Sermon Titled “Changed Lives” (Acts 16:11-40) – Sunday 7th September, 2014
Acts 16:11-40 tells the story of Paul and Silas’s journey to Philippi, and the encounters they experienced during the time that they stayed there. The main theme throughout these verses however, is the underlying message that people from all walks of life can be saved. These verses introduce us to three very different characters, all strangers to each other, yet all united in Christ by the time Paul and Silas left Philippi.
Let’s take a look at all three of these characters, starting first with Lydia.
- Acts 16:13-15 13 On the Sabbath we went outside the city gate to the river, where we expected to find a place of prayer. We sat down and began to speak to the women who had gathered there. 14 One of those listening was a woman from the city of Thyatira named Lydia, a dealer in purple cloth. She was a worshiper of God. The Lord opened her heart to respond to Paul’s message. 15 When she and the members of her household were baptized, she invited us to her home. “If you consider me a believer in the Lord,” she said, “come and stay at my house.” And she persuaded us.
Lydia, we know, was from Thyatira, a region in Asia-Minor now known as Turkey. We also know that she was in Philippi (a Roman colony and the leading city of that district of Macedonia), conducting business but also semi-residing there. We can assume that Lydia was a woman of wealth and power because a) she was a businesswoman, b) she owned her own home in Philippi, and possibly had servants working for her, and c) she was not intimidated at the prospect of inviting strange men into her home.
It was outside the city gate, near the river, that Lydia and a group of women had gathered to hear Paul and Silas speak. Although the scriptures say that Lydia was a “worshiper of God,” she had not yet received Christ as her Lord and Savior. She was a successful and intelligent woman, still looking to fill a void however, yet unwilling to buy into any religious argument (Christianity included) if it failed to provide rational reasoning. God knew this already, and so, the scriptures tell us that He “opened her heart to respond to Paul’s message.”
The second person we meet in this set of verses is a slave girl.
- Acts 16:16-21 16 Once when we were going to the place of prayer, 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. 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.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.”
The slave girl was presumably from the area (so possibly of Greek descent), but unlike Lydia this girl came from the lower end of the social and economic spectrum. She had no money to her name at all, yet ironically she was the “money-maker” for those who owned and exploited her. Through her demon-possessed spirit, she had the ability to foresee the future, and in a day and age where divination was highly valued, her talent was capitalized on.
As Paul and Silas made their way to the “place of prayer,” the slave girl pursued them and began taunting them by shouting out, “These men are servants of the Most High God, who are telling you the way to be saved.” In Isaiah 14, we find a passage of scripture that includes a bold statement by Satan, claiming that he will ascend to the heavens and make himself like the Most High. He was being cynical of course, because he resented the fact that Christ is seated above him. Since the slave girl was demon-possessed and consequently a servant to Satan, it’s obvious that her words were also said with cynical intent.
After many days of following Paul and Silas and repeatedly shouting the same thing, Paul finally got so annoyed that he spun around and demanded, in the name of Jesus Christ, that the demon within her immediately leave her body – and it did. As soon as the evil spirit departed, the girl was no longer enslaved.
Formerly, the girl had been enslaved to an inner demon who forced her to think and do evil things, and on the outside she had been enslaved to owners who had used her to serve their own purposes. Now that the demon had left her body, she no longer had the power to foretell the future and her owners were furious. While they proceeded to seize Paul and Silas and present them before the authorities for judging, the slave girl celebrated her salvation. She had known all along that Christ was the way to salvation, but bound by the spirit of Satan she had no choice but to resist the truth of the gospel.
The third person that Paul and Silas encountered was a Roman prison guard who was instructed to throw them in jail. The owners of the slave girl had stirred up so much dissension against Paul and Silas, that the town magistrates ordered that they be flogged and sent to prison. Before leading them to their cell, the guard was reminded to “carefully” guard them. Look at what happened in the prison the first night that Paul and Silas were locked up:
- Acts 16:25-35 25 About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening to them. 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!” 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.” 32 Then they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all the others in his house. 33 At that hour of the night the jailer took them and washed their wounds; then immediately he and all his household were baptized.
Here we see that God caused such a violent earthquake to happen, that all the prison doors were shaken open and all the prisoners’ chains came loose. When the guard woke up and realized what had happened, he was greatly distraught and ready to thrust himself upon his sword. It was his sole duty, as a Roman jailer, to guard the prisoners with his life. If even one of his prisoners succeeded in escaping, then it was expected (by Roman law) that he take his own life.
Paul did an amazing thing however; he not only intervened and reassured the guard that he and Silas would stay in their cell, but he miraculously convinced ALL the other prisoners to stay in their cells as well. There is simply no way to explain how he did this outside of it being orchestrated by God. As a result, the guard was so stunned by all that had just happened, that he fell to his knees before Paul and Silas and asked what he needed to do to be saved.
Three people, from very different backgrounds and all with very different beliefs, were all set free by the gospel. There are people in our lives who, just like the characters encountered by Paul and Silas, have also chosen not to believe in Christ. Some may be like Lydia, looking for something more than temporal satisfactions but not fully convinced that Christ is the answer. Others may be like the slave girl, so engulfed in sin that it seems impossible to live any other way. And others still, might be like the prison guard, who is so focused on his job or career that it defines his purpose in life and nothing else matters.
God went after all three of these characters, and he won them over by reaching them in ways that He knew they would respond to. There is a lesson here for those of us who already believe – that is, that we must never give up praying for our unsaved friends, neighbors, and family members. As resistant as they may seem towards believing in Christ, God knows how to penetrate even the hardest of hearts. So pray that God would go after them too, just as He did Lydia, the slave girl, and the prison guard.