In AD 49 Paul and Silas once again headed for Asia Minor. Paul had a vision of a man from Macedonia calling him so they made their way to the regional capital, Philippi. Philippi was an important city – financially and strategically. Rome’s gold, for the most part, came from around Philippi. It was situated on one of the main trading routes; people flocked there. It was such an important place that after Julius Caesar had been assassinated, the legionaries from that region and the Praetorian guards were rewarded for their loyalty; each was given a parcel of land to make sure the place remained secure.
So, we find Paul and Silas here in this very busy, rich, stable city. They are there for a reason – to spread the gospel. There was no synagogue in Philippi so Paul and Silas went to the river, a place of prayer (Acts 13:16). This was where Lydia heard the gospel and was saved. On their way back, Paul and Silas came across a slave girl who had been cruelly treated by her masters. She was possessed of a spirit. People paid to hear her tell their fortune. Paul dealt with the spirit and so her masters couldn’t make money out of her. They complained to the authorities and Paul and Silas were beaten and thrown in prison.
‘At about midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them, and suddenly there was a great earthquake, so that the foundations of the prison were shaken. And immediately all the doors were opened, and everyone’s bonds were unfastened.’ (Acts 16: 25-27). This was a dramatic picture. The earthquake shook the foundations of the prison and the prisoners’ chains fell off. The reaction of the jailor was extreme, ‘He drew his sword and was about to kill himself, supposing that the prisoners had escaped. But Paul cried out with a loud voice, “Do not harm yourself, for we are all here.”’ The jailor wanted to kill himself. Why? This was a military posting. This man was a soldier, a legionary, a man who was quite senior. He was a man who had seen battle on numerous occasions. He would have been a strong, disciplined, controlled man. His high position allowed him to bring Paul and Silas out of prison to his own home for a meal (Acts 16:34). He had full responsibility for the prisoners who had been given to him; he didn’t need to ask others’ permission. He wasn’t just any old jailor, he was important. In modern terms, he was a prison governor. So why did he have this extreme reaction when he found the prison doors were off.
The jailor had family, slaves and servants. He was certainly comfortably off. He had social responsibilities. He was an important man. So why did he want to commit suicide? He’d faced fear before, so it wasn’t that. Insight comes from the question he asked Paul and Silas, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” (Acts 16:30). That was his priority.
Paul and Silas had nothing – no money. All they had were the clothes they stood in, yet even these were torn off them. But having been beaten they were worshipping God. They appeared to have nothing, but they had more than all around them – they had hope in a Saviour. What do we have? An important job that carries with it an enviable reputation? Do you have responsibility? Are you a good person with responsibilities? Are you doing well for yourself financially? These are not bad things but if that is all you have, then you have no hope. When the doors fall off and the earthquake comes, if that is all you have, you have no hope.
Paul and Silas had something more than the jailor ever had. His position, money and responsibility meant nothing – he recognised he needed a Saviour. He understood that. That’s what you need as well – one who can stand before God in your place, a God who sits enthroned above the circle of the earth. You need someone who is pure, who is faultless. Your best is filthy rags. If we have any hope at all, it must be in a Saviour because we cannot do it ourselves. We need one who lived, died and rose again for us, one who stood in our place. Don’t rely and hold onto your best because your best is not good enough. Without a Saviour you have nothing, ‘For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul?’ (Mark 8:36). You haven’t got the whole world to offer. The jailor needs a Saviour and you need a Saviour. It must be a hope in Him, not in you.