Saturday, August 4, 2012

Phil the Jailer

Okay, so his name wasn’t really Phil. We don’t actually know what his name was, and though his story has often been told, he has always been referred to simply as The Philippian Jailer. But I like “Phil,” for short. Phil was likely a Roman soldier who retired to Philippi, a prominent Roman colony in Macedonia, and was made “keeper of the prison.” He was the warden. The jailer.

When Paul and Silas had been stripped and beaten for preaching about King Jesus the Messiah and for casting a demonic spirit out of a slave girl and destroying the profit potential for her masters, the magistrates threw them into prison, giving Phil strict orders to “keep them securely” (Acts 16:23). So Phil took them into the deepest part of the prison, where they were placed in stocks.

He went to sleep that night secure in the knowledge that his prisoners would have no chance of escape. But a little after midnight, he was awakened by a tremendous shaking. An earthquake (v. 26).

Phil dashed down to see what had happened (his house was probably joined next to the prison). When he got there he saw that all the doors had been shaken open and the chains busted loose. Surely all the prisoners had gotten away, including Paul and Silas. That would not just be a career ender — there would be severe penalties to follow. Severe. So, like a good Roman soldier, Phil thought to do the “honorable” thing, the least distasteful thing. He drew out his sword and was about to end his life with it (v. 27).

“Do yourself no harm,” a voice from the dark called out, “for we are all here” (v. 28). Phil called for a light, went in and saw Paul and Silas — his two most important prisoners. They did not run, after all. They did not even try.

Earlier that day, the slave girl with the python spirit had identified them as those who proclaimed “the way of salvation” (Acts 16:17). Phil would have known of this since it was what got them thrown into his prison in the first place. And he most likely heard some of the things they were singing and preaching in their dungeon cell — the good news that Jesus the Messiah and the kingdom of God had come into the world. Now he connected the dots and realized that they had something he desperately wanted. So he went for it. He led them out of the dungeon and said, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” (v. 30). It was a direct question, a “big picture” question: How do I get in on this King and this kingdom you’ve been announcing?

“Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved, and your household” they said (v. 31). A direct question deserves a direct answer. It would need some unpacking, of course, so Phil brought Paul and Silas into his house, where they spoke “the word of the Lord” to him and his whole household (v. 32).

What does it mean to “believe on the Lord Jesus Christ”? It is not merely giving intellectual assent to a proposition, it is a call to believe on a person. What does it mean to believe on this person? It means we are entrust ourselves to Him — all of who we are entrusted to all of who He is. Who, then, is this person to whom we are called to entrust ourselves? The Lord Jesus Christ — and every part of that reveals who He is.
  • He is Lord. That is, He is God, the Son. He has been “declared the Son of God with power by the resurrection from the dead, according to the Spirit of holiness” (Romans 1:4 NASB).
  • He is Savior. The name “Jesus” literally means “Savior.” That is why the angel of the Lord spoke to Joseph, concerning Mary, “She will bring forth a Son, and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21).
  • He is God’s Anointed King. “Christ” is the Greek equivalent for the Hebrew word “Messiah.” Both literally mean “Anointed.” We see the significance of this in Psalm 2, where God speaks of His Son as the one He has anointed to be King over Israel and all the nations.
To believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, then, is to entrust ourselves to Him as God and Savior and King. The promise for this is that “you will be saved.” King Jesus the Messiah came into the world to deliver His people, Israel, reconcile us all to the Father and put things right in the world. We enter into that by receiving Him, entrusting ourselves to Him.

“You will be saved,” they said, “and your household.” This promise of salvation is not just for some elite group or certain kinds of people. It is offered to everyone — Jew or Gentile, male or female, rich or poor, slave or free, old or young. So there they were, Paul and Silas, telling everyone in the Jailer household about King Jesus.

Then Phil took them out by the water, where he washed all their wounds from the beating they had received the day before. That must have got them talking about baptism because the next thing that happened was that Paul and Silas baptized Phil and his family in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit (v. 33). Phil brought them into his home and gave them some food, “and he rejoiced, having believed in God with all his household” (v. 34).

Phil rejoiced. The Greek word is agalliao, which literally means to “jump for joy.” Hours earlier, he was ready to kill himself, but now he was full of joy — wild, exuberant joy. As we go on to study Paul’s letter to the Jesus believers at Philippi, we will see that joy is a common theme. With Jesus, there is always joy.

So Phil the Jailer and his household joined Lydia the Seller of Purple and her household, and possibly several prisoners and the slave girl who was delivered from a demonic spirit, to become the first fellowship of King Jesus followers at Philippi and in Macedonia.

Focus Questions
  1. Paul added, “and your household.” He did not do that with Lydia, though her whole household came to the Lord. So why did he add it here?
  2. At what point in this progression of events do you think Phil began to believe on the Lord Jesus Christ?
  3. How do you suppose Phil’s life changed after this? In his home? In his work? In his city?

There is Always Joy!
There is Always Joy!
Paul’s Letters to the Jesus Believers at Philippi
Bite-Size Studies Through the Book of Philippians
by Jeff Doles

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