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Responding to Opportunities God Provides

October 22, 2023 Preacher: Jeff Griffis Series: Acts of the Holy Spirit Through the Apostles

Scripture: Acts 16:25–40

Responding to Opportunities God Provides – Acts 16:25–40

PRAY

INTRO: In our journey through Acts, we are with Paul and Silas in Philippi (Timothy and Luke have also joined the missionary team in this phase). In Philippi they have encountered a group of God-fearing women who meet on the Sabbath by the river as their place of prayer. One of these women, Lydia by name, becomes the first follower of Jesus here and also becomes host to these missionaries in her home. But as Paul and Silas continue their ministry in Philippi, a demon-possessed slave girl keeps calling attention to them in a way that seems to make Paul concerned about being associated with this evil. Paul casts the demon out in the name of Jesus. Now the girl’s owners are extremely unhappy about this because they were using her to generate income by her fortune-telling. So Paul and Silas end up dragged before the two Philippian magistrates, accused without a trial, soundly beaten with rods, and imprisoned. That’s where we find them at the moment.

In observing what happens now in Philippi, what should we take away as an emphasis to apply? [title] As with God opening Lydia’s heart to the gospel (v 14) when Paul faithfully proclaimed Jesus as the Christ, we must always remain aware of God’s initiative and activity, and so be alert to opportunities he affords. (opportunity to repent and turn in faith to Jesus; opportunities for faithfulness, for growth, for gospel witness and word ministry)

The first opportunity for Paul & Silas comes in an unlikely form: their suffering. 

Acts 16:23–25 ESV

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. 25 About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them,

[while reading, explain “inner prison”… and “feet in the stocks”]

Persecution and Suffering Provide Opportunity for Dependence on God and Praise to God (v. 25)

-Honestly, this has a lot to do with the way that hardship alters our perspective. It brings to the surface where our deep-seated trust truly lies. Are we depending on ourselves, or on God? Do we believe that God is praiseworthy—that He is good and glorious—only when things are great with our circumstances?

-Don’t overlook that, in this hardship and response of prayer and praise, they are not completely alone. Paul & Silas each have a fellow believer beside them. Paul notes elsewhere how difficult it is emotionally when we feel alone in our suffering. (2 Tim 4:9-13)

Because we are believers, we are in Christ Jesus and have the indwelling Holy Spirit, so we know that we are never truly alone because God is with us. But where does the Bible recommend that we just suffer alone if we can help it? God has given us his people as a means of his grace to us, even as a reminder and encouragement of his own presence. Fellow believers are there to help shoulder the weight of your burden, to carry it with you before God in prayer, and to pray for your strength and growth, and to praise God with you for his love and trustworthiness, his infinite wisdom, and his timing.

-Joy in God through life’s storms is a conspicuous, unique feature of Christians and has positive impact on others observing our lives.

Hardship alters our perspective, reminding us that God is ultimately dependable and praiseworthy. Suffering also reminds us to lean on God’s people as a means of his grace to comfort, encourage, and help us. And having joy in trials is a noticeable anomaly to those around us, causing them think about the uniqueness of the God we serve. 

Now...

Acts 16:26–34 ESV

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 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.

Earthshaking Life Experiences Afford Opportunity for Gospel Witness and Reception (vv. 26-34)

-Now you know I’m calling this an earthshaking life experience not just because it plays on the literal occurrence but because it has that kind of impact on the jailer.

The earthquake shakes the foundations, which sounds like what you’d expect from an earthquake. But what’s unique about this quake, possibly with God using unseen angelic activity as well, is that their bonds are unfastened and prison doors opened.

You might wonder about the jailer’s reaction when he is awoken by the earthshaking commotion and presumes they have all escaped. But with his job and in their culture, the level of dishonor (or shame), and the failure of responsibility, leads him to conclude that he should fall on his own sword.

Luke doesn’t give us every detail in these summaries, so we don’t know how Paul knew in the dark what the jailer was about to do, but my guess is that he’s reacting aloud and Paul can hear his plans.

What a surprise it must have been to this jailer to discover that the prisoners had not in fact already escaped, but that they remained. Why they stayed can only be explained, in my view, that all the prisoners, not just Paul & Silas, understood this to be a result of God’s hand (bc of the earlier testimony coming from these two men). The jailer knew these men were different: Their praise, the earthquake, their choice not to flee the prison.

-I’m convinced Paul & Silas are viewing this as further opportunity for the gospel, this massive earthshaking event corroborating the power and authority of the God they serve, so they don’t run.

The jailer calls for torches (making it unlikely that he worked entirely alone), and he rushes in with trembling fear to fall down before the two missionaries (again, connecting the previous testimony from them and about them with the earthquake and that they haven’t escaped).

Bringing them out (either from their cell at first or probably all the way out of the prison… makes sense of what else happens), the jailer asks the right question, “What must I do to be saved?” He most likely means to be saved from judgment by your God. (The jailer now sees as an opportunity to be right with the clearly supreme God these men serve.)

Paul & Silas give him the straightforward fundamental answer that is just as true for all people as for this particular man: “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved.” In fact, everyone in your household can be saved by this same means. - Note that here and v. 32 (as with so many places in the NT), Jesus is referred to as Lord. There is clearly an intent to recognize his authority as part and parcel with this belief in Jesus—to recognize and submit to him as Lord who holds judgment (for our sin) in his hands, but who forgives and rescues (who saves) when one comes to him in this way (repentance and faith).

That short answer will become a longer and more developed answer as the jailer gets "all who were in his house” to come and hear “the word of the Lord.” (It wouldn’t be surprising if the jailer’s home is near the prison, perhaps even attached to it in some way.) - Their response to the gospel is indicated in the next verse.

The jailer takes Paul & Silas (that same hour… it’s still night… getting insanely late!)… he takes them someplace to wash their wounds. And he and his family demonstrate that they’ve turned to Jesus in faith by being baptized at once. They may have gone to one of the nearby rivers or streams, but it may well be that there was a large basin or bath for such things on or near the prison grounds. 

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Now, the only real point of disagreement in here in conversations amongst true Christians is not whether the jailer’s household members are saved by his faith… or Lydia’s, or Cornelius’s. No, we’re collectively convinced that Scripture teaches each individual must respond in repentance & faith to the Lord Jesus in order to be saved.

But there does continue to be disagreement about baptism. The Roman Catholic church was already baptizing infants (I am stating this as a matter of fact, not condescendingly), and the sixteen-century reformers did not immediately break from this tradition, though many “Protestant” (or reformed) believers have done so since then. Even today, our Presbyterian brothers do not baptize infants because they think it saves them, but as a symbolic rite (in households of genuine believers) to bring these children under the blessing of the covenant community, the church.

By contrast, we are credo-baptists precisely because we view Scripture to teach that baptism is an obedient action by one who has already taken the step of faith in Jesus, who has been spiritually baptized by the Holy Spirit into the body of Christ (1 Cor 12:13), the family of God. (Baptism symbolizes repentance to be washed clean from sin and forgiven, and it symbolizes being buried with Christ [dead to sin] and raised to new life in God.)

Texts like these are in themselves truly inconclusive. There are details lacking. How old was everyone in the household? Does saying the whole household mean every single member, even if there is an infant incapable of knowing the reason for the baptism? Would they have gone to a place with sufficient water for immersion? Would washing with limited water, or sprinkling, have been sufficient?

To answer some of these questions we really do have to ask more broad questions of the NT teaching and example on baptism. What seems to have been the obvious practice of the Apostles (and John the Baptist before them, etc.) regarding baptism? Was it a washing with a little water or was it immersing someone completely? Not only was it the practice we see in the places where specifics are given, but the word baptizo actually means to immerse something in water. And then we have again explanations in the NT of the meaning of baptism, which yes does include the idea of cleansing, but it also includes symbolism corresponding to the spiritual aspect of being buried with Christ and raised through faith to life in God (Col 2:12, Rom 6:4, Gal 3:27).

The best answer is that they were baptizing by immersion, and baptizing those making a profession of faith. It is not at all unlikely in each case that they find sufficient water for this practice. It might be considered unlikelythat they were immersing infants, especially those who could not understand and respond to the word of the Lord preached to them.

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Back in v. 34, this jailer courageously increases the things he could get in trouble for, and he brings them up to his house for food. Then there is also a note of great rejoicing from him and his household because of their belief in God. Although the ESV has a translation here that is possible, because rejoiced is singular and believing is singular, the most likely meaning of “with his whole household,” a single word in Gk, is that it corresponds to believing or to both the rejoicing and believing. Except for this RSV tradition (which ESV comes from), EVERY other translation I looked at has it so. Here is just one example:

Acts 16:34 NASB95

34 And he brought them into his house and set food before them, and rejoiced greatly, having believed in God with his whole household.

Regardless of these details, the point of it all has more to do with how God provides this gospel opportunity for Paul & Silas to proclaim Jesus in what appears to us as a super unlikely manner. But they seize the opportunity to witness, and the Philippian jailer responds to Jesus as Lord.

And now the final section shifts the focus a bit, to an opportunity for doing good to others and the cause of Christ by drawing attention to injustice.

Acts 16:35–40 ESV

35 But when it was day, the magistrates sent the police, saying, “Let those men go.” 36 And the jailer reported these words to Paul, saying, “The magistrates have sent to let you go. Therefore come out now and go in peace.” 37 But Paul said to them, “They have beaten us publicly, uncondemned, men who are Roman citizens, and have thrown us into prison; and do they now throw us out secretly? No! Let them come themselves and take us out.” 38 The police reported these words to the magistrates, and they were afraid when they heard that they were Roman citizens. 39 So they came and apologized to them. And they took them out and asked them to leave the city. 40 So they went out of the prison and visited Lydia. And when they had seen the brothers, they encouraged them and departed.

Certain Freedoms & Rights Allow Opportunity to Highlight Mistreatment & Injustice, Potentially Protecting Peace for the Church & Freedom for Gospel Activity (vv. 35-40)

Why the magistrates decide to let them go is not clarified. Maybe they had heard from the jailer what had happened overnight, or perhaps they thought the beating and night in jail was a sufficient warning (and that Paul & Silas would now leave).

Furthermore, why Paul & Silas decide to remain in prison (or more literally to go back into prison) isn’t clarified either (“therefore come out and go in peace”). Maybe they wanted to protect the jailer from personal repercussions.

But what it does lead to is Paul saying, “Wait just a minute. Since we are Roman citizens who were not given a just hearing and yet were beaten publicly and imprisoned without a fair trial, let them comes themselves and take us out. They need to know, and this community needs to know, what happened here.”

When the magistrates hear of this and what they had done to Roman citizens (Paul and apparently Silas as well), they are afraid because unfair treatment of Roman citizens could mean that they would lose their positions. As they come and apologize, bring them out and ask them to leave the city, surely this too becomes a more public affair.

Paul’s wise choice here provides a healthy balance for us, to know that, depending on the situation and our motivation, it may be good for others and good for the cause of Christ if we should stand up for freedoms against injustice.

God hates injustice, and God cares deeply about those who are not being cared for, or are being mistreated. As American citizens, we have a great deal of freedom to highlight injustice and to help the hurting in our communities and around the world, really. Perhaps nowhere else in the world, and perhaps before never in history, has anyone been as affluent and free as we are. This is an opportunity we should continue to take, for sending out missionaries, even for compassion ministry.

It also means that as long as we can, it is right for there to be some people among us who are on the front lines of protecting religious freedoms and giving a voice to those treated unjustly. (Just an example: When the Covid outbreak began, what started out as a desire to help safeguard citizens quickly became in some places a gross overreach by governing authorities. And we can be thankful for faithful believers in places like Canada and California who stood up for religious freedoms, even suffering consequences for the sake of others. We can thank God for their courage and wisdom to do so.)

In the case of Paul and Silas preaching in new communities, it was like this: The gospel transforms people; therefore, the impact of the gospel brings challenge and change to society. This is certainly not always met with welcome from the broader culture, which leads to persecution of faithful believers, who live according to Christ and testify to Christ. Realizing this dynamic, efforts to protect freedoms where possible is a wise course of action.

There’s no reason to think Paul was motivated by revenge or even the injustice to himself. But he cared about the cause of Christ and this community not associating Christianity with being trouble-makers, which they are not. And he cared that the church should have peace and opportunity to continue proclaiming Christ in this region.

Notice the outcome. Lydia’s home becomes a gathering place for the church in Philippi, a church that continues to flourish, even one that maintains an active ministry in financially supporting Paul’s ongoing missionary endeavors (Phil 4:15).

Even at the close of their ministry there, with Paul & Silas encouraging them and departing, we see Lydia seizing the opportunity to use her home hospitably for the church, and the church seizing the opportunity to find a way to support the ministry even beyond their own locale.

[Conclusion]

God Gives Us Daily Opportunity

Earthshaking or not, every new day God is allowing us another opportunity to respond to Christ appropriately, in faith (2 Pet 3:15, Rom 2:4) and in worship (John 4:23-24, Rom 12:1, Heb 13:15). And if we are in Christ, every day, even every hardship, is an opportunity to trust in Christ’s sufficiency and lean on him (Heb 13:8, John 15:4), and for God to grow us in Christ (Jam 1:2-4, Rom 5:3-5, Heb 12:4-13). In what ways do you need to refocus your mind and heart accordingly?

It is God who saves, by the work of the Holy Spirit through the power of the word of the Lord (the gospel), but we are the secondary instruments he chooses to use, making his appeal through us (2 Cor 5:20).

What opportunities has God already provided, and in what specific ways can you be more proactive to testify about Christ (Acts 1:8) with the goal of making disciples (Mt 28:19-20), and to warn those around you (Heb 3:12-14) and to spur them on in the Lord (Heb 10:24-25)?

Evaluate your life again and ask how you are responding to the opportunities God has provided.

PRAY

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Suggestions for Further Discussion:

Read through and talk about the cross-references in this concluding application section.

Discuss the opportunities God is presently providing in your life. Also talk about the heart attitudes that need to change for you to seize those opportunities.

 

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