On his second missionary journey, Paul and his companions, including Silas, Timothy, and Luke, visited Philippi, a city in the Roman province of Macedonia. In Philippi there was a notorious fortune-teller, a slave-girl empowered by a demon that had taken up residence within her. Directing his comments to the indwelling demon, Paul said, “ ‘I command you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her!’ And it came out right away” (Acts 16:18). Spiritually unchained, the girl was no longer psychic or clairvoyant. This was good for the young lady, but “when her owners realized that their hope of profit was gone, they seized Paul and Silas and dragged them into the marketplace to the authorities” (Acts 16:19).
Having stripped them of their clothing, the Roman government’s official thugs “severely flogged” (Acts 16:23) Paul and Silas, and then handed them over to the official in charge of the city jail “ordering the jailer to guard them carefully. Receiving such an order, he put them into the inner prison and secured their feet in the stocks” (Acts 16:23–24).
Humiliated, beaten, bloody, shackled in heavy chain, Paul and Silas sat in the dark, dank, dungeon… and began to pray aloud and sing. Maybe their song was something like this… My chains are gone, I've been set free, My God, my Savior has ransomed me, And like a flood His mercy reigns, Unending love, Amazing grace! And maybe they prayed, “Blessed is the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavens in Christ”(Ephesians 1:3)… “May the God of hope fill (us) with all joy and peace as (we) believe so that (we) may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit” (Romans 15:13)… “And I pray this: that (our) love will keep on growing in knowledge and every kind of discernment, so that (we) may approve the things that are superior and may be pure and blameless in the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ to the glory and praise of God” (Philippians 1:9–11).
The guard and his prisoners were all listening attentively. As Paul and Silas continued to worship and pray, “there was such a violent earthquake that the foundations of the jail were shaken, and immediately all the doors were opened, and everyone’s chains came loose” (Acts 16:26).
The jailer knew the Roman law. If his prisoner escaped, he would assume the escapee’s sentence. Some of the other prisoners must have been capital offenders. So, without another thought, the jailer “drew his sword and was going to kill himself” (Acts 16:27).
Maybe the dim light was just enough for Paul to see the guard, or maybe the Holy Spirit directed his words, “but Paul called out in a loud voice, ‘Don’t harm yourself, because we’re all here!’ ” (Acts 16:28). “Trembling before Paul and Silas…he escorted them out and said, ‘Sirs, what must I do to be saved?’ ” (Acts 16:29-30).
Did God’s law demand that the Roman jailer convert to Judaism in order to be saved? Must the jailer join the church or perform any religious observance? Could he do anything to earn salvation?
There is nothing to be done because Jesus has done it all. “It is finished!” (John 19:30). “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved!” (Acts 16:31). That’s grace!