God Saves in the Strangest of Ways . . .
The Baptism of Our Lord
God Saves in the Strangest of Ways . . .
Text: Acts 16:25-34
The doors were banging. The shackles were clanging. Furniture was quivering. People were shivering. The foundations were shaking. The prisoners were waking. The jailer was quaking. Chaos!
Earthquakes were common to the city of Philippi, but this particular one was troubling, especially for the jailer. He had been charged with an important task—guarding Paul and Silas. The day before the two missionaries had been arrested because of a riot. They had cast a demon out of a slave girl and she couldn’t make her masters money any more. So they seized Paul and Silas, stirred up the crowds, had them severely flogged and beaten, and threw them in jail. The city officials charged the jailer, “Guard them carefully.”
Not only did he have the responsibility of keeping the other prisoners under lockdown, but now he had two high profile inmates on his hands. So he put them in the inner cell and locked their feet in stocks.
But that night the jailer awoke to a nightmare. There had been such a violent earthquake that the prison itself was shaken. The prison doors flew open. All the chains had come loose.
It could not have been any worse for this jailer! Surely all the prisoners had run away! Surely the two special inmates, Paul and Silas, had escaped! He had failed! They had fled! It was his fault! His career was over. Worse, his life was over. This was punishable with death by the Romans. Maybe he would even be crucified. Oh no! The only honorable thing left to do was to spare all that embarrassment and punishment and pain and just take his own life.
He drew his sword, was about to run himself through, when suddenly Paul shouted out, “Don’t harm yourself! We’re all here!” The jailer called for lights, rushed into the inner cell, and fell at their feet trembling in fear. Something was different about these two. Something was special. They had cast out a demon the day before. They had been praying and singing hymns all night long. Maybe they were Roman gods. Maybe they were prophets of some kind. So he asked the single most important question of his life or of anyone’s life: “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?”
Here’s how Paul and Silas responded: “Believe in the Lord Jesus and you will be saved.” The jailer wanted to know what he had to do. Just give him the orders and he would follow. Tell him what was necessary and he would do it. “What must I do?” he asked. But Paul and Silas gave him an answer that was different, unexpected, and strange even. “Believe in the Lord Jesus.”
The jailer wanted to know what he needed to do but Paul and Silas told him, “Nothing.” The jailer wanted to know about actions and works but Paul and Silas told him about faith and trust.
This was a very normal human response for the jailer. He was stuck in a massive mess. His life was on the line. So he desperately tried to figure out how he could fix it, what he needed to do, how hard he needed to work.
Don’t we do the same? What’s the first thing you think when the budget is tight and you have money problems? “How am I going to get myself out of this one? What am I going to do now? How am I going to fix this?”
What’s the first thing you think when you get in a big fight with your family, your spouse, your boss, your coworker? “Oh boy, now what am I going to do? How am I going to make this better?”
What’s the first thing you think when your heart aches, when sadness overwhelms you, when health problems sneak up on you? “How can I make this go away? How can I make myself happy again? How can I overcome all of this?”
What’s the underlying theme of all of these questions? “Me” and “Do.” What can I do? How can I make it better? How will I fix it?
Every human naturally has an opinion lying deep down inside that says, “I am the center of the universe. I have to make things better. I have to do it.”
But there’s one essential problem with our human thinking: We can’t do it! We can’t really make things better on our own. We can’t really improve our lives on our own. We can’t fix things on our own. We can’t be truly happy on our own. And to answer the jailer’s all-important question, we can’t be saved on our own.
We can’t do any of that because we could never do enough. God doesn’t tell us to try hard or to give it our best or to do as much as we can. He tells us to be perfect like he is. He tells us to be holy. He tells us to be righteous. So if we want to “do” our own way to heaven, then we need to “do” everything perfectly.
And that is impossible. Just look at all those questions we ask. When we try to fix all our own problems in life we are worshiping the trinity of Me, Myself, and I and not the true God of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. When we focus on our own problems with money and health and family we are taking our eyes off of the Lord. Every fiber of who we are as imperfect, sinful humans has a “me” focus when rather we should have a God focus. Just like the jailer, I want to “do.” But just like the jailer, I can’t.
So Paul and Silas told this jailer at Philippi the strangest of things—the strangest thing he ever heard. “Do nothing.” They didn’t tell him to pray extra hard or to give all his possessions to the poor and then put 20% of his income in the offering plate every week and then be sure to volunteer 20 hours a week at the temple. “Then you’ll be saved.” Just the opposite. Simply they said, “Believe.” “Believe in the Lord Jesus.”
You see, God Saves in the Strangest of Ways. He doesn’t save you through what you do or how hard you try, like we might want to think. He saves us instead through our faith in his Son Jesus Christ.
That too was the strangest of ways. What’s so special about the humble son of a carpenter? What help comes from a man arrested and beaten? What good is a man dying on a cross? What good is someone dripping with blood or lying dead in a tomb?
Yet through those strange and foolish things God brought about our salvation. Through that bloodshed our sins were suffered for. Through that death our punishment was taken away. Through that Jesus we were forgiven.
God now doesn’t demand that you do anything to receive it or earn it, he only asks us to believe it. As Paul and Silas told the jailer, “Believe in the Lord Jesus and you will be saved.” God Saves through the Strangest of Ways! There’s no trying or doing. Just believing and trusting. Through our faith in our Savior we are saved!
The next part of the story is also strange. It was the middle of the night. There had been an earthquake. The prisoners and jailer had been through a lot. But the jailer and his family had to hear more. So we are told that Paul and Silas, “Spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all the others in his house.” Though it was the middle of the night on a traumatic day, they had to hear more about the Lord Jesus and what he had done.
Paul and Silas must have told them many things that night, such as how Jesus said, “Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved.” Immediately at that late hour of the night the jailer and all his family were baptized. Interestingly, some say that there are no examples in the Bible of children being baptized. However, the word for family here is a word that means his entire household. In this culture that word would include adults, slaves, and even children. It says all his family was baptized which would mean the children too.
What a strange thing baptism is! What good is it to splash some water around? What difference does it make for someone to do this little ancient rite of the church? Why baptize little Juliet today? Why baptize the jailer and his entire household?
But you see, God Saves in the Strangest of Ways, including through baptism. God tells us in Scripture to be baptized and wash our sins away. God tells us that those who are baptized into Christ are clothed with Christ. God tells us that those who are baptized into Christ are buried with Christ and rise anew to live a new life.
It seems so strange and foolish. But it’s not the water that matters or the location that matters or the pastor doing it that matters or the person receiving it that matters. It is God’s power and promise attached to baptism that matter. God Saves in the Strangest of Ways.
Yes, God Save in the Strangest of Ways, and God also changes us in the strangest of ways. Look at how the jailer in Philippi was changed. He had experienced a rather traumatic night. There was an earthquake. The prisoners had opportunity to escape. His life was on the line. He had been trembling with fear. But now look at verse 34: “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.”
This jailer had been changed. His former enemies and prisoners were now his friends and pastors that he was caring for. A person filled with tumult and turmoil in his life was now filled with joy.
Paul and Silas were the same way. Look at how God changed their lives. They had been wrongfully accused. They were beaten and severely flogged. They were locked away in prison. They must have been exhausted. Yet they stayed up all night long praying and singing hymns to God.
God changes us in the strangest of ways too. Knowing that God has saved us from our biggest problem—sin and eternity in hell—makes all the other problems of this world seem so much smaller. We also realize that we aren’t alone with our problems.
When we are faced with struggles and problems and pains along the way, we don’t need to think, “What do I need to do? How can I fix this? How can I make it better?” Rather, like the jailer we put our faith and trust in the Lord Jesus. He is with us. He has plans for our lives. He promises to work for our good. He will bless us. He will shepherd us to our heavenly home.
Like Paul and Silas, like the jailer, our lives are much different with Jesus. We have peace. We have joy. We have heaven.
It all seems a bit strange. It seems strange that I have to do nothing to earn favor with God and heaven. It seems strange that God would save through the death of his Son on a cross. It seems strange that God would save through something simple like baptism. But it is all true! God Saves in the Strangest of Ways! Like the jailer and his family, believe it!
Posted on January 16, 2012, in Church, Preschool, Sermons and tagged Acts, Acts 16, Baptism, Church, Infant Baptism, Jailer at Philippi, Paul, Philippi, Save, School, Sermons, Silas. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.