Pastor James J. Barker

Text: ACTS 16:16-34


There are many different ways to study the book of Acts. The full name is actually "The Acts of the Apostles."

  1. Some people emphasize that the book of Acts records the descent of the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost and therefore could also be called "the Acts of the Holy Spirit."
  2. Others point out that the theme of the book of Acts is evangelism and church planting. The book of Acts shows us how the apostles established churches all over the Roman Empire.
  3. An interesting way to study the book of Acts is to take note of all of the exciting conversions – for example, 3,000 souls were saved on the day of Pentecost; there is the conversion of the Ethiopian eunuch, the conversion of the apostle Paul on the road to Damascus, the conversion of Cornelius and his family, and so on.
  4. To me, one of the most wonderful stories in the Bible is the conversion of the Philippian jailor in Acts 16.
  5. To fully appreciate this story it is good to go back to Paul and Silas’ entrance into Philippi.
  6. In Acts 16:12, we read: "And from thence to Philippi, which is the chief port of that part of Macedonia…" (Acts 16:12,13).
  7. The first convert in Philippi was a lady by the name of Lydia (Acts 16:14,15).
  8. It is from this point that we will begin our study as we look at "the Conversion of the Philippian Jailor."



    1. Notice trouble began as they "went to prayer" (Acts 16:16). Oftentimes the devil will stir up trouble when we go to prayer.
    2. The "certain damsel" was demon possessed (16:16). The "spirit of divination" means a spirit of Python (cf. margin). The heathen god Apollo allegedly embodied a snake (a python) and therefore soothsayers, fortune-tellers, and ventriloquists were often said to have "the spirit of python."
    3. The ignorant people believed that the god Apollo spoke through this woman who then gave out advice. This very same practice is being carried on today by the new-age people, mediums, clairvoyants, tarot card readers, palm readers, spiritualists, et al.
    4. This demon-possessed damsel followed Paul around crying out: "These men are the servants of the most high God, which shew unto us the way of salvation" (Acts 16:17).
    5. But Paul did not appreciate her unsolicited testimonials. At first he tried to ignore her, but when that didn’t work he cast the demon out of her (16:18).
    6. Remember also, that we find in the Gospels that our Lord Jesus Christ never accepted the testimony of demons. He came to destroy the work of the devil. And one of Satan’s most terrible works manifests itself in demon possession.
    7. Millions of people are being deceived today by demons. Many do not seem to realize that the devil is a master in confusing people. Also, most people do not seem to understand that the devil is very religious. Just because this girl proclaimed the truth about Paul and Silas does not mean that she was right with God (16:17,18).
    8. Sometimes demons tell the truth in order to deceive people. And once they are caught in their trap, they begin to destroy them. There is a scene in Shakespeare’s Macbeth where three weird witches tell Macbeth and Banquo some information that seems far-fetched at first, but as events unfold, they begin to realize that their prophecy will probably turn out to be true. Concerning this demonic prediction, Banquo says:
    9. "But `tis strange

      And oftentimes, to win us to our harm,

      The instruments of darkness tell us truths,

      Win us with honest trifles, to betray us

      In deepest consequence."

    10. I would like to draw your attention to the contrast here: the demon came out of her (16:18), and "their gains were gone" (16:19). They should have been happy that this poor demon-possessed girl was delivered but they were more concerned with the money they were making off of her.
    11. There are some businesses that ought to be closed down – businesses that destroy people’s lives and break up families, and businesses that pander to lusts and trade on people’s vices, businesses that undermine society and ruin health and spread disease.
    12. One of these wicked businesses that ought to be closed down is the fortune-telling business, but these businessmen ("her masters") were not happy about their loss of revenue and so they dragged Paul and Silas off to the authorities (16:19-24).
    13. When you take a stand for God you can expect opposition. The devil is very happy when sinners waste their money on gambling and booze and cigarettes and drugs and rock music and pornography, and so on. But when the Gospel is preached and his sin-business is affected, he starts roaring.
    14. The Bible says that the love of money is the root of all evil – big money is behind fortune telling (which is now more sophisticated today with the physic network and the New Age movement), drugs, rock music, all of the filthy trash on television and in the movies – you name it – sin is big business (cf. Acts 19:23ff).
    15. Confusion and persecution are two of Satan’s chief methods. Today in America there is much confusion (apostasy, charismatics, "seeker churches," cults, ecumenicalism, etc.). If the Lord tarries, we will soon see much persecution.
    16. So our story today begins with demonic interference, but thank God it does not stop there.



    1. By divine intervention, I am referring specifically to the great earthquake (vs. 26).
    2. It is obvious that God sent this great earthquake in answer to the prayers of Paul and Silas (16:25,26).
    3. Can you "sing praises unto God" (16:25) even when things go wrong?
    4. One Christian met another Christian whose face was long, and he asked him: "How are you, brother?" He replied, "O.K. under the circumstances." The first man then said: "I am sorry that you are under the circumstances. Get above the circumstances, brother. Don’t allow yourself to be under the circumstances!"
    5. Paul and Silas would not allow themselves to be under the circumstances. And while they prayed, God miraculously intervened and sent an earthquake which shook the foundations of the prison (16:25,26).



    1. The jailor was responsible for all the prisoners, and according to Roman law if he lost any of them, he lost his life (cf. Acts 12:19).
    2. That is why this Philippian jailor was preparing to kill himself (16:27). He preferred suicide to a cruel Roman execution.
    3. Paul and Silas probably persuaded the other prisoners to stay – "we are all here" (16:28).
    4. Acts 16:30 is the most important question in life.
    5. Many years ago, John Taylor Smith was the Chaplain-General of the British Army, and it was his job to interview the candidates for the chaplaincy. He always asked each man the same question: "Now suppose I am a soldier who has been wounded on the battlefield and I have only three minutes left to live. I am afraid to die because I am not saved. Tell me, how may I be saved?"
    6. If the applicant began to talk of joining a church or getting baptized or becoming a religious man, Chaplain Taylor Smith would remind him that he only has three minutes to live, no time for church membership or baptism. As long as John Taylor Smith was Chaplain-General, unless a candidate could properly answer that question, he could not become a chaplain in the British Army.
    7. The jailor’s "house" (family) heard the Gospel and they too believed and were baptized (16:30-34).
    8. Please note the proper sequence: FIRST, Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ. THEN: "Thou shalt be saved" (16:31). THEN, AFTER CONVERSION, COMES BAPTISM (16:33).
    9. This is the Bible way, the only Bible way (cf. Acts 2:41; 8:12,38; 9:18; 10:48; 16:14,15; 18:8; 19:5).
    10. Many churches baptize little children and unconverted people, but there is no Biblical basis for this. The Bible says that the jailor’s house believed, were saved, and then Scripturally baptized (16:34b).
    11. Have you been Scripturally baptized? After you were saved? By immersion? Our English word "baptize" comes from the Greek word baptizo which means "immerse" or "dip" (cf. Acts 8:36-39).


  1. Many years ago, the great evangelist D.L. Moody was holding a series of evangelistic meetings in St. Louis. One night he preached from the same text I am preaching this morning.
  2. The following day the local paper reported the sermon (a common practice back in those days) under the sensational headline: "How the Jailor at Philippi Was Caught."
  3. A notorious criminal named Valentine Burke happened to pick up the paper in the city prison. He had already spent half his life in jail and was at this time awaiting trial for another crime that he had committed.
  4. Glancing at the headlines, he did not realize that it was about a sermon preached by D.L. Moody. He had once passed through a small town in Illinois named Philippi, and so he assumed that this was what the story was about.
  5. However, as he read the story he kept seeing the words: "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and thou shalt be saved." He threw the newspaper down and walked away.
  6. But it was too late – he was already under conviction. He picked up the paper and read the sermon carefully. Alone in his jail cell, he got on his knees and prayed. And God miraculously saved him.
  7. A hardened sinner became a humble Christian. He served a reduced sentence due to his Christian conduct and was later offered a position as deputy by the same sheriff who had once arrested him.
  8. He was genuinely saved. What about you?

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