I run into people all the time who say things like, “Pastor, I don’t know a lot about the Bible. My parents used to drop me off for Sunday School when I was a kid, but I’ve been away for a while, and I’m looking to get back to church. I want this for my children too. I know it’s important. I’ve never read the Bible much, so I guess I want it for me too.”
When I hear things like that – I want to jump for joy! We live in an age of growing skepticism about God – about Jesus Christ – about the Bible. And to make things worse – we live in a time when we are bombarded by 24 hour news programs – radio – TV – internet blogs – and most of the news we hear is what we would call bad news.
It’s almost as though there is a famine. And the famine has nothing to do with food. To me, there is a famine today for Good News! People are starving these days for Good News in their lives – given to them in words and in ways that they can see, and hear, and understand.
Now you know that the church – you know that this church – is a Good News place. I think one of the biggest crimes any preacher – including myself – can do is to be boring. I think one of the worst things any church – including this church – can do is to be inhospitable. Especially when there’s a famine for the word of God – a famine for Good News. People want to hear it. People want to see it.
Now ours certainly is not the only generation in which this famine has occurred. All you have to do is read the Gospels. Just follow the lives of the disciples – particularly the life of Paul in the book of Acts – and you’ll find that the world in which those first Christians lived experienced a spiritual famine too.
And that’s where our story begins today in our reading from the book of Acts. Paul and his traveling companions Silas, Timothy and Luke, have crossed over from what is now modern day Turkey into Greece. They have arrived at a place called Philippi. There they share their faith – there they share the Good News of Jesus Christ – crucified and risen from the dead.
Did they win over the entire city? No. But they did have a successful start. In fact the first European to become a believer – as far as we know – is a woman by the name of Lydia. She and her entire household hear the Good News, and are baptized. So satisfied is Lydia with the Good News she has heard, she invites Paul and his companions to stay with her. Lydia’s offer of hospitality creates the first house church, where this tiny but growing flock can be taught and nurtured. It also gives them a base of operations -- a place from which the Good news of Jesus Christ goes forth.
Well, things are going fine until one day – Paul and Silas get into trouble. You see, there is this slave girl who the Bible says, has a “spirit of divination.” This girl – this slave – is a fortune teller, and she earns a lot of money for her owners through her fortune telling.
Following after Paul and company day after day she cries out, “These men are slaves of the Most High God, who proclaim to you “a” way of salvation.” Well, after several days of this, Paul becomes annoyed. He addresses this spirit of divination in her and says, “In the name of Jesus Christ, I order you to come out of her.” And it did.
But alas, now her fortune telling days are over. She no longer is a source of income for her owners. So what do they do? They seize Paul and Silas and drag them before the magistrates of the city. “These men are disturbing the city.” (A lie, but never mind that.) “They are Jews and are advocating customs that are not lawful for us as Roman to adopt or observe.” (Another lie, but never mind that too.) As a result, they are stripped, beaten, and thrown into prison.
Now folks, how do you think you would respond if that were to happen to you? You’ve been lied about, stripped and beaten, thrown into prison, your feet locked in stocks. Every painful breath reminds you of the beating you’ve just received. Your ribs are cracked. Your kidneys are bruised. Your back aches. Your legs are cramped. It’s cold and damp. Rats run across the floor in the dark.
Did I make it sound gruesome enough?
How do you feel? Feel like ... singing? Listen to what Paul and Silas do next:
“About midnight, Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns of praise to God, and the prisoners were listening to them.”
In the midst of their pain, they’re praising God. In other words – they’re making that jailhouse rock. And if that weren’t enough, an earthquake hits – an example of God’s perfect timing by the way – and that jailhouse really starts to rock. The foundation is shaken. The doors are opened. Chains are unfastened.
Imagine the jailer’s panic. He is responsible for all of those prisoners. Suddenly, they are all free! Will they kill him in revenge? Will his captain do the job as punishment for letting them escape? He decides to save them all the trouble, and just as he is about to plunge his sword into himself, Paul cries out,
“Do not harm yourself. We are all here.”
What happens next is simply amazing. The jailer goes to Paul and Silas, falls down on his knees, and asks, “What must I do to be saved?” Obviously, he’s been listening to Paul and Silas as they make that jailhouse rock with their prayers and songs. Who knows, perhaps he had even heard Paul preaching on the streets of Philippi. Whatever, what Paul and Silas did was far more important than what they said. They cared for the jailer’s welfare. They cared about his life. They literally save the jailer’s life. “Do not harm yourself. We are all here.”
Paul and Silas by their words and their actions reveal the mercy of Christ. They reveal the compassion of Christ, and the jailer, well, the jailer was hungry for more. He was hungry for good news. “What must I do to be saved?” And the answer? “Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved. Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved – you and your household.”
When you get home, I want you to take and circle that verse in your Bible. Circle it as God’s promise to you. To you and your household. “Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved.” Acts 16:31.
The jailer took these men to his home, and he bathed their wounds. They in turn bathed him and his entire household in the waters of baptism.
The Bible is full of stories just like this one – about people like Lydia and the Philippian jailer – people hungry for Good News. People starving for the Word of God. And God, in God’s own way, and in God’s own timing, brings the Word to them.
People are no less hungry – no less starving – for Good News today. As I said earlier, one of the worst crimes preachers and churches can commit is to be boring, inhospitable, and uncaring. Folks, if you ever feel that I am boring you, please let me know. It might mean that it’s time for me to find another line of work. Because God’s Word is not boring. It’s Good News. And we are Good News people!
And by the way – we need to be hospitable people. Lydia and the Philippian jailer not only heard and believed the Good news Paul proclaimed to them, but they in turn immediately practiced the ministry of hospitality.
We are a hospitable church. But I think we can always do better. More and more people are coming to this church for the first time all the time. By the way – if you are a first or second time guest with us today – I want you to know that we’ve been expecting you and praying for you – and we’re glad that you are here with us today.
But it’s the job of all the rest of us to be hospitable. So say hello to someone you don’t know. Introduce yourself by name – and say something like, “I don’t believe we’ve met,” and let the conversation go from there. People are hungry for the Word of God. And they are looking to be fed – not only by what we say – but also by how we welcome them and by what we do.
Centuries ago, Paul and Silas– and all the others in that jail – with a little help from an earthquake – were all shook up. And with their prayers and singing – they made that jailhouse rock. The jailer heard their prayers and their singing – but then he also saw the integrity of their actions that were the result of their great faith. He saw that they not only talked the talk, but they walked the walk. He said to himself, “I want what they’ve got. I want to be one of God’s people too!”
Folks – people today are just as hungry for good news – just as hungry for the Word of God. So any time we can make this church rock, let’s do it! Let’s get people all shook up! We have Good News to share. So let’s do it!
Let’s tell it!
Let’s live it!
Let’s be it!
Let’s do it!
God is doing a wonderful thing among us. And that’s Good News – Good News that people need to hear! Amen