Damariscotta Baptist Church
Tuesday, September 18, 2018
Growing personal relationships with God and community

08/28/16 Sermon - The Movement of God Draws People into Faith

“The Movement of God Draws People Into Faith”

Acts 16:16-40


Two weeks ago, we left Paul, in Philippi, on his second missionary journey, with Silas and Timothy. Paul had heard God’s Spirit tell them they should go to Macedonia and when they arrived, they went to the place of prayer and met a group of woman. One of the women, named Lydia, a merchant of purple cloth heard what Paul was saying and her heart was opened by the Lord and she asked to baptized then and there, she and her household. She convinced the spiritual leaders to stay at her house and Lydia’s home became the headquarters for the missionaries’ Philippian operation.

In today’s Scripture we read that the three men were going again to the place of prayer, when they encounter another business woman. This woman wasn’t the one who managed the business, however, she was the one who brought her owners lots of money through her ability to tell fortunes. This woman’s business was fueled by her brokenness and captivity to a spirit of divination. She was trapped by a spiritual oppression that was not from the Holy Spirit, but by the spirit of darkness. Her owners were more concerned with her bringing them money than they were for her well-being, so they kept her in her trapped condition. At this particular point, her fortune telling creates a problem. The evil spirit within her, knew exactly who Paul, Silas and Timothy were serving and she decided to not just proclaim her knowledge once, but she kept following the three men, shouting from the top of her lungs,

“These men are servants of the Most High God, who proclaim to you the way of salvation.”

We read that she kept doing this for many days, much like a carnival barker announcing a mid-way attraction. After days of this proclamation, Paul became annoyed. I suspect in the beginning her calls may have been tolerable, however, after days of her following them and yelling, Paul reveals his human side and commands the evil spirit to come out of the woman. It didn’t take long for the owners of the woman to find out and realize their easy money making scheme was gone, so they seize Paul and his friends and drag them to the leaders in the marketplace. Do the leaders in the marketplace listen to facts? Or do they listen to their wallets? Ghandi called this type of activity, “capitalism without compassion”.

The equation was simple: vulnerability + ingenuity – compassion = profit.

That equation is still used today – Epi-Pen

The leaders decide Paul and his friends deserve to be beaten.

What exactly had they done?

Oh, yeah, they were beaten for practicing their religion. They were beaten with rods for setting someone free from an evil spirit. Then they were thrown into prison. This is what religious persecution looks like and what an attack on religious freedom looks like.

Then what do we read they did next?

Before we go any further, as I was reading through this passage I wondered to myself, “What would I have done?” or What would you have done?

I’d like to think that I wouldn’t have gotten annoyed in the first place, but then again, there have been many times when I have been in my own home, with the family I love, and something would be going on that annoyed me and I would ask for it to stop. It didn’t stop. So I would raise my voice a bit louder asking a bit more sternly for it to stop. It didn’t stop. Anyone else been there? And this would continue to escalate until eventually I am the one screaming at the top of my lungs to be heard, for it to stop. The real problem at that point is my pride, not my relationship with those around me. I think others should be aware enough of how they are interrupting my life and should stop when I ask. The idea was not prideful, but my manner in which I chose to implement it was. Because I have found, for the times I have chosen to walk to wherever my children were, and get their attention and ask them politely to change whatever it was that was loud or bothering me, I have noticed their bewildered look, as if to say, “Oh, this bothers you, sorry.” And the disruption was stopped.

What if Paul had gone up to the woman and had a conversation with her? Did he really want to change her life? Or did he just want her to get out of his? Sure, Paul freed her from an evil spirit, but he didn’t help her out any, really. In fact, though we are not told anything more about this woman, he may have made her life even more difficult. Now she was even more worthless to the men who owned her than she was before.

How often do we Christians think we are helping someone out, by giving money, food or meeting a particular need at a particular time, which is a good thing, only to have that person gain more difficulties and then wonder why? What the broken people around us need most is to belong to the body of Christ, to be welcomed and accepted in addition to be taken care of in tangible ways.

That is why we need to remember the concept of the “body of Christ”. Because meeting the  needs of any individual is not the responsibility of any one individual. Each of us are gifted in different ways and when we use are gifts as a family, everyone feels like they belong and their needs are met.

As we continue considering what we would have done in this situation, we read that Paul and Silas decided to sing hymns while they remained in stocks.

Their freedom was definitely an inner peace, because their hands and feet were bound.

They must have felt centered in God and in their vocation as missionaries to allow them to sing in such circumstances. It was a matter of perspective. What about for those of you today who are in a virtual prison? The circumstances you find yourself in today make you feel like you are trapped, that your hands and feet are bound. What makes it so hard for you to sing from your prison? Could it be that by the very act of singing and speaking the truth, Paul and Silas were getting their prayers out of the heads and into their life? It is one thing to think lovely prayers, but another one to state them, speak them, have them become reality, rather than a figment of one’s imagination.

Were Paul and Silas singing because they were centered?

Or were they centered because they were singing?

I am sure everyone will agree that good singing changes the heart and the heart rate, improves one’s disposition, helps with depression, and can bring tears to the eyes and smiles to faces.

As we continue to read, the missionaries’ singing also had an impact on the rest of the physical order. The earth shook, causing the doors to open and the bonds on everyone’s hands and feet were broken. Definitely a God thing!

Like many times before in the book of Acts, we see the movement of God draws people into faith. The jailer surely felt that way, because his first instinct, from his earthly thinking, was that the prisoners were free, they would leave, and he would be left to pay the consequences, so he may as well kill himself before his bosses had the chance. Paul stops him and when the jailor realized the prisoners were not gone, he figured it must have been a God thing and he wanted to know how to be connected to God like Paul and Silas.  

The story said that the jailer and his household were saved. Earlier in this chapter Lydia and her household were saved. Both households were immediately baptized. Why don’t we see this happening today? Entire households coming to faith and immediately being baptized? We are sitting in a Baptist Church. This is where it is important to understand the concept of having a particular “world view”. Today we live in what is called “modernity” the modern age. The modern age has turned its focus from a household system or system of tradition, to an individualized system.

Modernity began in the post-medieval Europe when tradition was questioned and rejected in favor of individualism, freedom and formal equality. This change also included a movement towards capitalism, industrialization, urbanization and secularization. It was within this worldview the evangelical movement and many of our protestant denominations were established. It is important to keep in mind that our interpretation of what it means to become a Christian is strongly influenced by the context in which we live. Just as for Lydia and the jailer their entire household would have been saved, because they lived in a world steeped with tradition. The common denominator is

it is the movement of God that draws people in to faith.

Lydia and the jailer are two different examples of this. In Acts 16, verse 14, we read that Lydia was already a worshipper of God, before Paul even shows up, and it was the Lord who opened her heart to pay attention to what was said by Paul. The jailer was awakened by an earthquake and ready to commit suicide when he sees the prisoners still there. He had just been listening to their hymns as they were singing and he knew who Paul and Silas were and why they were in jail. It was the movement of God that brought him to faith.

If only we would remember this when we go to work tomorrow, or we have a conversation with a family member this week who doesn’t follow Jesus.

What if we were true to who we are, and allowed the movement of God to draw people in to faith?

We need to remember God is already at work in those people who are open to hearing about him. It is not our responsibility to change anyone. It is our responsibility to share what God has done for us and what He can do for others. There is a cost to pay for being open with your faith. Jesus told his disciples that in this world they would have trouble, but to take heart, He had overcome the world.

Like Paul and Silas, it may mean being persecuted. But in the process of how we respond to that persecution, others will see God in us. When we remember that God is the one doing the moving of other’s hearts, we can give ourselves a bit of breather, it takes the responsibility off our shoulders and places it back on the shoulders of where it belongs. Christ’s shoulders can take it, they carried the weight of the world.

Let’s pray.