It’s An Incredible Story
It’s an incredible story. There were these two missionaries who were put in jail. They were arrested because they had made the wrong people mad. In this town where they were working, there was a girl who was possessed by a demon that gave her the ability to predict the future. This girl was enslaved and her masters, they made some pretty good money using her to tell people’s future. Well, this fortune-telling slave girl was making things uncomfortable for the missionaries. She kept following them around and the spirit in her kept harassing them. One of the missionaries turned around and told the demon to leave the girl, and because it was done in the name of Jesus Christ, it did. You can imagine if you are the slave owner, you are going to be pretty upset about losing your fortune telling slave girl. So the owner rallied his friends in the town and made up some false charges against these missionaries and got them thrown in jail.
These two missionaries spent their time in jail praying and singing hymns. Then, at midnight, there was an earthquake that shook things up so much that the missionaries’ chains fell off and the doors to the jail opened. This was bad news for the jailer. Being a jailer was a prominent position, it probably paid very well, but it came with a lot of responsibility. The way it worked with jails and jailers in the Roman Empire was that the jailer was personally responsible for his prisoners. If a jailer’s prisoners escaped, a jailer would be put to death. When the jailer realized what had happened, he was about to kill himself.
But one of the missionaries yelled at the jailer to stop. He told him that all the prisoners stayed in the jail. What an act of love on the part of the prisoners. They loved the jailer so much, they didn’t want him to be killed or kill himself. The jailer was overwhelmed with this love. He rushed into the jail asking the missionaries, “What must I do to be saved?” The missionaries told him to believe in the Lord Jesus and then they explained more from God’s Word. We hear that the jailer and his family believed, they were baptized into the faith, and that caused the jailer to be filled with joy. It’s an incredible story. Hear it for yourself from Acts 16:25–34:
At midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them. 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 chains were loosed. And the keeper of the prison, awaking from sleep and seeing the prison doors open, supposing the prisoners had fled, drew his sword and was about to kill himself. But Paul called with a loud voice, saying, “Do yourself no harm, for we are all here.”
Then he called for a light, ran in, and fell down trembling before Paul and Silas. And he brought them out and said, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?”
So they said, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved, you and your household.” Then they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all who were in his house. And he took them the same hour of the night and washed their stripes. And immediately he and all his family were baptized. Now when he had brought them into his house, he set food before them; and he rejoiced, having believed in God with all his household.
What Will Fill You With Joy?
It’s an incredible story, but what is the point of this story for you? What is the point for you, especially considering that this week’s chapel talks are centered on marriage and the family? Well, the answer lies in the last verse. What was it that caused the jailer to be filled with joy? He was filled with joy not because the prisoners were still in the jail; not because he would get to keep his prominent job as a jailer; and not because his life was spared. “He was filled with joy because he had come to believe in God—he and his whole family” (Acts 16:34).
If you get married someday and have a family, what is going to fill you with joy? According to Time magazine, twenty-five percent of millennials will never marry. That’s people our age—born in the 80s, 90s, and 2000s. But that means seventy-five percent of millennials, at least seventy-five percent of you, will get married. Maybe it’s to someone you’re dating now. Maybe it will be to someone you want to be dating right now. It could be to someone you won’t meet for twenty years. When that time does come, and you get married, and you start a family, what will it be in your marriage and family that will bring you joy? I want to challenge you to consider that, and maybe even rethink it.
Typically we think that certain things in a spouse will make us happy. We can be honest about this, right? Attractiveness? Spontaneity? Sensitivity? Someone with a good job? Someone who just understands me? It’s easy to think that if your future spouse has certain characteristics, you will have joy. It’s similar with children. Typically parents receive joy when their children do things for the first time such as walk or talk or excel at school or grow up and have children of their own or have a successful career.
There’s nothing wrong with finding joy in a sensitive husband or a caring wife or a cute child. But there’s one characteristic in family members that will give you deep, inmost joy. It’s what caused the jailer to be filled with joy. “He was filled with joy because he had come to believe in God—he and his whole family” (Acts 16:34). God’s Word promises you that a spouse who believes in Jesus and children who come to believe in Jesus will fill you with real happiness.
The reason why faith in Jesus will fill you with joy is because you’re going to make mistakes. You’re going to make mistakes in your marriage and family. You might be making mistakes in your life now that are going to hurt your future spouse and children. Making mistakes in our lives, sinning, is something we can’t avoid. In order to be free from the guilt that accompanies our sin and the punishment we deserve for it, we need our sins forgiven. They can only be forgiven through the Lord Jesus. The Lord Jesus, your Savior, loved you so much that he lived a life free of sin and died the death we deserve for our sin—so that God would accept his life and his death in your place.
True joy is knowing that all your sins, even the sins you will commit against your family, are forgiven. True joy is having a spouse and children that forgive you the way that Christ forgives. True joy is knowing that that the sins of your family members are forgiven and that all of you will be together in heaven.
It’s an incredible story. A bizarre turn of events led Paul and Silas to have the opportunity witness to the jailer of Philippi and his family. It’s an incredible story in which the Jailer at Philippi witnesses to you. The jailer shows you what should really be your source of joy in your marriage and in your family. If and when you consider marriage someday, make marrying a believer your number one priority. If you ever have a family, make baptizing your children and raising them in the faith more important than anything else. Because faith in Jesus means that their lives will be saved and that will fill you with joy.
Pastor Matthew Behmer is an Adjunct Professor of Religious Studies and Assistant Dean of Residential Life at Bethany Lutheran College in Mankato, Minnesota, where he delivered this chapel homily on January 20, 2016.