On Sunday evening at New Horizon, he shared the story of how the Gospel came to Philippi:
Our reading tonight relates the story of the Christian gospel, that great message of new life in Christ. Philippi was a major city, a densely populated area. It was the scene of numerous famous battles. It was a Roman colony and a Roman city. Many different gods were worshipped.
And it was into this urban world of religious pluralism and culture and ethnic diversity that Paul and his friends came, the first Christians we know of to enter Europe. It was a hugely significant moment. And yet, Luke’s interest is primarily in the people, the three individuals that he talks about.
God is interested in cities, in whole nations and in big crowds but He is also interested in individuals. He knows each one: their hopes, their fears, and the challenges they face. He knows each individual story. He knows your story. You may be sitting in this huge crowd thinking that nobody notices and nobody knows. God is interested in you.
The focus of Luke’s inspired account is the complex series of events, woven together that lead to the encounter between the Gospel message and three individuals: a businesswoman named Lydia, a young girl who was a spirit medium and the governor of the local jail.
How did Paul end up here? They had intended to visit some of places that they had been to on their previous journey. Luke tells us that the Holy Spirit intervened to make it clear that they were not to go to Asia. Eventually in Troas, Paul had a vision, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.”
There were at least three deliberate interventions by God so that Paul would get to Phippi and meet a woman at a prayer meeting. God knew her name and He knew her story just as He knows your name and your story.
But how did Lydia happen to be in Philippi and beside the river that day. She had not been born in Philippi, she was from Thyatira. She was involved in producing purple cloth and business had brought her to Philippi.
At some point, she had become a worshipper of God. In this pluralistic society where there were so many gods, she had been attracted to the truth of Judaism – the core message that there is only on true God.
Idolatry is not necessarily what you love more than God, it is what you fear more than God.
Lydia had seen through all of the idolatry and was attracted to the one true God, the Creator of heaven and earth. She worshipped God not as an abstract theory. In the midst of her commercial success, she made it her business to seek God and worship Him.
And God knew her heart, her story and her longings. He had organised for Paul and his team to find their way to the river to meet her. Paul would have explained to her how this God who created everything could be known personally because in His love He had come in the person of His son Jesus. He explained that she did not need to become a Jew to know this God because He is creating a new people from every tribe, and tongue and ethnicity. And God opened her heart to respond to Paul’s message. This is God’s work, the work of His Spirit. When you know deep within that what you are hearing is the liberating truth, you respond!
Perhaps God is opening your heart this evening. Maybe you didn’t want to come. It is not accident that any of us are in this tent because God knows your name, He know your story. The question is, have you responded?
Lydia insisted that her home was put at the disposal of Paul and his team. Perhaps it was because she was such a good businesswoman. She was used to thinking things through. She saw that the Gospel wasn’t just about her happiness. She saw that it encompassed the entirety of life. Paul didn’t have to urge and cajole and challenge and convince her to give everything to Jesus. Lydia did not make the mistake of living a divided life of privatised faith. If faith was real then it would be real in the whole of her life. It would infuse her business, her home and her use of money. Her home became the first base for the gospel in Europe.
If we follow history through its twists and turns, the decision Lydia made that day at the river connects directly to this tent tonight. What decision are you going to make tonight?
Luke tells us about two other people. Firstly a young woman who was being exploited because she was a spirit medium. She was possessed by an evil spirit. Paul was concerned for her and concerned about the impact on her life. Paul silenced the voice of evil. He wasn’t fooled by the religious language that the evil spirit was using.
Paul released the girl and her backers were furious. They could only see the loss of their money-making potential. They stirred up trouble by accusing Paul of preaching a “foreign” religion.
Isn’t it interesting that when the Gospel first came to Europe it was violently rejected on the basis that it was foreign. Today of course it is often rejected as a western religion.
Paul was a Jew but he wasn’t preaching Judaism, he was preaching Christ. He was not preaching his own national gods. He was proclaiming the one true creator God, the God who is not the property of any one nation, race or culture. Ethnic pride and national identity were irrelevant. The Gospel challenges all cultures, especially our own!
Without listening and without proper discussion, Paul and Silas were beaten and thrown into prison. Paul took it because he was not interested in his own comfort and his own rights. He was interested in the spread of the gospel and he reckoned that he could share the gospel even in prison.
At midnight there was an earth tremor that shook the prison so hard that the doors flew opened.
But this is not a story about a jail break, it is a salvation story.
The events brought the jailer to his knees before Paul, asking that wonderful question, “What must I do to be saved?”
This is the point of this story. All those links that brought Paul and his friends to Philippi. God was interested in Lydia. He was interested in the spirit medium. He was interested in the jailer.
What seemed like a defeat when they were thrown in prison was now revealed as God’s strategy to bring salvation to the jailer. The providential earthquake that shook the prison also shook his life.
He saw the gospel in the lives of Paul and Silas. What kind of God inspires these men to love the jailer enough to stay behind bars so that he can know Jesus?
The answer to the jailer’s question is the same as it always has been – believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved. Faith simply means trust. It is a response to what is presented to us and God has gifted all of us with the ability to exercise trust. God has not asked anyone to believe without evidence and He has provided that evidence in the wonder and power of creation, in our conscience, in His interventions in history, in His word and ultimately through His Son
Faith is a response to God’s revelation of Himself. Paul would later write: “If you will confess Jesus as Lord and believe in your heart hat God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.”
God knows your name, your story. None of us are here by accident. Perhaps like the jailer, there has been an earthquake in your life that has shaken your foundations and knocked the props away. God knows. How will you respond?