Summary: Luke starts Acts with, 'In the first book, O Theophilus, I have dealt with all that Jesus BEGAN to do and teach...' Now he's going to talk about what Jesus CONTINUED to do. In Acts 16 we have a great example of Jesus witnessing to himself - and Paul and Silas fitting in.
Acts 16 God’s power at work
Let’s suppose you hear God speaking to you, telling you to do something. You do what God tells you. But then, within a short time, the situation looks a complete mess. What would you think? Did you hear wrong? Has God let you down?
Let’s suppose God calls you to go somewhere and share the gospel. It’s scary! It’s such a big and difficult task. What would encourage you?
Or let’s suppose God shows himself to you. You see him in a way you’ve never seen him before. At that moment, what is the key question you need to ask?
We’re on our fourth week in our short series in Acts, looking at some episodes from Paul’s life. Our passage today shows us answers to those three questions.
There are three words in today’s story I’d like us to think about. They are PRISON, EARTHQUAKE and SAVED.
My first word is PRISON.
Paul has already been on one mission trip. In Acts 15, Paul decides to head out on a second mission trip, this time with someone called Silas. Shortly afterwards, they’re joined by Timothy, and Luke also joined them at about this time. The men travel through what is now Turkey. Then Paul gets a vision of a man of Macedonia – Greece, in other words – calling out ‘Come over to Macedonia and help us’ [Acts 16:9]. The men respond to the Holy Spirit’s leading and head off to Macedonia. This is the start of Paul’s mission to Europe. They land in Neapolis and then travel on a further ten miles or so to the large town of Philippi.
In Philippi they are bothered by a slave girl who has a spirit of divination. She follows Paul and the others, shouting, ‘These men are servants of the Most High God, who proclaim to you the way of salvation.’ Eventually Paul gets so annoyed that he says to the spirit, ‘I command you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her.’ The spirit comes out of her. The owners of the slave girl aren’t happy. They won’t be able to make any money out of her. One thing leads to another. Paul and the others are brought before the magistrates, beaten with rods and thrown into prison.
This is the scenario from my first question. Paul had heard God speaking to him, telling him to go to Macedonia. He and his companions do exactly what God told them to and go to Macedonia. But almost as soon as they arrive the situation looks a complete mess. They were beaten and thrown into prison!
What did THEY think? Had they heard wrong? Had God let them down? They might have thought to themselves, ‘Nice guidance God!’ God is wise and loving so surely he won’t lead us in paths that involve being beaten and thrown into prison!
But a moment’s reflection on some of the stories in the Bible show us that it doesn’t work like that.
God told Satan that his servant Job was blameless and upright. But Job suffered in every way imaginable.
Moses obeyed God and went to Pharaoh. But when he did, Pharaoh just increased the pressure on the Israelites!
Daniel was one of three men who were especially noted for their righteousness – the others are Noah and Job. But Daniel’s righteousness didn’t keep him from being thrown to the lions!
The angel Gabriel came to Mary and said, ‘Greetings, O favoured one.’ Mary might have been favoured. But being pregnant when she wasn’t married was definitely awkward!
So, it’s clear that it’s entirely possible to be righteous, to be doing God’s will, and to end up in what LOOKS LIKE a mess. But I emphasise, ‘What LOOKS LIKE a mess.’ In the stories of Job, Moses, Daniel and Mary, God totally turned those situations around. God worked out his purpose and brought glory to himself. Those situations weren’t REALLY messes. In each of those cases, God was in control and he knew what he was doing.
Paul and his companions weren’t moping in prison. They were praising God. I think they believed that God was in control.
So, next time you find yourself in what seems like a messy situation, if you don’t believe you’ve strayed outside God’s will, then remember Paul and his companions in jail in Philippi. Remember that God sometimes takes his people through what LOOK LIKE messy situations. If he does, he has a purpose, as he had in Paul and his companions’ case. Don’t get depressed. Trust in God and wait for him to work his purpose out.
My second word is EARTHQUAKE.
In our Bibles, ‘Acts’ is sometimes called ‘Acts’ and it’s sometimes called ‘The Acts of the Apostles.’ That name has been around since about A.D. 150-180 A.D. But I wonder if Luke would have been happy with the title ‘The Acts of the Apostles.’