If I were in a mall examining men’s suits when suddenly there was an ear-splitting explosion and the air became heavy with smoke, my instant question, verbalized or not, would be, “What must I do to be saved?” Everyone else within earshot of the blast would be asking the same question.
It’s life’s ultimate question and it has both a temporal and an eternal application. The impulse to survive is ingrained deeply in all of us. The temporal aspect of the question has to do with our instinctual efforts to avoid physical death.
The spiritual aspect has to do with our need to escape from what the Scriptures call the “second death” — the death that separates from God forever those who refuse his mercy offered in Jesus Christ.
Take what happened to Paul and Silas when they were unjustly flogged and thrown into jail in Philippi. During that night a powerful earthquake shook the jail. The prisoners’ cells were wrenched open and their chains shaken loose. The jailor, arriving from his warm bed, leaped tremblingly into the situation with the question to Paul and Silas: “What must I do to be saved?”
The jailer was a Roman officer assigned to Philippi, and a trusted jail keeper. By us, he would generally be regarded as middle class. That is, he had adequate lodgings, a sufficient living and a secure family, and as well he had standing in the community. Life was good.
But suddenly the earthquake made all the assumed security quiver like a dead leaf dangling in the wind. The ultimate question surfaced and it was about salvation. Unhinged by fear, he asked the Apostle in terror, What must I do to be saved?
We can assume it was the ultimate spiritual question that he posed for the following reasons: the earthquake had passed, the prisoners were safe, his position was not jeopardized.
Besides, he knew these two prisoners were religious men of a very high order since despite being flogged earlier in the day, they had been praying and singing praises to God while the other prisoners listened in. They obviously had something the jailer needed.
So, to the jailer’s ultimate question the Apostle Paul gave the ultimate answer. “Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved – you and your household.” It is brief and simple but every word is freighted with truth.
Who is this Jesus the jailer is called to put his faith in? He is the CHRIST: God’s Anointed One, the Messiah.
At the same time he is JESUS, the Christ — the God/Man who had walked this earth as fully human and laid down his life as a sacrifice for the sins of the whole world, only to be raised from death after three days. All this verified his identity as the only one who could deliver from spiritual death.
He is also LORD, the one before whom both heaven and earth must eventually bow. When we believe and bow down, we declare his lordship over us before that day.
Did the jailer’s “believing” actually achieve anything? It was in fact transforming to the jailer and his family. Something changed radically.
For example, this formerly hardened Roman jailer who, only hours before, hadn’t flinched at the thought of having these men flogged is now washing their wounds (Acts 16:33a). The jailer took the two prisoners into his home where, as the night wore on, Paul apparently gave the whole family an extended class in Basic Christianity (Acts 16:32).
After the teaching session the jailer and his family were baptized – apparently in the middle of the night (Acts 16: 33b). Then the jailer set a meal before them (Acts 16:34a).
And best of all this hardened military man “was filled with joy because he had come to believe in God – he and his whole family.” (Acts 16:34b).
It is good for both believers and unbelievers to review this story. We may not fear the terror of a bomb blast in a mall. But the Lord of mercy will not let us forget his priceless sacrifice for us and the importance of our cry, “What must I do to be saved?”
Nor will he let us forget the gracious offer: “Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved.”