Thursday, May 8, 2008

The Gift of a Second

In Acts 16, we have the wondrous account of Paul and Silas on their missionary journey in Philippi. After Paul had cast out the demon of the slave-girl, thereby costing her masters their profits, both Paul and Silas were beaten and thrown into prison. The jailer was commanded to “guard them securely” whereby he threw them into the “inner prison and fastened their feet in the stocks” (Acts 16.24). This jailer had been given a task that, if he failed, would probably cost him his life; this had happened to the guard of Peter shown to us earlier in the book of Acts (Acts 12.19). We now come to the miraculous event of God sending an earthquake which opens the doors of the prison and loosens the chains. After this, even the Bible tells us, “When the jailer awoke and saw the prison doors were opened, he drew his sword and was about to kill himself, supposing that the prisoners had escaped” (Acts 16.27). It is easy to understand this response when we consider the importance the Philippian leaders had placed on guarding Paul and Silas. The jailer realized he was responsible for any escaped prisoners and might as well go ahead and take his life.

So we see the jailer with his sword positioned to take his life. One second more and the sword will be thrust into his body. He will commit self-murder sending his soul to the pit of hell to endure the eternal wrath of God. End of story- right? But wait. Acts 16.38 tells us that Paul cried out with a loud voice telling the guard not to hurt himself because the prisoners were still there. We read further in the passage that the jailer went to Paul and Silas in fear and trembling asking them what he must do to be saved. We then see that they explained the gospel to him, and that night, the jailer and his whole household believed and were baptized. They were filled with great joy upon their faith. Quite a remarkable story.

What amazes me is that this jailer was one second from hell. He had made the decision that it would be better to take his life. He had decided that he would be happier to take his life than endure the consequences of allowing the prisoners to escape; however, we come to one of the “But God” moments found so often in Scripture even without it being said. What can we learn from this story? I see three key points.

One, the jailer was one second from hell, but he was then snatched from the fire like a brand. Friend, we must never give up on any person. We do not know who the elect are, but we are instructed to preach the gospel to all. Although it may become frustrating telling them again and again and seeing no movement at all, this story shows us that we must never give up. One moment this man thought he would be better off killing himself. The next, God had opened his eyes to his desperate need for salvation. He had been regenerated in the twinkling of an eye. God had prepared everything we see in Acts 16, ultimately bringing this man the gospel and salvation.

Second, we must see the mercy of God in giving this man another second of bodily life and then saving him. Every day God is merciful and slow to anger to sinners who don’t deserve anything but His wrath. If you are reading this as one who has never trusted in the work of Jesus Christ alone for salvation, God has granted you the gift of a second, but he does not guarantee the gift of another. You must flee to him now. Do not say that you will come later. The sword may already be at your chest. Hear and believe the gospel, and then rejoice.

Third, who is the one in your life shouting to you with the loud voice as Paul did to this jailer? Do you hear your friend, family member or Pastor shout to you the words of life each week? That person urges you to believe in the Lord Jesus, clearly showing you your only hope. He presents to you the same Gospel that Paul told the jailer who believed and rejoiced greatly. Please listen and believe as the jailer did. Pray that God would open your eyes to see. Come to this person shouting the good news to you, and he will tell you how to be saved. If you are a believer, remember the one who shouted these words of life to you. Thank God for that person. Resolve to be that person in another’s life at every opportunity.

So how do you view a second of time now? What a marvelous gift of mercy a second of life is. It is the difference between life and death, yes even between heaven and hell. Never take for granted one second of time that God gives you. While some may call it common grace, it was special to this jailer. I tend to think he thanked God daily for this merciful gift of a second. If you are a believer, may you also thank God who does “abundantly beyond all that we ask or think, according to the power that works within us, to Him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations forever and ever. Amen” (Eph 3.20-21).

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