Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Thrice Saved

Acts 16: 16-34
Recently I had the opportunity to examine closely the movement of a watch.  There are jewels, stones, wheels, and screws, that are intricately layered together so that we can tell the time of day or night.  There are a lot of moving parts as they say that are dependent upon each other to give us the time of day.   Like the workings of a watch, today’s scripture has many moving parts. 

We are progressing in the book of the Acts following the apostle Paul and the expansion of his mission into Europe.  Today we find him with Silas in the town of Phillippi, one of four districts in the province of Macedonia.  Lydia, a dealer in purple cloth has just been converted and they happen now upon a slave-girl.  Let us now hear scripture from Acts, chapter 16.      

One day, as we were going to the place of prayer, we met a slave-girl who had a spirit of divination and brought her owners a great deal of money by fortune-telling.  While she followed Paul and us, she would cry out, “These men are slaves of the Most High God, who proclaim to you a way of salvation.”  She kept doing this for many days. But Paul, very much annoyed, turned and said to the spirit, “I order you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her.” And it came out that very hour.

But when her owners saw that their hope of making money was gone, they seized Paul and Silas and dragged them into the marketplace before the authorities.  When they had brought them before the magistrates, they said, “These men are disturbing our city; they are Jews and are advocating customs that are not lawful for us as Romans to adopt or observe.”  The crowd joined in attacking them, and the magistrates had them stripped of their clothing and ordered them to be beaten with rods.  After they had given them a severe flogging, they threw them into prison and ordered the jailer to keep them securely.  Following these instructions, he put them in the innermost cell and fastened their feet in the stocks.

About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them.  Suddenly there was an earthquake, so violent that the foundations of the prison were shaken; and immediately all the doors were opened and everyone’s chains were unfastened.  When the jailer woke up and saw the prison doors wide open, he drew his sword and was about to kill himself, since he supposed that the prisoners had escaped.  But Paul shouted in a loud voice, “Do not harm yourself, for we are all here.”  The jailer called for lights, and rushing in, he fell down trembling before Paul and Silas.  Then he brought them outside and said, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?”  They answered, “Believe on the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.”  They spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all who were in his house.  At the same hour of the night he took them and washed their wounds; then he and his entire family were baptized without delay.  He brought them up into the house and set food before them; and he and his entire household rejoiced that he had become a believer in God.

See what I mean?  Lots of moving parts to this piece of scripture, you wonder what makes it a unifying whole. There is exorcism, outrage, a mob scene, courtroom drama, liberation and then finally celebration.  God was really busy in Plillippi that day. 

So let’s take a moment to deconstruct this passage and have a look at the soteriology or the doctrine of salvation that is present in it. What I see in this passage for our purposes today are three vignettes of people who are in need of salvation, and who receive it, in different ways.  This is what binds these moving parts together.

Vignette One
To begin, you have a slave girl who was possessed with the spirit of divination, literally a spirit, a snake, who predicts the future for anyone who will pay her owners.  To be clear this particular spirit was connected with the Delphic oracle, not the spirit of God even though she seemed to recognize Paul and Silas as ones who preach salvation from God.  It was coming from ‘the wrong place’ if you will not a credible source.

Many people came to her asking her for help or about a way to get out of difficult situations or even about their future.  Her owners, I’m sure made a pretty denarii off of her.  Why else would they be so angry as to seize Paul and Silas and throw them in jail?  The sad part of this story though is that this woman was captive on two accounts, she was a slave and she was possessed.  She was pretty tightly bound.

Why Paul was annoyed with her, well we will never really know exactly.  There has been a lot written about that, all speculative suffice it to say he was ticked off and he silences her.  He exorcises the spirit within her and she is freed from her captivity.  Or at least one aspect of her captivity.  And what happens to her?  Well that’s another unanswered question in this Biblical account of salvation.  I have to say I don’t think that her life must have been easy after that because her owners now are deprived of some good income because she has been freed.  What need would they have of her now?  All we know was that she was saved, she was liberated from her spiritual bondage.  The true and healing spirit comes from God, not from this Delphic oracle. 

But for Paul, this miracle he performed landed him and Silas in prison.  And it wasn’t just a cell but was the innermost cell with their feet in stocks.  And yet, they sing at midnight.

Vignette Two
So let’s have a look at the second vignette.  Paul and Silas, but mostly Paul.  Paul also is saved from imprisonment and maybe even death. There are some things that we can say about Paul in this scene.  He sang out loud even from the depths of bondage.  It’s hard to separate a Christian from their love of God through Jesus Christ.  He knew how to make meaning in a dire situation and trusted with all of his heart in the saving power of Jesus Christ.  With God there is freedom even in prison at midnight.  We know that Paul, through his conversion experience was certainly saved.

He was willing to open the door of salvation to the poor jailer who had literally shut and locked the door on Paul.  That’s forgiveness.  That’s living into God’s open and compassionate heart in spite of what has happened to you.  It would have been easy for Paul and Silas to walk away not caring one whit about the jailer, but they didn’t. They stayed put. And as we will see he offered forgiveness to the jailer and a way of conversion to the Christian life.

And lastly Paul could stand on his own dignity.  Later on, what we didn’t read was that he wanted to meet with the magistrates, the same ones who sentenced him to jail on the account that this ‘Jew’ was advocating customs that were unlawful for Roman citizens to observe.  But HA!  Paul was a Roman citizen too which switches up the entire story.  Would they possibly jail a Roman citizen without cause?  So they apologized to Paul and let him go quietly.  He was saved and free.

You can say a lot about Paul but he never wavers and he is confident of who he is and whose he is.  He is the ultimate missionary for Christ Jesus and he believe beyond the shadow of any doubt that salvation with God comes through Jesus Christ.

Vignette Three
And finally we’ll look at the jailer and his salvation.  This poor man, just doing his job and thought he had fallen way short when after the earthquake he saw that the door had been shaken free.  He was ready to kill himself!  Had the prisoners escaped it probably would have meant his life either by the hands of the magistrates or his own sword.  But then he heard Paul calling.  ‘Jailer, don’t harm yourself, we haven’t left, we are all here’.  That must have been a huge relief.

Then he asks, ‘what must I do to be saved?’.  When he does this he is in essence asking how will I ever survive this mess that I’m in?’  When Paul says ‘believe in Jesus’ well that is his salvation.  Simply believe. Just believe. Paul says Jesus is saving us all of the time because our lives are swept up into God’s story of salvation.  Jailer you want to know how to get out of this mess that you’re in, then believe.  Believe that God will find a way to bring you through.  Attitude and belief is ¾’s the battle.

It is such a compelling question, what must I do to be saved?  There are many Christians who ask, have you saved yet? It always gets my goat when I’ve been asked that question.  As if I’m not a good enough Christian, doing what I’m doing that is just believing in the miraculous power of God to show me the way and struggling through life like everyone else isn’t enough.  I think the answer they are looking for is yes I’ve been saved and can wear that robe and crown and claim my seat in the Kingdom of the hereafter.  But personally that leaves me empty.  I want to know how am I supposed to live now, how am I to make the most of my life as a Christian now?

Eternal life is one thing but why worry about that which is so far in the future?  Doesn’t it make more sense to worry the present moment in front of us? After all that is all we’ve really got is the moment at hand.

What is it that I need saving from right now in this moment?  A bad relationship, an addiction, unethical business practices, constantly yelling at my kids, my spouse, or persistent gossip or badmouthing others, racism, latent anti-Semitism, homophobia?  Be honest with yourself.

I tell you these are the things from which you need saving, these are the things that keep you in bondage and from which you need liberation, reconciliation, forgiveness and enlightenment.  These are the things that keep you from living a full and Christ like life.

Working on things that keep you in bondage is the beginning. Being saved is the beginning of fruitful, compassionate  living.  The root of salvation, salve is healthy, safe or whole.  To pour a healing balm on the wounds of our existence is to be healed, it is to be saved and made free.

Three people, the possessed slave woman, Paul and the jailer  - thrice saved. 

What must I do to be saved?  Ask yourself.  Pray about it.  And then believe my friends that in Christ you are saved, you are healed, and that you have the power within to recast your vision for healthy living.


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