January 10, 2021
Pastor Gunnar Ledermann
25 About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening to them. 26 Suddenly there was such a violent earthquake that the foundations of the prison were shaken. At once all the prison doors flew open, and everyone’s chains came loose. 27 The jailer woke up, and when he saw the prison doors open, he drew his sword and was about to kill himself because he thought the prisoners had escaped. 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. 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 household 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 household.
Making sure things are clean has been a major concern for people throughout the pandemic. Brick and mortar as well as online stores have struggled to keep up with all the orders for antiviral, antibacterial, antimicrobial, antifungal, antioxidant etc. wipes, sprays, lotions, vitamins, mists, etc. If all the possible places a virus could lurk could be kept constantly clean, then the possibility for catching the virus should go down to zero. Fear of catching the virus is on people’s minds and so the need to be clean is on everyone’s mind.
The real desire for cleanliness comes from the fear with catching the virus which at its heart is the fear of death. There is a heightened fear of death right now for many who at other times in history might have found it easier to put off due to being young or in good health. Those situations where the fear of death is heightened cause stress and panic because there is no cure for death. There are only ways to try and postpone death, but even our best efforts still cannot hold back the end of life. A man from the city of Philippi faced death and wanted to know what he could do to stop it.
In Acts 16, we hear that Paul and Silas drove a demon out of a female slave who had earned a lot of money for her masters by predicting the future. Her masters were angry at losing a great source of income from the now demon free woman, so they brought Paul and Silas to the authorities and got the crowd stirred up against them resulting in the authorities having Paul and Silas beaten with rods, and then thrown into prison. In a city where a mob could rise up and bully the authorities into beating and imprisoning two men for healing an enslaved female from demon possession and also sharing the message of Jesus, there is a terrible virus of the heart that needs to be cleansed. And that same is true of any place that tolerates evil and punishes what is good. Which brings us to the man from Philippi who faced death.
The jailor in charge of the prison where Paul and Silas were kept, was shaken awake by an earthquake the night he took Paul and Silas into custody. When the jailor was finally able to check on the damage, he found all the doors of the jail cells open. Fearing the worst, that the prisoners had all escaped and that he would have to face the same punishment as the prisoners he was guarding for allowing them to escape, the jailor prepared to kill himself with his sword. He was the victim of a faithless society; he was infected with sin and had no cure. 28 But Paul shouted, “Don’t harm yourself! We are all here!” Paul did not watch as the man who was keeping him in prison got what he deserved for treating Paul unfairly (selfishly speaking). Instead, Paul quickly, intentionally and lovingly stopped him and saved him from death.
Paul had saved the jailor from physical death, and now he was going to save him from ever having to fear death. After Paul yelled to the jailor, 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?” Paul and Silas had been praying and singing hymns to God while imprisoned, which was not typical for the jailor to hear from the other prisoners, and now filled with fear at God sending the earthquake, amazement that with open doors none of the prisoners left and gratitude that Paul stopped him from killing himself, the jailor ran to them with the most important question. And 31 “They replied, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved—you and your household.” They said it as simply as possible, almost like a title of a book, “Faith in Jesus Saves.” And eager to share the details, Paul and Silas, 32 … “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 household 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 household.” Paul and Silas let God do his work by sharing the message of Jesus with the jailor and his family. God worked through his word and through baptism to call the jailor and his whole household to faith. They were all filled with joy at what God had done for them; not only had the jailor been saved from death, but his whole family had been saved from the fear of death, washed clean of their sins and his whole family had been give the gift of faith in their Savior.
After the jailor experienced his time with Paul and Silas, his feelings of needing to be saved came back. It may not have happened immediately, but as with all baptized believers, the jailor began his new life of faith filled with love for God and others. He also did things that he regretted maybe he was harsh with a prisoner, lost his temper, said something hurtful to his wife or let his kids down. At some point as a now baptized believer, he had fallen into sin and I imagine if he could have found Paul and Silas would have asked them again, “What must I do to be saved?” And as he listed the sins weighing on his heart, Paul would have looked at him with disgust and said that there was no hope for him unless he said the right prayers, gave more money to the church, got baptized again and started doing more good things than bad. Wrong! Paul would have told him Jesus has taken away all your sins and you were washed clean of your sins through baptism.
As I look out at those here and picture those watching at home, I see a group of baptized believers. You know the joy of faith in Jesus and the joy of your baptism. But the enemy of your joy from God is the fear of being dirty and sick with sin and death. As you sit here today you have something in your heart that weighs you down leading you to ask, “What must I do to be saved?” The sins that ran through your mind during the confession of sins at the beginning of the service, whatever anxious or guilty thoughts that kept you up last night or the thing you said or did that someone found out about and it ruined some aspect of your life. Fill in the blank for the sin that you are afraid is not forgiven. Fill in the blank for what you fear God knows about you. This is God’s response disgust at your sin. And you cannot change his disgust at your sin or at you. And that is why Jesus came to this world. Long before Jesus was born God spoke these words through the prophet Isaiah, Isaiah 49:6 … “It is too small a thing for you to be my servant to restore the tribes of Jacob and bring back those of Israel I have kept. I will also make you a light for the Gentiles, that my salvation may reach to the ends of the earth.” God’s saving power stretches to the ends of the earth, which means it reaches to you through Jesus. During the Christmas season we were reminded that Jesus was given that name because it means ‘he saves.’ On the cross, God looked at Jesus with the disgust that comes from being filthy with sin and the only way to kill the virus of sin is death. Death is the final cleansing leaving sin punished. So, when Jesus says that your sins are forgiven and you are washed clean from sin through baptism, he earned that right, and nothing changes his words.
You do not have to wonder as a baptized believer if you are clean from sin in God’s eyes. When Jesus was baptized God the Father spoke as we hear in Mark 1, 11 And a voice came from heaven: “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.” Jesus was perfect in God’s eyes, and when he took the punishment for your sins on the cross, he gave you his perfect life. And the guarantee of that happens in your baptism as we hear in Romans 6, 4 “We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life. 5 For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly also be united with him in a resurrection like his.” In your baptism, you were washed clean of all your sins and made perfect in God’s eyes forever through Jesus. Your baptism saved you from all sins: past, present and future.
When your sins burden your heart, your baptism and the forgiveness of sins remains the cure. Practically then, this is how you live as a believer. In the morning, when you wake up it is as a washed clean, baptized believer eager to do good. At night, when you go to bed, you thank God for his work through you to love him and others and thank him for washing away all the sins you committed that day through your baptism. Paul and Silas were eager to share Jesus’ forgiveness with the jailor and his family, and to baptize them trusting God to wash away their sins and give them faith. In your interactions with one another, show the same quick, intentional love, and forgive one another and remind one another of your baptism when you fall into sin. And, when you run into someone in your life going through one of those moments where they feel like they have no way out, when they are lost in fear, when they are even considering death, save them. Stop whatever you are doing, talk to them, make time for them, love them, share Jesus with them, bring them here to get baptized if that have not been already.
Germs and sickness are all around you. You keep fighting against them, but at some point, the germs and sickness get you. You have always been infected with sin, so the cure for it cannot come from you. The beauty of baptism is its lasting cleaning power, not based on what you do, but based on what God did for you. God’s Son with whom he was well pleased, died for your sins and gave you his clean record. Baptized believers rejoice because God has saved you. Amen.