16:27 And the keeper of the prison, awaking from sleep and seeing the prison doors open, supposing the prisoners had fled, drew his sword and was about to kill himself. 28 But Paul called with a loud voice, saying, “Do yourself no harm, for we are all here.”
29 Then he called for a light, ran in, and fell down trembling before Paul and Silas. 30 And he brought them out and said, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?”
31 So they said, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved, you and your household.” 32 Then they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all who were in his house. 33 And he took them the same hour of the night and washed their stripes. And immediately he and all his family were baptized. 34 Now when he had brought them into his house, he set food before them; and he rejoiced, having believed in God with all his household.
Wait a minute. Why was the first thing the jailer said after Paul announced they had not escaped "What must I do to be saved?"?
Are you thinking? He is a jailer. He had likely never seen or heard Paul until he showed up as a prisoner. He is just another guy in a cell. Why is he being asked by the jailer how to be saved?
I have grown up in a church big on preaching and teaching. You won't come to our church for very long before someone is offering to give you Bible studies. For weeks and months we'll sit down with you and show you the major themes of the Bible and how they all tell one Story.
This jailer lives in a city that doesn't even have a synagogue. He knows little to nothing about Judaism, never mind Jesus. So why in the world does he ask such a question to an inmate he doesn't know?
Well first of all he, like most people, knows more about God than we often assume. He clearly has heard enough to have the same bad theology almost every religion teaches. His question is centered on himself. "What must I do?" However let's stay focused here. Why that question and why was Paul the target?
The answer is simple. Paul, Silas, and Timothy were different. Radically different. Not different because they dressed a certain way like some religions. Not different because they cut their hair a certain way like some religions. Not different in any superficial external way. They were genuinely different. They had a peace and calm and dignity about them the jailer had never seen. In their pain and suffering they were polite and even kind. Instead of cursing they were singing and praying. The atmosphere of the entire prison changed. The other inmates stopped hollering and started listening. It became so peaceful that the jailer went to sleep.
When he was awakened by the earthquake and ran to check the prison doors he found them all open. In his human skepticism he perhaps thought "This is why they were so content and acting so strange. They had an escape plan all along. Their God must be mighty!" In that moment he felt life was no longer worth living. He would be executed anyway for allowing the prisoners to flee. Drawing his own sword to do himself in a familiar voice interrupted him. It was the voice that was singing and praying earlier. When he realized they had all stayed even though they were no longer restrained he was overwhelmed. Never had he ever seen men like this.
Do not miss this. The jailer was drawn not by any religious argument or teaching. He was drawn by the character of Paul and his companions. The Bible says that before Jesus comes back the whole world will receive the Good News about Him. They won't receive it as a teaching or an argument though. They will see it as a witness. They will encounter men like Paul who have peace when they should not. Who sing under circumstances that would make others curse and cry. Without any religious words spoken they will know there is a God in heaven who changes hearts and lives.
Men and women only become like this by answering the invitation: "Follow Me."