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If you are a believer in Jesus Christ and still living in bondage to sin, you need to open your eyes and see that the chains have fallen off. God delights to use simple object lessons and we have one of those clear pictures in our passage today. This passage is about the divine deliverance of Paul and Silas from the chains of prison in Philippi. But it is also about much more than that. For you see that the cry of the Philippian jailor is “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” The issues run much deeper.

As you recall your own salvation, what type of chains fell off your life? Maybe there were chains of anger or fear. Certainly there were chains of selfishness and pride that prevented you from relating to God and to others around you in the type of love Christ came to demonstrate to us. But even though we have been delivered once for all in a positional sense from sin and from Satan and from the value system of the world around us we still struggle with fully experiencing that deliverance. This passage reminds us of the power of God and should encourage us to go out from the prison of sin rejoicing in the sufficiency of our salvation. That should be the testimony of all who have placed their faith in Jesus Christ alone for salvation.

Maybe you are struggling with some particular sin and are having difficulty sensing any deliverance or victory. Hopefully this passage will encourage you to rejoice in the simplicity and completeness of your deliverance. Maybe you still wrestle with the issue of salvation itself and cry out with the Philippian jailor for God to open up your spiritual eyes to understand what it means to place your confidence in Jesus Christ alone.


Radio show: Unshackled = the testimonies of those who have been delivered from the bondage of Satan and sin and this world

Remember the context of spiritual warfare against demons and satanic forces – seen last week in the deliverance of the slave girl from the fortunetelling demon


A. (:25) Joy in the Midst of Suffering Gains a Hearing

“But about midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns of praise to God, and the prisoners were listening to them;”

The outward circumstances look bleak – you have God’s A Team – His leading missionaries who are charged with bringing the gospel message to Europe – beaten and bleeding and locked up in the inner dungeon of some miserable prison. Satan is working overtime to extinguish the flame of gospel testimony. It’s midnight and the jailor is sleeping just fine … but Paul and Silas probably have difficulty getting comfortable.

Yet their testimony is one of joy in the midst of suffering. Talk about a positive attitude! No complaining and blaming of God or questioning His providence.

The other prisoners were locked up for legitimate crimes – you can bet they were curious about how these railroaded Christians could be so upbeat. They had heard something of this message of the way of salvation – heralded by the slave girl with the fortune telling demonic spirit. They wanted to learn more.

Praying out loud – intelligible prayer – not ecstatic utterances in some angelic tongue

Singing – no musical sound track to accompany them – probably some early hymns that the believers had converted from scripture texts – oriented around praising God – worship in spirit and in truth – our singing is important to God

Not embarrassed to be associated with Jesus Christ – not concerned that others were listening in; in fact they wanted their words to be broadcast to others

Wiersbe: God gives songs in the night – Job 35:10; Ps. 42:8

Stott: It is wonderful that in such pain, with lacerated backs and aching limbs, Paul and Silas at about midnight were praying and singing hymns to God. Not groans but songs came from their mouths. Instead of cursing men, they blessed God. No wonder the other prisoners were listening to them.

Tertullian: The legs feel nothing in the stocks when the heart is in heaven!

B. (:26) Jolt of God’s Power Brings Divine Deliverance

“and suddenly there came a great earthquake, so that the foundations of the prison house were shaken; and immediately all the doors were opened, and everyone’s chains were unfastened.”

Fortunately in MD we don’t have any experience with great earthquakes .. but even our recent taste of a minor earthquake gives you a sense of how powerful the impact can be. I was eating a late lunch at Chick Filet – whole restaurant shook – very strange feeling;

This earthquake was far more powerful and divinely directed to accomplish something very specific – did not destroy the jail; did not cause any injuries; but opened all the cell block doors and unfastened all the chains – a pretty special earthquake

What a demonstration of the Power of God – He specializes in delivering people from all types of chains of bondage –

– Think of the chains of death that could not hold His Son captive – Jesus triumphed over death so that all who trust in Him could live forever

– The chains of this jail in Philippi that had been secured by Satan were no challenge to the power of God

Very different reactions – the prisoners were trying to figure out how to respond .. but the jailor knew right away that he was in big trouble

C. (:27-28) Jailor Experiences the Grace of God

“And when the jailer had been roused out of sleep and had seen the prison doors opened, he drew his sword and was about to kill himself, supposing that the prisoners had escaped. But Paul cried out with a loud voice, saying, ‘Do yourself no harm, for we are all here!’”

So much irony in this passage – The jailor who is charged with keeping prisoners in chains is the one who is actually in the bondage of satan and sin – living a meaningless, empty life where he is plugged into satan’s agenda; he is the one that needs to be unshackled

He understood that the escape of the prisoners would mean deserved death for himself.

He had been charged with the security of the prisoners.

Paul and Silas could have protected themselves and fled the city. But they were more concerned to give a testimony to others of what the Grace of God is all about. Love compelled them to stay.

There is no salvation apart from understanding the grace of God. That is where people trip up.

D. (:29-34) Joy Spreads to All Who Put Their Faith in the Lord Jesus

1. (:29) Fear of God is a Good Place to Start = beginning of wisdom

“And he called for lights and rushed in and, trembling with fear, he fell down before Paul and Silas,”

Conviction of sin; knows that God is at work here; understands that Paul and Silas are God’s messengers; moves right away from the physical circumstances to the spiritual significance; God is working in his heart to remove his spiritual blindness – look at how many people Jesus encountered who never made that connection from the physical miracle to the spiritual significance

2. (:30) The Right Question – must ask the Right People

“and after he brought them out, he said, ‘Sirs, what must I do to be saved?’”

Most urgent question that anyone can ask – you have to be right on this one; implicit in the question is the acknowledgement that he is lost and in need of salvation; the power of God which he has just witnessed is hanging over his head in terms of the execution of God’s wrath because he deserves condemnation; he has no light and is in darkness himself; he has no life spiritually; his life is empty and meaningless – he knows that he does not have the joy that Paul and Silas are demonstrating

You can’t be too busy to ask this question; you can’t put off asking it for another day

A Personal Question – nobody else can do something to save him

Still has a works mentality – tell me what I have to do to make things right with God

Cole: This was not an academic question for this jailer. He had just been awakened by a powerful earthquake. If that’s ever happened to you, you know that it’s a pretty good adrenaline rush! Then, when he rushed to the prison, he confirmed his worst nightmare— the doors were open. He assumed the worst, that all the prisoners had escaped. Instant death would be better to him than the torture that the authorities would inflict before they killed him.

Bock: The earthquake, especially if severe enough to loosen chains, may also have made the jailer nervous about who was imprisoned and why the gods have acted in this way . . . presented him with irrefutable evidence that God is at work with Paul’s group. He wants to know whatever more Paul can offer. Is there a way to escape God’s reaction to the injustice in which the jailer has played a role? In the face of this evidence, the jailer does not want to be found on the opposing side.

3. (:31) The Only Answer = Simplicity of the Gospel Focused in Faith in the Person of the Lord Jesus

“And they said, ‘Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you shall be saved, you and your household.’”

Showing love for his enemies; the very authorities that had inflicted a beating and imprisoned him were those to whom he preached the message of saving faith; no grudges on the part of Paul; just as Christ did not come to condemn the first time but to freely offer salvation to all

Gal. 2:16 “knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the Law but through faith in Christ Jesus, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, so that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the Law; since by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified.”

Starts with intellectual assent, but much more than that – you have to know certain facts about Christ Jesus – especially about His sinless life, His sacrificial death and His powerful resurrection; but then you must make a commitment to place your trust and reliance in the person of Jesus Christ; understanding that since He is God, that involves a change in the authority orientation of your life – instead of you being in charge, you are acknowledging that He deserves to be your Lord

Notice that Paul and Silas don’t confuse the issue with the depths of doctrinal instruction about the sovereignty of God and election – their message is not: “Well I don’t know if salvation is possible for you or not …”

Simply “Believe in the Lord Jesus and you shall be saved”

This same approach will work for anyone in your household

Cole: The jailer asked, “What must I do to be saved?” Paul did not answer with something to do, but rather with someone to believe in. Believing is not a matter of human effort, but rather of ceasing from our efforts and relying on God alone. As Paul wrote (Rom. 4:4-5), “Now to the one who works, his wage is not credited as a favor, but as what is due. But to the one who does not work, but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is credited as righteousness.”

Saving faith, then, is a matter of ceasing from my own efforts to save myself, and trusting in Jesus Christ to save me.

Wiersbe: A hard-hearted person seeking vengeance would have let the cruel jailer kill himself, but Paul was not that kind of a man.

4. (:32) The Source of Authority = the Word of God

“And they spoke the word of the Lord to him together with all who were in his house.”

“Faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of God.” – Rom. 10:17

Imagine their hunger to hear the word of God; what a prepared audience!

5. (:33-34) Four Fruits of Faith – [could be a sermon in itself]

“having believed in God with his whole household.”

Wallace: their faith is summarized in a causal perfect participle to suggest its enduring quality

a. (:33a) Ministry of Compassion

“And he took them that very hour of the night and washed their wounds,”

fruit of repentance – testifying that it had been wrong for them to have been beaten and now he was going to do what he could to make it right

Start serving the Lord immediately; do what you can do from a changed heart

b. (:33b) Discipleship of Obedience

“and immediately he was baptized, he and all his household.”

Issue of Infant Baptism – this passage is pointed to frequently for support – but actually it clearly emphasizes believer baptism throughout:

– If you believe, you will be saved; if any in your household believe, they also will be saved

– Word of God spoken to all of them – doubt that infants would have much comprehension

– They all believed

– They all were baptized

– They all ate together and rejoiced greatly

Cole: Baptism is the way to confess that you have trusted in Christ. It is an act of obedience to Jesus Christ, showing that He has cleansed you from sin and that you are identified with Him in His death, burial, and resurrection. It signifies a break from your former life of sin, and a commitment to follow Jesus as your Lord.

c. (:34a) Fellowship/Hospitality with the Saints

“And he brought them into his house and set food before them,”

Food and fellowship always linked closely together

Bock: Now that they are no longer in prison, God has brought about a different kind of connection between them. Those who were enemies and separated are immediately brought together. Thus the scene also illustrates the reconciliation that the gospel brings at the human level.

d. (:34b) Abundant Joy

“and rejoiced greatly,

Joy should characterize our lives as believers – not moaning and groaning on Monday like the world

Quite a dramatic change in temperament – had been suicidal earlier – not rejoicing greatly




A. (:35-39) God’s Deliverance Sparks Public Rebuke

1. (:35-36) False Façade of Righteousness and Peace

“Now when day came, the chief magistrates sent their policemen, saying, ‘Release those men.’ And the jailer reported these words to Paul, saying, ‘The chief magistrates have sent to release you. Now therefore, come out and go in peace.’”

Devil and his henchmen are all about injustice and strife – here the officials try to extricate themselves from an embarrassing situation

Trying to hide behind delegated policemen rather than dealing with situation personally

The irony continues: Not in their power to release these prisoners because they had been proven impotent to keep them bound

2. (:37) Insistence on Rights as Roman Citizens and Vindication for Mistreatment

“But Paul said to them, ‘They have beaten us in public without trial, men who are Romans, and have thrown us into prison; and now are they sending us away secretly? No indeed! But let them come themselves and bring us out.’”

Paul making this very public to rebuke these magistrates and hold them accountable for their injustice; staged a sit-in to protest their treatment

Stott: The citizen had only to say civis Romanus sum and he would be immune to punishment; heavy penalties were prescribed for those who violated these citizenship privileges.

3. (:38) Fear of Accountability

“And the policemen reported these words to the chief magistrates. And they were afraid when they heard that they were Romans,”

4. (:39) Humiliated Posture of Appealing and Begging

“and they came and appealed to them, and when they had brought them out, they kept begging them to leave the city.”

Kent: They had been illegally treated, without even an opportunity to claim their Roman citizenship previously. By insisting upon a dignified exit and the personal presence of the magistrates, they doubtless secured a measure of protection for the Philippian believers who might otherwise have suffered continued persecution.

B. (:40) God’s Deliverance Sparks Private Reassurance

“And they went out of the prison and entered the house of Lydia, and when they saw the brethren, they encouraged them and departed.”

Left Luke behind (20:5)


Illustration: A man stood up in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada four years after the sinking of the Titanic in a testimony meeting and this is what he said. He said, I am a survivor of the Titanic. When I was drifting alone on a spar that awful night, the tide brought a man toward me in the sea and his name was John Harper. He was hanging to a piece of wreckage. And as he neared me, he said, Man, are you saved? No, I’m not, I replied. He said, Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and thou shalt be saved. And the waves took him away but strange to say, they brought him back a little later and he said, Are you saved yet? And I said, No. And he said, Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and thou shalt be saved. And I watched him go down. And he said, there alone in the night with two miles of water under me, I believed and I was saved. He said, I was John Harper’s last convert.

You know, there’s a lot of sinking men in this world. It’s a simple message. Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and…what?…thou shalt be saved. Let’s pray.