Checkmate (Part IV) – Acts 16:29-34

by Roger McCay
12 July 2020
Sermon Passage: Acts 16:29-34
Link to Audio Version

Back in February, we had our first Inquirer’s class here at MPC since I’ve been here. It was an interesting experience and quite enjoyable. This was also the first Inquirer’s class I’d ever taught or even attended, as I grew up in the PCA. My route in the PCA was through the usual communicant’s class when I was twelve back in 1983. So, there was never a need. Then, with all my time in the Army … I’d never had to teach one before.

When it became evident we needed to have one here, I got busy gathering resources to use. I found some legacy materials here at the church, which had a decent format going through the membership vows. So, I incorporated them into the lesson plan I was building along with a bunch of other helpful resources I’d either written or collected over the years. For the legacy materials, I ran over them briefly in my initial planning, but didn’t dig deep into them. I saved the in-depth prep for the week prior to each class.

In preparation for week two (when we were going to look at vows 1-3 for church membership, having to do with questions of salvation), I came across a shocking statement in the legacy materials. The statement was this: “You become a Christian only after you have taken the following steps: … Step 1” … and so forth. There were three steps given, each beginning with “You must”—“You must do this …. You must do that ….” Ugggh! Coming across these supposed imperative actions you must take in order to become a Christian, my mouth hit the floor. I could not believe this was something found in a PCA church’s legacy Inquirer’s class materials.

Anyway, it became a fun intellectual exercise in the class (well, I thought it was fun), to tell the class to mark out this and that statement as we went along; and then to explain to them why it was wrong and what the truth actually is according to the Scriptures. Ironically, I think this method enhanced the learning in the class. I’ve even considered leaving the erroneous statements in the material (in some way, at least), as a teaching strategy. Correcting wrong data with the reasons why it is wrong seemed quite effective.

Which is kind of what is going on with the question of the Philippian jailer. His question, “What must I do to be saved?” illustrates an awkwardly common misunderstanding. There is a tendency to assume that to be saved we must do salvific deeds. This is true for various reasons with various people. Yet, for whatever reason, at its core, such a notion of the need for salvific deeds to be saved is anti-gospel, reducing the Way to merely just another common religion.

In our passage today, Paul and Silas get to explain a bit of the elements of faith to the Philippian jailer and his household. This is the 7th move (6th if you don’t count Paul’s silence as a move) in this particular battle against the evil one, which we’ve been looking at over the past few weeks, in Acts 16:16-40.

  1. After casting out the demon Python, Satan’s minions dragged Paul & Silas to the marketplace, unjustly accusing them.
  2. Paul’s move was to remain silent as to his and Silas’ Roman citizenship.
  3. Satan’s minions then beat and unjustly imprisoned Paul and Silas.
  4. Paul and Silas followed that by singing and praying while locked up.
  5. God then, as a part of Move Prime, sent a targeted earthquake, opening the prison doors and releasing them from their chains and stocks—which vindicated the missionaries’ words and actions as righteous before God.
  6. Despite the open doors, Paul and Silas chose to stay put (instead of escaping), and to call out to keep the jailer from killing himself (in the mistaken notion that the prisoners had escaped). This act of the missionaries was a sincere act of self-giving love, in the form of loving their enemy, which brings us to the jailer’s response.

Verses 29-30:

29 And the jailer called for lights and rushed in, and trembling with fear he fell down before Paul and Silas. 30 Then he brought them out and said, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?”

Who was this jailer? We’re not given his name. Some think this was for his protection, due to his government position, but we don’t know. Luke certainly would have known his name, and it seems a deliberate exclusion. Yet, as he was the jailer, it’s not like leaving his name out would give him anonymity in Philippi. Why give Lydia’s name and not the jailer’s? As it is, the Lord saw to it that we don’t know it. And that’s okay.