Resurrection People - Freedom
This sermon was given by Geoff Pound at ABC on 8 May 2016. It is part of the ‘Resurrection People’ series which is also accompanied by Study Notes for group discussion and personal study. Here is the link to Study 7 which is based on this Scripture passage.
Reading: Acts 16:16-34
An American professor has been in the news for posting his CV on the Internet which includes not only his achievements but many of his failures.
Professor Johannes Haushofer is Assistant Professor of Psychology and Public Affairs at Princeton University. His CV contains sections entitled:
+ Degree Programs I did not get into.
+ Awards and scholarships I did not get
+ Research Funding I did not get and
+ Paper rejections from Academic Journals
The Professor says he’s trying to balance the record. He’s encouraging others to keep trying in the face of disappointment. He’s helping them to see that one’s career path is seldom smooth.
When this ‘CV of Failures’ appeared a couple of weeks ago on Twitter there were some cynics who commented: “You can do that when you’ve got a safe position at Princeton.”
His action was overwhelmingly praised as being ‘inspiring’ and ‘brilliant’. He’s become the new academic hero!
This flurry of interest led the Professor to state his crowning failure. He wrote: “This darn CV of Failures has received way more attention than my entire body of academic work.”
Whereas last Sunday we looked at the successful businesswoman, Lydia, our passage today focuses on a woman at the bottom of the heap. It honestly highlights the apostle Paul’s failures, his setbacks, and it points up an episode when he really blew a fuse.
Luke sets the scene in Philippi—Acts 16: 16:
One day, as we were going to the place of prayer, we met a slave girl who had a spirit of divination and brought her owners a great deal of money by fortune-telling.
Interesting how Christians didn’t tackle slavery until centuries later but signs of this woman’s slavery is that she’s unnamed and her owners were making big bucks out of her powers of divination and fortune telling.
I don’t know what you make of this but the Bible takes a dim view of such practices of fortune telling, psychic palm reading and séances.
It makes a distinction between that which is motivated by evil spirits and that which is motivated by the Holy Spirit. As happens in the ministry of Jesus and in this episode the Bible sees such evil as that which needs exorcising and deliverance.
If you think this all happened in primitive times when people were uneducated and didn’t know better, check out the publicity for the Mind, Body Spirit Festival which will draw huge crowds at Melbourne’s Convention and Exhibition Centre next month.
It was interesting that last Sunday night on the TV show called The Voice - Blind Auditions, a young woman from Brisbane was auditioned. When Claire was asked about her background she was quite open about the fact that her mother was a medium.
Her mother was present as part of her support team. When her mother was interviewed she said that after consulting the spirits she believed that judge Jessie J would spin her chair around and agree to coach her daughter on her musical career.
Claire sang her song but none of the celebrity judges accepted her. This was a snub for the singer and, for the mother who’d made such a public foretelling this was nothing short of a mis-fortune.
This Scripture reveals how the early Christians with Jewish backgrounds were still part of the Jewish community. Jews had three times of prayer each day—9am, 3pm and 6pm—so if you are a fortune teller, good business sense means you place your business as close as you can to where people are coming and going, thinking about the spiritual and the deep concerns of life.
Each time Paul and his team came to prayers this woman would yell out,
"These men are slaves of the Most High God, who proclaim to you a way of salvation."
This shows her insight or the insight of that which had taken over her life.
16:18 She kept doing this for many days.
She did, or that which was controlling her? She sounded like a broken record. But this got up Paul’s nose. More precisely Luke says: “But Paul, very much annoyed, turned and said to the spirit, [not to the woman!] "I order you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her." And it came out that very hour.
The woman had not only had owners controlling her livelihood. She’d been possessed by a spirit that controlled her mind, body, spirit including her voice. Her whole being was taken over! Locked up! From all this she was now delivered.
Was this woman now saved? Was this slave now free?
16:19 But when her owners saw that their hope of making money was gone, they seized Paul and Silas and dragged them into the marketplace before the authorities.
She’d been treated as a commodity. The woman may have been delivered of the evil spirit but her power to make an income for others had evaporated.
The sign outside her tent used to read: ‘Palm reading. Fortunes told, Hypnosis, Crystals, oils, aromatherapy, astrology, tea cup readings.”
Now the sign probably read: “Clairvoyant business closed—due to unforeseen circumstances.”
Her owners were hopping mad. The lucrative business had crashed. Her powers had gone and so had their fortune.
16:20 When they had brought them before the magistrates, they said, "These men are disturbing our city; they are Jews
Interesting to see the impact of these early Christians. Yes, they had the passing of the peace but like Jesus they were disturbers of the peace. I wonder, how much our faith leads us to disturb the peace of others?
One pastor reflecting on this said: “How is it that every time Paul preached he was either thrown into jail or thrown out of town but every time I visit people they give me a cup of tea!”
Imagine the court room with the slave owners and Paul and Silas in the dock. Looking at the fortune-teller woman the magistrate asks her owners, “So what’s your charge? Striking a happy medium?”
No. The exorcism didn’t appear in the charges, just that they are disturbing our city, these Jews. That sounds like religious discrimination.
16:21 and are advocating customs that are not lawful for us as Romans to adopt or observe."
That’s the charge—advocating new customs. Introducing a new culture.
What a kangaroo court this was:
16:22 The crowd joined in attacking them, and the magistrates had them stripped of their clothing and ordered them to be beaten with rods.
We’ve heard of crowd funding? This is crowd flogging!
16:23 After they had given them a severe flogging, they threw them into prison and ordered the jailer to keep them securely.
16:24 Following these instructions, he put them in the innermost cell and fastened their feet in the stocks.
What meticulous efforts to maintain security!
16:25 About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them.
Were Paul and Silas saved? Were they truly free?
They’d turned their cell into a church.
Their bodies were bruised yet they were praying and singing and this didn’t go unnoticed by their captive congregation.
16:26 [At midnight] Suddenly there was an earthquake, so violent that the foundations of the prison were shaken; and immediately all the doors were opened and everyone's chains were unfastened.
16:27 When the jailer woke up and saw the prison doors wide open, he drew his sword and was about to kill himself, since he supposed that the prisoners had escaped.
With the loss of the prisoners the jailer knew he’d lose his dignity, his job and his life. He may as well fall on his sword.
16:28 But Paul shouted in a loud voice, "Do not harm yourself, for we are all here."
Isn’t this fascinating? “We are all here.” Paul and Silas don’t even run for the door when they are freed! Being God’s servants doesn’t mean escaping from danger but always looking for the opportunity to be the voice and hands of Christ wherever we are. They prevented a suicide that Roman honour expected from the failure of duty.
16:29 The jailer called for lights, and rushing in, he fell down trembling before Paul and Silas.
The prison had been shaken. Now the jailer is shaking.
So who are the ones who are saved? Who are the ones that are truly free?
The earth-shaking news is that God’s plans can never finally be thwarted by obstacles put in the way by individuals, governments, judges and crowds. Even through suffering and mistreatment God is making a statement about freedom.
16:30 Then he [the jailer] brought them outside and said, "Sirs, what must I do to be saved?" “What must I do to be free?”
There’s counselling, baptisms, washing of wounds, a meal and great joy all in prison—such vivid pictures of the early church at work. (v31-34)
The next morning the magistrates sent the police to release Paul and Silas but they didn’t want to leave.
Paul said to the police:
“They beat us in public. We are Roman citizens. We weren’t given a fair trial according to Roman law.”
So the police went back with this message saying they’re not leaving until you magistrates come and apologize. So they did and the magistrates told them to leave the city. Paul and Silas are not only demanding freedom but justice!
So the story finishes with them going back to Lydia’s home and hospitality and encouraging the new believers.
We can imagine as they went to bed and felt the soothing cold of the purple sheets on their purple bruises, they were reviewing their ministry in Philippi.
They must have reflected on the exorcism and the earthquake.
They must have wondered about the slave girl? ‘What will become of her?’ Did she become a foundation member of the church in Philippi?
They must have pondered that good question from the Philippian jailer: "What must I do to be saved?"
Yes, "Believe on the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household."
Paul must have thought: “Yes, it’s as simple and as difficult as that.”
Loving God we thank you for the sheer honesty of the Scriptures
For recording the obstacles, the set backs and the opposition that these first believers faced.
Thank you for today’s reminder of the cost of following Jesus.
We also ask, “What must I do to be saved?” Where we’ve accepted superficial and comfortable answers please open us up to further dimensions of the freedom You’ve made possible. Show us the full scope of salvation.
Reveal to us those areas where we are locked up, prisoners to people, captive to the ways of our culture.
Make us true followers of freedom—people who confront exploitation, those who can discern truth from fiction and by the love and power of your Holy Spirit enable us to be instruments of your freedom.
Through Christ our Saviour,