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The Lord's Song PM

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The Lord’s Song

4 How can we sing the Lord’s song in a strange land?

                                                                        Psalm 137 4

25 About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening to them.

                                                                        ACTS 16 25

As we saw on Wednesday[1] the Gospel has arrived in Europe.   After an initial blessing (Lydia), and the establishment of a believing community at Philippi – there comes opposition, adversity and then triumph.

Tonight’s study mirrors this morning’s in Psalm 126 – it shows us the dark forces that oppose the gospel, the real difficulties that His servants faced, and the triumph of their faith and that of the jailor’s household at Philippi.

Luke’s account in Acts has taken a definite turn.  Whereas before most of the opposition to the gospel came from the Jewish community – now, as they move into Europe there is a clash of cultures of a different kind – and we see the beginnings of this in the matter of the servant girl in this passage.

Consider the effect the arrest of Paul and Silas must have had on the new believers centred in the house of Lydia.

 

Having waited for the gospel they receive it joyfully – and then discover that to be a follower of Christ means to run the risk of persecution.

 

I want you to consider:

À    The dark forces that oppose the gospel                       vv 16-21

À    The dark places that the faithful must go                     vv 22-26

and

À    The light that transforms                                            vv 29~

As with the experience of the exiles this morning in psalms 137 and 126 God enters the dark situation and transforms it – furthering the sowing and reaping of the Gospel of our glorious God.

6 For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.    2 Cor 4 6

The two stories of Lydia and the jailor are a bright light shining in the uncertain territory of a new mission field, setting the pace for future developments of the early church.  Here we learn again that the forces that oppose the truth are powerful and persuasive, that the result of obedience to vision is often a dark dungeon experience – but that God who binds the dark power illuminates the dark places and transforms the lives of those He loves.  

A lesson for us as individuals – and as a church.

As we look in a little more detail at the story of the jailor at Philippi we can recognise a number of significant truths:

·       The forces of darkness are at work, and the servants of Christ must deal with them. In that part of the story we see the believer confronting Satan and his power.

·       In the second part of the story we see the servants of Christ witnessing to the other prisoners and to the jailor specifically.  The believer presenting Christ.

·       In the third part of the story we see Paul and Silas dealing with an injustice.  The believer must confront the social evils of the day.

1.  The DARK FORCES that oppose the gospel   16-21

16 Once when we were going to the place of prayer, we were met by a slave girl who had a spirit by which she predicted the future. She earned a great deal of money for her owners by fortune-telling. 17 This girl 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 troubled that he turned round 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.

19 When the owners of the slave girl realised that their hope of making money was gone, they seized Paul and Silas and dragged them into the market-place 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 practise.”  22 The crowd joined in the attack against Paul and Silas, and the magistrates ordered them to be stripped and beaten. 23 After they had been severely flogged, they were thrown into prison, and the jailer was commanded to guard them carefully. 24 Upon receiving such orders, he put them in the inner cell and fastened their feet in the stocks.

Such utterances are spurious and must be resisted

At first sight the slave girl’s utterances seem to be an endorsement of the apostles.

We might be tempted to wonder why Paul felt so upset by them – after all she seems to be good advertising.    But that is not the issue.  As it was in Jesus’ time when the evil spirits always recognised Him and called out in a similar way – He rebuked them. The Enemy must recognise the Lord – but any utterance of his is false and an attack.

MARK 1:

23 Just then a man in their synagogue who was possessed by an evil spirit cried out, 24 “What do you want with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are—the Holy One of God!”

25 “Be quiet!” said Jesus sternly. “Come out of him!” 26 The evil spirit shook the man violently and came out of him with a shriek.

To have ignored or accepted the girl’s utterances would have compromised Paul’s position on the Truth.

In stead – after several days – Paul exorcised her in the Name and Authority of Jesus.

The believer must resist all of Satan’s works.    Today, whilst spiritism and spiritualism too are still real issues – especially in some cultures – Satan is ALWAYS busy counterfeiting and attacking the Gospel.  His methods in today’s media may seem plausible – but they are to be dismissed.

The Lord – and the Name of the Lord is still powerful in this sphere.

There was exploitation and corruption to resist

Secondly profit was involved.  I go so far as to say it invariably is.  There is an alliance between mammon and Satan – between financial gain and spurious preaching. 

She earned a great deal of money for her owners by fortune-telling.

19 When the owners of the slave girl realised that their hope of making money was gone, they seized Paul and Silas

It is interesting that the owners of the slave girl did not appeal to the magistrates on the basis of loss of profit!   They chose rather to bring a charge of subversion and public order.    I guess we shall see more of that soon – as we have seen it in the past.

Do we pray sufficiently that those who exploit the evil powers in our world will be stifled?  Do we take a stand against those who see a profit to be made from peddling all the evils of our day – from falsehood and perversion to drugs and immorality?  Or do we let it happen – convinced that we are powerless to act?

Satan’s forces moved on to the legal system – subverting justice

Thirdly, once the demon had been cast out the power of Satan transferred to a different form of opposition to the Gospel – to the law courts and the legal system.

Rome had as fine a legal system I dare say as our own – but it can be and is frequently subverted.  As a result two Roman citizens were wrongly flogged and imprisoned.

Even in a democracy like our own there are dangers that the legal system itself will be subverted and used against the proclamation of the Word.

As we shall see later there is more work to be done combating Satan there.



2.  The DARK PLACES where the faithful must go  22-26

22 The crowd joined in the attack against Paul and Silas, and the magistrates ordered them to be stripped and beaten. 23 After they had been severely flogged, they were thrown into prison, and the jailer was commanded to guard them carefully. 24 Upon receiving such orders, he put them in the inner cell and fastened their feet in the stocks.

25 About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening to them. 26 Suddenly there was such a violent earthquake that the foundations of the prison were shaken. At once all the prison doors flew open, and everybody’s chains came loose.

It is not only the DARK FORCES that are to be dealt with – but also the DARK PLACES that are to be endured.  Such was the inner part of the dungeon.  Not much of a reward for faithfulness – eh?

We are not entirely surprised to find the Enemy attacking at such a crucial stage in the development of the Church.   But we notice that where the believer enters that place and remains steadfast – God will give the ability to sing in the darkness and then intervene in His own way!

Luke makes the point by using the same word to describe Paul’s instruction to the slave girl as of the words to the jailor.

V 18  I command you to come out of her!”

V 23  the jailer was commanded to guard them carefully

 

Many have been those, and many are those who are still thrown into prison for their testimony to Jesus Christ.

The charge may – as in this instance be one of public order. (It is interesting to note that Luke’s description fits the Roman judicial system which applied at Philippi – rather than the Greek system.)  It may also involve the stirring up of a local mob to provoke a hasty judgement.   The result is a severe beating and a high security gaol with shackled feet.

So how do the apostles react?

Surely this was a time to complain?  No – they are singing.

Surely this was a time to lodge an appeal?  No – there is another short term objective – witness

Surely this must be a time for vengeance?  No it is a time for praying and singing.

·        The dark place promotes reflection               v25a

·        The dark place provides an opportunity to witness         v25b

·        The dark place is where God breaks in          v26

The dark place promotes reflection    v25a

 

25 About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening to them. 

Of course it was painful and frightening – but I believe they found the Lord in that cell just a little while before the other prisoners and the jailer did.

Many of God’s prisoners have found Him there.

Like the angel in the den of lions (Daniel)

Like the Son of Man in the fiery furnace (Daniel’s friends)

Like Jeremiah in the cistern

Like Joseph in the pit …and in the prison

Luke’s time note suggests to me that there was a quiet period before the choral concert began!

What do you think they did then?

I think they prayed for help and encouraged each other – and I believe that God Himself found them in that dungeon and they were inspired and uplifted. I know Luke does not say so specifically – but I believe it.

So by midnight they were ready to sing.

The dark place provides an opportunity to witness  v 25b

25 About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening to them. 

Luke’s word suggests the other prisoners were listening intently.

Not only – I believe to the fact of such unusual singing – but to the words they sang.

I would love to know those words!

Were they harmonising?  It doesn’t matter – for this was no dirge or sequence of complaints – but a powerful witness.  Would our singing had this effect!

The dark place is where God breaks in   v26

26 Suddenly there was such a violent earthquake that the foundations of the prison were shaken. At once all the prison doors flew open, and everybody’s chains came loose.

This was to be the means whereby the witness of the apostles would be underscored by grace – where the power of God would hold fast those who had suddenly been freed – where the work of God in the jailor himself – and then in his family – would be proved!

This we develop in our third section:

3.                 The Light that transforms  29~

27 The jailer woke up, and when he saw the prison doors open, he drew his sword and was about to kill himself because he thought the prisoners had escaped. 28 But Paul shouted, “Don’t harm yourself! We are all here!”

29 The jailer called for lights, rushed in and fell trembling before Paul and Silas. 30 He then brought them out and asked, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?”

31 They replied, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved—you and your household.” 32 Then they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all the others in his house. 33 At that hour of the night the jailer took them and washed their wounds; then immediately he and all his family were baptised. 34 The jailer brought them into his house and set a meal before them; he was filled with joy because he had come to believe in God—he and his whole family.

There are few passages in Scripture where the Gospel and its effects are so clearly and so concisely recorded.

·        Light that intervenes

 

·        Light that transforms

 

·        Light that has a social impact

LIGHT THAT INTERVENES

Philippi had seen some famous historical suicides! Cassius, Titinius & Brutus

But this man was not in their league – yet his actions were prevented by God and the voice of Paul.

27 The jailer woke up, and when he saw the prison doors open, he drew his sword and was about to kill himself because he thought the prisoners had escaped. 28 But Paul shouted, “Don’t harm yourself! We are all here!”

No doubt Paul either sensing that the jailor would feel obliged to do as Roman law required – or possibly seeing his shadow against the lights of the jailor’s quarters – called out to interrupt.

The Gospel must do that.

LIGHT THAT TRANSFORMS

 

29 The jailer called for lights, rushed in and fell trembling before Paul and Silas. 30 He then brought them out and asked, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?”

31 They replied, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved—you and your household.” 32 Then they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all the others in his house. 33 At that hour of the night the jailer took them and washed their wounds; then immediately he and all his family were baptised. 34 The jailer brought them into his house and set a meal before them; he was filled with joy because he had come to believe in God—he and his whole family.

Whatever the jailor meant by his cry – Paul interpreted it as a cry from the heart.

The Gospel is concisely stated – then followed up by explanation (32)

Without delay his life – his actions – his whole household is transformed – and

Like this morning’s psalm was “FILLED WITH JOY!”

Our final word sums up the remaining verses in which Paul and Silas are begged to leave by the failed magistrates.

LIGHT THAT HAS A SOCIAL IMPACT

A wrong had been perpetrated on Paul as a Roman citizen.  The law had been subverted – such things cannot be left – they must be dealt with too.

What a comprehensive Gospel!  What a wonderful Lord!


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[1] A study in Guidance and Progress : Acts 16 6-15     

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