God Saves a Tender Heart: Europe’s First Convert
April 23, 2017
NOTE: A PowerPoint and ProPresenter 6 slide presentation is available for this sermon upon request at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Adapted from a sermon by Jerry Shirley on SermonCentral.com.
TEXT: Please turn in your Bibles to Acts 16
We’ve been in a series through the book of Acts for about two years now and after finishing chapter 15, we took a break to cover several other series for a while. So now we’re going to jump back into Acts.
After Paul’s first missionary journey, his conversion of Gentiles stirred up a hornet’s nest that was settled in the beginning of chapter 15 where the Apostles decided in the Jerusalem Council that Gentiles did not have to follow the Law of Moses. The second part of chapter 15 describes the first part of Paul’s second missionary journey, through what is modern day Turkey, starting some churches in new areas, and visiting some existing churches they had started on their first missionary journey.
That’s where we pick up the story, which is about to take a dramatic turn. Look with me at verses 6-8 – “Now when they had gone throughout Phrygia and the region of Galatia, and were forbidden of the Holy Ghost to preach the word in Asia, 7 After they were come to Mysia, they assayed to go into Bithynia: but the Spirit suffered them not. 8 And they passing by Mysia came down to Troas.
After travelling west through the northern part of the region of Asia, they desired to go into Bithynia, but verse 7 says, “…the Spirit suffered them not.” In modern-day English that means, “they were forbidden by the Holy Spirit.”
They tried to go SOUTH into Asia, but God said “no,” and put up a roadblock. Then they tried to go NORTH into Bithynia, and had the same response. They had come from the east, so the only direction left was west.
In chapter 16, we’ll see how God saved A TENDER HEART—a business woman named Lydia in today’s sermon; He saved A TORTURED HEART—a demon-possessed slave, in verses 16-24 in next week’s sermon; and in the following Sunday, we’ll see how He saved A TOUGHENED HEART—the Philippian jailor, in verses 25-34.
Let’s begin by seeing three things in this text about this woman named Lydia:
I. NOTE WITH ME FIRST, THE VISION – Verses 9-10 – “And they passing by Mysia came down to Troas. 9 And a vision appeared to Paul in the night; There stood a man of Macedonia, and prayed him, saying, Come over into Macedonia, and help us. 10 And after he had seen the vision, immediately we endeavoured to go into Macedonia, assuredly gathering that the Lord had called us for to preach the gospel unto them.”
Paul and Silas were seeking God’s guidance, but they had no clear direction yet. Then one night Paul had a vision of a man from Macedonia, which is on the other side of the Aegean Sea, calling him to “Come over to Mecedonia and help us.”
Now notice Paul’s response in verse 10 – Once he knew God’s plan through this vision, he and Silas sought to go over to Macedonia immediately. That may not seem so significant to you until you realize that when Paul received his vision he was still in Asia, and Macedonia was the tip of Europe! So they crossed over into Europe and as far as you and I are concerned, that’s the most important call that’s ever been made or answered! Aren’t you glad Paul had the vision and answered the call? You’re probably here today because of that one historic decision!
You may not have received a literal vision, but we’ve all received our own Macedonian call. Do you have a vision of your relatives walking toward the cliff that leads to hell? Have you answered their call—“come and help me”? Have you heard the call from broken homes—“come and help us!”?
All people have a God-shaped void inside of them, and often people try to fill that void with material things, pleasure, sex, drugs and alcohol, achievement, money, relationships and even good works and social involvement. But the ONLY thing that can fill the God-shaped void is GOD! Trying all these substitutes is their way of calling out, “Come and help us!”
Catch a vision of people in sin, calling out for a lifeline saying, “come help us!” They’re not beating down the doors of this church to get in here. We have to go to them and help them find Christ.
In fact, it’s not their responsibility to come to us; it’s our responsibility to go to them!
Illus. – When I was raising support to go to the mission field, I remember two churches that were polar opposites. One church was dying, and the other was growing and thriving.
The first had a big sign out front that said, “All welcome…come on in”—and it was dying.
The other was thriving, but its sign wasn’t on the outside, but on the inside visible on the way out saying, “You are now entering the mission field.” That sign was saying, “Go out and bring them in!”—as Jesus said, “Go out into the highways and hedges and compel them to come in.”
Paul understood this. He didn’t say from Troas… “Hey, ya’ll over there in Europe, you wanna hear the Gospel? Come on over to Asia. All are welcome!” No, he got in a boat and took the Gospel to THEM.
I read a while back of a little church in Germany located near train tracks that carried Jews to their death. – The German man telling the story said,
Each Sunday morning, we could hear the whistle in the distance and then the wheels coming over the tracks. We became disturbed when we heard the cries coming from the train as it passed by. We realized that it was carrying Jews like cattle in the cars!
Week after week the whistle would blow. We dreaded to hear the sound of those wheels because we knew that we would hear the cries of the Jews en route to a death camp. Their screams tormented us.
We knew the time the train was coming and when we heard the whistle blow we began singing hymns. By the time the train came past our church we were singing at the top of our voices. If we heard the screams, we sang more loudly and soon we heard them no more. Years have passed, and no one talks about it anymore; but I still hear that train whistle in my sleep. I can still hear them crying out for help. God forgive all of us who called ourselves Christians, yet did nothing to intervene.
How dare we sit in our comfortable building and sing our songs and eat our food and enjoy our fellowship, and not walk out those doors into the mission field with a vision, hearing the call, and answering it!
Those of you who decided to support missionaries around the globe through Grace Baptist Church last month during our Missions Emphasis month are helping to get the Gospel out.
May God help you to be faithful to give that commitment to make sure that our missionaries are supported so they can preach the Gospel where God has called them to.
So verses 9-10 describe THE VISION.…
II. SECOND, WE SEE THE VENTURE IN VERSES 11-13 – “Therefore loosing from Troas, we came with a straight course to Samothracia, and the next day to Neapolis; 12 And from thence to Philippi, which is the chief city of that part of Macedonia, and a colony: and we were in that city abiding certain days. 13 And on the sabbath we went out of the city by a river side, where prayer was wont to be made; and we sat down, and spake unto the women which resorted thither.”
Paul and Silas got into a ship and crossed the Aegean Sea. They began a new venture, one that changed the course of history.
Verse 11 says they “came with a straight course.” Down south, we would say they “made a B-Line” to get there! Then it says they arrived the next day. Don’t turn there, but in Acts 20:6, we learn that on their way back it took them 5 days! On the way over God must’ve been breathing into their sails to get them there!
The first church they established in Europe was in Philippi. When they got there they found a little group of women praying down by the river. It was a just a little prayer meeting…just a tiny group of women.
Women were not as valued in society at that time, and it was such a small group. According to Jewish law, a synagogue could only be established if there were ten men who would commit to the congregation. But since Philippi did not have a quorum of committed men, a small group of women met by the river for prayer.
It was only a small group, but it’s from a tiny acorn that a mighty oak tree grows! And God heard these ladies’ prayers and they’re likely the reason for Paul’s vision.
Verses 9-10 describe the VISION, verses 11-14 detail the VENTURE, and…
III. LASTLY, WE SEE THE VICTORY IN VERSES 14-15 – “And a certain woman named Lydia, a seller of purple, of the city of Thyatira, which worshipped God, heard us: whose heart the Lord opened, that she attended unto the things which were spoken of Paul. 15 And when she was baptized, and her household, she besought us, saying, If ye have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come into my house, and abide there. And she constrained us.” – I see three things about Lydia’s tender heart in these verses.
Here we have the story of the first convert in Europe! Now before we examine it in detail, think about this for a moment: Paul saw A MAN in his vision, and responded; and when he got there, he found out it was A WOMAN! Lydia became the first convert in Europe. I think God has a sense of humor, don’t you?
You’ve got to remember something about the start of this first European church. The apostle Paul had been a Pharisee before coming to faith in Christ. Every day, when a Pharisee woke up, he would thank God for three things: that he was not a WOMAN, a SLAVE or a GENTILE.
Well, guess who the first three converts were in Europe-—?
* A WOMAN, Lydia, in these verses—the “Tender Heart.”
* A SLAVE girl in verses 16-19—the “Tortured Heart.”
* And a GENTILE jailor at the end of the chapter—the “Toughened Heart.”
Isn’t that just like God? He breaks down our walls of prejudice and bigotry! God loves MEN, but He loves WOMEN too. And He loves Jews, but He loves Gentiles too. He loves rich people like Lydia, and He loved slave girls too.
The fact that the first converts were a woman, a slave and a Gentile didn’t make a bit of difference to Paul because Paul’s heart had been changed by the power of God to overcome his bigotry and his proud arrogance. Paul had learned to love ALL people—and so should we. It shouldn’t matter where a person comes from, or what the color of his skin is. As the kids’ Sunday School song goes, “Red, or yellow, black or white, they are precious in His sight; Jesus loves the little children of the world.”
Now I would like us to look at three important things about Lydia’s salvation:
1) First, notice that she had an RECEPTIVE heart.
Verse 14 says this woman “heard them.” She was ready, so Paul’s witness came at an opportune time. Her heart was fertile soil and she was ready to be saved.
She was a “seller of purple,” meaning she was in the business of designer clothing. Only the rich and the royal could afford to wear purple. In those days, the purple dye came from a shellfish, and one shellfish would yield only one drop of the purple dye.
So, it was extremely expensive. Sellers of purple were always well-to-do themselves because it was a very lucrative job, but with little competition, and they were perceived then the way clothing designers are today.
So Lydia had money, prestige and influence—and yet she still had a hungry heart. I hope you understand that the things in life which really matter cannot be bought with money.
Money can buy a house, but not a home.
Money can buy a bed, but not sleep.
Money can buy a clock, but not time.
Money can buy a book, but not brains.
Money can buy position, but not respect.
Money can buy medicine but not health.
Money can buy people, but not friends.
Money can buy insurance, but not safety.
Money can buy amusements, but not happiness.
Money can buy religion, but not salvation.
Money can buy a good life, but not eternal life.
Money can buy a crucifix, but not a Savior.
Money can buy a passport to anywhere…but to heaven.
Lydia had a hungry heart…she was ready to respond to the Gospel. Are you? Have you sought for joy and peace in the things of this passing world? Are you tired of trying to make sense of life, lacking purpose in life, hungry for peace and fulfillment?
Jesus says, “Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”
Rest, joy, peace, purpose, fulfillment—these come by knowing Jesus Christ as your Savior.
2) Second, she had an OPENED heart.
Verse 14, says that Lydia “heard us: whose heart the Lord opened.”
Have you ever tried to witness to somebody who was totally closed? You can’t do it. We can open the Scriptures but only God can open the heart!
You see, there’s two sides of a coin in the matter of salvation:
* First, there’s a DIVINE side of salvation. – “whose heart the LORD opened,” verse 14 says.
* Then there’s the HUMAN side. – Verse 14 continues, “she attended unto the things which were spoken of Paul.”
She realized she needed Jesus—and she acted upon Paul’s words. Have you recognized your need for Christ and are you open to obeying and following the Lord? God will open your heart if you’ll respond to His call. You have to say YES to Him and turn to Him.
3) Lydia’s response to God’s working in her heart resulted in one more thing – a CHANGED heart.
Verse 15 tells us that Lydia was immediately baptized.
When a person believes in Christ and is born again, God changes him.
1 Corinthians 5:17 says, “If any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.”
The first step of obedience for a new believer is to be scripturally baptized. Baptism helps move our faith from the private to the public. When we decide to obey Christ’s command to be baptized, faith goes from being merely an inward transaction with God to an outward confession before men. When we go under the waters of baptism, we’re stating publicly in a very visible way undeniably identified with Christ.
If you’re a believer and you’ve never been baptized, see me after the church and let’s talk and we can make arrangements to obey God in this important matter.
B. Well, we’ve looked at this passage in Acts 16, so now let’s bring it home to our hearts.
C. What is God saying to you today?
1) Believer, have you caught the vision of reaching the lost with the wonderful Gospel of Jesus Christ?
We talk about a vision for a church to reach the lost. But there is no such thing as a vision of a church. The church is made up of people.
So the vision must begin in your heart and mine. A vision of telling our friends of Christ, of inviting people to church, of bringing the neighbor’s kids to church to hear the Gospel, of witnessing to our family members. Catch the vision!
2) Second, Paul and Silas launched out on a venture for God. Have you launched out on a venture of service for God.
There is no greater joy than venturing out in ministry and service for others. There is no greater thrill than trying something new, stretching yourself, getting out of your comfort zone, like teaching a children’s class, or being an usher. God help you to launch out on a venture of service for God here at GBC.
3) Third, have you opened your ears to the truth and your heart to the Lord?
God wants you to be saved today. If you have not turned to Christ to be saved, my heart’s desire, and the desire of everyone in this sanctuary today, is that you follow the Lord’s call and be saved.
4) Lastly, have you trusted in Christ, but never been publically declared your faith by baptism by
immersion as taught in the Word of God?
If not, you are a disobedient Christian. In every case in the New Testament, believers were baptized within hours and sometimes minutes of trusting in Jesus Christ. Its serious business, and it’s not optional in order to move forward in the faith. I encourage you to obey God and see me after the service and let’s talk about it.