Sunday, November 8, 2020 Brad Barrett
The Gospel for All People
I am going to do some traveling this morning, and I want to take you all with me. Let’s go to Europe. Make it Greece. And we will travel to some ancient cities.
We are near the end of a sermon series going through a book in the Bible called Acts. The second half of Acts largely shows the Apostle Paul’s travels as he takes the gospel out. Much of his travel is in Europe.
Here’s a map of one of Paul’s journeys. I find the NT much more relateable and understandable when I see that it describes real places.
This is the main territory Paul traveled in his ministry as an apostle.
Modern-day Greece is the upper left. (Italy is just off the left edge of the map.) Places like Philippi, Thessalonica, Athens, and Corinth.
Modern-day Turkey is upper middle and right. Places like Ephesus.
Modern-day Israel, Lebanon, and Syria are lower right.
Let me give you an overview of the second half of Acts. Chapters 13-28.
Paul and Barnabas went on their first missionary Journey for two years to Asia, specifically the area of modern-day Turkey. Chapters 13-14. Probably 45-47 A.D.
Now in Chapter 16 Paul and Silas are on a second journey. To the same area in Asia, but now they cross into modern-day Europe. Specifically Greece. Chapters 16-18. Probably 50-52 A.D. Paul visited many cities in Europe on this trip: Philippi, Thessalonica, Athens, and Corinth.
Paul later takes a third missionary journey. He traveled a similar path as in his second journey. Chapter 19-21. 54 to 57 A.D.
Finally, Paul takes a forced trip to Rome. He was arrested under bogus charges, and was taken to Rome to stand trial before Caesar, the Roman ruler. While in prison, he wrote four letters that are in the NT.
Today I am focusing on two lengthier and remarkable stories in Chapters 16 and 17.
These are near the beginning of Paul’s Second Journey. So about 50 A.D., 20 years after Jesus Christ died and rose from the dead.
Let’s start reading in vs. 16.
16 As we were going to the place of prayer, we were met by a slave girl who had a spirit of divination and brought her owners much gain by fortune-telling.
This young girl was being human trafficked by owners who were making much money from her.
As an aside: Whether out of curiosity or desperation, the allure to know the future is great, but fortune-telling can be demonic. So we ought never to seek to know our “fortunes,” i.e., our future. If we do so, we may be participating in the demonic.
17 She followed Paul and us, crying out, “These men are servants of the Most High God, who proclaim to you the way of salvation.”
18 And this she kept doing for many days. Paul, having become greatly annoyed, turned and said to the spirit, “I command you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her.” And it came out that very hour.
19 But when her owners saw that their hope of gain was gone, they seized Paul and Silas and dragged them into the marketplace before the rulers.
We learn nothing more about this girl. She was now set free from the demon, but we don’t know if she believed in Jesus Christ.
These slave owners are unconcerned about anything, it seems, except their loss of income from human trafficking.
20 And when they had brought them to the magistrates, they said, “These men are Jews, and they are disturbing our city.
21 They advocate customs that are not lawful for us as Romans to accept or practice.”
22 The crowd joined in attacking them, and the magistrates tore the garments off them and gave orders to beat them with rods.
23 And when they had inflicted many blows upon them, they threw them into prison, ordering the jailer to keep them safely.
24 Having received this order, he put them into the inner prison and fastened their feet in the stocks.
What great injustice was done to Paul and Silas. They set a young girl free from a demon and from human trafficking. What’s not to like about that?
But they are unjustly and severely treated. Even the main town officials, the magistrates, join in. There is no trial. No opportunity to state the facts and defend themselves. They are stripped and beaten without cause. And then thrown into the most secure part of the prison. Perhaps a dungeon. And their feet are locked up in wooden stocks.
25 About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them,
26 and suddenly there was a great earthquake, so that the foundations of the prison were shaken. And immediately all the doors were opened, and everyone’s bonds were unfastened.
27 When the jailer woke and saw that the prison doors were open, he drew his sword and was about to kill himself, supposing that the prisoners had escaped.
So Paul and Silas had just been severely beaten with rods, bruised and bloodied. But now they are praying and singing! They are trusting in the Lord, even worshiping him! As one author said, “If I had been Silas, Paul would have been singing alone!” Would I have had faith in the care and justice of God to trust him to the point of worshiping? Or would I have been bitter, angry, and discouraged??
As for the jailer preparing to kill himself, a jailer in those days would be subject to serious penalty, even death, if prisoners escaped. So he may have assumed he was going to die anyway.
28 But Paul cried with a loud voice, “Do not harm yourself, for we are all here.”
29 And the jailer called for lights and rushed in, and trembling with fear he fell down before Paul and Silas.
30 Then he brought them out and said, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?”
The jailer asks the most beautiful, important question anyone could ever ask. “What must I do to be saved?”
If you have never considered that question, you should. What must we do to find salvation? To find eternal life? To find forgiveness of sins before a holy God?
Paul’s answer is clear:
31 And they said, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.”
32 And they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all who were in his house.
Vs. 31 gives the shortest succinct description of the way of salvation we could ever utter.
Then Paul spoke longer to the jailer and everyone in his house. Perhaps his wife, children, parents, and servants. He explained the gospel of Jesus Christ.
33 And he took them the same hour of the night and washed their wounds; and he was baptized at once, he and all his family.
34 Then he brought them up into his house and set food before them. And he rejoiced along with his entire household that he had believed in God.
The jailer’s actions from a career perspective are shocking. He brings two (apparent) criminals into his home. These criminals baptize him and his household. Then the jailer treats their wounds, feeds them, and rejoices in his new salvation. The rioters would not be happy to see the jailer treating these criminals so nicely.
35 But when it was day, the magistrates sent the police, saying, “Let those men go.”
36 And the jailer reported these words to Paul, saying, “The magistrates have sent to let you go. Therefore come out now and go in peace.”
We’re not given the reason the magistrates, who had given orders to beat them, now want to let them go.
But something interesting happens.
37 But Paul said to them, “They have beaten us publicly, uncondemned, men who are Roman citizens, and have thrown us into prison; and do they now throw us out secretly? No! Let them come themselves and take us out.”
38 The police reported these words to the magistrates, and they were afraid when they heard that they were Roman citizens.
39 So they came and apologized to them. And they took them out and asked them to leave the city.
40 So they went out of the prison and visited Lydia. And when they had seen the brothers, they encouraged them and departed.
This is one of the few times Paul took such action, appealing to his Roman citizenship.
Roman citizens had rights to a trial. So for these magistrates to treat Roman citizens like they did could bring real trouble down on their heads from the Roman government. That’s why they were so afraid.
So why did Paul appeal to his citizenship? It’s possible he was feeling vindictive. But I suspect Paul was trying to bring some humility and a sense of justice to these magistrates, perhaps that they would treat Christians in Philippi (like this jailer, a brand new Christian) better after he left.
As for Lydia, she is mentioned earlier in the chapter. She’s a wealthy merchant woman who, along with her whole household, believes in Jesus Christ and so is saved.
Now Paul and Silas leave Philippi. The first church in Europe appears to have been established with Lydia, this jailer, and both their households.
By the way, about 10 years later Paul wrote to this church in the letter in the Bible that we call, “Philippians.” Paul wrote that letter in about 60 A.D. from a prison in Rome. When we read that letter, we see the affection and love Paul had for them.
Now let’s turn the page to Acts 17.
Slide (map again)
Paul moves on from Philippi. He travels to Thessalonica and Berea, and is run out of both towns due to severe persecution. (Last summer we taught through the two letters that Paul wrote to the Thessalonian church during this trip.)
Now he travels farther south to Athens, Greece.
Let’s read in Acts 17.
16 Now while Paul was waiting for them at Athens, his spirit was provoked within him as he saw that the city was full of idols. .
Idolatry…the worship of other things except the one True God…is a grievous thing. It is like a spiritual adultery.
17 So he reasoned in the synagogue with the Jews and the devout persons, and in the marketplace every day with those who happened to be there.
18 Some of the Epicurean and Stoic philosophers also conversed with him. And some said, “What does this babbler wish to say?” Others said, “He seems to be a preacher of foreign divinities”—because he was preaching Jesus and the resurrection.
The Epicureans and Stoics were believers of two influential Greek philosophies that clash severely with the God of the Bible.
19 And they took him and brought him to the Areopagus, saying, “May we know what this new teaching is that you are presenting?
20 For you bring some strange things to our ears. We wish to know therefore what these things mean.”
21 Now all the Athenians and the foreigners who lived there would spend their time in nothing except telling or hearing something new.
These are people who had too much time on their hands. They loved to talk, debate, learn new things. But Luke’s commentary is that this is all they did.
Thursday I was sitting in a lobby waiting for my van to get new tires on it, and ESPN Sports Center was on. These two guys were debating two NFL football players. They were ranting on and on and on and on and on and…
I don’t know why, but they reminded me of the Athenians in vs. 21. 🙂
Now in vs. 22, Paul is going to launch into one of his famous speeches.
We have to remember he is talking to Greek philosophers. These philosophers know nothing about the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. They know nothing of the Scriptures. They know nothing of God as Creator.
So he starts preaching from a much, much more fundamental place than he would need to do in the synagogue with Jews and God-fearing Gentiles who already have some understanding of creation and OT prophecies and the Law of Moses.
22 So Paul, standing in the midst of the Areopagus, said: “Men of Athens, I perceive that in every way you are very religious.
23 For as I passed along and observed the objects of your worship, I found also an altar with this inscription: ‘To the unknown god.’ What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you.
Now in vs. 24 Paul begins to tell them about the true God. Many of us understand these things. They may even be second nature. But we have to have clear convictions on them.
Others of us may not be there yet. If so, these next few verses are a crucial foundation for you if you want to know who God really is.
For all of us, do we know God like Paul explains here? Do we truly understand and believe who God really is?
24 The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man,
25 nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything.
26 And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place,
27 that they should seek God, and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him. Yet he is actually not far from each one of us,
28 for “ ‘In him we live and move and have our being’; as even some of your own poets have said, “ ‘For we are indeed his offspring.’
29 Being then God’s offspring, we ought not to think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone, an image formed by the art and imagination of man.
30 The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent,
31 because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead.”
32 Now when they heard of the resurrection of the dead, some mocked. But others said, “We will hear you again about this.”
33 So Paul went out from their midst.
34 But some men joined him and believed, among whom also were Dionysius the Areopagite and a woman named Damaris and others with them.
We may have only a brief excerpt of Paul’s sermon, but we see that Paul speaks with great wisdom, revealing an extraordinary amount about who the one true God is. What he says becomes the foundation for the gospel that saves us.
Let’s look back at Paul’s proclamation starting in vs. 24. Consider it. Ask yourself, “Do I really believe this? Do I know God like this?”
- He is creator of the earth (vs. 24), not merely one of many gods, not some “junior god”, the god of the sun or the sea.
- He is Lord of heaven and earth (vs. 24), therefore he is over all. He has all authority, even authority over nations and rulers. He is subject to no one. That is either comforting or terrifying, depending if you’re on his side or not.
- He is not confined to manmade objects on earth, such as temples (vs. 24).
- He is self-sufficient, not needing man or anything else in this world, for he is the source of it all (vs. 25).
- He has indescribable power, wisdom, and authority to orchestrate the time and place of every man’s existence (vs. 26). This is astonishing.
- Even though he is vast and infinite, he wants to be known and can be known (vs. 27).
We are not to believe in God generally. We are to believe in him personally. Even intimately. That is the sense that he wants to know us and be known. This is an extraordinary privilege.
- We are made in his image, and he is not represented by man’s images (vs. 29).
This gives every person on the planet great dignity. Regardless of what nation they are from, what ethnicity, language, abilities.
- He has authority to command us to repent of our sins and seek him (vs. 30).
He has authority to tell us what to do. The obvious implication is that we should obey whatever he says.
- He is the righteous judge of the earth (meaning he is good and fair, not capricious or evil) (vs. 31).
What a relief that he is good. Earthly rulers who have great power tend to be evil and violent.
What a terror, though, that I am accountable to him as are all men and women.
- This righteous God appointed and sent someone to be this judge (vs. 31)
Jesus Christ is the Judge of the living and the dead.
- He has proven it by the resurrection (vs. 31).
The resurrection is not some nice, cute fact. It is proof that Jesus Christ has the authority to Judge all the earth.
I want to take this passage and make some applications to our lives today.
- Rejoice that the gospel is open to all classes and people groups
We should be glad the gospel is open to all. For if it wasn’t, none of us would be assured of God’s willingness to save us.
Just in Acts 16 and 17, we see Paul reaching a wealthy merchant woman named Lydia.
He touches the life of a young girl, possessed by a demon, and enslaved by human traffickers.
He impacts the life of a middle class man who is in charge of the City Jail.
Then in Athens he speaks in the synagogue to Jews and in the Areopagus, the center for Greek philosophers.
And Paul’s life alone shows us the breadth of gospel impact on sinners. Paul himself had been a persecutor and violent man toward Christians. And God had mercy on him, saving his soul from death.
In all of this, we see that the gospel is for all people groups.
We can take heart in this.
And also we should have the same heart toward others. Not simply to people like us, but to people of all classes and languages and social statuses and ethnicities.
Here’s a question to take away this morning: Who is one person I know who is different from me? A different social class. Different ethnicity. Different native language. Who is one person I know?
Write that name down. Begin to pray for them. Serve them. Love them. Talk to them about Jesus.
A second lesson.
- Go deep in the truth of who God really is and what he has done
In Paul’s speech in Athens to the philosophers, he lays out a beautiful picture of who God really is.
We want to know THAT God.
We don’t seek God merely to know facts about him. We seek him to know him. And knowing him does not stop on the day he saves us. That is only the beginning.
Do we know and believe what is true about God? Is our knowledge of God shallow or robust? Do we know him so well that worship pours out of our mouths? Do we know God so well that we could tell others about him?
I can’t give you three easy steps to know God better. What I can do is emphasize what is necessary to get there:
- A tender, humble heart that rejects pride and independence.
- A heart that opens the Bible and looks not for facts about God but a richer, deeper knowledge of him.
- A heart committed to obeying the Lord by his strength
- A heart that seeks him in prayer in our trials. Not a heart that seeks ESCAPE from the trials, but seeks to know him better.
Paul’s sermon in Athens gives us a brief but beautiful glimpse of God’s nature and heart.
The gospel of Jesus Christ that we say we believe is built upon a foundation of the true nature and deeds of God.
Do we know God well?
And then, when we talk to our friends about Jesus, do they have a sense of who this God you are talking about really is??
A few weeks ago we had some friends over, and we wanted to talk to them about Jesus.
After reading Paul’s sermon, I reflected back and wondered, “Did I assume too much about the knowledge of who God is? Do they have any understanding of God like Paul describes?”
From Paul’s sermon to the Athenians:
He is Creator. My Creator. Your Creator. He is Lord of heaven and earth. My Lord. Your Lord.
Do we know this? Do we live like it? Do we know we will give an account to him for our lives?
We are all made in his image. This gives us and every human great dignity and worth.
Do we see ourselves that way? Do we see others that way…. Even others from different social classes and ethnic groups? Or do we see ourselves as inferior or superior to others?
Jesus Christ has been given all authority in heaven and on earth to judge this world.
Do we tremble before him? Do we rejoice with all our hearts that Jesus endured the punishment for our crimes against God? Do we have concern for the souls of anyone….anyone…who does not yet know Jesus?
Let us seek God to know him better, and to know him as he truly is.
Let me wrap up with this.
This God whom we proclaim is infinite and glorious and powerful and just. He is beyond us.
At the same time, he is tender and compassionate. And he cares about souls. He deeply cares about people.
It’s why he sent his Son, as Revelation 5 says, to purchase with his blood people from every tribe and language and nation.
May God help us to hunger to know him better. And then may He use us to tell more people about who he truly is.