Online Text Sermon - The Gospel Promise, Acts ch.16 vv.30-31
|Preacher||Rev. Maurice Roberts, Inverness|
|Sermon Title||The Gospel Promise|
|Text||Acts ch.16 vv.30-31 |
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"...And brought them out, and said, Sirs, what must I do to be saved? And they said, Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved, and thy house" (Acts 16, 30-31).
I want to speak tonight about something which is absolutely fundamental and basic that we should all know and we should all understand. That is why I choose to read from this chapter and to speak indeed from this chapter 16 of Acts. It is a very fascinating chapter from several points of view, as I hope to point out to you in the course of my remarks later on. At this point, sufficient to say, here in this chapter, we are shown two wonderful conversions. It may be there are more than two, as we may notice later, but certainly there are two very famous and wonderful cases of conversion from unbelief and sin to the Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ. What is striking about these two conversions narrated here is that they are so very different in their nature and character, although the same in their effect and result.
I hope you noticed in the reading, first of all that Lydia, the seller of purple from Thyatira, was converted through the preaching of the Apostle Paul at a prayer meeting in this town called Philippi. What we are told is simply this - that the Lord opened her heart. There was no great dramatic outward visible sign. She wasn't shaken to the very roots and foundations of her soul by anything terrifying. As far as we know it was just a sweet and gentle influence of God upon her; the doors of her heart were opened, and she understood and embraced Jesus Christ for herself, by faith. She proved the reality of her faith, not only by being baptised, but also by the way she received these servants of Christ in love into her home: Paul and Silas.
That is one of these two conversions, but then there is another one: that is of course the case of the Philippian jailer who comes into the narrative just a little bit later on. Oh what a difference! Here there is an earthquake. This man springs in trembling. Just a moment before, he was ready to put himself to death. He took out his sword and was ready to fall on it or in some way to commit suicide. He was stopped from this terrible and wicked intent by the Apostle Paul: "Do thyself no harm: for we are all here," he said (Acts 16, 28). The man then sprang in trembling, and he asked the question which we have in this text, "Sirs, what must I do to be saved?" He received this most wonderful famous answer, "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved, and thy house", and he does! At the same hour of the night he is baptised and his household also with him. He washes their stripes or wounds and he sets food before the Apostle Paul and his assistant preacher, Silas.
These two conversions indicate that what really matters in conversion is not the outward drama, which sometimes goes along with it, but the inward change. As long as the heart is really changed by the power of God and the fruits of righteousness and holiness are visible in the life, then other things matter little or nothing at all. That comes out so clearly, and beautifully, in this chapter. God surely intended us to notice the two conversions that are mentioned here.
Let me go back a little bit and explain how this happened, because the background is fascinating from various points of view. I have to say to you that the Apostle Paul and his fellow helper Silas were here on the second of their missionary journeys, or the second of Paul's missionary journeys, I should say. You will know that there were three missionary journeys, and after these three the Apostle made his famous journey to Rome by sea which resulted in shipwreck and rescue, and then his onward journey to Rome - the capital city of the Empire at that time.
This is the second of these missionary journeys: the second of the three. In the first journey, he had gone from Palestine and Antioch in Syria, northwards to what we now call Turkey, then known as Asia or Asia Minor. Here he had preached the Word to various towns and places, and churches had been set up - just a few churches and Christians within them, who like yourselves here, were of various backgrounds: some learned and some less so, some gifted and some less so - a normal spectrum of men and women and children from that locality. These churches were set up, or planted as we sometimes say.
That is what had happened in the first journey but now this is the second of these journeys and this time when the Apostle comes he goes to each of these churches where there were believers, and he strengthens their faith; that was the purpose of it. He's there to build them up, to consolidate them, to teach them more than they had heard and more and better than they knew.
At that point the Apostle Paul and his assistant Silas, feel guided to go further afield. This is the fascinating thing. I am going to assume you have the map of Turkey in front of you. What the Apostle Paul did was this: he felt they should go northwards to a place called Bythynia and preach the Gospel to these people. To his astonishment, the Spirit of God would not allow them to do that. You'll see it all in the reading that we had earlier on. The Apostle decided, in that case, if the Spirit wont allow us to go north we'll go southwest, into what is known as Asia. Again, the Spirit forbad them; they weren't allowed to go to either place. You may say to me, "How did they get this guidance?" I'm not sure myself if I can answer that, or if anybody can, but I imagine - and I simply give you this as my own supposed explanation - it was these men being prophets and having the Spirit of Prophecy, they were guided in a manner which is not common today in quite that same clear and definite manner. At any rate, they knew they mustn't go northward or southwestwards, so they did what was logical and went westward and northwestward.
They took that journey until they came to a place called Mysia, a city on the coast: a thriving coastal seaport, whose name was Troas, connected of course with the ancient Troy. There was a very famous battle and war connected with Troy many centuries before this. Here at Troas in Asia Minor, the Apostle Paul in the night had a vision, which is very touching: he saw a man from Macedonia in northern Greece saying, "Come over into Macedonia and help us." This of course was an inspired vision given by God. The call was therefore to cross over from Asia into the Continent of Europe, and I do, my friends, remind you that this is the first time in human history that the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ came to the very Continent which you and I find ourselves to be inhabitants of and to be living in. Most of us are Europeans by birth or by background.
This therefore is a most interesting moment in history, because no continent in the world, through the unspeakable goodness of God, has had the Gospel so long and so much up to this present time as the Continent of Europe. The Apostles might have turned eastwards and gone to what we call Iraq, then Iran and Afghanistan, Pakistan and India. Indeed one of the Apostles did go to India. Thomas went that way and established a small church which still survives unto this day - the Mar Thoma church. In God's goodness, the whole of Christian history could have been performed in Siberia, Russia, China, Mongolia, Japan, India, Burma, and the rest of these Asian countries. But, in God's inscrutable and unfathomable wisdom, and kindness to us Europeans may I say, it was to our Continent, primarily, that the Gospel came.
The Apostle sailed with his friend Silas, over the short distance of the Aegean Sea, and came to Macedonia or northern Greece. It is here, through the preaching of the Gospel in a little prayer meeting at the riverside, that the seller of purple - this woman whose name was Lydia - was converted to faith in the Lord Jesus Christ: the first European convert of all history.
Shouldn't we be thankful to God for His goodness and mercy? Would it not be a shocking shame and disgrace if we who are Europeans, after all the privileges we have had, should now let the Gospel slip. We are of course delighted to know that in our generation, and indeed, for some hundreds of years, the Gospel has been in many, many other parts of the world. We rejoice to hear that China now is burgeoning with Christian influence; millions of people are now converted from Communism to Christ in China, and of course, they are suffering for it. Millions are converted to Christ in Korea, as you know, and in India - many, many thousands at any rate, and we rejoice greatly to know of wonderful churches in Indonesia, small churches in Japan, large churches in the Philippines, and of course Australia, New Zealand and into islands of the Pacific and so on.
Let us value what God has done for us in our Continent. Let us not let it slip. Let us teach it to our children and pass it on to others, because the great honour that God, in His undeserved mercy, has shown to us in our Continent, is many centuries of Christian teaching and worship and evangelisation; things indeed, which we must never, never presume to take for granted.
We see now that as soon as the Gospel begins to take effect, and affect any society that something always follows on and we call it persecution. That is exactly what happened right here. It happened like this, that the Apostle Paul and his friend Silas were walking through this city of Philippi - it was a Roman type city, ruled, and governed very much on the pattern of all Roman cities. Although it was in Greece, yet it was a 'Roman type' of city in government. As they were walking through the streets, they had this remarkable experience. There was a young girl who was devil possessed, or if you like, demon possessed. She, speaking under the influence of this demon or devil who resided in her, cried out day-after-day whenever she saw these men, "These men are servants of the Most High God". She couldn't have known that from her own personal knowledge. The Bible makes it clear that she was under the influence of demonic possession.
We must be very careful before we dismiss the idea of demon possession. Indeed, it is one of the reasons why we must be very careful never to start on drugs, because it is generally regarded by wise Christian leaders with medical knowledge, and also with knowledge of the demonic world, that the drug scene can be the way in to demon possession and demon influence. Therefore, we must never allow ourselves to come under the power of drugs of any kind.
This poor young girl was making a fortune for her masters by prophesying and telling the future. She was a soothsayer: a sort of magician, able to tell things to do with the future. How did she know the answer? Not because she was inspired by God, but because she was inspired rather by a demon or evil spirit, who by some power that we may not understand, was able to convey to her certain information which was true about things to come.
After several days, this girl, whenever she saw Paul and Silas, cried out, "These men are the servants of the most high God" (v 17)! On one particular occasion the Apostle Paul, as you saw in the reading, spoke to this devil: he conducted an exorcism; he cast out the devil. "I command thee in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her" (v. 18). The demon was exorcised in the name of Jesus Christ. There are missionaries who have to do such things still, in the world, where there are primitive tribes and unevangelised tribes in remote areas of the world. There are people who are profoundly under the power of the devil. All unconverted people, in a sense, are under the power of the devil, but some are profoundly influenced by the devil. This poor girl was a case in point. When the exorcism had taken place and the devil cast out of her, she no longer had this power of soothsaying and fortune telling; she lost this facility, this gift. Her masters therefore were no longer able to make their fortune out of her.
You see the sheer cruelty my friends, of human hearts and human nature. Imagine some poor teenage girl, the victim of this evil possession; they cared nothing whatsoever for her spiritual well-being or her mental and emotional health; as long as they could exploit her to make money for themselves, that's all they cared about. That of course is the way human nature is; there are plenty of men and women in the world like that still. They abuse young men and women. They don't care how much liquor they may sell to people, provided they can enrich themselves.
I had this experience just a few days ago. I was passing a rather prosperous looking hotel or Public House and there were a few cars in the car park, and I couldn't help noticing one of these cars. It was magnificent, gleaming, bright and beautiful; it must have been one of the most expensive cars you can buy in any showroom in the European world; magnificent car: brand new, gleaming, beautiful. You didn't need to be a wizard to guess who owned it, it was undoubtedly the proprietor: the man who owned or managed the Public House. You thought to yourself, to get this car this man has been selling gallons upon gallons of dangerous liquor to people. He doesn't care what happens to them. He doesn't care about their broken families, their ruined lives, their wives who are battered, the children neglected, they don't care. You see the selfishness of the human heart? We have it right here in this very chapter.
Persecution broke out because when these men no longer could make their money out of this poor unfortunate girl, now exorcised, they went straight to the magistrate and they dragged these preachers along with them. Then they produced the clever rhetoric; did you notice it: the way in which they shaped their language to be able to show prejudice against these apostles of Christ? They played the racial card - "These men, being Jews..."(v. 20). That is immediately, of course, to prejudice anyone against them because in all ages the Gentiles tended to have a prejudice against Jews for reasons we need not go into right now. When they had done that they brought out the other card: the card of human pride - 'we can't obey the laws that these men are preaching because we are Romans and they are bringing some other laws. We are Romans we cannot therefore observe these new laws; these new fangled practices that they are bringing into the city and preaching to men!' ("...teach customs not lawful for us to receive, neither to observe, being Romans" v. 21). They were a dangerous lot.
See how the world reacts to the Gospel. The unconverted world looks upon the Gospel - and those who preach it, and those who stand for it - as something dangerous. Of course, the Gospel is dangerous to the unconverted man, and he recognises that. These people recognise that. How is the Gospel dangerous to the unconverted man? Like this: It threatens everything the unconverted man stands for, and he knows it. He knows very well that if this Gospel gets going in his life that it will smash all his idols, his self-love, and his love of pleasure, and his love of this world, because the Gospel sets God upon the throne of a man's life and therefore dethrones all the other gods: the idols that a sinner sets upon the throne of his own heart; first of all, of course, himself, and his self-importance and his love of the things of this world.
Therefore, my dear friends, you can understand why it is that although these apostles were not preachers of sedition or rebellion; they were not terrorists, and we hear a lot about that word. They had nothing in their shoes, nothing up their sleeves, no bombs, no gunpowder (supposing there were such a thing in those days), no swords for killing men; they simply preached the Gospel of the love of God and the death of Christ. Yet, in spite of that, they were regarded as dangerous. And they were dangerous: dangerous to the idolatry of men; dangerous to the world scene; dangerous to men's arrogance and pride, and love of lust and corruption; dangerous to Satan's empire, to put it in one phrase! Men recognised that, and they recognise it still. That is why you can't get on the BBC with the Gospel. You can give out any kind of message on the radio and television, but not with the Gospel. They know it threatens everything the natural man stands for.
Therefore, they persecute them. They strip off the clothes of Paul and Silas. No questions asked. They didn't go the length of giving them a police charge and saying in three days time we will examine you in court; they didn't wait for that, they simply stripped them down to the waist and thrashed them with sticks or belts, or whatever they used. They thrashed them soundly and laid many stripes upon them. Then they took them off to the town jail and handed them over to the jailer. They said, "These are very dangerous men."
I don't know if you know anything about a woman called Mary Whitehouse, who died just a few weeks ago? She was a lady, a very normal lady, an Englishwoman as far as I know, who, in the ninety-sixties and some years later, spent her strength trying to keep the BBC programmes clean. Whenever there was anything smutty, unsavoury and undesirable spoken of or shown on radio or television, she, and the organisation she was part of - the National Viewers and Listeners Association - would complain, and even if possible take a Court Action against certain of these people who were lewd in their suggestions and foul in their insinuations. She did a good job tying to clean up their act. I mention her for this reason: she wrote her own autobiography and this is what she called it - 'A Very Dangerous Woman'. That is indeed what some of the young BBC people said about her, "She's a very dangerous woman!" The reason why they called her that was because she wanted to stop their permissiveness coming in and ruining the morals of the nation, and ruining the rising generation of young minds. Because she brought a Christian standard to bear upon the programming and the standards of the day, she was called 'a very dangerous woman'. Humorously she used that as the title of her own autobiography.
You can see that is what these BBC people thought of her. She was very dangerous, she was trying to stop the progress of time, to keep out sin, lust and filthiness, and to stop us from seeing all the things we want to see on the screen. She was 'very dangerous'. She smiled at this appellation. In fact, by any ordinary standard, she was one of the nicest ladies, and most amiable persons you could ever meet - but this is the world view, and this is why the Gospel is persecuted: because it brings God before the people and before the consciences of men, and it brings the Judgement Day to men's attention. There is nothing more terrible to the unconverted man than to realise that he's living in a fool's paradise, and that all that he lives for is going to crumble like those twin-towers in New York one day. Everything he has built is going to be flattened and burned to ashes.
These great apostles preached the Word of God, and this is what they got for their thanks. They were thrown, as you saw, not only into the prison - which would have been nasty enough - but they were thrown into the inner prison. Did you notice that? The jailer was told to keep them safely, and having received such a charge, he thrust them into the 'inner prison'; I suppose that was the dungeon. The prison would be primitive, but the 'inner prison', that would have been a most abominable and obnoxious place. But it was in that place, dear friends, these bruised and battered apostles of Jesus Christ, with their feet in the stocks - these wooden things with holes to let your feet and legs through - clamped down, uncomfortable on their back, aching, tired, hungry - it was there at midnight, if you please, instead of groaning and cursing as so many prisoners would do, they were praying and singing praises to God; in all likelihood singing these very Psalms that you and I are so familiar with. The same praises to the same God: the God of the Gospel, the God of the Bible.
The other prisoners could hear it, and no doubt, this was a new experience for them. They had never come across prisoners like this, who at midnight with the blood rolling down their backs, would pray to, and praise God. They couldn't explain it. They couldn't understand it. These men you see were servants of the Most High God. It was a remarkable scene and a most wonderful experience which was set forth before us here.
I want to ask this question: How can it be, my friends, that men or women in a situation of pain and persecution and imprisonment, can praise God and sing praises to Him? How do you account for it? I give you two reasons and two explanations. The first one is this: My friends, they had a good conscience: they knew that what they were doing was regarded in heaven as a great work, nothing to be ashamed of. Whatever shame men might impute to the Gospel, they knew in their consciences before the great God Who is the only Judge that matters, that they were doing what was right and what was the will of God. I would make this point to you as we step towards the New Year: if you want a truly happy and blessed New Year, and a truly happy and blessed new life, you must maintain a good conscience. You must keep the Commandments of God; you must walk in the ways of God; you must do the will of God, that's the only way. That is what these men have been doing.
The second explanation I give you as to why these men in their situation could be so cheerful and joyful and indeed, ecstatic was that not only had they a good conscience but they were men who were filled with the Holy Spirit. They had the joy of heaven in their hearts. They had a supernatural joy. They were filled unto all the fullness of God; as my beloved friend and colleague, Mr. Higham was saying in his sermon this morning, "Filled with all the fullness of God." Here they were, men undoubtedly in the inner circle of Christians, close to Christ, radiating the unutterable joy of faith in Him and gladness because they knew that they were heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ, and very soon everything that they were suffering in this world would be behind them. Heaven and the glories of eternity would be before them. In that situation, they could rejoice. They could be happy and they could be glad.
Now I must hasten on finally to speak about the conversion of this Philippian jailer mentioned here. It's a wonderful account, a wonderful conversion story. How does it happen? Well it happens like this: all of a sudden, as Paul and Silas are praising God at midnight, suddenly there is a great earthquake: the foundations of the building are shaken. Everyone's chains and bands are loosed; they are free; the doors are open; it's quite possible for these criminals (as no doubt many of them were in there), to run out and be free. However, none of them did. Why not? There must have been a special restraining influence by God upon them.
What concerns us is the way that all this influences the jailer. We meet the jailer with three different states of mind: three different attitudes of soul, if you like. The first state of mind in which we find this jailer is one of complete worldly carelessness. He didn't care tuppence about the Gospel, his soul, God, eternity, heaven or hell. He cared for none of these things. That's the first state of mind. It was in that state of mind that he opened the inner prison door and thrust the men in and locked their feet in clamps - in these stocks - inside the inner prison. It was in that state of mind that he put out the light beside his bed and went to sleep. He was fast asleep until the earthquake shook everything into a new scenario.
That is the first state of mind, my friends, and there are many people like that. Most of the people are like that in this poor dying world. They are dead to God. God means nothing to them. The Bible means nothing to them. It may be that you are like that here tonight. Maybe you think that all this is so much rubbish, so much eyewash, so much terrible boredom. Who cares about Bibles, Prayer Meetings and Christianity? Well if you feel like that friend, I feel terribly sorry for you. If you die like that, then there is reason for your loved ones to wish that you had never been born, because your condition after death will be unspeakably terrible, forever. If you have that terrible deadness to the Gospel, my friend, I urge you to go home and pray to the great God that He will wake you up, that he will send even an earthquake into your life, to waken you up. That is what happened to this man.
The earthquake shook this Philippian jailer into what I call his second state of mind. Let me tell you what that is. The second state of mind is this: that he now is very afraid of being put to death. He's afraid of his Roman masters. He was the prison jailer and his responsibility was looking after these prisoners and if any of them escaped then you knew what would happen: the jailer would forfeit his own life - life for life. If any of his charges escaped then his own life was forfeit; that was how it worked in these days: a prison jailer, if he lost any of his prisoners, in all likelihood, he would lose his own life. Therefore, you didn't lose prisoners in those days. They didn't easily get out. And so he sprang in ready to kill himself because he thought he'd lost his prisoners and therefore he thought it better to kill himself with one gentle stroke of his own hand, than have other people do it for him which might be much more painful in the experience. The Apostle cried out, "Do yourself no harm: for we are all here" (v. 28).
That was the second state of mind. He was in a state of fear for his own body and his own natural life. Now, a third state of mind. Did you notice it? When he sees this, he springs in trembling calling for a light, and he says to Paul and Silas, "Sirs, what must I do to be saved?" (v.30). You see it's not the fear of the Roman powers now. It's not fear for his own body any more as much as fear for his soul. He wanted now to be saved from hell and damnation and the wrath and curse of God! How did he know about these things? It was because God had awakened him? The earthquake had, as it were, shaken his indifference. He now sees himself accountable to God. We call it conviction of sin, and that is what this man had. He was awakened through his experience by the power of God to see his great, great need of being saved.
Oh, my very dear friends, would I not give my right hand to see that happening to everyone sitting here, to see your great need of Christ and of salvation. This man saw it and he asked, "What can I do?" He received this marvellous answer; it's the only answer which will truly bless the souls of those who ask the question. Listen to it! Listen to the perfection of this answer. "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved, and thy house (or thy family) (v. 31)."
When a person comes to Christ, very often others in the family are also blessed. When a mother is saved, her children are blessed, very often. When a father is saved, his wife and children are often blessed; that's how God generally works. The blessing of one leads to the blessing of many in a family; after all that's the way we influence one another: it is within the family circle.
Paul and Silas give this answer, "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved, and your family." And so it came to pass: they were baptised. He proved the reality of his faith by washing their stripes the same hour of the night, and setting food before them and love, rejoicing in the Lord with all his heart.
That is what God sets before every one here tonight: the same privilege of coming to faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. My beloved friends, it is the secret of life to believe in Him. When you come to Christ, then the old fears are gone. It doesn't matter whether you take cancer, or a stroke, or a heart attack, or whether you are knocked down by a lorry; it doesn't matter for your body truly will be buried, but then your soul is safe. You saints have nothing to fear as you get closer to the grave. Christ is waiting to receive you, and take you into everlasting mansions. You have believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, you're safe. Don't listen to the devil's fearing temptations. Those of you who aren't yet Christians, oh how God invites you all to come. At the end of the old year, come. The same hour of the night, this man was transformed. Why shouldn't it be so with you? Why shouldn't you the same hour of this very night, now be transformed by the same grace of God? You say, "What have I got to do?" I say nothing but only one thing: believe in the Lord Jesus Christ! If you don't think it works, try it, and you will be surprised!
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