If you’ve joining us today for the first time, we are in week 4 of a sermon series called “The Call: The Life and Message of the Apostle Paul.” Last week we started talking about Paul’s 2nd missionary Journey… and Andy shared that Paul started in Syrian Antioch with Silas, and his hope on this journey was to revisit and encourage the churches he had founded on his first missionary journey. (MAP) So they left Antioch and by land, they went to Tarsus, and they encouraged the Christians there, and then they went to Derbe because Paul had started a church there, and then they went to Lystra where Paul was nearly stoned to death on his last trip, and then they went on to Iconium where he had been threatened with stoning, and then they went to Psidian Antioch.
At Psidian Antioch, this is where Paul faced road block after roadblock, and ultimately went to where God led him with an open door, 650 miles away to the port city of Troas. And Paul and Silas, and now Timothy and Luke were with them, too… they went from Troas into the port city of Neapolis and then on to Philippi.
And last week, Andy shared about Lydia’s conversion to Christianity and her baptism that followed, and we were encouraged to remember our baptism.
(END MAP) Well, this week, we’re picking up right where Andy left us in Philippi… After Lydia’s baptism, Paul, Silas, Timothy, and Luke stay in Philippi for a while ministering to the people and sharing the good news of Jesus Christ with them and while they’re going about their work, they meet a slave girl. And Acts 16 tells us that this slave girl was the equivalent of a first century psychic. People would go to her and pay her to tell their fortunes or prepare them for their future, but since she was a slave, the money went to her masters.
And in their encounter with this slave girl, something happens that is important for us to hear today. Here’s what we read about their encounter in Acts 16:16-18. – “Once when we were going to the place of prayer, we were met by a female slave who had a spirit by which she predicted the future. She earned a great deal of money for her owners by fortune-telling. 17 She followed Paul and the rest of us, shouting, “These men are servants of the Most High God, who are telling you the way to be saved.” 18 She kept this up for many days. Finally Paul became so annoyed that he turned around and said to the spirit, “In the name of Jesus Christ I command you to come out of her!” At that moment the spirit left her.”
Whenever I read this story, I think wow! What an incredible encounter this young girl has with the power and love of Jesus Christ! In Christ, there is power to cast demons out of someone and free them from torment and possession. This young girl is free from something that has been part of her for potentially a very long time. And now, she has been transformed by the power of God. How exciting. How awesome.
But what we find in the next few verses is a very different reaction from her masters. Acts 16:19-24. – “When her owners realized that their hope of making money was gone, they seized Paul and Silas and dragged them into the marketplace to face the authorities. 20 They brought them before the magistrates and said, “These men are Jews, and are throwing our city into an uproar 21 by advocating customs unlawful for us Romans to accept or practice.”
22 The crowd joined in the attack against Paul and Silas, and the magistrates ordered them to be stripped and beaten with rods. 23 After they had been severely flogged, they were thrown into prison, and the jailer was commanded to guard them carefully. 24 When he received these orders, he put them in the inner cell and fastened their feet in the stocks.”
The power of God… the gospel of Jesus Christ frees people from addiction, from evil spirits, from sin, from death… the power of God offers new life and hope and resurrection… but what we see in this story of the slave girl, is that when we’re transformed by Jesus Christ, sometimes our world is turned upside down.
For this young girl, it’s not just a story of victory and celebration and triumph and freedom… it’s a story of disruption. When we encounter Christ for the first time and when we continue to encounter Christ in our lives, sometimes our plans will be disrupted.
Sometimes it’s the plans we had with our time… sometimes it’s the plans we had with our money. Sometimes it’s the plans we had with our careers.
Think about Paul. We heard in the first week of this series that he was the best of the best among his peers. He was in a good family. He had it all. And then he had an encounter with Jesus Christ and instead of living the life he planned, he ends up getting beaten and thrown into prison for his faith. He probably takes a pay cut to follow Jesus. His plans were disrupted.
I remember my first year in ministry as an intern at Church of the Good Samaritan near Philadelphia. I went on a summer mission trip with the youth group and near the end of the week I realized that all the adults who were on this mission trip used their vacation time to serve other people. At some point in their lives, they would have never imagined taking their vacation days and essentially giving them away to someone else and working out in the sun. But as followers of Jesus, we serve one another and the world around us, and that means a disruption of our plans.
(MAP) We see more this kind of disruption as Paul continues on his journey. After the beating, they didn’t go back home like many of us would’ve been tempted to do, they continued on and traveled from Philippi to Thessalonica, which would’ve been about 98 miles. (End MAP)
When they arrived in Thessalonica, they did what they always did, they went into the synagogues to teach. Acts 17:1-10. – “When Paul and his companions had passed through Amphipolis and Apollonia, they came to Thessalonica, where there was a Jewish synagogue. 2 As was his custom, Paul went into the synagogue, and on three Sabbath days he reasoned with them from the Scriptures, 3 explaining and proving that the Messiah had to suffer and rise from the dead. “This Jesus I am proclaiming to you is the Messiah,” he said. 4 Some of the Jews were persuaded and joined Paul and Silas, as did a large number of God-fearing Greeks and quite a few prominent women.
5 But other Jews were jealous; so they rounded up some bad characters from the marketplace, formed a mob and started a riot in the city. They rushed to Jason’s house in search of Paul and Silas in order to bring them out to the crowd.[a] 6 But when they did not find them, they dragged Jason and some other believers before the city officials, shouting: “These men who have caused trouble all over the world have now come here, 7 and Jason has welcomed them into his house. They are all defying Caesar’s decrees, saying that there is another king, one called Jesus.” 8 When they heard this, the crowd and the city officials were thrown into turmoil. 9 Then they made Jason and the others post bond and let them go.
10 As soon as it was night, the believers sent Paul and Silas away to Berea. On arriving there, they went to the Jewish synagogue.”
After Paul taught about Jesus in the synagogue, the religious leaders stirred up a riot, but it wasn’t because they were trying to defend the Jewish faith. The text says it’s because they were jealous, and it was likely because of their popularity. In their attempt to shut Paul down, they teach us another important disruption that following Jesus results in.
The religious leaders know the government isn’t going to care about theological differences between Jews and Christians, but you know what they do care about? Treason. So they go to the government officials and tell them that Paul is telling people that Jesus is King, not Caesar!
And this truth, that Jesus is King – not Caesar, turns the world upside down because if Jesus is the King, who are Christians allegiant to first? The King? Or Jesus? If Caesar declares that certain things are right and good, but that very thing goes against the character and heart of Jesus, who do Christians follow? Jesus or Caesar?
The answer is always Jesus. Following Jesus causes a disruption in our citizenship. Christians kind of live with a dual citizenship. We’re called to pray for governing officials, Jesus says, “give to Caesar what is Caesars, and give to God what is God’s.” So it’s not that we get out of following the laws of the land.
But, in saying that Jesus is King, Paul was telling them that their primary allegiance isn’t to any kingdom of this world, but instead, they are first loyal to the king who reigns forever… Jesus Christ. That’s what following Jesus looks like.
I was interested to see what the US government said about dual citizenship because even with citizenship in two countries, there would certainly be times when the two citizenships would conflict with one another. And I found on the State Departments website that they have actually have a warning about dual citizenship. They say this: “It is important to note the problems attendant to dual nationality. Claims of other countries upon U.S. dual-nationals often place them in situations where their obligations to one country are in conflict with the laws of the other.”
The same is true for the dual citizenship of Christians. We’re citizens of a country here, but we’re citizens of the Kingdom of God first. And if there’s a time when the government is oppressive, think about Nazi Germany… or when there’s a law preventing something good… following Jesus can cause a disruption to our citizenship.
Let me pause for a moment and say that as long as living as a citizen of a nation doesn’t conflict with following Jesus, by all means, it is right and good to live as a good and active citizen of the country and the state and the county and the town we live in. In fact, I would even argue that if we’re following Jesus and exemplifying the character of Christ in our lives, the fruit of the spirit… love joy peace patience kindness… then we will be the BEST citizens anywhere we live because we will make our communities better, we will care for the folks around us, and we will not stand idly by when injustices are taking place.
I think about England, during the height of the British slave trade in the eighteenth century. The government allowed slavery, and a lot of people jumped on board with it. But degrading people went against the way of Jesus, and Christians fought against it. In a sermon against slavery, John Wesley said this:
“Give liberty to whom liberty is due, that is, to every child of man, to every partaker of human nature. Let none serve you but by his own act and deed, by his own voluntary action. Away with all whips, all chains, all compulsion. Be gentle toward all men; and see that you invariably do with every one as you would have him do unto you.”
Do you think some people got up and left that sermon angry? Do you think he got some hate mail?
But the laws of the land and the ways of Jesus conflicted with each other, and John Wesley had to confront it and work against it.
I think about after slavery was abolished, but Jim Crow laws were enacted and forced segregation was legal in our country… and the opposition that civil rights leaders in America faced in the 20th century.
The laws of the land and the ways of Jesus conflicted with each other, but for Christians, Jesus is the King, not Caesar. So Martin Luther King Jr and others confronted it.
When we follow Jesus, we have a disruption to our citizenship. We live loyal to the country where we reside as much as possible, but sometimes it might be necessary to live in conflict to it.
And that’s what Paul did, and it ended in a riot and he got run out of town by a mob. And then Paul just kept on going on his journey.
(MAP) We’re told that in the night, Paul and Silas snuck out of the town and moved on to Berea. From Berea, they went to Athens and from Athens, they travelled about 50 miles to Corinth. (END MAP)
(Corinth 1) Now, it’s estimated that 250,000 people lived in Corinth when Paul was there, and what I want you notice on this map is that Corinth was such a large place because it was strategically located between the Greek mainland and this little chunk of land here called the Peloponnese. (Corinth 2)Right in this area, in Corinth, there was a point where the land was only 4 miles wide… and people found out that if somehow they could get their ships out of the water and somehow carry it across the land, they could save a few days at sea and they would avoid some of the uncertainty and danger of the waters in that region.
(Corinth 3)So centuries earlier, they had built a kind of track, and the ships crews could hoist their boat onto a cart and then with enough people, they could pull it the 4 miles distance.
This intersection resulted in a large influx of people, great wealth, and they had a kind of tourism industry because the sailors who were taking their ships over the Isthmus usually got a day off, and so they needed to be entertained.
And so in Corinth, two businesses exploded with popularity. Taverns and brothels.
And quickly, Corinth became synonymous with having loose morals. During this time period, if you were a person with loose morals, you were referred to as a Corinthian.
And so Paul goes here and spend 18 months with this church. And he goes into the synagogue and preaches and teaches. People follow Jesus and he gathers the Christians together. And as he’s pastoring this church, he has to address the issue of prostitution and loose morals in the town and in the church. And we see in his letters to the church that he has to keep addressing these issues. And the reason he has to keep dealing with these issues is because the whole town has been permeated with a culture that says anything goes when it comes to sexuality. In his letters we get the impression that Christians were doing the whole church thing at the appropriate times, but they were visiting prostitutes during the week.
Paul has to address it so much because it’s the status quo they’re living in. Everyone else is doing it, so the Christians were too. But Paul says to this anything goes culture following Jesus disrupts the status quo of the culture we find ourselves in. Not that the church needs to go around stopping other people outside the church from acting in the status quo, but the individuals in the church couldn’t just act like the culture around them.
In some ways we have a culture like that today, too. Stuff that you used to have to go to a sleazy part of town to watch or look at is available on all of our computers, and smartphones, and tablets.
If you watch much popular TV, you would think that hook-up culture or friends with benefits is the most normal and natural and good thing for us.
It’s not just pornography and hook up culture though, the status quo that Jesus disrupts has to do with anything that “everybody does” but that conflicts with the character of Jesus and the fruit of the Spirit. It has to do with things like cheating on taxes. People who follow Jesus don’t lie, cheat, or steal… even when everyone else around them is doing it. Cheating on our taxes might help us save up money to buy a new boat faster, but following Jesus messes up our status quo.
I think about Christians who abstain from alcohol because they know that if they have one they won’t be able to stop there. That messes up the status quo.
Sometimes lying might keep us out of trouble, but to the Christian, that doesn’t matter. What Pauls saying to the Corinthians and he’s saying to us… we don’t look at the world around to figure out acceptable behavior… we need to look to the character and heart of God. And if our justification for something is “it’s normal… everyone else is doing it…” we might need to check ourselves, and allow Jesus to disrupt our status quo.
I want to take a moment as we close to talk about a reality that we face when we allow Jesus to disrupt our lives. When Paul encountered the slave girl and through him she encountered Jesus, their plans were disrupted, but that led to Paul and Silas being beaten, flogged and imprisoned.
When Paul proclaimed the truth in the synagogue in Thessalonica, a mob attacked them.
When we allow our lives to be disrupted by Jesus, sometimes things aren’t going to turn out well for us. Sometimes, when Jesus disrupts our lives, it might lead to adversity or suffering in our lives.
If the Corinthians allow Jesus to disrupt their status quo, they might not fit in with their old friends anymore. They might be ridiculed.
When Martin Luther King Jr. allowed Jesus to disrupt his citizenship which caused him to fight against the oppression in his country, it cost him his life.
A few weeks ago, the church mission team was helping out a family in snow shoe and they put in a new kitchen floor for this family. Now, imagine that as they were finishing up the project, they were kidnapped and beaten and flogged and thrown in a jail cell.
What would their response be? Are they celebrating? Are they thankful to God? I’m guessing that if I were in the prison cell after being beaten nearly to death, I’d be saying, “God I did this mission trip for you. Why did you let this happen to me?
Often when we face adversity, we get angry with God. Sometimes we’re convinced that if we follow Jesus, everything is going to be great for us. He’ll keep us safe, he won’t let anything bad happen to us.
But that’s not what we read in the Bible. Paul and Silas are nearly beaten to death and imprisoned. Jesus is crucified. The Bible doesn’t say we’ll be safe, but that’s what we assume.
So, God I tithe to the church every month… I’m in a small group… I serve at the Christmas dinner. And then I get cancer? Come on God. Where’s the fairness in that?
The reality is we live in bodies that aren’t perfect and sometimes cells mess up and we get cancer. We live in a fallen world where bad people do bad things to good people. We drive cars and sometimes they’ll go haywire and we’ll slip on the road and something terrible will happen. That’s the world we live in. It’s part of the risk we take as humans.
Here’s the thing, when those bad things happen, you can turn away from God. Many people do. We can get angry with God because he didn’t fulfill what we thought he was going to do.
But what I want us to notice is that Paul and Silas didn’t get angry with God, they turned to God. They’re locked in their prison cell, in pain from the beatings, and here’s what we see happens: Acts 16:25. – “About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening to them.”
What a powerful scene. They’re locked up after being beaten almost to death and they’re turning to God, singing songs to him.
How do we respond? When we find ourselves in those darkest moments, whether it’s from the impact of having our life disrupted, or illness, or accident, or seasons of depression? How do we respond?
What we find is that when we turn to God we find hope and strength and comfort and help. It’s easy to turn away from God, but we won’t find anything there. I want us to turn to God in times of adversity. Because there we will find what we really need.
Following Jesus is never pitched in the Bible as the easy way of life. Paul certainly knew that since he faced obstacles and opposition through much of his Christian life. But Paul shows us that even in the face of adversity, even when our lives are turned upside down by the gospel, even when we experience this type of disruption, following Jesus is the only way. In Christ we have fullness of life now and everlasting life when we die.
Called To Suffer
1. Paul’s encounter with the slave-girl shows us that following Jesus disrupts our ____________. (Acts 16:16-24)
- In what ways has following Jesus already disrupted your plans with your money, time, energy, etc.?
- What is God calling you to as you continue in faith?
- How might God need to continue to have your plans disrupted in order for you to follow his call on your life?
2. When the religious leaders in Thessalonica took Paul in front of the government officials, we learn that following Jesus disrupts our ________________. (See Acts 17:1-9)
- Think through history. When did Christians work against the laws and the work of the ruling authority in order to prevent injustices from taking place?
- If you were living during those times, would you have worked to prevent injustices? What would that kind of response require of you?
3. Paul’s reaction to the “anything goes” culture of Corinth teaches us that following Jesus disrupts the _____________.
- What status quo practices in our culture conflict with the life Jesus calls us to?
- How can you encourage a Christian friend/family member in their walk with Christ?
4. In the prison cell, Paul and Silas teach us that in our suffering we can turn ______________.
- What would you be thinking if you were sitting in that prison cell with Paul?
- Read Psalm 46. How might these words offer you encouragement in adversity?