Sometimes we can give the word salvation a narrower meaning than it deserves. If we’re using the word, we’re likely talking about the afterlife. But in Acts 16, when a jailer in Philippi asks Paul, “What must I do to be saved?” he’s not inquiring about his status in the afterlife. In fact, he’s trying to stay away from the afterlife. He’s just come near to attempting suicide after the prison over which he presides, and in which Paul and Silas are detained, is rocked by an earthquake and all the cell doors are jarred loose. He know it’s going to look like he failed to do his job of keeping the prisoners locked up, and apparently the people he works for are so harsh that killing himself here and now is preferable to whatever his boss would have in store for him. But Paul and Silas, and the rest of the prisoners, haven’t gone anywhere and urge the jailer to go easy on himself. So his question about being saved is about escaping the violent fate he thought he was about to meet. Paul, however, wants to share with him a great deal more than just a temporary escape strategy. “Believe in Jesus Christ, and you will be saved.” Believe is another word for trust. In his moment of agonizing fear, this jailer is to throw himself into the reality of radical trust, believing that no matter what happens next, Jesus won’t let him go.
It was the unlikeliest of characters that saw this coming. What landed Paul in prison in the first place was casting an evil spirit out of a young girl that was using fortune-telling to make some greedy people a lot of money. Before being cast out, the spirit, upon seeing Paul and Silas, shouts out, “These men are slaves of the Most High God, who proclaim to you a way of salvation.” That very night, Paul and Silas are beaten and imprisoned for costing these greedy men their moneymaking scheme. And that very night, salvation finds the jailer, who is then baptized, washes Paul’s and Silas’ wounds, and brings them into his home for a meal.
Earlier on in Paul’s time in Philippi, he meets a woman named Lydia, who has already begun to fall in love with the God of Israel, but falls even more deeply in love after hearing the good news of Jesus from Paul. She’s baptized and immediately insists on welcoming Paul into her home. Salvation is a visible thing. Salvation manifests as trust, healing and hospitality. And in both cases, it is baptism that launches Lydia and the jailer into this new reality of trust, healing, and hospitality. In the book of Acts, the Church is often called “The Way.” In Acts, to be the Church is to embark upon a Spirit-led journey, opening ourselves up to new people and seeing firsthand the explosive good news the Spirit is bringing to the whole world along the way. The spirit-afflicted girl rightly calls Paul’s message the “way of salvation.” In baptism, Jesus places us on this way, this road, this adventure of salvation. Salvation is to be immersed in the eternal way of feeding one another, healing one another, and trusting in Jesus for our wellbeing. That’s what baptism makes of us.