Acts 16:12 “We travelled to Philippi, a Roman colony and the leading city of that district of Macedonia. And we stayed there several days.”
When the Lord Christ was a child he was taken to the continent of Africa, to the land of Egypt, as part of a refugee family. Jesus did not visit Europe, but his apostle Paul, though never going to Africa, did spend years in Europe. The impact of Christianity on our continent for almost 2,000 years has been awesome. We know that there were people from Europe present in Jerusalem at Pentecost and they would have taken the message Peter preached to them back with them to Rome and Greece. But the first place in Europe where an apostle was officially sent was Philippi in northern Greece. The manner in which Paul was constrained to go to that community, and Europe’s response to Paul’s preaching is one of the most fascinating sections of the book of Acts. The narrative is found in chapter 16.
1. THE GUIDANCE OF THE SPIRIT.
It was about the year 50, and Paul had been evangelising and church planting in the region of Galatia, in the north-east of what today is called Turkey, though then that whole area had been under the influence and government of Greece for centuries. Rome had conquered Greece and Asia minor about 200 years earlier. This little party of evangelists and church planters consisting of Paul, Luke, Silas and Timothy had travelled west heading for the Roman province of Asia, but we are told that “they were kept by the Holy Spirit from preaching the word in the province of Asia” (v.6). Here were a band of men who lived to obey Christ. He had told them to go into all the world and make disciples of every nation. He hadn’t added, “except the province of Asia.” They were dedicated prayerful preachers who wanted everybody to hear of the Lord Jesus Christ, but the Holy Spirit on whom they relied for any success in this work made it absolutely plain to them that they were not to preach the word in Asia. How did the Spirit do that? Surely not by bringing many difficulties into their lives. That would be no safe guide to stop serving Christ in a certain place. Was there a heavenly revelation given to some or all of them in the night? Or did they meet a prophet who told them, “God says, ‘Don’t preach in Asia,'”? We don’t know. Or, as I can imagine it, did every influence of the Spirit seem to drain away from them and they were all left enervated and desolate so that they became convinced God was telling them, “Proceed no further!”?
In whatever manner they received this knowledge they all knew that the will of the Holy Spirit was that they did not preach there, and so they turned away from Asia and they headed north to Bithynia which was a large senatorial province stretching for hundreds of miles along the shores of the Black Sea. No! Again, after walking hundreds of miles, in some unmistakable but undisclosed manner the Spirit of Jesus would not allow them to enter the province (Incidentally the Holy Spirit of verse six is called ‘the Spirit of Jesus’ in verse seven. You see how interchangeable and equal are the second and third members of the Godhead?). These men simply wanted to do the will of God in a certain place, but God himself made it impossible for them to do it. I would think that this happens very often in Christian service.
What is the message coming from all this? The Spirit of God is intimately involved in our lives, in what we do and where we go today. For example, he is the one who first brought you to church, and he is the one who keeps you coming here, and makes you restless when you mitch! He is leading you into holy living. The Spirit makes his will clear to us in the Bible, and he resists us when we defy him, but his grace strengthens the humble.
So this little group of men then decided to head back westwards again to Mysia. That is an unexpected decision. You would think they would conclude, “We must now go east to Derbe and home to the church at Antioch. We have already tried to go west into Asia but the Holy Spirit has stopped us.” Maybe they did first think like that, but that was not the way they were to go. So back north-west they went, with nothing preventing them now, no doors shut in their faces by a divine hand. It was a lonely route which they would often walk without other travellers. There was no important Roman road for them to take, not many inns to stay in, no buzzing growing communities where Christians would think, “A church would do well here.” It was an empty landscape day after day, by the will of God, so they didn’t stay anywhere in Mysia. On and on they walked westwards until they could travel no further because they had reached the shores of the Aegean Sea at the port of Troas (near to what today is called the Dardanelles). This trek was a strange circuitous route, not accomplishing much, leaving these men wondering why God had brought them from one side of Turkey to another, walking for weeks, with little preaching at all. Why was God dealing with them in this way? The problem of guidance is frequently a puzzle to the Christian. If it were perplexing to the apostles then it is not surprising if it is so to us. “What is the Lord doing? Why is he dealing with me in this way?” So often the Lord says to us, “You don’t realise now what I am doing, but later you will understand” (Jn.13:7)
2. THE MACEDONIAN CALL.
So there they were at the seaside in Troas wondering what to do next. They must have had some supper, and we are sure that they prayed together for the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Jesus, to guide them the next day, and then they turned in for the night. During that night, after these weeks of almost aimless wandering, Paul had a vision in which he saw a European, a man from Greece, a Macedonian. This man was standing and he was beseeching Paul to cross over the Aegean Sea into Europe and help them. There are several points that are significant about this call.
There has been prohibition and restraint until now. A number of doors had been closed and there had been little evangelistic activity. But now there is more than permission, there is a very specific invitation. The whole situation changes in one night. The future was made transparently clear. This has happened throughout the history of the church. David Livingstone tried to go to China. No! God took him to Africa. Carey was planning to go to the South Seas, but God guided him to India. So it was with Paul and his friends. They seem to have been walking around in circles for months, and then, in a night, their place in the will of God is confirmed. Paul is shown a man who in his appearance and his accent is a native Greek, and the man invites Paul to come specifically to Macedonia to help them. After a month or two of doors closed this great and effectual door into Europe is suddenly opened by heaven itself. They went to bed ignorant of the future, and they got up the next day certain of God’s call for them to proceed into Greece. If only it were always like that! But let us be absolutely sure that our Good Shepherd is guiding every one of his sheep, that all the sons of God are led by the Spirit of God. In other words, the same Lord who was closing doors preventing Paul going anywhere else, and then directing him to Macedonia, has truly been at work in you for years and he has directed you today to . . . Aberystwyth. You are exactly where God wants you to be, even though there has been some perplexity on the way here, and little opportunity to serve the Lord as you would like. You Christians are all where God would have you be – every single one of you. We don’t know what the future has in store, but today we all know that God’s will for us is to be in this congregation in this small town. Nothing can rob you of God’s providence at this moment in time.
Another extraordinary feature is that this man was from Macedonia. We might understand it if the man had come from the poor backwaters of Spain, or mid-Europe, or north Africa, or Arabia. Such barren areas needed divine help, but wasn’t Macedonia near the heart of things in Greece? They already had everything that our civilisation today admires. They had exported a language of unequalled power, and a literature which has grasped the imagination and exercised the intellects of the most civilised nations on earth for two thousand years. All of Asia was covered with Greek cities. Even in the backwaters of little Galilee it was the Greek language that fishermen and their sons spoke well. Greek was the language of science and letters. Greece had philosophers like Plato and Aristotle, writers like Hesiod, Homer, Euripides, Sophocles, Aristophanes. It had historians like Herodotus, Thucydides, lawyers like Lycurgus and Solon, orators like Demosthenes, scientists like Pythagoras. These men were teachers of posterity. The Greeks had architects, doctors, poets, military men, politicians, sculptors, potters, makers of glassware, ship-builders, traders, and agriculturists. When they were conquered by Rome they captivated and transformed Roman thinking itself. They had Hellenized Rome. National self-determinism, decentralisation, separation of church and state, political control over the armed forces – all this was practised in Greece.
There is a powerful growing movement in the USA today which is emphasising the Classics and our debt to them. Two Californian professors of the Classics, John Heath and Victor Harrison are tireless in championing all things Hellenistic. They say, “Our mission is to keep reminding our immigrants that Hellenism is the one and only institution in the world under which we can all unite while adhering to the principles and values of the West that the Greeks have bequeathed to us. We are all Greeks now, whether we want it or not!” They are saying that we need to be taught by the Greeks, not for us to evangelise them.
Yet, it was a man from Greece, a sophisticated European of the most advanced culture on the earth in the first century who pleaded with Paul to travel there and help them. How could this little battered Christian Jew and his friends help a people in a fertile civilisation like that? But that next morning, when Paul told them of his vision, there was no discussion at all about the call. Luke says, “we got ready at once to leave for Macedonia” (Acts 16:10). Why? What was this cry for help? Luke says, that they concluded, “that God had called us to preach the gospel to them.” (Acts 16:10). The help Europe needed was the gospel! They had doctors in Greece, the best in the world at that time, but every Greek was going to die. They had vineyards and the finest wine, but when you spoke to a wineskin it replied not a word to you. They had the Games to watch, but when the excitement died down they still had to live with themselves. They could indulge themselves in all the pursuits that their money could buy but afterwards they had to live with their consciences. They had their plays and dramas and philosophers but they had no good news of forgiveness of sin. They had nothing to wash their guilt away. Not all the blue Aegean sea could do it! They were lost men and women. They had never heard the Sermon on the Mount. No one had told them of one who spoke and the winds and waves obeyed him. They knew nothing of the Lamb of God who had come to take away the sin of the world. They knew nothing of the resurrection of the dead and the hope of eternal life. The glories of heaven were never declared to them. They had nothing to obtain a peace with God that passes all understanding. The Greeks had everything that their world offered, and yet they had nothing.
3. THE RECEPTION AT PHILIPPI.
After the wanderings around Asia Luke tells us that they sailed straight to Samothrace. The journey to Macedonia across the sea would be the same distance as we are in Aberystwyth from Ireland, about 150 miles, and it took them just two days to make the crossing. So God blew a fair wind on their sailing boat. They arrived at the port of Neapolis and then had a ten mile walk inland to Philippi. They came into town on a paved road which went right across Greece to the Adriatic, in fact one can see the worn paving stones even today. By that road they arrived in this Roman colony and a leading city in Macedonia – maybe it was Luke’s home town.
Luke picks out for us three fascinating people who were converted – the first Christians whom we know to have been saved on European soil. They were very different personalities, and the Spirit who has been dealing so sovereignly and mysteriously with Paul and his companions now leads him to these three men and women. God deals with them in very different ways in bringing them to the same Saviour through the same experience of new birth, and he works in their hearts a saving commitment to the Lord Jesus Christ. In the years to come each of them would bear testimony to the ways of God’s grace, and each would speak of the love of Jesus Christ for them, how he sought and found them. How marvellous was God’s love for them, and yet these three Philippians, the founder members of the church in Greece, would tell very different stories.
The first was named Lydia. Her home town was four hundred miles away in Thyatira a city famous for its dyes (there is an early inscription to a guild of dyers there). Lydia was a business woman and an entrepreneur. She traded in purple cloth, up-market material because purple dye was expensive (she may have been the agent for a Thyatiran manufacturer). We are also told that she was also a worshipper of God, that is, she had been influenced by the Old Testament Scriptures and come to believe and behave as the Jews did without having become a Jew. So she was a godfearing woman. There was a place a mile outside the city where she and other women like her met together on the Sabbath day for prayer. So it seems that there was no synagogue in Philippi (a quorum of ten men would be needed in order to have a synagogue constituted).
But the most significant truth we are told about Lydia is that her heart was closed. In other words, it was closed to God and to Jesus Christ. It was closed very effectively to the message of salvation. Before I became a minister of the gospel I worked for a year for the National Coal Board as a wages clerk in their south-west Wales headquarters. The miners in the 20 collieries in the region were all being paid in cash in 1964, and every Thursday we would fill their wage packets from a million pounds in cash, and we would carry the metal cash-boxes for each pit into a strong room for the night before paying the miners on Fridays. The strong room had a mammoth door which two men would push closed and then turn a wheel in the middle. A fly couldn’t pass that door and a burglar would find it a very considerable and lengthy challenge. That door was closed shut on Thursday nights.
That closed door is a picture of Lydia’s heart, and the heart of every man and women outside of Christ, so of your heart too. The hearts of all mankind are closed to the gospel, to the preaching of the word, the beseechings and invitations of the Lord. This woman was a very capable women with considerable responsibility in the world of commerce, and I am sure she did her job with great competence and integrity, but her heart was closed. There is no mention of her husband, simply the members of her household, and she was working to support her children or her parents, and she seems to have had their trust, but her heart was closed. She was a religious person with some knowledge of the God of the Old Testament Scriptures, and one day each week was different for her, but her heart was closed. She was not simply ‘dead orthodox’ as the phrase puts it, but she believed in prayer and met regularly with other women and prayed. She was deeply devout, but still her heart was closed. With all her intelligence, and respectability, and business acumen, and religion, and piety her heart was closed.
We may be like Lydia, moral people, church members, interested in the history of the church, having a knowledge and admiration of orthodox Christianity but with our hearts closed to God. We may be moved by singing, and shed a tear at a baptismal service, and love to be in the company of Christians and yet our hearts be closed to the gospel. We may be like Felix as we listen to the word of God and tremble as we hear of righteousness, temperance and judgment to come. We may know with a certainty that we have to stand before God’s great white throne, and yet our hearts are closed to the Judge. This is how it was with Lydia, in many ways an admirable, noble, intelligent and religious person yet her heart was closed.
History reveals millions like Lydia. Archibald Brown’s father was a deacon at the Metropolitan Tabernacle under Spurgeon. Archibald heard him preaching in the great revival years of 1859 and 1860. There were some occasions when he deeply stirred by the pleading of Spurgeon. “I had a feeling,” he said, “that if he went on preaching much longer, I too should have been converted.” But the 14-year-old boy’s heart remained closed to Christ for another seven or eight years. So it was with John Newton: what instruction and prayers he heard at his mother’s knee, and he would at times attempt to reform and change his life, but deeper into debauchery and profanity he went until he was twenty-three years of age, because his heart was closed to God. So it is with many of you. Great people. I account you as my friends. But your hearts are closed and neither you nor I can open them.
Then Paul began to speak to Lydia and the other women and as he did the Lord himself began to work in Lydia’s life. The risen Christ who sent his Spirit forth and blocked the way for Paul to go anywhere else was with these men as they spoke in Jesus’ name. He is not some dead pile of dust and bones under the Syrian sky. He is the risen Lord, and as the living one he took this marvellous redemptive initiative as Paul was speaking, and he began to ease open that heavy rusty old door into Lydia’s life. She would never say in the years to come, “Wasn’t I lucky to be there when Paul came to our meeting!” It wasn’t luck that opened her heart. She would never say, “Didn’t I make an intelligent decision that night?” Her intelligence didn’t open that door. She didn’t say, “I decided with my free will to open the door.” It wasn’t her will that opened the door. She would say, “I am so glad that the Lord Jesus opened my heart.” Opening the heart is part of his salvation. He was the Good Shepherd who had a sheep in Philippi whom he had to find.
There were a number of women gathered there outside the city gate by the river, and Paul spoke to every one of them with the same sincerity, yearning that every one of them should come to know his Saviour for themselves. Yet there was just one woman whose heart was opened. How solemn is this matter of the sovereignty of Christ. Many fishermen lined the shores of Galilee’s lake but just two sets of brothers taken to follow Christ. You yourself once went to a meeting and there the Lord opened your heart. You thought the heart of your husband who was sitting alongside you would have been opened too but he had nothing to say of the salvation of Christ. Or you went with a gang of your friends, but afterwards they talked of football and school and music. Jehovah Jesus meant as little to them after the meeting as he had before, but you were changed. Your heart had been opened. That is how it is in this solemn and humbling experience. It is initiated by Christ. It is accomplished by the grace of Christ, and that grace works sovereignly, and selectively. That grace falls with all its particularity on favoured men and women as he determines. This is his grand prerogative, and in that honour none shall share. Please don’t presume on that grace. Don’t say as boys in school would say to me, “I’d like to be religious. I want to taste what the world offers first, and then when I’m older I might become religious.” It is not in our power to determine the time or place. The only moment we have is now. All the years gone can never return, and all the future is unknown. We may soon be dead. Now is the time to plead with the Lord to open our heart.
What are we seeing here? Lydia was the reason why the Holy Spirit forbade Paul to preach the word in Asia. She was the reason for the Macdeonian cry, and because of that the Lord opened her heart. He took away the scales of prejudice from her life. He gave her insight into the gospel. He ended her spiritual blindness. He made her more than a moral and religious woman.
What happened when the Lord opened her heart? We are told that she was able “to respond to Paul’s message” (Acts 16:14). The message demanded a response. It demanded repentance for her sins. It demanded trust in the finished work of Jesus Christ. It demanded baptism and a life of discipleship, and all this was possible once the Lord had opened her heart. She heard Paul speaking and she thought, “I have never heard anyone speak like this.” She thought to herself, “What an orator he is. He really believes what he says.” She thought, “This is all making sense.” But it was not because of Paul’s eloquence or sincerity that his words were having such a transforming influence in her life. It was all due to the Lord opening her heart. I once spoke to a woman in hospital who had been involved in a minor accident outside Aberystwyth and for fear she might have had concussion they were keeping her in hospital for 24 hours. She was fed up with life, but I spoke to her about the God who is in control of all our circumstances, even the fall of the sparrow. “That God has come to this world in his Son Jesus Christ to save us,” I said. She looked back bleakly to me and she said, “Words, only words.” The gospel came to her, but in word only. When the gospel came to the Thessalonians it did not come in word only, but in power and with the Holy Spirit and with much assurance so that the Thessalonians received the gospel of Paul not as the word of men but as it is in truth the word of God. So it was when Lydia’s heart was opened she was able to respond to Paul’s message.
Douglas MacMillan and his elders were interviewing two teenage boys who had come to profess faith and were applying for church membership. “Tell us what changes have taken place in your life that would lead us to believe you have been converted,” said Douglas. Their spokesman said, “Oh, it was no change in us. The change was in you, about six months ago, when your preaching got interesting.” Of course it was no change in Douglas’ preaching. What had happened was that the Lord had opened their hearts at that time and then the preaching seemed more relevant, and the worship more enjoyable and Sunday was no longer a boring day. So as Paul opened the Scriptures using the sword of the Spirit the same Spirit of Jesus opened Lydia’s heart so that she believed what Paul said to her. She became the first convert of whom we know anything on European soil.
What an encouragement Lydia is to us all to go on praying for those whose hearts have long been closed. We sometimes have the misfortune to hear certain preachers inform us that God lacks the ability to open the heart. “God can do no more. It is all up to you,” they tell proud sinners who are glad to hear that they are mightier than God, and that they can keep the Lord wringing his hands in heaven wondering whether men will condescend to accept him or not. Who would want to worship and follow such a god? If that were really the way it is then prayer itself for loved ones’ salvation would be futile. Such a theology says so mournfully that God has no power to open our loved ones’ hearts. But that is not how it is! The Lord opened Lydia’s heart and he can open the hearts of the most obdurate sinners. Pray on!
ii] THE SLAVE GIRL.
What a different person is the second convert in Philippi. An anonymous slave girl, whose life was dominated by some spirit. She was owned by some pimps who made a lot of money out of her from gullible ignorant people by this wretched girl’s fortune-telling. So much for the wonderful Hellenistic civilisation! What a desperate life this woman lived, and there are many like her in our own land today, abused by men who have virtually bought them. Dabbling with the occult has sucked others into the world of spiritualism, horoscopes, and communication with the dead. You see advertisement for these activities in the local paper every week. We are back in the first century.
We have read about what is called ‘channelling’, that is, there are people who have contact with certain beings – they claim to be ‘channels’ to spirits. Some have been given names like “Bashar” who is supposed to be an extra-terrestrial; “Mafu” it is claimed is a highly evolved being from the seventh dimension, last seen on earth when he incarnated as a leper in first-century Pompeii. “Ramtha” is a 35,000-year-old ascended master, once a barbarian warrior-king, later a Hindu god, now beyond deity itself. “Lazaris” is a disembodied personality with no incarnations – a being with no past lives in his portfolio. To those who believe in them these are not characters from science fiction. They are claim ed to be “entities” and with other horrors like them they feature in the channelling craze which seems to me to have peaked at the beginning of the nineties. Yet the foolish and the blind will still pay 500 dollars for a week-end with a channeller who will bring them a word from Lazaris or Mafu or another of these “entities.” There is widespread fascination with this occult world: the last time I spoke to ten members of the Theological Students Fellowship at Lampeter University the room next door to our meeting was packed with students listening to a speaker talking about witchcraft.
So here was this slave girl who was ensnared in that world of spiritism 2,000 years ago. Is there any hope for a woman like that? She followed Paul and Silas about the city shrieking after them, “These men are servants of the Most High God, who are telling you the way to be saved” (Acts 16:17), and this she did day after day. The python spirit in her was seeking to discredit these Christian preachers and their words of people needing to be ‘saved’. Finally Paul became so troubled by this that he turned around to the girl and he said, “‘In the name of Jesus Christ I command you to come out of her!’ At that moment the spirit left her.” (Acts16:19) That was it. No jiggery pokery. No laying hands on her and holy rolling. No foaming at the mouth. No convulsions. No sprinkling with holy water. “No concantenation of secret syllables, no manipulation of talismans, and no examination of omens” (Dennis E.Johnson, “The Message of Acts,” P&R, 1997, p.178). Just the apostolic word – and her life was saved! Beyond the courage and faithfulness of the apostle he had to fight no physical battle for this woman’s soul in Ephesus. That was fought on Golgotha and won by the Lord Christ there and then. The fruits of it came to Europe 2000 years ago by the word of the cross and those cleansing waters have been blessing the continent ever since.
What salvation can spiritualists offer the world? Aren’t they the weakest people in the world? They get sick all the time. They go through multiple marriages. They have money problems. They cannot beat their own drug addictions. They are commonly men and women in various kinds of bondage, and are totally powerless to change their own lives for the better. If they could tell the future they would win the National Lottery every week. They would own half the city of London. They would maintain a successful marriage. If fortune-telling worked they would be winning the pools every week. All their powers can’t help them. It cannot even give them good health or money. Trying to communicate with the dead is for losers. Get a life! There is no forgiveness, no comfort and no redemption in that world. It is like entering the deepest darkest dungeon without a candle. It is a lonely, sad, cold, sterile existence. It is a foretaste of hell. It has no Saviour or God who cares and loves you. No wonder the vision of the man from Macedonia was standing pleading with Christians to come over and help them.
The Lord Jesus Christ in a moment broke the power that was destroying this girl’s life, and he brought her life, love and immortality. After she met the Lord she was useless as far as the world was concerned, but she began a whole new life of being useful to the Almighty. That spiritism world has nothing at all to offer you. Nothing can compare with the love of Jesus. Stop going to those spiritualist meetings. Cease playing with Tarot cards. Stop reading your horoscope and almanac. Burn all of that! Renounce it once and for ever, and cry mightily to the Lord to help you. He is indeed the Most High God who has come to tell us the way to be saved.
iii] THE JAILER.
The spirit went out of the girl, and their hope of profit went out of her pimps’ lives. To them the python spirit that had controlled this poor girl was a business asset and nothing more. She had cried, “These men are servants of the Most High God.” Now it was their turn to identify them: “These men,” said the frustrated slave owners, “are Jews who announce customs unlawful for Romans.” The crowd in Philippi no more appreciated being told they needed to be saved from sin through the death of the God-man Jesus Christ than post-modern people do today. They joined in the attack against Paul and Silas, and soon there was the beginning of a riot. The magistrates ordered them to be stripped and severely flogged and thrown into prison. The jailer was told to keep a special eye on them as dangerous men, and so he put them in an inner cell and also fastened their feet in the stocks.
Now everything that happens to his people occurs because of the plan of God. All the perplexing wanderings through Asia Minor, the Macedonian call, the journey to Philippi, the opening of Lydia’s heart, the deliverance of the possessed slave-girl – all that is of the Lord. Yes, and so was this beating and imprisonment. Paul and Silas were suffering by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God (though it was not the Lord but sinners with wicked hands who had flogged them). And that is precisely why they are singing at midnight. They are not in the hands of mindless fate. These suffering servants are following the Suffering Servant. They are truly blessed disciples because men revile and persecute them and say all manner of evil against them for Christ’s sake. When Christ suffered he conquered sin, Satan and death, and a stream of blessing began to flow from his sufferings throughout the world. Paul and Silas were filling up the sufferings of Christ, and now Europe was beginning to fall before all-conquering Jesus. Here were the first-fruits, their suffering for him swiftly following the first two conversions, and soon another conversion is to follow!
At midnight as their praise to God is sounding through the prison there is a violent earthquake which opens every door and looses every chain. The jailer wakes up and sees the doors of his jail open. His first thought is suicide. That is the highest point of a heathen culture, and it is becoming a high point in our culture – these ‘noble’ people who plead to the highest court in Europe for the right to self-destruction, so that they can choose their own ‘death with dignity.’ We say with Paul to all those who are destroying themselves. “Don’t harm yourself!” Paul goes on to affirm, “All the prisoners are here.” What is this? Another extraordinary event. Prison doors open wide? Chains loosed from every wrist? Yet every prisoner is still there? Who ever heard such a thing? His life, then, would not be forfeited. He called for lights and hurried into the inner cell and fell down before these two extraordinary prisoners. Whenever did such an action happen before? A jailer falling prostrate before the jailed! He asked them from his heart, “What must I do to be saved?”
How did he come to shout out that question? You think of that extraordinary time. The days preceding when four strangers had made the town buzz with news of the resurrection of a man from the grave. One of the most respected women in the town had accepted their message and given them hospitality. A demented fortune-teller had cried day after day to the whole community that these were the servants of the Most High God who were there to tell people the way of salvation. Then she was transformed by one of these men – becoming calm, modest, composed and rational. These men were accused of insurrection, savagely beaten, but in prison they had praised and worshipped their God! Their God had given them such a sign of his favour by shaking the whole building, and opening the doors, and breaking chains like cotton – you didn’t need any imagination to tell you what all that meant. Now he learns that not a prisoner had run away. Why would anyone run from the true servants of the living God? And these two men were actually concerned for his welfare! These were indeed the servants of the living God whom one day he, a sinner, must meet! It is out of all that that his cry comes, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?”
Paul tells him the message that for two thousand years will echo all over Europe, “Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved – you and your household”. Men and women, listen to me! This man was totally satisfied with this answer. Are you satisfied with it? Is your soul satisfied with it? Entrust yourself to holy Jesus. That is what they told him. What must you do? Nothing. Everything you do will be contaminated by your sin. So entrust yourself to the only sinless man this world has ever seen. Entrust yourself to his life, his righteousness, his sacrifice in our place, his living power. That is what you must do. Believe into him – right into him – as your prophet to teach you what you must know and how you must live, your priest whose blood is the total answer to your blame and shame before God, your king to protect you and constrain everything to work for your good. Here is the Lord Jesus Christ in the glory of his person and the perfection of his finished work. Here you are in your vileness and need. That is your contribution to your salvation. The activity that joins you to him in all the excellence of his person and offices and benefits is your great need, and the assurance that he will receive you is his great love. Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ. So they spoke this word of the Lord to him and to all the others in his house, and immediately there was a mighty change.
The jailer took his own prisoners and he washed their wounds. He took them into his own home and he fed them. He and his whole family came to believe in God. That is what we are told – the teenagers, if there were any, and his dependent parents, and his in-laws believed. So he and his whole family trusted in the Lord Jesus Christ. They were saved and were baptized. The jailer washed Paul’s stripes, and Paul symbolically washed the jailer of the guilt and defilement of his sin. Lydia’s household – her servants – and the jailer and his family members all believed and were all baptized, and the slave girl was delivered from evil influences. These were the charter members of the first church created by evangelism on European soil.
4. THE EPILOGUE.
Twelve years later, at a church meeting in Philippi, one of the elders got up and announced to the people that they had received a letter from their beloved apostle Paul and that one of them was going to read it to the congregation. What a buzz of excitement that day as the elder began to read it with Lydia and her household, and the slave girl, and the jailer and his family listening intently. He read to them these words: “being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion …” And Lydia quietly nodded her head. The Lord had begun the good work in her life when he opened her heart.
And when the elder read these words, “children of God in a crooked and depraved generation” then the slave girl solemnly nodded her head too. She had known something of the crookedness and depravity of her generation. “Watch out for those dogs,” the elder intoned, and she nodded again.
And when he read these words, “For me to live is Christ and to die is gain,” then the jailer said Amen. And when he said, “that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess the Jesus Christ is Lord” this old jailer who had once acknowledged that Caesar was lord, might have said loudly enough for his family to hear, “Jesus Christ is Lord.”
That is how the gospel first came to Greece, and that is how the first three Europeans who heard them on our continent came to bow and confess that Jesus Christ had become their Lord. And since that time ordinary people like you and me have done the same. Won’t you join us and show the Lord has opened your heart by trusting in him too?
5th May 2002 GEOFF THOMAS