An All-Sufficient Savior
In Acts 15:36-16:40 we witness the planting of the church in Philippi. It is hard to imagine a more diverse group: severely religious, severely enslaved and severely indifferent. These three are racially, socially, psychologically worlds apart. But, what we see in this passage is that Jesus is an all-sufficient savior that applies and appeals to all people, everywhere – even today.
We’re continuing our study through the great book Acts of the Apostles this morning. Acts was written by a doctor, Luke, for Theolophilus (Acts 1:1) to provide an accurate account of all that Jesus continued to do and teach through His people following his ascension into heaven (cf Acts 1:1-2, Luke 1:1-4) Throughout our study, we’re tracing the expansion of the gospel of Jesus Christ throughout the known world and exploring the implications to us today. This morning we find ourselves in 15:36-16:40, which marks the start of the Apostle Paul’s second missionary journey. Its important to continue to highlight that Christianity was born into a culture just as resistant, hostile and questioning as ours – even more so. So, there is much to glean from Paul and his traveling cohort as they seek to spread the gospel throughout the Roman Empire.
Over and over again, we have seen that the gospel of Jesus Christ is for everyone, everywhere. Jesus makes no distinction. Nor is there one type of person, as is commonly believed, that Jesus is more natural to. Christianity is not for a “type” of person or for those who “like that sort of thing”. We see that come into clear view today as three very different people come to faith in Jesus Christ to form the launch community for a new church plant in Philippi (located in modern day Greece). This new church plant marks the first time the gospel is planted in European soil. The world would never be the same. Today we see the incredible versatility of the gospel and its application to incredibly different people in different ways.
God wants to do three primary things through this text this morning. First, he aims to deepen your love, trust and worship of Jesus Christ by displaying his all-sufficiency. Second, he wants to deeply embed within you hope for every person in your life, no matter how hard, distant or indifferent they may currently be. Third, for those of you that aren’t currently followers of Christ, he wants to challenge the thought, “I’m just not the Christian type.” What we’ll see today is that there is no such thing and we are all responsible for exploring and assessing the claims of Christ.
15:36-41 The Mission Begins.
We saw in 13:13 that Mark previously abandoned Paul on the first missionary journey. So, here, on the verge of the second missionary journey there is a huge argument. Luke, the author, is not trying to whitewash history. While he is not condoning the behavior, he is being very honest about what actually happened. If you look closely, though, Jesus even used this apparent inexcusable Apostolic blow-up. How? (1) God used this disagreement to form two missionary teams instead of one. (2) After Mark was done with Barnabas, he went back home, became the apostolic assistant to Peter and eventually wrote the Gospel of Mark. This is incredibly encouraging for those that find themselves in similar seasons of unemployment, disagreement and discouragement. Though it is uncomfortable, God is working. We do know that eventually they were all reconciled. “Get Mark and bring him w/ you, for he is very useful to me for ministry.” 2Tim4:11
16:1-5 Contextualizing the Mission.
Timothy is mentioned 26x’s in the NT, including in 10 of 13 epistles. Paul says of Timothy in Phi 2:20 “I have no one like him…as a son w/ a father he has served me in gospel” But, something odd happens. We are told that Paul has Timothy circumcised. What was going on here? Answer: Paul did not want to offend others, but he wanted to win to Christ. The gospel is offensive, but we shouldn’t be. As they went about traveling and visiting Jewish synagogues, Paul could have said “Get offended if you want! That’s your problem.” But, he didn’t. There is a helpful principle here. What are freedoms you have but God may be asking you to give up for the sake of the gospel? As a newly forming church this is vital for us to work through. God loves us, no matter what, in the gospel. We could wear robes, play horrible music and not have a website. We have freedom to do that and our acceptance by God is not based on those things. But, those things to create an obstacle to the gospel. Therefore we are regularly working to grow in: Excellence (music, design, creativity, communication, etc). Authentic (being real about life, sin and suffering; not merely dispensing 20 minute sentimental talks). Inclusive (creating a culture that welcomes Christians and non-Christians alike.)
16:6-10 The Spirit of the Mission.
“Forbidden by the Holy Spirit” What is this? The simple answer is that we don’t know. It could have been a prophetic word, vision, situation, impression, etc. The principle at play here, though, is that there is a real, vibrant, personal ministry of the Holy Spirit – discernment, guiding, warning, convicting, encouraging, and more. Sin effects your spiritual sensitivity. Eph 4:30 “do not grieve”; 1Thess5:19 “Do not quench the Spirit” Spirit has a voice you grow accustomed to. But, it can be subjective, so its important to be in community.
16:11-15 Conversion of Lydia.
Paul’s common practice, when entering a new city, was to find a synagogue: Jews + God-fearers. But, there wasn’t one in Philippi so he goes to a known place of prayer where he meets Lydia. [Wealthy, business woman. Purple: Rare, precious, luxury, royalty. Fashionista. Successful professional. “Avenues”. Lives: Multi-million condo. Shops: Nordstroms. Drives: Beamer. HH@: The Met. Religious. Moral. Refined. Upstanding. Bible reader. Fashionable+connected+put-together]
We see that the “Lord opened her heart”. We see this as a recurring them in Acts. We must choose God, but his choosing always precedes ours. But, notice this. How does the gospel come to Lydia? The gospel is delivered in the form of a rational discussion. Paul speaks + Lydia listens = clicks. That’s it.
What do you think Paul would have said to these ladies by the riverside? It’s safe to say he would have said something like this: “Let me give you the interpretive key to the entire Bible…”
- Bible ≠ book of rules + people to emulate + random stories + random virtues
- Bible ≠ about you and what you should be doing.
- The Bible rather is one story about God and what God has done.
- Every King points to the One King who has come to rescue and redeem His people.
- Every Priest points to the One Priest who once and for all atoned for the sin of His people.
- Every Prophet points to the One Prophet who declares the Way to God.
- Every hero points to the One Hero who came from a far country to win back his lost treasure.
- Every story of redemption, every sacrifice, every suffering servant, every promised child. It’s Jesus.
- Jesus is the missing piece, lynchpin, interpretive key. Every promise of God finds its “Yes” in Him.
Lydia heard this and she was gripped by the good news. For her it was not a dramatic or sensational experience. Her life was not a mess. She heard the gospel and said, “Yes, that’s what I need”. It wasn’t a radical departure from her old way of life, but really a completion of it.
It’s important to see here that Christianity doesn’t make people religious. Christianity frees us from religion. Lydia was already a religious+moral+bible reader, BUT she still needed the gospel. Paul didn’t see these ladies and think “Well, they’re well on their way…I’ll let them be.” No, instead he thought “They’re religious and they need the gospel.”
Religion is outside-in: “If I please God, then he will be pleased with me.”
Gospel is inside-out: “God is pleased with me in Christ, therefore I want to please Him.”
Religion tells us that we should obey because he is useful, he can give us stuff (salvation, forgiveness, blessings, etc).
Gospel tells us that we get to obey because God is beautiful. I don’t need anything from God, because I already have everything I need in Christ.
Religious people often need the gospel more than anyone else because they think already have it together. Many of you may think that you have rejected Christianity, when you’ve actually rejected a religious version. That’s not Christianity. That’s not what Jesus came to do.
16:16-18 Conversion of Slave Girl.
Here we come across a demonized, clairvoyant, slave girl. We should never just assume psychics/palm-readers are just fakes – though they often are – there may be more going on there. Many people are skeptical of supernatural evil. But if there can be personal supernatural good in world; there can be personal supernatural evil. In Seattle, we tend to think everything that is spiritual is good. That’s not the case Luke is intentionally placing Lydia and the slave girl side by side so that we can see the great versatility of the gospel and its universal appeal.
L: wealthy/independent. Girl: poor/slave!
L: Moral/religious. Girl: Demonized.
L: Seeking G: Attacking
L: Powerful; Girl: Powerless;
L: Everyone would expect; Girl: No one would expect
L: Regional VP of purple w/ high-rise condo downtown; Girl: teenage, drug-addicted, prostitute on Aurora
L: Reached thru reason. Girl: Reached thru experience of power of Jesus.
L: Experienced the gospel as a natural progression. Girl: Experienced the gospel as a complete redemption and release from psychological, spiritual, physical slavery
Maybe this is you. Life is a wreck and you are enslaved by something. It may not be that you’re demonized, but there is something in your life that is eating you up. Destroying your life. Idol = building life on anything other than God. An idol is what you live for. We make idols when we take anything, even good things, and make them God things. Ex. Could be anything: Drugs+alcohol+pornography or family+career+personal agenda. Whatever thing is in the God-spot in our life is the thing you have put yourself under. IN other words you’re enslaved. The truth is that we all have masters, the question is “Who is your Master?”
You might say, “Slavery, really?” Yes. That thing (money, power, control, comfort, people, possessions, career, etc) will control your emotions, what you do with your money, how you spend your time, the direction of your thoughts — in the end it is the primary shaping influence of your identity (how you view yourself, where you get your sense of purpose, worth and value) Jesus is the good master. Freedom is not doing what you want, but entrusting your life to one who will love you, forgive you and shield you. That’s why Jesus says, “Come all who are weak and weary, and I will give you rest for your souls…for my yoke is easy and burden light”
So far, what we’ve seen, is that some meet Jesus thru bible studies and some because their life is a mess. Next, we meet a different person.
16:19-34 Conversion of Roman Jailer.
Here we meet a third character. Jailers were almost always retired soldiers. To be a jailer was to have a comfortable, early retirement gig. So, we can make some assumptions about his driving motivation for life: comfortable, quiet, middle class. His weekly rhythm was probably something like this: Work+home+eat+kids+watch game+fishing on the weekend.
In other words, he was just a blue collar, regular guy, man’s man. He was probably not very good, nor very bad, just spiritually indifferent. Life was not a success or a wreck. He was just comfortable, ambivalent. Not hostile = Just. not. interested. Not the religious type. He probably sounded like many Seattlites, “You do your thing. I’ll do mine…as long as there’s powder @ Stevens, what else could you want?“
Lydia: downtown condo.
Girl: Various motel rooms along Aurora.
Soldier: West Seattle or Ballard.
Amidst the beating and imprisonment, Paul and Silas are praying and singing. Notice, they aren’t saying “If God really loved us” or “We’re just trying to serve!” or “How do we deserve this?” No. Their backs are bleeding, feet are bound, located in the inner prison, probably can’t sleep b/c of the pain and…they sing.
How? Circumstances don’t define them. They trust and love their Jesus. They are safe in Him. Then, God creates an earthquake. Everyone is free. The jailer considers killing himself, as jailers received the punishment that any escaped prisoners were to receive. God moves the jailer from comfort to crisis in a second. The most gracious thing God could do for the jailer – and for us when caught in similar life patterns – was to turn his life upside down.
What does Paul do? Teach, like Lydia? Power encounter, like slave girl? No, he offers a tangible expression of the grace of God. He knew the jailer wouldn’t listen to him. What do you do when others won’t listen? Show them. Paul put his life on the line to save jailers life. Re-paid evil with good. Substituted his life for jailers.
The entire scene was upsetting the jailers comfortable, indifferent, ambivalent worldview. How could these guys be singing/praying – bleeding, beaten, in stocks? How could they suffer like that? They have no freedom, no dignity, no clothes, no comfort – still deep joy, overflowing in song at midnight!
AND how could then then substitute themselves like that? Repaying evil for good? Jailer never saw anything like it. Earthquake served as a spiritual defibrilator, alerting him to brevity and shallowness of his life. He takes in the whole scene and realized “I want the depth, joy, confidence you have…What must I do to be saved?” Begged for explanation.
16:35-40 The Mission Continues.
It is hard to imagine a more diverse group: Severely religious + severely enslaved + severely indifferent. We are not just dealing with one kind of person, but people who are racially, socially, psychologically worlds apart
- Lydia from Thyatira (Turkey), girl probably Greek, jailer Roman.
- Lydia upper class, girl lowest class, jailer middle class, government employee
- Lydia had intellectual need, girl had psychological need, jailer didn’t know what he needed.
- Lydia experienced gospel as fulfillment; girl as radical rescue, jailer as call to deeper comfort in Christ.
BUT each was changed by same gospel. Result? First 3 members of new church plant @ Philippi.
Application for us as a newly forming church:
#1 We should revel in our diversity, not lament it. Never say “But, people here are so different!” Why? Because that’s exactly the point.In Jesus, your identity NOT in race, background, past, season of life, or gender >> but the grace of God. Gal 3:28 “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male or female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”
#2 Consider others in your life right now that do not follow Jesus Christ and ask yourself: Need rational explanation, power encounter, tangible experience grace?
#3 Keep tabs on your hope for others. Christians are not allowed to lose hope! The gospel is for everyone, which means there is hope for everyone.
#4 If you’ve said, “I’m not XN type.” You’re not off the hook. If you’re human, you’re the Christian type. Jesus lived, died, rose for you too.
Do you see what an all-sufficient savior, Jesus is? He is not dry, detached, jaded, disinterested. Rather he is overflowing with life. There is no need he can’t meet, no person he will not forgive, no longing he can’t fulfill. He is a dynamic, living, active Savior. He is wholly other and entirely near. No matter who you are, what you’ve done, or what u lack. Jesus is sufficient. Jesus is for everyone, everywhere = All-sufficient savior. “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved”
Make him yours, because he died to make you His – no matter who you are. Don’t miss this! The SAME gospel and SAME Jesus that created this church in Philippi is alive, working among us TODAY.