The jailer woke up to see the prison doors wide open. He assumed the prisoners had escaped, so he drew his sword to kill himself. But Paul shouted to him, “Stop! Don’t kill yourself! We are all here!” The jailer called for lights and ran to the dungeon and fell down trembling before Paul and Silas. Then he brought them out and asked, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?”
They replied, “Believe in the Lord Jesus and you will be saved, along with everyone in your household.”
And they shared the word of the Lord with him and with all who lived in his household. Even at that hour of the night, the jailer cared for them and washed their wounds. Then he and everyone in his household were immediately baptized. He brought them into his house and set a meal before them, and he and his entire household rejoiced because they all believed in God.Acts 16:28-34
What a fascinating few verses we have here. Put yourself now in the shoes of the jailer (warden). He is fast asleep in his house. Why does he need to be worried? The prisoners, the two new ones and the others who have been there a long while and have never escaped before, are secure in the dungeon below. They can’t get away. They are locked securely in the dungeon and have their feet chained in the stocks. They are not going anywhere. These two new ones are nothing to worry about. I am sure he compared Paul and Silas with all other prisoners he had had. These two new ones were not hardened criminals. They were soft intellectual types and probably he suspected they were innocent of any wrong doing. They were only being kept overnight for their case to be reviewed in the morning. But he had been told to make sure they didn’t escape. So he put them down below in the stocks. No worries now.
Suddenly the earthquake wakes him up and he rushes out to find his prison ruptured and gaping open. His first thought is suicide at his own hand. Better that than death at the hands of the Roman authorities. A jailer who allowed such special prisoners to escape if he had already been told they were not to escape was subject to the same death as the prisoners would have suffered. That was not a good prospect. Better to end it yourself by falling on your sword than to suffer such a fate. So what stops him? Clearly he was about to end his life. He had drawn his sword and was in the process of ending his life.
Then Paul cries out in a mega voice. Paul yells out at the top of his lungs. After a mega earthquake, Paul cries out in a mega voice. I am sorry but I typically end up thinking all sort of questions. The two “megas” are intriguing. How did Paul’s mega compare with God’s mega? This Paul is the same one who just prior to this had been singing for a long while from tortured lungs. Just how much volume could he squeeze out? Or is God somehow part of this mega voice as well. Perhaps all the prisoners around Paul wondered how he managed such volume in his shout. “Don’t harm yourself; we are all here.” If Paul had just shouted “don’t harm yourself” would that have been enough? I think the warden would have known Paul and Silas were there but what about the others. If any prisoners had escaped his life was on the line. The others were likely hardened criminals. It was for sure they would be gone. But Paul adds, “We are ALL still here!”
That’s amazing. Two shocks in an instant. The earthquake has devastated his jail but his prisoners are all present and accounted for. Unbelievable! Meaning he too is safe. So what does he do? He calls for the lights and goes to investigate Paul’s claim that they are all still there. Interesting isn’t it? Who did he call on for the lights? What lights? The prison is ruptured? How can the electricity still be on? But most importantly he goes in to do a prisoner count to assure himself Paul’s claim is true. Then note his next move. He falls at Paul and Silas’ feet trembling with fear. What a curious thing to do! This warden, who has been asleep in his bed in his house and knew nothing of what had been going on, suddenly falls at the feet of two of his prisoners like he owes them something and asks, “Sirs, masters, men, lords . . . what must I do to be saved?” What prompted that response? To fall at the feet of your prisoners is a curious thing to do. Much less to call them “kurios” is also a strange thing to do. [Kurios] was used as an honorific to hold someone in esteem. To fall at someone’s feet was to worship them as a deity or to acknowledge them as being considerably higher than you in social status. “Kurios” is the Greek term used as a substitute for the Hebrew term YHWH – LORD. Why has this warden (jailer) behaved in this way and said such a thing and paid such homage to these prisoners?
Well one factor has to be what has happened, his jail destroyed by an earthquake. Do you think for a nano second the other prisoners could keep their mouths shut about what they saw and heard? They were wide awake listening to the impromptu jam session of worship at midnight and saw all their chains fall off and all prison doors spring open and yet they were all still alive. You have to admit that is pretty spectacular. But then I wonder if the warden’s response is not in some way connected with what the slave girl had been continually crying out. “These men are servants of the Most High God and they have come to tell you how to be saved.” Whoa, that’s pretty significant in all of this? Did this jailer know what the girl had cried out? If he didn’t (but I suspect he did) then Luke is certainly intending that we connect the dots, fellow God-lovers. So he says, “Masters, esteemed ones, what must I do to be saved?” A reiteration of the slave girl’s words.
Paul and Silas both say, “Believe in the Lord Jesus and you will be saved, you and your household.” There it is again – the foundation principle of how to be saved, that I have talked about before many times, what believing in Jesus means. But also we have this repetition of the household as well. Remember it happened with Lydia and her household, and now it is happening with the jailer and his household. The saved person brings the household too. And don’t miss the fact that Paul and Silas have a household too – their fellow jailbirds. Then Paul and Silas preach the Word of the Lord (the other KURIOS) to both households present.
There were still some curious things happening. He takes them into his house and washes their wounds. That refers to Paul and Silas’ wounds, after being beaten to within an inch of their life. However it also seems to include the other prisoners as well. Then after that he and his household are baptized. Question: where were the other prisoners at this time. I suspect they were all together and witnessing the baptism. If they were not taken in together with Paul and Silas, where would they be? Were they asked to come in by the jailers to ensure they were not going to escape now? Or did Paul and Silas’ prison mates go in of their own free will because they wanted to see what happened next, not wanting to miss a thing?
Now notice what happens: the warden takes them (all) into his house to eat with him. Oh my goodness, it is all getting more bizarre by the minute. And now they are all inside his house rejoicing in the fact that this jailer and his household have believed and been saved. Now that leaves a whole lot of questions doesn’t it?
- Just who did the believing and were saved out of them all?
- Just who were rejoicing that all this had happened?
- Now what is going to happen to the warden in that the prisoners are not in the jail when the magistrates come in the morning?
- Will the warden be punished for taking them into his house? It seems a bit extreme.
- But frankly what else was he to do? Leave them all in a jail that was wide open.
- Isn’t it better that he takes them all home and look after them there?
After all he only has to produce them again when the magistrates call for them. And he only has his house left standing we assume. Luke hasn’t told us the state that his house was in nor where it was in relation to the prison. Time for us now to wait for dawn to see what is going to happen when the authorities call for Paul and Silas.
All people matter to God. How much do they matter to God? More than you can possibly imagine. Even people you don’t like!Anon
If rascals knew the advantages of virtue, they would become honest.Benjamin Franklin
Where there is no spirit of worship, there God has been dethroned and displaced.Sinclair Ferguson
Christianity seems at first to be about morality, rules and virtue, yet it leads you out of that, into something beyond.C S Lewis