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“And they said, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.” Acts 16:31
Did you ever stop and just think about the ramifications of being saved? I’m not even starting with spiritual ramifications from an evangelical standpoint here. I’m just talking about what it means to be saved from anything or any situation. Like, what if I was saved from a shark attack? Does that always mean that I escape from being bitten? Wasn’t Bethany Hamilton (Soul Surfer) saved from a shark attack? What about the Israelites when they were saved out of Egypt? Or this jailor who cries out, “What must I do to be saved?”
Well, here are Paul and Silas. They’ve been beaten with rods, thrown in prison, and fettered in the stocks. They’ve been praying and singing hymns and the prisoners have been listening and I bet the jailer could hear it also. About midnight there is an earthquake and all the doors are opened and everyone’s chains were opened. It woke up the jailer who thought that everyone had escaped. That meant his death anyways so he just figured he’d save the government the trouble and end his life right there with his own sword. But You, Lord, were keeping an eye out on him through Paul. “Stop. We are all here!”
“Stop. It’s not as bad as you think!” I wonder if there still would have been consequences that he might have had to pay regardless of whether things were out of his control? There often are. And so I wonder too, when he called for the lights and rushed in, trembling from fear before Paul and Silas, what that fear was about? I suppose we want to think that right away he was shaking in the fear of the Lord. But what if he was still shaken from events? What if he was still trying to get it to all make sense. What happens after something like this that shakes up our world, our cosmos, as we know it? What happens after 9-11 or after the largest Tsunami ever or after Typhoon Haiyan? What happens when a loved one becomes unexpectedly ill, or our child is molested, or our ministry is attacked? Aren’t there high emotions? Isn’t there trembling and fear? I mean, there are things that turn our world as we know it upside down and shake it up. Do we run to the Lord immediately or do we first look for escape from the situation?
“What must I do to be saved?” What did that mean? When we are in a harder than life situation and cry out like this jailer, “Save me!” what are we really looking for? What if what we are looking for isn’t what we need? What if what we need is something we have to come to see and come to be shown? What if salvation means a lot more than we realize?
John 3:17 tells us that “God did not send His son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through Him.” Now, what if this isn’t just about you, and me, and the jailer? What if this is about everything He created? What if this is about every person, every situation, every grain of dirt that blood has been shed on and that has soaked up tears? What if this is way bigger than we ever thought about?
The Greek word for save is “sozo.” Strong’s Concordance says it means “safe; to deliver or protect: heal, preserve, make whole.” Some of the Hebrew equivalents are “yasha (to save, to keep, to help), palat (to guard one’s way, to save oneself), and malat (to escape).” But the nuances of these Hebrew words changes things up a little. “In Hebrew thought, saving is connected with having room to move. To be saved is to be removed from the confines of a narrow trap and be led to a broad expanse. This is accomplished by a stronger party who rescues the weaker party. This action is often associated with legal or military help. The result is not freedom but rather dependence…Salvation in Hebrew thinking also includes that idea of escape from immediate mortal danger or punishment. Only God can ultimately guarantee rescue, escape and deliverance.” (Skip Moen)
So what does that have to do with the price of beans today? Well all of us and the world itself are in a predicament. Paul talked about it in Romans 8. “That the creation would be made free from ruin–that everything God made would have the same freedom and glory that belong to God’s children. We know that everything God made has been waiting until now in pain like a woman ready to give birth to a child. Not only the world, but we also have been waiting with pain inside us.” But what are we painfully waiting for? Did the jailer know what he was really trembling over?
Jesus didn’t just come to save me. Thank You, Lord, that I am part of Your plan, but the whole cosmos needs rescue. Everything is under sin. Everything suffers under the effects of sin. So, what if the jailer’s honest question was, “How am I going to get through this?” I can relate to that. Time after time I find myself asking that same question. “Lord, how am I going to get through this? I don’t have the answers or the power to get through it on my own.” What if this sozo in the Greek meant that someone was looking for rescue or preservation “from some immediate threat to life and limb”?
Doesn’t it make sense? “What am I going to do?” Is our first question “What will I believe?” Don’t we usually ask first “How can I fix this?” “What are the steps I have to take to get things back to normal?” But the problem is that maybe we aren’t supposed to go back to normal. And maybe it’s not about us fixing it ourselves. I mean, how does someone who doesn’t know the Lord yet know how to take those steps that entail faith in the Lord? Maybe first we just have to come to the point of seeing that we need someone to guide our steps. Maybe first we need to see that we can’t do it on our own. Maybe first we need to come to the point of understanding that we are in need of being saved, that we can’t handle this broken world on our own.
But that’s why You, Lord, had Paul there at that moment. Because Paul knew Who has the power to save the cosmos and every person in it. So Paul directs this jailer. He offers him steps to take. Paul wasn’t just telling the jailer to cognitively affirm Jesus. “Believe in the Lord Jesus and you will be saved–you and all who live in your house.” He was telling him to take a step of change, to change the whole paradigm of the way he lived and thought. Believing isn’t just conceding, it’s not just thinking. Believing is thinking in a way that effects all of your doing. So when the jailer asks, “What do I need to do?” Paul has the answer. As Skip Moen put it, “‘Become an active follower of the King.’ Change your life, not just your thoughts.”
So what happens to the jailer when he decides to become an active follower of Jesus? What happens when he places his trust and life in Christ? Does that remove the consequences of what is going on around him? Does that always remove the threats around us? Or does it change our priorities about them? Do the jailer and Paul and Silas and you and I just learn how to deal with the consequences in the world in a different way because now we have a new understanding? Now, Jesus is my Master, not the consequences.
I mean, what if life doesn’t improve? What if the shark takes off my arm? What if my child has to bear pain? What if my loved one dies? What if my finances fail? Does God’s plan include accepting some really harsh realities? It doesn’t surprise me. Jesus had to accept some really harsh realities, didn’t He? And He did it all for us and for the good of all creation. But everything can still change even though the circumstances remain the same. I mean, how does the jailer’s believing save his household? What if the change they see in him, leads them to that change? What if our changed perspective of the outcome is where our salvation comes from? Then the actual events happening around us don’t really matter. You know, that’s a comforting thought.
So, what about this jailer? Did he let Jesus change his thought patterns and his actions? Did he more than believe with his head? Did his life change? Was he a committed believer? Well, Paul and Silas told the message of the Lord to him and all the people in his house. I think we can be pretty certain that he really believed and his life was changed. The evidence is right there from the start. Even though it was late and they were all probably tired, that didn’t matter. The jailer took Paul and Silas and washed their wounds. Now, what jailer would ever do that? I think only a redeemed jailer who has changed his way of thinking. I think only a redeemed jailer who has a new perspective of life and Christ. I think only a redeemed jailer who has a new perspective in the life of Christ! Then the jailer and all his people were baptized. That’s the public testimony of the inward change. And it didn’t stop there. Then the jailer took Paul and Silas home and fed them. And listen to this, because this is beautiful. “And he rejoiced along with his entire household that he had believed in God.” Amen and amen!
Believing in Jesus doesn’t remove the effects of sin from our lives. But it does free us from being controlled by them. I want to look at Paul and Silas now. See, they could have griped about their unjust circumstances and how it wasn’t fair and how it wasn’t right. But when we have the perspective that God is actually in control of EVERY situation we can’t do that. If God is truly sovereign, then He has a purpose in EVERY situation. So we pray and we sing and we rejoice always. And God will produce fruit and be glorified. So Paul and Silas weren’t controlled by their life circumstances; they remained under the control of God. Then, being truly blameless before their accusers, they were able to point out that they, Roman citizens, had been beaten publicly without even a proper trial. You know, that got them an apology and a public “sweet” escort and exoneration so to speak out of the city. And I wonder if that didn’t take some of the weight off of the jailer, their new brother?
Believing, Lord, was never just about agreeing to the facts. If all I ever do is believe that Jesus died for my sins and rose again, then I haven’t taken it to full belief. Belief is believing IN Jesus, not just on Him or about Him. Believing In Jesus is coming to the realization that He is IN control over EVERY situation and EVERY circumstance. And believing IN Jesus is surrendering myself IN Him in EVERY situation and circumstance. It’s a commitment to act upon the Lord’s promises no matter what is going on around me.
Well, Lord, I’m committed to doing Your way although I don’t always do the right thing. But I am so thankful that You already have me covered. I am so thankful that I can be confident of this very thing, that the One who has begun a good work in me will continue it, regardless of the circumstances around me! And I KNOW that You will accomplish Your will for me and others and all of creation and we will see that completion when Your plans in Christ are fulfilled. May I live as though EVERY circumstance is under Your control, because it is. May I live life with a believer’s perspective no matter what the perspective is of the world around me. And Lord, let that perspective in You draw others to You. So, when life circumstances cause others to cry out “What must I do to be saved?”, let me share the answer they’re really looking for but just didn’t know it yet.