7th Sunday of Easter, Proper C7           
Rev. D. K. Schroeder
Acts 15:16-34 Sermon
May 16, 2010

Hymns (from the Service Book and Hymnal):
408 "Praise To The Lord, The Almighty, The King Of Creation"
342 "In Christ There Is No East Or West"
541 "Rise Up, O Men Of God"
115 "Golden Harps Are Sounding"


TEXT (vs. 29-34):  "29 The jailer called for lights, rushed in and fell trembling before Paul and Silas. 30 He then brought them out and asked, 'Sirs, what must I do to be saved?' 31 They replied, 'Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved--you and your household.' 32 Then they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all the others in his house. 33 At that hour of the night the jailer took them and washed their wounds; then immediately he and all his family were baptized. 34 The jailer brought them into his house and set a meal before them; he was filled with joy because he had come to believe in God--he and his whole family."

            This morning, I'm going to relate a situation that has happened to me several times in my ministry.  Even though each situation is unique in its own right, the same old logic surfaces every time.  So here's a generic rendition:

            A husband and wife have a new baby.  I go and visit with them, and talk to them about baptism and the importance of raising the child in the church.  I go through all of the various Biblical directives about raising children so they know Jesus as their Saviour. 

            After I've said my piece, the parents reply by telling me, "Oh, we're not going to force religion on our child.  We've decided to wait until our child is old enough so he or she can make his or her own decision about religion."  In my estimation, that's about the dumbest thing a parent could ever say.  What could they be thinking?

            If that's the way parents want to be, then why not apply this to other aspects of their child's life as well?  Consider what would happen if a parent were to say things like:  I'm not going to force my child to do anything.  I'm going to let my child decide if he or she wants to go to school.  I'm going to let my child decide if he or she wants to take a bath.  I'm going to let my child decide if he or she wants to brush their teeth and visit the dentist.  I'm going to let my child decide whether or not they want to be vaccinated.  I'm going to let my child decide what kind of foods they want to eat.

            Can you imagine what would happen if this were the case?  I think we'd be witnessing a generation of smelly, illiterate, sickly, malnourished children with rotten teeth.  Any parent will tell you that children have to be told what to do, because they simply lack common sense. 

            If you offered a child the choice between a big slab of chocolate cake or a plate of steaming broccoli, which do you think they'd choose?  What about the choice between a day in school versus sitting in front of the TV with a play station?  Do you think children would actually choose to sit in the dentist's chair and have their teeth worked on, or go to the doctor to get an injection and have a needle shoved into a part of their body?  You know what choices a child would make.  Adults can make bad choices in these areas too.

            Generally however, parents know that they have to act as parents and do things according to their child's best interest.  And sometimes those actions aren't pleasant at the time for the child, but in the end it is all worth it.

            So why then, if parents are so careful in other areas of parenting, why are they so lackadaisical when it comes to a child's religious upbringing?  Why do they consider a child's spiritual well-being something the child should decide for themselves?

            I'm going to leave those questions hanging for a little bit as we look at our text for this morning, which is a portion of the 16th chapter of the book of Acts.  The setting is Philippi, that major city or province in Macedonia we talked about last week.  When Paul and his companions came into the city, there was a servant girl who had been demon-possessed.  Because of this, she had somewhat of an ability to tell the future, and her owners were exploiting her because of it.

            Verse 17 tells what she was doing:  "17 This girl followed Paul and the rest of us, shouting, 'These men are servants of the Most High God, who are telling you the way to be saved.'"  Initially, we would probably wonder what the problem was with her saying that.  After all, it was true.  Paul and the rest were in fact servants of God, and their primary mission was to tell people the way to be saved.  They were bringing the Gospel of Jesus Christ to the public.

            The problem was, is that this was Satan speaking through her.  She wasn't helping them, rather she was taunting and mocking them, much the same way that the soldiers mocked Jesus at his crucifixion by shouting, "Hail, King of the Jews."  Even though she spoke the truth, she did it in such a way as to hinder the ministry of the Gospel.

            Paul recognizes this, and so he orders the demon to leave her.  Once this happened, then this girl was no longer a fortune teller.  She couldn't be her masters' meal ticket any longer.  They could no longer exploit her.

            This made them furious!  Her owners must have had some clout, because they had Paul and the others publicly flogged and beaten, and then arrested and thrown into jail.  And if that wasn't enough, they had their hands and feet shackled.  The only thing these so-called "hardened criminals" were guilty of was to bring the Gospel of Christ to the Philippians!  They were telling people how they could be saved!

            The jailer had strict orders to guard them carefully.  In those days, if a prisoner escaped from custody, the jailer watching them had to pay with his life.  That was the best insurance the government had that a prisoner would stay put where he belonged.

            Now I have no idea how much their jailer knew about Paul and his companions, and the message they were bringing.  He might have known something, considering the scene this servant girl was making for several days in public.  Then on top of that, the men in jail were singing hymns and praising God, in spite of being severely incarcerated.

            The most miraculous thing that happened was when the earthquake hit.  All the doors of the prison came open, and their shackles were freed.  Now anybody with a shred of common sense would have run away from that prison as fast as they could and headed for the hills.  That's what the jailer thought had happened.  He was ready to take his own life because he knew if he did it, it would be a lot less painless and a lot quicker than if he had waited for his superiors to find out about it, and suffer the consequences.

                The next thing that happened was even more miraculous.  Paul and his companions didn't leave.  They stayed right there, even though they could have walked right out the door as free men.  Verses 28-29 of our text record this incident: "28 But Paul shouted, 'Don't harm yourself! We are all here!'  29 The jailer called for lights, rushed in and fell trembling before Paul and Silas."

            Everything came together for the jailer.  He knew without a doubt that he wasn't dealing with a bunch of crackpots here.  These men were genuine, and they served a most powerful and awesome God.

            It was here that the Holy Spirit worked in that jailer's heart.  The Holy Spirit convicted him and brought him to faith.  The jailer saw what God had done in their lives, and their message was one like he had never heard before.  He wanted to know more about Jesus, and how to be saved. Verses 30-31 record this dialogue: "30[The jailer] then brought them out and asked, 'Sirs, what must I do to be saved?'  31They replied, "Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved--you and your household.'"

            Remember now, this was in the wee hours of the morning, way past midnight.  It didn't matter to the jailer; he took the men into his home, and got his wife and family out of bed.  The message of the Gospel, salvation by grace through faith in Jesus Christ, was something his whole family needed.  The jailer made sure that the men got fed.  And then, these men brought the Gospel to this family.   Everybody was baptized, from the youngest to the oldest.  The younger children might not have known what it was all about, but it didn't matter.  God worked faith in their hearts through Baptism and through the preaching of his Word.

            Remember a little bit ago, I asked you to hang on to a few questions I asked?   This is where I want to bring things together in today's world.  I asked, so why then, if parents are so careful in other areas of parenting, why are they so lackadaisical when it comes to a child's religious upbringing?  Why do they consider a child's spiritual well-being something the child should decide for themselves?

            In my opinion, this happens for two basic reasons.  First of all, many people today believe that one religion is just as good as another.  I don't know if it is because of the modern trend of political correctness, or if it is because of just plain laziness when it comes to spiritual matters.  People have the idea that it doesn't matter if you are a Christian, a Jew, a Muslim, a Buddhist, a Mormon, or a Jehovah's Witness.  People feel that as long as you find something you like, and that you're serious about it and stick with it, then that's good enough.  They feel that religion is a subjective thing--if it works for you, then that's okay.  There's no right or wrong way to get to heaven, because all roads get to the same place.

            As sweetly sentimental as it may seem, this line of thinking is nothing more than a huge load of garbage.   If a person thinks that being a devout follower of any religion is just as good as being a Christian, the Prophet Elijah shows the foolishness of this line of thinking.  In 1 Kings 18, we read about this in dramatic detail.  I won't read the whole account because of its length; but to summarize, God's prophet Elijah is standing up to the prophets of Baal.  The conclusion of this is that the Lord God heard Elijah's prayers and answered him; but all the efforts of the heathen prophets of Baal proved futile.

            In order to inherit heaven in the life to come, a person needs to have a personal saving faith in Jesus Christ as their Saviour.  Christianity is exclusive. When writing to the Romans, Paul says in chapter 10 verse 9:  "9That if you confess with your mouth, 'Jesus is Lord,' and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved."  The prophet Isaiah records in chapter 45 verse 21b: "And there is no God apart from me, a righteous God and a Saviour; there is none but me."  And finally in John chapter 14 verse 6 Jesus says, "...I am the way and the truth and the life.  No one comes to the Father except through me." We must conclude that only those who believe in Jesus Christ as their Saviour and accept him through faith will be saved.  The Bible makes it very clear that eternity in heaven cannot be obtained in any other way except through faith in Christ.

            The second reason that parents seem so lackadaisical when it comes to a child's religious upbringing is because there's no real sense of urgency about it.  There are other, seemingly more important things to worry about.  Forget the hour it takes to do the confirmation assignment.  It's more important that my child relaxes after a hard day at school and spends a couple of hours unwinding in front of the TV.  Eternity is a long way off, there's plenty of time to take care of spiritual matters.

            There are events that have happened to tell us otherwise.  We don't have to think too far back to remember how the Seward community was shaken by that tragic school bus accident.  When those students who were killed left their home that morning, it probably didn't occur to either the parents or the children that they wouldn't be coming home again.  Their classmates had no idea they would be looking at their friends lying in a casket.  Priorities and a sense of urgency would have changed for a lot of people.

            There's an old story I've told before about this huge revival meeting.  People were hearing about Jesus their Saviour.  The Holy Spirit was at work, and people were coming to faith.  Satan saw all of this happening, so he sent one of his best demons to try to stop it.

            Satan watched from a distance as the response grew bigger and bigger.  So when the demon returned, Satan said:  "I thought I told you to stop this, but it doesn't look like you did anything!  This revival was a huge success!"

            But the demon replied, "Ah yes, it certainly seemed that way.  But I just stood by the door; and as the people were leaving, I whispered in their ear:  'Don't worry, you need to think about this awhile.  There's no hurry, you have plenty of time.'"

            However, we have the example of the Philippian jailer.  He knew the urgency of the Gospel.  It was so important that he wasn't even going to let it wait until morning.  So in the wee hours of darkness, he woke them up.  The whole household was baptized, and they came to know Jesus Christ as their Saviour.

            Think of how this urgency relates to us today.  We need to keep our faith in Jesus intact and strong, because we don't know when we will be called away from our earthly life.  The same goes for our families as well.  Soldiers in combat are very keenly aware of this fact.

            But this urgency extends to everybody, which makes the work we do as Christians especially important.  The Philippian jailer asked the all-important question today: "Sirs, what must I do to be saved?"

            The answer to that question is the same today as it was then:  "Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved--you and your household." 

            Through faith in Jesus, our sins are forgiven, our lives are restored, and we are guaranteed a mansion in heaven for all eternity.  May we continue to witness Jesus our Saviour, who is alone the foundation of our faith, to our families, our friends, our neighbors, and to the entire world, so that they too may be saved, for Jesus' sake.