world. “We are living in a time when sensitivities are at the surface, often vented with cutting words. Philosophically, you can believe anything, so long as you do not claim it to be true. Morally, you can practice anything, so long as you do not claim that it is a ‘better’ way. Religiously, you can hold to anything, so long as you do not bring Jesus Christ into it.” There are millions, even billions of people, telling us that there are no absolutes – everybody is right. Black is no darker than grey, and yellow is not brighter than blue. Islam is as correct as Buddhism. Catholicism is no more true than atheism. We are being told today that truth is relative to a person’s perspective. What is true to you isn’t necessarily true to me. Everybody is right even if they disagree with one another. And to deny that premise is worthy of censure and punishment.

But all this is simply not logical or correct. Can someone who says there is no eternal punishment be as correct as the one who says that Hell and the Lake of Fire are real? Is 90 mph always appropriate – whether we are driving on the autobahn or in front of your house? Is it all right for pi to equal 2.2 as well as 3.1415926? Is murder not evil, if the murderer loved his victim? Two diametrically opposite philosophies or avenues in which to please and worship God, are both correct at the same time.

This is not only a problem for today, it has been a problem throughout history – but perhaps in different forms. It was a problem in the Roman colonial city of Philippi here in Acts 16. The world was changing in that day, perhaps as radically as it is today. This city of Philippi was located in Macedonia, which had relatively recently become Grecian. There is a difference between the two as every Macedonian would tell you. Then came the Romans, who seeing its strategic importance, made Philippi a military colony – they made it Roman. So the people of Philippi might have argued about which supreme god to worship – Zeus or Jupiter. But definitely NOT Jehovah the God of Israel. The Jews had been recently expelled from Rome. As an official Roman city, there was no synagogue or recognized Jewish presence in Philippi. Ah, but inclusivity was broad enough to accept a fortune-telling Phythonist from the oracle at Delphi. But don’t anyone dare to say that the poor woman was possessed by a Satanic demon. That might hurt her feelings. It took a few days of irritation, but eventually, “Paul, being grieved turned and said to the spirit (inhabiting her), I command thee in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her.” The fact that it did come out of her made no difference. What Paul did was a criminal offense in more ways than one in people’s minds. To treat this poor woman as a slave to demonism was worthy of severe beatings and jail time. We could study the city of Philippi as a microcosm of the world that then was – and which still is today.

In that light, let’s take a look at the man who was the principle jailor at Philippi.

He was clearly a part of the changing Macedonian landscape. He was apparently a Roman, or at the very least someone accepted into the Roman establishment. So he was a part of the Romanization of Philippi, and he became was a keeper of the new status quo. He was to make sure that any further changes in society were made according to the dictates of the rich and powerful. He could be a representative of several parts of today’s society – government, education, even religion.

Let’s try to put ourselves into this man’s shoes. His feet were the same size as ours are today. He was a man of a certain, relatively high position. No, he wasn’t a governmental magistrate. Perhaps didn’t ever want to be in politics. He had most likely been in the military all his life, and for one reason or another he had been given the responsibility of running this regional local prison. With his responsibilities, he probably thought of himself as a success, or at least on a successful trajectory. His wife may not have enjoyed living in the prison compound, but she forgot about it every time she walked out the guarded doors toward the market, where she could afford to buy just about anything she wanted. This man was pleased with his position and his success in life. And how had he reached this point? How much of the world had he seen? Had he been to Iran, Iraq or India? Had he been stationed in Judea during the days of Titus & watched the destruction of Herod’s temple? Had he been in north Africa before taking his post in Philippi? He may not have any university training, enlisting in the Roman army as a young man. But had he learned first hand of the Eastern religions of Buddhism and Hinduism? Had he haunted the huge library in Alexandria, soaking in the wisdom of many peoples and cultures? Had he learned a variety of languages and talked with a variety of intellectuals, even as he locked their cell doors – as he was doing with Paul?

He may have first looked at Paul and Silas as just another pair of fools and criminals. Who are these men compared to the learned scholars of North Africa or those of his capital city of Rome? These ambassadors of insanity were nothing but irrational Jews, whom their own people rejected. They were definitely disturbing the peace by saying, “Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved” – Acts 4:12. They were telling people that they were right and that their religion was the only religion. “In our tolerant society such intolerance is intolerable.”

How much pride was there in this man’s heart after all his accomplishments and attainments? Had he become a brutal man and thus worthy of his high position? Or was his insight and intelligence that drew the attention of his superiors? Did he wear the sword of his authority with pride, often pulling it out to prove his positional superiority? Or was he just happy to be posted to such an honorable job? Did he laugh at the worship of Jehovah and disdain the news about the arrival of Jewish Messiah?

The world might say that this jailer had every reason to be pleased with himself. But in truth, before the God whom he had denied, there was absolutely no room for pride. His high-rising, self-esteem was going to be the first thing he had to sacrifice before he could stand before the true King of kings and Lord of lords. His ability to debate the various points of creation between the religion of Rome and the Hindus, meant nothing before the One who is the Creator and the Governor of all the seismic rifts throughout the world. His honored position isn’t going to feel so honorable with the razor-sharp point of his sword poking his chest. In the light of a 7.2 magnitude earthquake, his muscular strength and high IQ weren’t going to sustain him. Paul, the man currently in his prison, will eventually write: “I say, through the grace given unto me, to EVERY man that is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think…” – Rom. 12:3. Faith in God is the only thing worth our pride, and the fact is when man possess that faith, he will be far too awestruck and humble to be proud of it.

As we see in this scripture, the jailor’s world began to fall apart.

Had he been proud of his position as the commandant of an important Roman prison? What Roman prison now that a so-called “natural disaster” had reduced it to rubble? Was he proud of his past accomplishments? What good are they when examined at the end of a sword? Was he fully invested in a religion and a god, which had no control over the ground upon which he stood?

His world was literally crumbling under him. “And suddenly there was a great earthquake, so that the foundations of the prison were shaken, and immediately all the doors were opened, and everyone’s bands were loosed.” Archeologists tell us that prison cells were secured by iron bars running across the outside of the doors. As the earthquake rolled through the region, the door posts fell, or were pulled apart, and the bars tumbled out of their rings, making the doors swung open of their own accord. Then most likely the mounts holding the rings of the prisoners’ fetters fell from the walls, making escape an easy matter. So why didn’t the prisoners run? It might have been that the guards rushed to their posts to make sure no one left alive. Or it could have been more miraculous than that. We just don’t know, but I lean toward the second idea.

Not only was the prison falling apart around its commandant, but so was that man’s perception of life. He had heard the charges against his most important prisoners – they cast out a Phythonic spirit – they had destroyed the livelihood of a handful of wealthy Greek investors. I would guess that he oversaw the beatings of Paul and Silas, and when he did, he never saw two more peace-filled and willing martyrs. When he expected these religious fools to crumble like exploding balloons, they seemed to grow in boldness and power. Did these Christian ambassadors speak of their Saviour to the man who was overseeing their incarceration. And was he listening to their songs and their praises during the evening, when their pain wouldn’t let them do anything else? Did, what he thought he knew about the Jews, evaporate before his eyes as he observed the testimony of these servants of Jesus Christ?

And now, his life was in real danger. There was a sword pointed at his heart. He was closer to death at that moment than had been when facing an enemy in battle. He was dying even more surely than if he was in the midst of a heart attack. He was at the point of no return – at least he couldn’t return as the man he had been a few hours earlier. As I said, his world was falling apart.

So he begged for insight: “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?”

Notice his new found respect – “Sirs.” I wish I knew what was going through his mind when he used the word “saved.” The Greek word has only one basic meaning: “deliverance.” But it could be applied in different ways – different ways physically and different ways spiritually.

The demon-possessed damsel had used that word. “These men are the servants of the most high God, which shew unto us the way of SALVATION.” I won’t even try to speculate on what prompted the words of that woman. But she did mention “the most high God,” which seems to lift her statement above of the pantheon of Greek and Roman deities. And she was speaking about Paul and his missionary team – confessed servants of Jesus Christ. This same Paul will later write in regard to this word “salvation” – “When we were yet without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly. For scarcely for a righteous man will one die: yet peradventure for a good man some would even dare to die. But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, being now justified by his blood, we shall be saved from wrath through him. For if, when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, being reconciled, we shall be SAVED by his life.” The salvation which Paul preached, and the salvation about which he and Silas sang that midnight while in the midst of their sufferings, was not deliverance from their pains or their cell. Paul’s message, and apparently the thought of that woman, was salvation from SIN – deliverance from the judgment of God for that sin.

The jailor, being as yet untaught in its details, asked: “What must I do to be saved?” The basic answer is: “Sir, you can DO nothing.” There is no work, no penance, no restitution, nothing anyone can do in order to be saved, because deliverance before God comes about through the grace of that God. So the answer is: “believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and thou shalt be saved.”

We notice that Paul didn’t start with a discourse proving that Jehovah is the one true and living God, and thus making all the rest of the world’s gods imaginary or idolatrous. He didn’t start a debate with the man about the pros and cons included with various religions. He didn’t talk about the sovereignty of God or the sinfulness of the broken man in front of him. He went straight to the heart of the matter and to the only answer to the important question, “believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and thou shalt be saved.”

At this point we need to be careful.

It might be that there is enough difference between that day, 2000 years ago, and the 21st century, to force us to look at things differently than this jailor, but really there is not that much difference. For example, today’s Muslim might honestly say, “I believe in Jesus Christ” – but it is not what Paul meant. Jesus was not a mere prophet like so many others in the religion of Islam. A historian might say “It is an undeniable fact that there was a man in Israel, twenty centuries ago, who we know as Jesus of Nazareth, and whom many claimed was the Christ.” A historian might say “I believe in the existence of Jesus Christ.” But there is nothing salvational in that kind of belief. A librarian or a literature professor in college might be forced to say that there was a man named Jesus who profoundly affected every form of art throughout the western world. But these things are not to what Paul referred. Mormons and Russian Orthodox Catholics profess to “believe on the Lord Jesus Christ,” but they are not saved by that kind of faith, because their Christ is different from the one we find in the Bible. James 2:19 says, “Thou believest that there is one God; thou doest well: the devils also believe, and tremble.” Isn’t that proven in the demon-possessed prophetess from Delphi? Other demons shouted at the Lord Jesus, “Let us alone; what have we to do with thee, Jesus of Nazareth? Are thou come to destroy us? I know thee who thou art, the Holy One of God.” No, simply to “believe in Jesus,” even to acknowledge Jesus to be the Holy Son of God is not enough.

Paul told the man that salvation was dependent upon his FAITH in “the LORD Jesus Christ.” He didn’t say “Jesus of Nazareth,” or “Jesus, the son of Mary,” or simply “Christ, the Messiah of Israel.” I’m sure that the jailor didn’t fully understand what Paul was implying, but the evangelist wasn’t going to utter an untruth which might have been turned against him at some point in the future. Paul knew first hand that Jesus Christ is the LORD, as in the Jehovah of the Old Testament scriptures. And he wasn’t telling the man to simply believe that Jesus Christ is Jehovah. He was telling him, “If you want to be saved, then you must put your TRUST in the Lord Jesus Christ.”

“Believe ON the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved.” But what is it to believe? While it is a simple concept, still, so many people cannot understand when it comes to the salvation of their eternal souls. Perhaps looking at it from another perspective can help. The Bible speaks of “obeying the gospel” and “obedience to the faith.”

Let’s illustrate it with learning how to swim. That education might begin outside the water with the instructor assuring his students that they can do it. He might talk about buoyancy and other physical principles. He might show the kids some videos. He might get into the water to show them how easy it is, arching his back, leaning and lifting his feet.

But eventually moment of crisis arrives. The student has to enter the water. Gingerly after entering the shallow water, bending his knees until his chest is almost submerged. But then, as the water approaches his chin, he forgets everything he’s been told. He flails his arms; he splashes around; he get water in his face; he gasps; he thinks he’s sinking – dying. With his instructor right beside him, at some point – at the point of despair – he gives up his fight to survive. As he lets his teacher hold him and sooth his fears; he surrenders to the man – and to the water. Soon he begins to realize that the water itself is saving him – supporting him.

There is a sense of obedience to faith – an obedience & surrender to the One who has promised to save us. “To believe on the Lord Jesus Christ” is lean back and to rest upon His unchanging grace. “To believe on the Lord Jesus Christ” is not about attaining a few important points of Biblical truth. It is to push away from the edge of the pool, and to rely on the all-sufficient Saviour to do the saving.


There was a man in the Old Testament whose life somewhat parallels that of the New Testament jailor. The eighteenth book of the Bible describes the life and struggles of Job. Like our jailor, Job’s world began to crumble, and he lost almost everything. A multifaceted, God-controlled earthquake took charge of his life, bringing him to the brink of death. The advice of his friends – illustrating the jailor’s former religion – were of no help to him. His health broke as clearly as if a sharp sword was stuck into his heart. No matter where he turned, he could find no answer to his plight or his questions, until he was essentially alone. “Sirs, what must I do to be saved” from all this? At that point, even though it appeared that God had abandoned him, the Lord appeared. God had not gone anywhere. He was there in the storm, in the earthquake and in the still small voice in his heart. And through his tears Job reached out to the Lord who is exactly who He said He was. Job confirmed his trust and his obedience with his words of faith, “Though he slay me, yet will I trust him.”

The jailor said, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved.” And the reply was: “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and thou shalt be saved.” The answer is: give up your preconceived ideas about salvation. Surrender your pride and all your accomplishments; your intellectual attainments; your prejudices. And cast yourself into the arms of the only One who can save you – Jesus Christ, the Son of God.

Little of any significance has changed since Job’s day, the jailor’s day and our day: “Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved” – Acts 4:12. Won’t you, like this jailor, acknowledge your sinful helplessness and believe on the Lord Jesus Christ? Admit that you need a Saviour, then turn around and face Him. Put your trust in crucified Christ Jesus.