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This is Why He Came

Stories of Salvation and Transformation from Around the World

A Prison Was Their Mission Field: The Story of the Philippian Jailer

by Dr. Brent Thomason, DBU Faculty

Today's Reading

Acts 16

The violent shaking suddenly woke him. But there was no one there. Disoriented, the jailer rubbed his eyes but couldn’t get his bearings. What had just happened? His ears rang with the sound of clanging metal. Though the lanterns had fallen, there was still a faint light, just light enough to reveal the prison doors open. Shock! Terror! Shame! The prisoners had escaped! So, rather than face the shame of execution, the jailer drew his sword to end his life. But just nanoseconds before running the sword through, a booming voice pierced the night: “Do not harm yourself, for we are all here!”  

When we think about stories of salvation and why Jesus came, we often think about stories of spiritual salvation. And if we think about death in the context of these stories, we often think about those saved saints who willingly gave their lives for the sake of the Gospel. But the story of the Philippian Jailer is different. It is a story about a man about to lose his life, only to find it in the Gospel. It is a story about spiritual life overcoming both physical and spiritual death!

The Gospel gone global is on display in Acts 16. The European mission is officially underway as Paul’s second missionary journey takes him further afield from the synagogues and into the heart of Gentile territory. In this particular scene, we find Paul and Silas sitting in prison late one night. But rather than pouting about the injustices they’ve suffered, or rather than blaming God for His inaction, they are praising God. They are not allowing their current situation to dictate their attitude toward God. They have a heavenly vision, a Gospel-shaped outlook on their current situation. So much so that even when the chains were miraculously unfastened and the prison doors unlocked, they didn’t flee to freedom—freedom that was rightfully theirs. Why? Because despite these injustices, a soul needed saving—even the soul of the one complicit in their imprisonment.  

God’s global Gospel knows no bounds. Whereas this jailer was about to take his life, the Gospel gave him back his life – the Gospel bridges the chasm between death and life.  Whereas Paul and Silas were Jews, the jailer was likely a Roman – the Gospel crosses national and racial boundaries.  Whereas Paul and Silas were bi-vocational church planters, the jailer was likely a retired, and well-to-do, war veteran – the Gospel transcends socio-economic strata.

But this global Gospel did more than just go out. It went in—into the heart and into the home. Overcome with such salvation, the Gospel experienced in the workplace is taken into the household. And there the family of the jailer are likewise saved. Then the Gospel brings healing in the home. While the jailer dressed the flesh wounds of Paul and Silas, the Holy Spirit mended the broken hearts of husband and wife, parents and children.  

As we read this story in Acts, we might be led to believe it ends with this scene—a warm, cozy ‘Christmasy’ postcard setting. But we’d be wrong. You see, God’s global Gospel is about transformation that leads to mobilization. Sure, Paul and Silas continue on sharing the Gospel from city to city. But God’s Gospel doesn’t advance by addition; it advances by multiplication. The global Gospel boomerangs out of the homes of the Jailers and the Lydias into the city of Philippi. The few believers multiply into a church. Then they rally together to mobilize money and laborers to support the work of Paul in another city—Corinth! 

The story of the Philippian Jailer makes me think. If the Gospel is truly global, what am I doing to cross the cultures? If the Gospel advances by multiplication, what am I doing to make disciple-making disciples? If the Gospel is about life transformation, what am I doing to look more like Jesus and less like the world? If the Gospel is about salvation, what am I doing to share the story? Yes, the Gospel is about all these things, and that, beloved, is why He came.

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