Good morning! How is it going today? I’m praising the Lord for the rain, how about you? This morning I want to share with you one of my favorite stories in the book of Acts. It’s the story of the Apostle Paul’s visit to a city called Philippi in the northern part of Greece.
He was only there for a week or so, but he never forgot what happened there. Ten years later he wrote to this little congregation from a prison cell in Rome. His letter is in your Bible. It’s called Philippians. It’s sometimes called the epistle of joy. Here’s what he writes.
“I thank my God every time I remember you. In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the Gospel from the first day until now. I am confident of this, “He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus”. It is right for me to feel this way about all of you since I have you in my heart!” Phil 1:3-7
What was it that that touched Paul’s heart so deeply in Philippi? Luke tells us. Let’s open our Bibles to Acts 16. Here’s the background. When Paul and Barnabas got home to Antioch from the church council meeting in Jerusalem, they made plans for a second missionary journey to visit the churches they’d started in Galatia, modern day Turkey.
Barnabas wanted to take his young cousin Mark along. But Mark had bailed on them during the first journey and it had cost a lot of money to send him home. Paul said, “No way!” It split the partnership. Barnabas and Mark went one way. Paul chose Silas and went the other. That might seem like a bad thing, but God had his reasons as we shall see.
It’s interesting to note that at this point in Acts, Luke begins to use the pronoun “we”. He’s now traveling with them. He’s an eye witness and part of Paul’s evangelism team.
Midway through their second missionary journey, Paul has a vision of a man in Macedonia calling for him to come and help them. Macedonia is in northern Greece which means for the first time, the Gospel is headed beyond Asia into Europe. Immediately Paul books passage to Philippi for himself and the team.
Philippi was a magnificent city. It was Roman in every way. They had aqueducts, coliseum, theater. What they didn’t have was a synagogue. A synagogue was where Jewish men would meet to read the Old Testament, discuss the Torah, and pray.
Since there was no building for this, the Jews and those who followed the God of the Jews met by the river, outside of town. So that’s where Paul and Silas went.
There they met a woman named Lydia. Why does Luke tell us her name? Probably because she became well-known in the Christian community! If you wanted to verify Luke’s story, go to Philippi and talk to Lydia!
The Holy Spirit opened Lydia’s heart and she became a believer. She was a wealthy international business woman. She had a mansion in Philippi and she invited Paul and his team to stay with her while they were in town. Who needs a five star hotel! God is good!
Soon Lydia and her whole household were baptized. My guess is that she invited her friends and family to come meet Paul and Silas. Happy days! But whenever the God is doing a great thing, Satan shows up to throw sand in the gears.
Once day as Paul and Silas were headed to the river to pray, a slave girl who was possessed by a demon who claimed to be a fortune teller began following them. She was a terrible nuisance continually causing a scene by shouting “These men are servants of the Most High God telling you how to be saved.”
After a few days, she became so annoying that Paul commanded the demon to leave her. When her owners saw their way of making a living was gone, they had Paul and Silas hauled before the city judge for disturbing the peace!
They were publicly whipped and thrown in jail with a 24 hour guard. Why? Nobody seriously believed these two were a threat to anyone. So why would God allow this to happen when everything was going so well? Why did the Lord make them suffer like this? Let’s see!
As soon as Paul and Silas were locked in the dark of that innermost cell, they began to sing and pray and praise the Lord. The other prisoners were listening. The jailer was listening. At first, they must have thought these guys were loco!
But as they listened the name of Jesus came echoing out of that dark stone pit. It was like a river of joy began flowing through the hallways of that wretched hopeless place. The hearts of the other prisoners and the jailer began to lift and stir as the word of God was proclaimed through their songs and their prayers. It was a fulfillment of what the Lord had promised in Isaiah 55. “My Word that goes out from my mouth will not return to me empty, it will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I send it.” Isa 55
Did you know that for Christians persecution and suffering often opens the door for witness? About midnight, a violent earthquake shook the foundations of the prison, the doors flew open, the shackles and chains fell off, the prisoners were set free including the jailer!
Let me show you what I mean! Vs 27, “When the jailer woke up…” Remember the jailer was ordered to guard Paul and Silas carefully. But he fell asleep on the job. Not good. When the earthquake woke him up, in the darkness, dust, and confusion he assumed the prisoners had all escaped.
He pulled his sword and was preparing to kill himself to escape the shame and punishment that comes with dereliction of duty. Paul sees what’s about to happen in the lamp light above and shouts. “Don’t harm yourself, we are all here!”
“The jailer called for lights, he rushed in and fell trembling before Paul and Silas. He then brought them out and asked, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” Acts 16:29-30
If we asked Paul and Silas, “Was it worth it? Was the pain, the injustice, the humiliation you had to endure worth it?” What do you think they would say? If it ended in the salvation of this jailer, absolutely! What a challenge to me because I don’t know if I would have been singing God’s praise in that jail cell. It’s more likely I would have been complaining and feeling sorry for myself. But who knows, maybe the presence of Jesus with me in that dark place would have been so strong I could stop singing his praise! Let’s see what happens next.
Paul and Silas respond to the jailer’s question, “Believe in the Lord Jesus and you will be saved – you and your household.” Acts 16:31
What was it that opened this jailer’s heart? I wonder if as he listened to Paul and Silas sing and pray, he began to ask himself, “What do these guys have that I don’t have? Why are they so joyful even in the face of their incredible suffering? It must have something to do with this Jesus.”
When he had accepted the Lord, the jailer took them to his own house. He dressed their wounds and listened as they told him about Jesus. Then he and his whole household were baptized. What a miracle! No wonder Paul had such fond memories of his time in Philippi!
The next day, the magistrates ordered Paul and Silas to be released. They must have realized they had overstepped their bounds, they sent them a message “Go in peace!”
But Paul, being Paul, said, “Go in peace! Are you kidding me! You beat us publically without a trial even though we are Roman citizens and threw us in prison. Now you want to get rid of us privately? No way. Let them come and escort us out of town!”
When the magistrates learned that Paul and Silas were Roman citizens they were terrified. Every Roman citizen was entitled to due process. They were innocent until proven guilty. These magistrates could lose their jobs even go to prison for what they did to Paul and Silas. Wait a minute. Barnabas wasn’t a Roman citizen, but Silas was! Does God does know what he’s doing, even when it doesn’t make sense to us? Depend on it!
Luke says the magistrates themselves came to appease Paul and Silas and escort them from the jail. Paul, Silas, Luke then went to Lydia’s house where they met with the other new believers including guess who? The city jailer and his family – what songs of praise and joy must have filled that house! Does Jesus change lives? Yes, and he still does!
So what can we take from Paul’s experience in Philippi? Hebrew 12 says, “Let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him, endured the cross.” Hebrew 12:2
If we are going to follow Jesus, we will suffer for him. But if we stay steadfast in trusting, obeying, and serving him, we will find a joy that can’t be found anywhere else in this world.
We will discover the Lord is true to his promise to redeem all things and bring blessing out of even the most horrible and hopeless situations. It might not happen in a week, or a year, but in the end, when all is said and done, if we stay true to him, we will look back and say like Paul did when he remembered his time in Philippi, “Wow! I thank my God every time I remember- Jesus was there in and through it all.”