We are continuing our summer sermon series on the Early Church. Last week we heard how God directed the missionaries to the west, across the sea, into a foreign colony, down by a river – all for the sake of one woman named Lydia.
Lydia heard the Gospel, believed, and was baptized. Then, she became a partner in kingdom work.
That’s where we pick up. Lydia’s home was now the base of operations for Paul, Silas, and their mission crew.
Today we’re going to see how God worked through their mission work in Philippi to proclaim FREEDOM. Before we begin, let’s pray: O Lord, strengthen us by the truth, your Word is truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see, our ears to hear what you want us to hear and our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. Freedom from Evil
Acts 16:16 picks up the story some weeks later. The missionaries had gone back to the river where they met Lydia. It was a decent place for them to meet with people, preach sermons, and share the message of Jesus. They even started to get a bit of a following -- just not one they wanted: 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. 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.” (Acts 16:16-17)
A few notes:
This girl was a female slave. Unfortunately, you read that right. It was the 1st century and slavery was very common. Slaves were used to by their owners for housework, for fieldwork, for work down at the local harbor, and for any type of job that could earn the owner some money.
This slave worked for her owners by predicting the future. She read people’s palms. She gazed into crystal balls. She flipped over cards and told them about whether their dreamy new boyfriend was going to end up being Mr. Right.
She was able to do this because she had a spirit.
This was not a spirit of ambition.
It isn’t the type of “spirit” that gets people to work hard and end up on America’s Got Talent.
It wasn’t a good spirit.
It wasn’t the Holy Spirit.
It was an evil spirit.
This might be an undesirable truth, but it’s true nonetheless. Evil spirits are real. The Bible says that they are fallen angels. The devil was the first to fall by rebelling against God. But he wasn’t the only one. Others followed. They lost their godliness. They became evil. They became demons.
And it’s the truth.
Think about it:
If Jesus said he would rise from the dead…And he did.
Then, we need to believe what Jesus said.
And Jesus said that angels were real.
And so are demons.
One of those demons had possessed this slave girl. While this allowed her to do some amazing things like tell the future, it was a wretched life:
She was a prisoner in her own body.
She was influenced by demonic forces.
She was a slave in her own mind.
But not just to the demons! Her owners didn’t care one bit. She made them money! She was their ticket to the fancy new home theater with the 70” HD TV that they wanted. It didn’t matter if she suffered; she made them cash.
But now she found herself a second job. She followed the missionaries around shouting to the crowds: “These men are servants of the Most High God, who are telling you the way to be saved.” She kept this up for many days…Paul became…annoyed. (Acts 16:17-18a)
That might seem strange. Because if you look at her words, they are filled with truth!
The missionaries were the servant of the God? Truth.
That God is the Most High God? Truth.
They were telling people the way to be saved? Yes, through Jesus.
Why is Paul annoyed at this addition to their missionary team?
Imagine for a minute that someone stumbled into church right now. They reeked of booze. They smelled of alcohol and cigarettes. In fact, they’d been on a booze bender ever since the 4th of July. They made their way to the front. And every time I made a point in the sermon, they lifted their bottle of Mad Dog 20/20, took a swig and shouted: “This guy’s speaking the truth about Jesus.”
Best case scenario? It’s annoying.
Worst case scenario? People leave before they hear the saving Gospel of Jesus.
It was the same thing for Paul. People were beginning to think: “If this Paul guy is associated with that demon-possessed slave girl, then they probably just want our money. It’s another hoax. Time to move on.”
But what could Paul do?
She was possessed by a demon.
She was held captive by the evil spirit.
She was a prisoner in her own body and mind – terrified and corned by a powerful devil.
Paul couldn’t do anything.
Paul 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. (v.18b)
“At that moment.”
Not: “After a long period of time.”
Not: “After a struggle.”
Not even: “After a while.”
“At that moment.”
Because “at that moment” Jesus defied Satan.
“At that moment” the demon cowered at God’s power.
“At that moment” the evil spirit went running at the mention of Jesus’ name.
“At that moment” Jesus freed her.
Free from demonic influence.
Free from her owners’ heavy hand.
Free from her life as a sideshow.
She was free.
Here’s the first truth for this morning:
Jesus frees us from the power of evil.
We had an ant problem at our house. On top of the front banister there were hundreds of ants crawling around near our front door and making their home out of rotted a piece of wood. So, I went to the store and looked at pest control options.
There was a poisonous spray.
There was a baited trap.
There was a good old fly swatter, if I wanted to spend the next 48 hours waiting and swatting.
I came home with a little tube of gunk. (Call it “anti-ant gunk”) The directions state to take the gunk, spread it across the area that the ants will be crawling and wait. What happens is that it smells so sweet to the ants that they can’t help but make their way onto it. But then? It’s so sticky they can’t get away from it.
They become trapped.
Evil is just like that.
It seems nice.
Then, it traps you.
The fun of a mildly racist joke that leads to racism firmly entrenched in every conversation made throughout the workday.
The allure of pornography’s next exciting click leading to click number 178.
The pull of greed’s desire for more – even if that greed is standing over me, like a master – forcing me to work more and more and more…
The initial high of a drug. The chemical induced desire to give over all your money for just one more taste.
The feeling of release from letting your rage on your spouse – a moment you’ll need to defend – by releasing the rage all over again.
Evil takes over.
Evil takes control.
Evil leave us as prisoners.
Jesus lived perfectly against evil.
He died innocently for the evil you have committed.
He rose triumphantly after having conquered evil on the cross!
Jesus frees from the power of evil.
Jesus frees YOU from the power of evil.
In fact, Jesus said this:
If the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed. (Jn. 8:36)
And Jesus did set you free.
And you are free.
You are free…
Whatever evil you’re fighting against.
Whatever evil feels like it’s controlling you.
He is your leader.
He is your Savior.
He is your Rescuer.
II. Freedom from Fear
Unfortunately, not everybody was thrilled with the freedom that this young woman was now experiencing. 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. (Acts 16:19)
Because they didn’t care that she was free from the demon that possessed her.
They were losing money!
It might be like a strip club owner that is losing a dancer.
Or a drug dealer that’s losing one of his customers.
Or even a boss that’s losing a worker’s availability to make him more money on a Sunday morning.
Sometimes when you try to abandon sin, people get upset that you’re doing so.
That’s what happened to this girl. Her former employers became angry and they had some weight with the city. They got leaders to listen to their side of the story…
That Paul and Silas had broken their merchandise.
That they had ruined their income.
That they had looted their business.
And the leadership listened.
Paul and Silas were stripped.
They were beaten with rods.
They were flogged.
They were thrown into prison.
And as they were thrown into prison, the jailer was commanded to guard them carefully. (16:23) So, he put them into the inner cell. The maximum-security part of the prison with extra doors and extra locks. In addition, he fastened their feet in the stocks. (v.24) They couldn’t even stand up to begin investigating an escape route.
The jailer brushed his hands together:
“That should hold them. I’ve done my job. Nothing can break those bonds.”
About midnight, Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God. And the other prisoners were listening to them. (v.25)
“The Lord’s my Shepherd, I’ll not want.” (Psalm 23:1)
“Surely it is God who saves me, I will trust in him and not be afraid.” (Isaiah 12:2)
“This is the Day the Lord has made. Rejoice! And be so very glad.” (Psalm 118:24)
The jailer could hear them in the distance:
How could they sound so free when they were so…NOT!?!
I wouldn’t be like that. I’d be terrified.
I already am.
Because if I were to mess this job up, well…
I’d rather just go to sleep rather than consider the outcome of that.
Suddenly there was such a violent earthquake that the foundations of the prison were shaken. At once all the prison doors flew open, and everyone’s chains came loose. (v.26)
And the jailer woke up in a panic!
The doors are open!
If those prisoners are gone, then I’m as good as dead.
I won’t see my family again.
I won’t see my kids again.
If the Romans don’t kill me, then that angry mob will.
The jailer threw himself on the floor.
He drew his swords and was about to kill himself…
“Don’t harm yourself! We are all here!” (v.28)
The jailer stopped.
He sniffled back a few tears.
He recognized that voice. It was the one that had just been singing to God.
He set the sword down and made his way to the jail cells to find the prisoners still there.
His job wasn’t in jeopardy.
His life wasn’t in jeopardy.
A rush of emotion came over the jailer. His eyes were filled with tears of thankfulness as he looked at the men who had a chance to leave the jail cell but remained.
He spoke: “Sirs, what must I do to be saved.” (v.29)
Because I’ve lived my whole life in fear.
I’ve lived my life afraid of death.
Afraid of losing everything.
Afraid of punishment and eternal hellfire.
What must I do to be saved? (v.29)
Paul didn’t state it explicitly.
But it’s implied.
The jailer couldn’t do anything to save himself.
“Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved—you and your household.” Then they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all the others in his house. (v.31-32)
Friends, the same is true for you.
Jesus provides freedom from evil’s power.
But he also provides freedom of another variety.
TRUTH: Jesus brings freedom from fear.
If you’re a dog, the 4th of July must be on the scariest holiday. There are strange people attending backyard BBQs, their owners’ hands turning into sparking things, and loud booms, signifying the end of the world…all night long.
But if you’re a human, there’s plenty to fear as well.
That some terrorist will be part of an Independence Celebration.
That war will break in America – ending many lives.
That the sickness will end in death.
And there’s nothing scarier in the world than our natural spiritual state before God.
We are sinners.
We are guilt.
We deserve death.
And it’s coming for each one of us.
Jesus removed our sins.
Jesus removed our guilt.
Jesus removed our eternal death sentence.
Jesus transformed death from a separation from God and our believing loved ones.
Into an eternal reunion together with our Father and them.
Praise the Lord! There is no reason to be afraid.
Look at the change in the jailer:
At that hour of the night the jailer took them and washed their wound. No longer afraid.
He had himself and all his household baptized. No longer afraid.
The jailer brought them into his house and set a meal before them. No longer afraid.
He was filled with joy because he had come to believe in God—he and his whole household. No longer afraid of death, because death would not stop him. (v.32-34)
You don’t have to be afraid any longer.
The worst thing that could happen to you in this life, it’s also the best:
Your death means your eternal life. All because of Jesus!
Friends, Jesus means freedom.
Freedom from sin.
Freedom from guilt.
Freedom from shame.
Be free from fear.
Be free from evil.
Because FREE is who you are in Jesus. Amen.