The Whole Family For Christ

A Sermon by
Dr. Walter A. Maier

"They" (Paul and Silas) "spoke unto him" (the jailer) "the Word of the Lord and to all that were in his house. And he took them the same hour of the night and washed their stripes and was baptized, he and all his, straightway. And when he had brought them into his house, he set meat before them and rejoiced, believing in God with all his house." – Acts 16:32-34

Gracious God:
Into Thy watchful, loving care we commend the homes of our people. Protect them against invasion with its bombings and blastings, fire and destruction! O Thou who dost neither slumber nor sleep, guard our families by day and night! We beseech Thy goodness in Christ to speed the course of the Savior's Gospel, so that entire households may be sustained by His blood-bought pardon and find joy of soul despite future sorrows! Rebuke the forces of lust and impurity which seek to destroy Christian marriage and home life! Bless husbands and wives with self-sacrificing devotion to their privileges and duties! Implant in children a spirit of obedience to their parents! In this time of trials, when our nation needs the inner support of homes hallowed by Thy presence, we implore Thy fatherly goodness to send Thy Spirit across our broad land, so that in many more households Scripture reading and prayer will find an honored place. Strengthen many with the assurance that through Jesus they will finally be part of the whole family in heaven! We ask this by His unfailing promise. Amen.

 During the battle of Yorktown, the last and decisive struggle in the American Revolution, it became necessary to dislodge the enemy from a prominent house occupied as headquarters. By coincidence this was the residence of General Nelson, Governor of Virginia, a leader of our Colonial troops. With the full knowledge that he was ordering the destruction of his own dwelling place, the quick order, "Sergeant, train your cannon on my home!" The battery roared in obedience, the cannon balls struck their mark, the enemy was driven out, and the victory that was to help seal our independence brought closer – all by the patriotism of a man who sacrificed his cherished possession, his home, for American freedom.

 Others have been ready to give up their dwellings in the nation's interest. When President Garfield was shot by an assassin, his physicians sought a cool, quiet spot, where he could find the required rest for healing. Finally they selected Elberon, New Jersey; and since the town had no railroad connection, engineers planned to build a rail spur from the main line. The right of way, as they plotted it, was to run over the front lawn of a certain farm house. At first the owner refused to permit the railroad passage over his property; but when told that this was part of an effort to save Garfield's life, he answered: "Oh, that is different! Why, if the railroad is for the President, you can run it straight through my house!"

 Now, if these men were willing to have their homes destroyed for the country's welfare, should we not be ready to build our households for the nation's strengthening by consecrating our families to One incomparably greater than any President of the United States – Jesus Christ, Savior of our souls? Domestic life with Him the constant Guest, families with time for reverent prayer and Scripture reading, these are the bulwarks of national defense, a firm foundation for the Church's growth, an uplifting power for all that is good. During war, with its stress and strain, home ties are often loosened. IN England, as our newspaper correspondents cable, people are learning that the most menacing danger to the British family has come not through air-raid damage but by a growing spirit of irreligion, indifference to parental authority, and the unmistakable lowering of morals. Similarly on this side of the Atlantic the cry resounds: "Guard your homes! Protect your families! Reinforce the ties binding together parents and children!"

 How, you ask, can we defeat the mobilized enemies of the American home during the dark hours of this struggle and amid the difficulties of postwar reconstruction? How can we secure positive solutions for domestic problems, unfailing help in family sorrows, blessed assurance when sickness, accident, or even death itself crosses our thresholds? I thank God that I have the privilege of answering across the continent by pointing to the Lord Jesus Christ and pleading not only that you dedicate your home to Him in a general way, that parents or children welcome Him, that some members of your household accept His mercies – far more than that; the Savior wants – and in His blessed name I ask it –


This appeal is strengthened by the Scripture passage chosen as our text, these words of Acts, chapter sixteen, verses thirty-two to thirty-four: "They (Paul and Silas) "spake unto him" (the jailer) "the Word of the Lord and to all that were in his house. And he took them the same hour of the night and washed their stripes and was baptized, he and all his, straightway. And when he had brought them into his house, he set meat before them and rejoiced, believing in God with all his house."


 This account concludes one of the happiest New Testament stories. It all started in a dungeon at the Greek city of Philippi, the last place in the world where we would expect Christ's mercy and power to be revealed. Paul and Silas had been beaten and thrown into prison. Why? Only because the apostle had cleansed a slave girl by banishing a destructive spirit of divination.

 The disgrace and pain of this imprisonment would have made many other men give up their discipleship and object, "If that is the price I have to pay for Christianity, I am through with Jesus!" Some of you have left the Church because of slight reverses and disappointments in small matters. The solos part in the choir that you wanted for yourself was given to another singer; someone else was made chairman of the committee which you planned to head. You have been mistreated by one church member and bitterly you conclude that all are hypocrites. You expect people in your congregation to make their purchases at your store, and if one of them deals with your competitor, you are through with religion. Now, while you have a small grievance – it may be well founded – and you risk your soul's salvation by cutting yourself off from the Church, the apostles, their backs crisscrossed with deep wounds and their pain-racked bodies locked in instruments of torture, never once bemoaned their suffering nor charged God with injustice. Instead they lifted their voices – oh, think of this! – "and sang praises unto God," hymns of thanksgiving that could be heard throughout the whole prison. When the black midnight of sorrows overtakes you, sing our courageously, and you, too, will have the blessed assurance that the hardest afflictions can become the strongest advantages. Paul and Silas were to make this remarkable discover, for while their praise songs re-echoed through dungeons and damp cells, suddenly another sound grew louder and louder until, rumbling like thunder, it silenced their hymns. It was the shaking, quaking, of the earth itself. The very foundation of the building swayed. The doors opened. The bonds sprang from the prisoners' hands and feet.

 That earthquake, which brought the thrill of freedom to the prisoners, produced the threat of disgrace to the jailer. Philippi was a Roman colony, and under the Roman law, in the even criminals escaped, the responsible official suffered the penalties to which his captives had been sentence. Fearing that the worst had happened and that all had run away, the distracted warden saw only one way to avoid dishonor. It was a popular method in the ancient pagan world, well-known in Philippi and widespread even in our modern enlightenment: he planned to take his own life. Yet as he drew his sword and prepared to send his soul to hell, a voice stopped him. It was the warning by Saint Paul "Do thyself no harm!" and the assurance "We are all here." A light was quickly brought. The apostle's words were true. None of the prisoners had taken flight. Instead of being merely gratified by the startling turn of events, the warden was seized by dread concerning his soul. He knew that these two prisoners, for whom Heaven's omnipotence shook the earth as the human hand plays with a ball, were not ordinary men. They conquered pain and chanted their praises to God while others would have cursed and screamed in agony. They had been called "the servants of the most high God" by the demoniac slave. The jailer realized that despite darkness Paul had been able to see his evil intentions and had saved his life. He felt himself confronted by a higher power and in the presence of God's ambassadors. So the Roman officer who had previously been unconcerned about his soul's salvation now falls down before Paul and Silas – the warden before the prisoners. Pleadingly, penitently, he cries out in that question of all questions, the personal, pivotal request, which I pray God many of you will repeat today, "What must I do to be saved?" Almost in an instant, it seems, he was led to understand that he was on the swift, sure way to his soul's destruction. His whole life, it suddenly dawned on him, had been lived in the wrong way. The restless, relentless inner voice reminded him that he must get right with the God whom these men represented; and from a heart conscious only of its guilt, its helpless, hopeless, lost, and damned condition, he begs Paul and Silas to reveal the road to his redemption.

 The apostles' answer is the very cornerstone of our faith and the keystone of its arching promises. Listen attentively to their reply as I now repeat it under the guidance of the same Spirit who blessed the Philippian jailer, the pledge of salvation in one short sentence of eleven words, "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved!"

 Measure each of these blessed words! Start with "Believe!" and let me assure you that you need have only faith – the knowledge, acceptance, trust which comes with unquestioning reliance on your heavenly Father's mercy in Christ. God asks not for good works, for payment, contribution, cooperation, not for meeting Him halfway, one quarter of the way, one short step of the way, not for good intentions or resolutions. No other human being can intercede for you. In the widest, highest, deepest grace of Heaven itself, pardon and peace are yours completely when with all your heart and soul you believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, confessing that He, the Son of God, is your Savior and Substitute who went the way of suffering to Calvary's cross and there, on that gory altar, sacrificed Himself as the Atonement for all humanity's sins. Acknowledging the wrong which springs from your heart, speaks from your lips, and shows itself in your actions, build your hope, the assurance of pardon for every sin, solely but entirely on Jesus' self-surrender to death. By that faith, through God's infinite grace, you, too, will be "saved" from the consequences of your sins, "saved" from the punishment of divine wrath in this life, "saved" from death's eternal doom. What must you "do to be saved"? So that you will make no mistake in this most vital issue, so that you never can protest, "No one ever told me the way of salvation!" hear this answer once more, "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved!"

 To this promise the apostles purposely added the words "and thy house." They were concerned about the jailer's family. At the rumble of the earthquake the warden's household was filled with terror. Now, after hearing of the way to heaven, they "rejoiced." A few hours earlier the Philippian prison keeper had been utterly unconcerned about his prisoners' suffering; now, through the rebirth by faith, he was a new man, bent on helping his fellow men in Christ's spirit. He started with the beaten, bleeding apostles and "washed their stripes." Before midnight the members of that household were pagan. After midnight, whey they had accepted the Savior's redemption, they were baptized and, through that washing of regeneration, became members of Christ's glorious Church. What a difference the Spirit of Jesus made in that home!

 What a difference the Savior can make in our families! The basic needs in our households are still the same as during that first-century day. Our American homes should have – beyond education, culture, domestic-arts programs, the conveniences of modern architecture, the axioms of twentieth- century psychology – the presence of the Lord Jesus. When He enters any family circle, His peace replaces trouble, care, and burdened anxiety. Happiness reigns instead of bickering and strife. Contentment takes the place of worry. Calm overrules the passionate outbursts of selfish assertions. Inner spiritual joy overtowers earthly sorrows. We cannot assert, of course, that Christ's presence is a divine guarantee against every grief. On the contrary, in His inscrutable wisdom God often sees fit to lay increased burdens on Christian homes. But whether these visitations be harder or lighter, the Savior can relieve sorrow, as He did after that memorable midnight at Philippi. Is your household burdened by constant quarreling and jealousy? Let Jesus in to check the ravages of self-centeredness, to give husband and wife, parents and children, the power for restraining all unworthy desires, and His promise "My peace I give unto you" will be fulfilled. Without Him little faults and failings are magnified, just as a new microscope recently perfected makes a single hair look like a tree branch. But with Christ frailties and failures are overlooked, and as a modern searchlight can be focused on an object of joy and beauty, so faith magnifies good qualities and virtues.

 Has the devil of drunkenness taken cruel possession of a father or a son? Do warnings seem useless, cures hopeless? When Jesus is granted control of any drink-addicted life, He breaks its treacherous tyranny. Has disease imposed its pressing burden? Let Jesus step across the threshold of any sickroom, and He can give the sufferer sweet patience, with the privilege to be an example for others. If it be His will, He can remove the illness, or, for higher purpose, call the sufferers home to unspeakable glory. In the loneliness following the bereavement some of you now endure, the Savior's presence can be of real, lasting comfort, besides turning death's sorrows to faith-strengthening ends. A brilliant attorney used to keep a pair of baby shoes on his desk and tell inquirers: "Until the little feet that fit those shoes were taken to walk in Paradise, I never believed. Now heaven is near, and Jesus is my all in all."

 Particularly when disaster suddenly looms close, can Jesus offer the cheer that His benediction brought to the jailer's home. At a terrifying mine accident a few years ago in Belgium the wives and children of the entombed men stood near the top of the shaft and wept loudly. One woman, however, a widow whose only son was trapped below, stood apart, serene and undisturbed. She explained: "My comfort is this, that my son was a reverent Christian. If he has been killed, he is with God in heaven, where I shall soon meet him again. If he is alive, God is with him and will see that he comes back to me safely." Is not this the confidence many of you parents need during the days when your sons are called to our country's defense? If they have Jesus, whether they are now in distant lands, in the air, on the ocean, under the sea, God Himself is at their side. He can protect them, if it be for their soul's welfare, against bombing and blasting, injury and death. If He wants to show them special grace, He can give them heaven's glory and the unspeakable radiance of the blessed homeland where there shall be no more separation or suffering, no more havoc of war's destruction. No problem ever is too great for Him. By faith you will understand that "the things which are impossible with men are possible with God," that our Father never makes a mistake; His ways with His children, though we may not understand them, are always the paths of truth, blessedness, peace.

 But you say, "There are no apostles today as in that period when Paul on his missionary journeys could visit the pastors working together with me are eager to knock at your door and to be welcomed into your family circle, for the one purpose that they, too, may speak "the Word of the Lord" and bring the Savior into your household as surely as He accompanied the imprisoned apostles into that Philippian dwelling. No family in the United States or Canada need be without Jesus or lack the guidance of a true minister of His Church. We are deeply interested in bringing you His sustaining promise.

 You can also welcome the Savior by honoring His Word in your household. The family altar, that is, joint Scripture reading and prayer by parents and children, has been a notable force in the nation's past crises, and today it should be the rock on which people found their home life to withstand all future trials – and who can look into the days before us without realizing that American needs this? Think of the appalling difference that Christ's presence or absence makes in any family! An Arkansas pastor testifies: "When I was the chaplain of a penitentiary in Arkansas, out of 1,700 convicts I found only one that had been brought up in a home where they had a family altar. I heard since that he was pardoned, as he was found innocent of the crime with which he had been charged."

 Jesus was brought into that jailer's home, and He can be brought into your house through the blessing of Baptism which, cleanses you of your sin. Modern theology belittles this Sacrament; even in many churches its washing of regeneration is neglected. Perhaps this disregard helps account for the loss of power in many Christian groups. The Savior's command is clear, "Go ye, therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost!" The Bible itself assures us in words which all should accept that this ordinance is a means of divine grace, since the apostle declares, "Baptism doth also now save us." Therefore the appeal of this hour is identical with the plea which rang out in the early Church, "Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins!" Since our Lord Himself instituted Baptism, since He requires it of all who know His grace, I ask you, young and old, who have never received the strengthening Sacrament to write immediately: "I want to be baptized! Tell me more about it! Send someone who will explain its blessing to me!"

 You young folks especially should understand how all-important it is to give Christ the decisive place in your future home. We witness a wave of hasty marriages. Such weddings, especially when prompted by the desire to avoid military service, are often without spiritual foundation and therefore frequently precludes to marital disaster. Despite everything you may hear to the contrary in a day when evolutionists, Communists, Modernists, radical theorists, religious extremists, attack the Christian code of marriage, build you home with Christ! Follow the rule: "Whatsoever ye do" (in courtship and marriage) "in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus." Make Him the Counselor in your wedding plans! Focus your marriage ideals on this central, pivotal point: My home must be a church of God, a temple of His truth! From your first wedded days until the last, in sunshine and shadow, in health and sickness, in prosperity and poverty, let Christ be the Head of your home, the unseen Guest at every meal, the silent Listener to every conversation! Keep Him as the uplifting, refining, selfishness- destroying power, so that, instead of insisting on rights, you live in and by the Spirit of the humble, self-giving Savior! Continually seek instructions concerning parenthood and childhood; then, come what may, your home will withstand the formidable difficulties which may yet be mobilized against it.


 Now, it was the apostles' hope and plea that the whole family at Philippi should be brought to Christ. This is emphasized three times in our text. First, Paul spoke the Word of the Lord "to all that were in his (the jailer's) "house." Secondly, we read how "he and all his" were baptized; and, thirdly, how "all his house" believed in God. Nor was this the only instance in which the entire family was sought and won for Jesus. Repeatedly in the brief New Testament accounts we find missionaries teaching, instructing, baptizing, the whole household, parents, children, relative, servants, and friends.

 Every time I read these records in the Book of Acts testifying that everyone in a certain home was baptized, I ask myself: If the apostles baptized complete families – and it cannot be that all these homes were without boys and girls – why should some churches today demand that children be excluded from baptismal blessing? If the Old Testament had a special rite for infants, why not the New? If Jesus insists, "Suffer the little children to come unto Me," why bar them from Baptism, when the Church in the second and third centuries regularly baptized the sons and daughters, even the youngest, in the families of the believers?

 The apostle's chief purpose in winning the whole family for the Savior was basically the driving desire "that the world through Him might be saved." And our concern in helping to bring the members of our households to Him must of course be a personal interest in their souls' salvation. Life knows few sorrows deeper than that of a consecrated wife, for example, who sees her husband remain in cold, sneering unbelief, or of parents whose children steadily turn from the Lord. How reassuring, by contrast, to know that those whom we love most dearly are all in the Savior's grace!

 We follow the apostles in asking the whole family to accept Him also for the tranquility and happiness He bestows. When both parents, with their children, are Christ's in true, trusting faith, the home has a radiance which no money can purchased, no culture bestow, no modern experiment impart. The family circle united in the worship of Jesus may be poor, humblem unnoticed; yet in His sight these lowly believers are so high and blessed that He grants them an overflowing measure of His mercy in contentment and rest.

 When sorrows enter the home with the impact of unexpected blows, the family completely consecrated to Christ is strengthened by the mutual trust that the God of grace "hath done all things well." Death snatches a child in the joy of its young life, but the bereaved father can take his wife in his arms, and because they are the Lord's, he can say: "My beloved, we will face this together with trust in our Savior. Because we both belong to Him, because our child believed in Jesus and was baptized, we know that ‘all things,' even this sudden, crushing death, ‘work together for good,' to our dear child and to us." – Contrast with this the hopelessness of an atheist father who stands beside the casket of his little one and can only stammer meaningless generalities or groan in unrelieved despair!

 The family should be united in its allegiance to the Lord because Christless parents or children often exert a destructive influence on the faithful members. Many a young woman, resolute, determined, outspoken in her spiritual loyalty, has seen her assurance slowly but surely grow weaker through daily life with a husband in whose heart Jesus had no part whatever. AT first she attended church every Sunday, but gradually either outspoken dissatisfaction, carefully planned coaxing, or day-by-day assault on her faith weakened her resistance, made her drop church work, skip attendance at services, and finally produced total indifference. Because Christ loves us too much to see those for whom He shed His blood led into unbelief, His Word pleads that those who live together worship together.

 The family, above other forces of human society, should be united in acclaiming the Savior, so that the spiritual life of the children entrusted to its care may be safeguarded. Repeatedly the Old and New Testaments direct parents, in effect, to bring up their children "in the nurture and admonition of the Lord." When Jesus is the Head of the home, that command is followed; parents teach their children to pray, tell them what Jesus has done for them, bring them to Baptism, see that they attend Sunday school and, whenever possible, offer daily religious instruction. Especially do Christian fathers and mothers give their sons and daughters a good example in regular, reverent church attendance. But picture the houses divided against themselves in religious matters. When Sunday comes, the boys see their father shun the church; or the girls soon notice that their mother has only a smile of contempt for the faith. From the first moment the children sense this opposition to Christ's Gospel, the seeds of doubt are sown in their hearts. Soon they form the conclusion, very logical to them: "If father or mother does not attend church, why should I ?" – the practical reasoning that keeps millions of our children away from every contact with their Savior.

 For a dozen different reasons we repeat the plea: Bring the whole family to Christ! You young folks who know the Lord, earnestly resolve that you will never marry an unbeliever, no matter how insistent and repeated his pleas of love may be! To those living without Jesus or against Him I say: "Don't ever ask a Christian girl to be your wife! Don't think of a Christian boy as your husband! You will probably cause them more misery than you can imagine. If you persist in rejecting your Redeemer, then marry someone who share this unbelief! But don't spoil a Christian life or endanger the devotion of those whom you profess to love!" Still more, however, I say to them: "Have you ever taken time to meet Jesus on the pages of the Bible, to study the blessing and promise of His Gospel, the sacrifice of His own holy body for your sins? Be fair enough at least to examine His truth and give the Spirit a chance in you heart! He is your Savior! He wants you at this moment. He pleads with you through this message, Be reconciled to God through faith! In His name I promise that when you kneel before Him, convinced that He is your Redeemer and your God, then peace that you have never before dreamed possible will be yours. Then, too, you will be ready to take a Christian as your life's companion and establish a home where the Savior will reign supreme.

 To believing young men and women I add: "Never marry anyone who does not completely share with you this unity of Christ-centered truth!" It is not enough to say: "Even though my sweetheart is Catholic and I Lutheran, we both believe in Christ." These religiously mixed marriages are often the source of deep sorrow. I am not speaking in theory, but on the basis of facts which have come to me from many hundreds of cases. I doubt whether anyone in the United States has reviewed as many instances of mixed marriages as are locked in my files; and on the basis of these documents I tell you that such marriages often lead to misunderstanding, quarrel, separation, divorce, and, what is even worse, to the neglect and denial of the Lord Jesus Christ. Make this your prayer and resolution: "God helping me, I will marry only a true Christian!" Everything you do in maintaining your faith will bring His rich, repeated blessings.

 To you parents God says: "Take time for your children! Give them the guidance, companionship, discipline, they require! Watch over them by day and night, particularly during these years of unrest, when sinister forces try to coax them from Christ! Show them how Christians should live! Sit with them in the family pew! Let your prayers continually ascend in their behalf to the throne of divine mercy!" If you are Christ's, you must plead powerfully and persistently before the Lord for your child's soul, for its usefulness in this life, its blessing in the next!

 Let us make American homes – dear Father, place this resolve into many hearts throughout the land! – havens of the Savior's peace and blessing, so that, come what may, we are always ready to receive Him! When the Prince of Wales visited a town in the Midlands, he selected a typical laborer's home at random and entered unannounced. The next day the workman told his friends: "I did not expect him, nor did my wife. The house was untidy, and I hadn't washed. We shall never forgive ourselves. If we had known he was coming, we should have been ready for him." After what I have told you today, you should be ready to receive more than any earthly ruler the Prince of inner peace, Jesus, the Friend of sinners. From this moment keep your home in readiness to welcome Him who promises, "Behold, I stand at the door and knock: if any man hear My voice and open the door, I will come in to him and will sup with him and he with Me." Ask yourself, you who know the Lord Jesus these questions suggested by the Bible itself: "Is it well with thy husband? Is it well with the child?" Is it well with thy wife? God give you the strength and courage resolutely to work and pray for the conversion of all your relatives! Then, when it may be said, adapting the language of our text, that those who are in your house hear "the Word of the Lord"; when all have been baptized; when your whole household believes God in Christ, you will have this radiant assurance: In heaven, when Jesus' promise "I am the Resurrection and the Life" is magnificently fulfilled, you, as part of "the whole family in heaven," will be reunited with those who are yours and Christ's on earth. The span of this life passes far too swiftly to be marred by unbelief. Relatively few couples enjoy more than thirty or forty years of married life. Golden weddings are exceptional, diamond anniversaries great rarities. Oh, let these fleeting years be a period of preparation for the never-ending joys of the heavenly homeland, where we shall be with the Savior and together with the loved ones who have died in the faith! God give us all that supreme glory by keeping Christ first, last, and uppermost for the whole family! We ask it in His name. Amen.

The preceding Lutheran Hour sermon first aired in February 1942