Thursday, December 18, 2014

Rejoiced that He had Believed

25 About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them, 26 and suddenly there was a great earthquake, so that the foundations of the prison were shaken. And immediately all the doors were opened, and everyone's bonds were unfastened. 27 When the jailer woke and saw that the prison doors were open, he drew his sword and was about to kill himself, supposing that the prisoners had escaped. 28 But Paul cried with a loud voice, “Do not harm yourself, for we are all here.” 29 And the jailer [6] called for lights and rushed in, and trembling with fear he fell down before Paul and Silas. 30 Then he brought them out and said, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” 31 And they said, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.” 32 And they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all who were in his house. 33 And he took them the same hour of the night and washed their wounds; and he was baptized at once, he and all his family. 34 Then he brought them up into his house and set food before them. And he rejoiced along with his entire household that he had believed in God. (Acts 16:25-34 (ESV)
“And he rejoiced along with his entire household that he had believed in God.” The conversion of the jailer is a beloved story, but as it goes with beloved stories, is not often given the attention it deserves. This story is told in a way that emphasizes the incredible link between baptism and faith, faith and baptism. It is one that stresses the importance of baptism. Again, you have a jailer who has his whole household baptized, and immediately. There is an urgency to the whole thing. It isn’t something he wants to put off and mull over. Instead he wakes up his whole household in the middle of the night, and has them all baptized, wife, slaves, children, all of them.
But let’s rehash this story a bit. Paul and Silas are in prison, in stocks, bound hand and foot, sore from their wounds. As exhausted as they must be they are having trouble sleeping in the uncomfortable position, so the begin to sing hymns and pray to God. The prisoners are all listening, intently. The prisoners themselves are being converted. And this to the point that when a particularly heavy earthquake hits, in this region famous for earthquakes, and all the bonds are broken, and the door swung open, the prisoners would rather sit and listen to Paul than make an escape. When the jailer checks on the prison and sees that it has been breached he is sure everyone has escaped. The only honorable thing to do would be for him to kill himself, rather than let the magistrates do it for him. It had to have been quite the turn in emotions when Paul lets him know they are all still there. Obviously, the jailer is going to ask questions and want to know why. He now owes his life to Paul’s preaching. He is indebted to it. So he takes Paul home with him to have him preach to his family.

Now the jailer wants to know what needs to be done in order for him to be saved. Paul says you have to believe, and so the man is baptized, and afterwards the family rejoices that he has believed. So intimate is the relationship between the two that you really can’t have one without the other. A person who refuses to be baptized or doesn’t want to be baptized should not fool themselves into thinking that they believe in Jesus. Jesus attaches the gift of faith to baptism, he attaches salvation to baptism, and one who believes in Jesus, will believe Jesus when he does this. This isn’t to say that one could not be saved without baptism if for some reason they heard a sermon and came to faith but had not yet a chance to be baptized. And it is still possible to have been baptized and reject the faith and salvation that comes with baptism and not be saved. Yet, if you believe you will be baptized. And parents don’t have to question whether or not this child believes, they can rest in that the Holy Spirit brings faith with him in baptism. Jesus himself is pretty adamant that the little ones believe in him. Teaching them to reject baptism is not good, it is in fact a sin worthy of a millstone. But teach them to trust the words of Jesus and you give them a gift to be cherished for all eternity, because then you raise them in the joy of salvation. It is one thing I know I thank my parents for. Evangelism, it starts at home, baptize your kids. 

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Advocating Customs Unlawful For Romans to Accept or Practice

 19 But when her owners saw that their hope of gain was gone, they seized Paul and Silas and dragged them into the marketplace before the rulers. 20 And when they had brought them to the magistrates, they said, “These men are Jews, and they are disturbing our city. 21 They advocate customs that are not lawful for us as Romans to accept or practice.” 22 The crowd joined in attacking them, and the magistrates tore the garments off them and gave orders to beat them with rods. 23 And when they had inflicted many blows upon them, they threw them into prison, ordering the jailer to keep them safely. 24 Having received this order, he put them into the inner prison and fastened their feet in the stocks. (Acts 16:18-24 (ESV)

Some days it feels like you can’t win for losing, but that is exactly what happens with Paul and Silas. Luke is conspicuously absent from this whole debacle. In any case, no sooner do the owners of the slave girl realize that they  will no longer be able to profit off of this slave girl, at least not in the same manner, and they seize Paul and Silas accuse them before the magistrates and incite a riot in the name of public order and peace. There wasn’t much of a trial. It was assumed Paul and Silas were guilty, and they  were beaten with rods and thrown in prison before they could even appeal to their Roman citizenship, which would have poked large holes in the theory  that Romans could not accept or practice the customs Paul and Silas were advocating. It is said the whole crowd joins in attacking them. To this day the gospel inspires such violence against those who preach it. The magistrates intervene and throw them in prison, it seems that at least partially they do this for the safety of Paul and Silas. The last thing magistrates wanted was rioting. Riots called for soldiers. A city that rioted put itself at odds with the Roman government. Serious odds. The magistrates would have to pay, and in turn the citizens would have to pay. And the payment could be quite severe. At the end of the day they find themselves in prison and it will be here that they find wonderful opportunity for the gospel. God works all things for good for those who love him. But more on that tomorrow, there is too much in the conversion of the jailer to go into here. 

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

A Spirit of Pythia

16 As we were going to the place of prayer, we were met by a slave girl who had a spirit of divination and brought her owners much gain by fortune-telling. 17 She followed Paul and us, crying out, “These men are servants [5] of the Most High God, who proclaim to you the way of salvation.” 18 And this she kept doing for many days. Paul, having become greatly annoyed, turned and said to the spirit, “I command you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her.” And it came out that very hour. (Acts 16:16-18 (ESV)
“A spirit of Pythia” is the wooden translation of the Greek expression that Luke uses. We encounter again the Greek world of antiquity that is not so different from ours. The oracles of Delphi were named Pythia. They would fall into trance like states and give oracles that could often be given different interpretations, and allowed you to read what you liked into them. Though, the practice of adding “in bed” to the end is a modern innovation that admittedly makes such modern day trifles a bit more fun.
The truth is though, that this girl was possessed by a demon. Her owners made good money off of her telling fortunes, which probably had more substance than your average fortune cookie today, or even the abilities of modern day charlatans passing themselves as palm readers, or whatever other means they use. The thing is, I’m still not sure all of them are mere charlatans. I still don’t care to frequent their domiciles.
The people of antiquity would put a lot of stock in such things. I think it is in the nature of man to want to know the future. To want some divine assistance in choosing the paths that lie ahead. It’s all wrapped up in our desire to be rich, to avoid pain and suffering. The same sort of anxiousness that causes otherwise good Christians to spend an inordinate amount of time trying to discern God’s will for their lives in regards to marriage and work, and even such things as which car to buy. But there is no real good way to determine this sort of thing, though dice seem to have Biblical warrant, and are probably as good as any other thing.  “Time and chance happen to them all.” (Eccl. 9:11) That isn’t to say there isn’t a certain amount of divine providence at work in a person’s life, but then what God wants to happen, well that happens despite your best efforts. It isn’t always a pleasant thing to live through in this world either. Anxiousness isn’t something easy to live through, but it isn’t going to help the situation either. Never has for me. Sometimes it seems to just make things worse.
But that is what drove the prophets for this slave girl with the Pythian spirit. This demon who could hear the word of God, and recognize those sent from God. This is one of those cases, where you see that finally God rules even over the angels of darkness who work against his will, they too are forced to prophecy in his favor, and this happens here.  This girl is possessed and her demon is forced to shout that these men are from God, and are there to show the way of salvation.  One wonders why Paul even cured her of the demon. Almost seems like good advertising. But then Paul shows her prophecy to be true when he exercises the demon, and bestows salvation upon her. And he is also able to get work done and preach without the disruption. Losing her demon does not hurt her witness at all, instead it is strengthened.  

Monday, December 15, 2014

A Voice Crying in the Wilderness

6 There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. 7 He came as a witness, to bear witness about the light, that all might believe through him. 8 He was not the light, but came to bear witness about the light.
19 And this is the testimony of John, when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, “Who are you?” 20 He confessed, and did not deny, but confessed, “I am not the Christ.” 21 And they asked him, “What then? Are you Elijah?” He said, “I am not.” “Are you the Prophet?” And he answered, “No.” 22 So they said to him, “Who are you? We need to give an answer to those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?” 23 He said, “I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, ‘Make straight [6] the way of the Lord,’ as the prophet Isaiah said.”
 24 (Now they had been sent from the Pharisees.) 25 They asked him, “Then why are you baptizing, if you are neither the Christ, nor Elijah, nor the Prophet?” 26 John answered them, “I baptize with water, but among you stands one you do not know, 27 even he who comes after me, the strap of whose sandal I am not worthy to untie.” 28 These things took place in Bethany across the Jordan, where John was baptizing. (John 1:6-8 John 1:19-28 (ESV)

“I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, make straight the way of the Lord.”
This is John’s answer to the Jews and Levites from Jerusalem who ask him who he is, who have seemingly gone through all the options. The Christ, Elijah, the prophet. John confesses and does not deny that he is any of these three, neither the Christ, or the Prophet or Elijah. The Christ, the messiah would be one in the same as the Prophet to whom he pointed, the light about which he bore witness, who would bring with him life and salvation through that waters of baptism. Elijah? That John denies being Elijah is curious, because of course Jesus himself says that he is Elijah who was to come. But then John wasn’t actually Elijah in the manner that we was being asked. He wasn’t Elijah reincarnated or come back from the dead or any such thing like that. But he was a new Elijah, sent with his zeal and love for God and his law, willing to stand true and preach the word of God unvarnished to any in his path as he in the wilderness prepared the way of the Lord.
And this is what He does, the voice of one crying in the wilderness, make straight the way of the Lord. Sent ahead a forerunner of Christ. As all the prophets before him. In many and various ways God spoke to us of old, the author of Hebrews will say, but in these last days he has spoken to us through his son whom he appointed heir of all things. He would be the last of the prophets, one to sum up the entire work of the law and the prophets, he would bring it to conclusion, saying behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.
And this he would do preaching the law in all its ferocity, to warn the people that the axe was laid to the root of the tree, that the messiah comes with a winnowing fork in his hand to separate the wheat from the chaff, judgment is coming. So the people would confess their sins to him as he would call them out, tax collectors for collecting too much, Soldiers for extortion, the people fornicating and adultery, dishonoring their parents, stealing and gossip, coveting and murder, even as he tells the soldiers they would kill to be content with their pay. Hatred can so easily overcome a soul, and justify itself in its own eyes, thinking of what they have done to us, family members, we tell ourselves we really only want justice. You can see how his preaching penetrated into their hearts, and convicted them of their sin, the sin the wells up from within our souls, manifesting itself in greed, lust, rage and jealousy. And for this the bellows of hell would blow us like chaff to burn in the furnace.
But then John’s crying in the wilderness wasn’t about putting the fear of hell into everyone, but to prepare the way of the Lord, and let us all realize the need we have for the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. He cried in the wilderness that we would know our need for one who is mightier than him. He came not as light but as one who bore witness to the light, the light whose salvation, death and resurrection is greater than the law that condemns you, one who stands among you today gathered and baptized into his name, that you would be given the eternal life and the forgiveness of sins through the blood of the lamb, the New Testament given for you. That when the axe is laid to the root of the tree, we would believe in the rose blooming from Jessie’s stem, and have salvation.
Now the peace of God that surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

The Conversion of Lydia

13 And on the Sabbath day we went outside the gate to the riverside, where we supposed there was a place of prayer, and we sat down and spoke to the women who had come together. 14 One who heard us was a woman named Lydia, from the city of Thyatira, a seller of purple goods, who was a worshiper of God. The Lord opened her heart to pay attention to what was said by Paul. 15 And after she was baptized, and her household as well, she urged us, saying, “If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come to my house and stay.” And she prevailed upon us. (Acts 16:12-15 (ESV)
Paul comes into Philippi, which was basically a gold mining town. The mines were up in the mountains, but the city was put in place by Philipp II to control the trade of gold, and even established a mint. It had been a Roman town for quite some time by the time Paul gets there, and seems to have been mostly about business. The inhabitants not being particularly religious at all. And even though it was a Roman colony, there were few Jewish people in the town. If there had even been ten Jewish men there would have been a synagogue in town, with a rabbi. This was a rule of thumb in Jewish communities, ten men tithing could support a synagogue and a rabbi with a median income somewhere between their richest man and their poorest man. But there is no synagogue for them to go to.
It’s curious though, they knew where to go on the Sabbath to meet fellow Jewish believers. With no synagogue, which often played the part of Jewish community center with all sorts of programs and activities during the week, they had to wait for the Sabbath, Saturday, to find their community. Paul always preached to Jews first and then to the Greeks. Something must have been particular about this place marking it as a place of prayer along the river Krenides. Paul, Luke, Timothy and Silas descend upon the place with the gospel.
Now something quite incredible happens, that will have lasting impact on the church and western society even to this day. Paul meets Lydia, and Lydia is converted. In Moe’s biography of St. Paul, it was brought to my attention that this Lydia might be the same woman who goes by the name of Euodia in the fourth chapter of Philippians. Moe doesn’t go into this, but it was believed in the early church that Paul was married to Euodia later in life, that in fact she may even have been the wife he speaks about in 1 Cor. 9.  All of that gets a little shaky. But even in Moe’s thorough biography it isn’t ruled out that Paul was married.
All that aside, the story of Lydia’s conversion is spectacular. First her heart is opened to Paul’s preaching, then her and her household are baptized. It sticks out like a sore thumb in the eye of chauvinist readings of scripture. This and the story or Priscilla and Apollos likewise. But for now this. It seems Lydia was a single lady, and rich.  Perhaps she was a widow with children. But her household would mean slaves as well. They are all baptized, because of her. You see the same sort of thing with Cornelius, the conversion of the head of the household means the conversion of the rest of it. There is no, I think I will wait until they make up their mind. This would have been a completely foreign thought to Jewish converts to Christianity. God makes the covenant of circumcision, the old testament, with Abraham and it is something he is to subject to his whole household, slave and child alike. A sort of Quius regio eius religio (whose realm, his religion) thing. Of course, being hauled off into slavery and incorporated into another household didn’t mean that either Jews or Christians gave up their religion. But when a Christian was the head of the household, he would at a minimum baptize the rest of his household and provide for them to hear the word of God. Now, it seems a woman is the head of this household, and she rules over slaves, presumably men in the mix there. Paul doesn’t have anything to say about this, or against this. He just wasn’t the chauvinist that he is made out to be, both by the left and the right today. Lydia, along with quite a few other women of means, will become his greatest supporters. That seems to be a tradition carrying on even today in the church, where women are often the most faithful, the most diligent in giving, and the most disciplined about training the children in the faith. The things that Paul has to say about women having authority over men, or men over women deal only within the marriage and in the church. It has nothing to do with women holding public offices, working outside the home or being bosses etc. He wasn’t patriarchic in the modern sense of the word, nor did he go along with the normal devaluing of women that one finds in antiquity. On the contrary, he seemed to value women quite a bit.

Lydia begins her support of Paul straight way by opening her home to him and his entourage. It seems she had to insist on him staying there. This and the fact that she was a successful business woman gives a hint that she had to be a pretty strong willed and capable woman. Paul would not have been an easy one to prevail upon. I imagine her and Katie Luther would have quite the same temperaments, and if she did marry Paul later in life, she would have had in common with Katherine Von Bora, that it was her decision first. 

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

The Gospel Comes To Europe

11 So, setting sail from Troas, we made a direct voyage to Samothrace, and the following day to Neapolis, 12 and from there to Philippi, which is a leading city of the [4] district of Macedonia and a Roman colony. We remained in this city some days. (Acts 16:11-12 (ESV)
This is the first time Paul comes to Europe with the Gospel. It is quite possible that Paul had been to Europe before as a child and so on. But since his conversion, by all recorded accounts, this is the first time he makes it to Europe. He himself would probably have not noticed anything of a change in surroundings. It was the same heathen/ Roman world he had grown up in. Cultural differences would have been about as marked as those between San Francisco and Los Angeles.

But I want to just pause here. What Paul does will change the world, and it will start with Europe. The gospel will live here. And from here it will spread around the world. And however critical the world, and even Europe is today, concerning its history, and abuses of power and circumstance. However, much that criticism is deserved or not, there will come a day when the world will thank Paul profusely for bringing the Gospel to Europe when he did. 

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Forbidden Asia

6 And they went through the region of Phrygia and Galatia, having been forbidden by the Holy Spirit to speak the word in Asia. 7 And when they had come up to Mysia, they attempted to go into Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus did not allow them. 8 So, passing by Mysia, they went down to Troas. 9 And a vision appeared to Paul in the night: a man of Macedonia was standing there, urging him and saying, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.” 10 And when Paul [3] had seen the vision, immediately we sought to go on into Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to preach the gospel to them. (Acts 16:6-10 (ESV)
I remember first reading this as a teenager, “having been forbidden by the Holy Spirit to speak the word in Asia.” My mind was scandalized at first thinking through the implications, were mission trips to China now forbidden? What is going on here, why would the Holy Spirit not want the word spoken in Asia?
Of course, I slowly began to realize, one, that Asia as we mean it was not meant. After all, Israel is in Asia. And then, I shouldn’t be too hasty to apply a command given to one in scripture to myself. Growing my hair long had not given me the strength to rip apart lions, or kill an army of Philistines with the jawbone of an ass. However, this passage does give insight to the ministry and is a bit more than just an historical incident. It is the Holy Spirit that is at work. He calls the shots.
This can be a bit frustrating at times. Men are always thinking the thoughts of men, and we can’t even begin to comprehend the ways of the Spirit who blows where he will. We see churches shut down and tend to blame the pastor. Sometimes there is a lot to blame in the pastor’s character, and so forth. Yet, still that church was the Holy Spirit’s work, and if they gates of hell haven’t prevailed against it, perhaps the Holy Spirit is the only person left to blame. A pastor wants to take the credit when things are going good, and this can also be frustrating because for the life of him he can’t often figure out what it is that he is doing now, he wasn’t doing before. You can fish all night on the left side of the boat and catch nothing for all your efforts. Everything says it is where you catch fish, and the ones you want to fish. Suddenly you are told to fish in the most unlikely of waters off the right side, (or is that starboard? I’m not a sailor), well now your friends have to come in off of shore to help you out. Again, the Spirit of Jesus is at work.   

The Spirit wouldn’t let Paul and company into Asia, a small province of what we know as Asia Minor. He had other plans. He sent them to Macedonia instead, because God had called them to preach there. I’m not sure how it is that the Spirit kept them from going to Asia. Sometimes there are places you want to go with the gospel, and there just is no way of making a go of it. Things stand in the way. It’s rather frustrating not being in control of your life, but the truth is, you aren’t and never have been. One is lucky if they really have a choice between a hamburger and a salad for lunch. Much less are we in control of the ministry. Oh, there is no excuse for being lazy in the work. There still are nets to be thrown, and fish to be pulled in. There is still need to spend time preparing sermons, visiting the sick, fixing Bible Studies and so on. But finally, it will be the Lord who lets you go where he wants you to go, who blocks your way here and sends you there, who reaches this soul with the blood of Christ, and lets another stay aloof.