“Spinning Out of Control!”
Acts 16:30-31 – September 6, 2015
Most people I know like things in order. Neat and tidy. Under control. I mean, most things. Steady income, check! Roof over our heads, check! Clothes to wear and food to eat? Check and double check. Sure, we can have little surprises now and then, but most people crave order. Everything’s hunky dory! Just the way it’s supposed it be.
Until, it isn’t. We experience things spinning out of control.
In our Scripture reading today, we have Paul, Silas, Dr. Luke and their missionary friends in the town of Philippi. This is another in our summer sermon series, Postcards from the Early Church. If you remember last week, we met Lydia, a Gentile woman. We are told she is from a city called Thyatira, and is a dealer in purple cloth, which for that time was a luxury item. What I suggested last week was that it’s similar today to a dealer in high-end designer clothing in our culture and context. She not only owns her own business, but she also has her own house.
The pertinent part for us in this week’s sermon is that after becoming a believer in the Lord Jesus Christ, Lydia invites Paul and his friends to stay at her large house in Philippi. Paul and friends start to carry out the challenging work of starting a church plant. That is, spreading the Good News of the risen Lord Jesus.
Paul is skilled at debate, and I suspect he and his friends went to gathering places all around town to talk with people. To tell them about the Good News about the Lord, how He died for our sins and was raised from the dead, conquered death, and has ascended to heaven.
Now we discover a slave girl starts to follow Paul and his friends around, as they travel about town. Listen to Acts 16: “We were met by a female slave who had a spirit by which she predicted the future. She earned a great deal of money for her owners by fortune-telling. 17 She followed Paul and the rest of us, shouting, “These men are servants of the Most High God, who are telling you the way to be saved.” 18 She kept this up for many days.”
Here Dr. Luke gives us a thumbnail sketch of this slave girl. Yes, she is telling the truth. Paul and his friends were telling people the way to be saved. But, the truth can be twisted. She refers to “the Most High God.” Meaning, a God among other Gods. And, in the polytheistic environment of Greece, the title “the Most High God” was also a common name for Zeus, ruler of the Greek pantheon of gods.
This slave girl was a factor completely out of the control of Paul and his friends. From what this looks like, she was a sort of a heckler. Walking after them, shouting and making a big fuss. And, the slave girl was a local. A known person to the inhabitants of the town. Paul and his friends were visitors, strangers in town. There was that dynamic, as well.
Not only is she starting to get irritating and annoying, following them around like a pesky little sister for many days, Paul realizes this slave girl is energized by a demon. The demon inside of her enabled her to tell fortunes, to tell people what would happen to them in the future. I suspect the demon knew with great certainty the exact identities of Paul, Silas, Dr. Luke, Lydia, and the rest of the believers in the risen Lord Jesus there in Philippi.
Let’s see what happened next! “Finally Paul became so annoyed that he turned around and said to the spirit, ‘In the name of Jesus Christ I command you to come out of her!’ At that moment the spirit left her.”
What was that that happened? Paul got fed up with the persistent heckling the demon—I mean, the slave girl was doing. So, he cast the demon out of this slave girl. Next thing we know, the girl’s owners got really mad! That was a serious consequence, to be sure.
Let’s trace this back a bit. Why were her owners so angry and upset?
Apparently, the slave girl’s owners didn’t particularly care that she wandered around the city of Philippi shouting about Paul and his friends being servants of God and telling people how to be saved, as long as she pulled in the money. As long as she was a profitable cash cow, her owners were happy.
But in casting out the demon? Talk about things spinning out of control! The unexpected consequences of Paul’s action? It dried up all the profits the girl’s masters were making! Paul dried up the owners’ lucrative source of revenue! Talk about hitting them in the pocket book!
Continuing with Acts 16: “19 When her owners realized that their hope of making money was gone, they seized Paul and Silas and dragged them into the marketplace to face the authorities. 20 They brought them before the magistrates and said, “These men are Jews, and are throwing our city into an uproar 21 by advocating customs unlawful for us Romans to accept or practice.” 22 The crowd joined in the attack against Paul and Silas, and the magistrates ordered them to be stripped and beaten with rods.”
I owe thanks to John, a pastor on a sermon discussion board I follow, from time to time. His insight? The wallet. The billfold. “’Religion’ is all well and good, at least until it starts affecting my pocketbook. In this [passage], it’s only after the new religion affects the slave girl’s owners’ bank account that they have Paul and Silas arrested.”
With you and with me, today. What about us? Is “Religion” all well and good, until it hits us in the pocketbook, too? Is “Religion” affecting our bank accounts? Will following Jesus here in the United States affect us in a negative way? Affect our pocketbooks? Or, is that hitting too close to home for us? Hmm. I’ll let us think about that for a while. Let it sink in.
Let’s follow along with Paul and Silas. Dr. Luke tells us specifically about their time in the prison. “23 After they had been severely flogged, they were thrown into prison, and the jailer was commanded to guard them carefully. 24 When he received these orders, he put them in the inner cell and fastened their feet in the stocks.”
Things are spinning out of control again. Paul and Silas are thrown into the inner cell of a prison. I bet that was an especially secure place. But what do they end up doing? Instead of crying and desperately lifting their voices in prayer to God, they begin to sing. Imagine, singing hymns of praise to the Lord, at midnight. Securely locked, in a dark prison.
We continue with chapter 16: “26 Suddenly there was such a violent earthquake that the foundations of the prison were shaken. At once all the prison doors flew open, and everyone’s chains came loose. 27 The jailer woke up, and when he saw the prison doors open, he drew his sword and was about to kill himself because he thought the prisoners had escaped. 28 But Paul shouted, “Don’t harm yourself! We are all here!”’
We can see the economic effect this earthquake had on the jailer, for sure! Plus, the horrible sinking in his heart, seeing his jail destroyed, with the prisoners quite possibly running away, escaping in the middle of the night. No wonder he drew his sword, ready to kill himself.
The jailer is stopped by Paul, shouting out to him: “Don’t harm yourself! We are all here!”
29 The jailer called for lights, rushed in and fell trembling before Paul and Silas. 30 He then brought them out and asked, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” 31 They replied, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved—you and your household.”
Did you hear? What must we do to be saved? Believe on the Lord Jesus.
It doesn’t matter what is spinning out of control. It doesn’t matter what economic consequences are happening. It doesn’t matter what the authorities say or don’t say. Instead, we hear the Good News preached to us. Believe in the Lord Jesus, and we will be saved. All of us, and our households, too!
On this Labor Day weekend, we can see all levels of society hearing the Good News. We can see the slave girl—a slave, someone from the lower class, being freed and exposed to the saving grace of the Lord Jesus! And, we can see the jailer, a solid member of the middle class, receiving salvation with joy! And last week, we saw Lydia, a member of the upper class in Philippi, listening eagerly to the Good News. She came to faith in the Lord Jesus, too.
Our Lord Jesus is not only for the Gentile and the Jew, not only for male and female, but Jesus also transcends all class distinctions. All separations of caste, of nationality, of ethnicity, of background.
That’s how it was in the first century, and that’s how it is today, too. What about you? Do you believe in the Good News? Do you believe in the power of Jesus to forgive your sins, and help you to walk with Him day by day?
As I proclaim each week after our Confession of Sin at the beginning of the service, “Believe the Good News of the Gospel. In Jesus Christ we are forgiven!” Alleluia, amen!