The Gospel to the Gentiles
After the Jerusalem meeting in Acts 15, the way was opened wide for the evangelization of the nations. From the meager beginnings we have studied--the eunuch, Cornelius, the Gentiles in Acts 11, we expand now to larger Gentile churches: Syrian Antioch (15:30ff), Syria and Cilicia (15:36ff), Galatia (16:1-5). But the task has only begun...we have heard the Macedonian call...
The move to Europe was not necessarily easy, for the desire of the missionaries was to go in other directions. But the vision was clear: and the conclusion (gathering together) was that God desired to gospel go to Macedonia. This was clearly the work of the Spirit, and now we see clearly what was not so clear to Paul and his traveling companions. The Gospel in subsequent centuries fanned out into all the world from the European base.
In summary of the second journey to this point, we might conclude that Paul and his group were conscious first of the need to establish new churches in Roman provinces where they had not traveled on the first journey. If the first was focused on Cyprus and then on to Galatia, the second revisited those areas and moved northwestward because of the inability to move more directly west into Asia (16:6). At the border of Mysia they were thinking to move to Bithynia and Pontus, but the Spirit did not allow. All of this is of the HS, and the vision also.
Soon they were in Philippi, named for Philip of Macedon in the 4th c. BC. Apparently Luke's home town, Luke knows that Macedonia has been divided into 4 districts, and Philippi is a leading city in that region. They stayed several days, and surely there were several converts, but there are only three specifically mentioned.
- 1. Lydia: 16:13ff. Leading a congregation of women, indicating no quorum of 10 men to establish a synagogue. Jewish backgrounds, worship on Sabbath. Lydia was a God-fearer, worshiper of God. Her household was baptized also.
- 2. A slave girl: 16:16ff. On another Sabbath, on the way to prayer, they met a slave girl, perhaps standing in their way. She had, literally, a python spirit. This is reference to the snake in mythology which guarded the temple of Apollo and the Delphi oracle at Mt. Parnassus. The snake was thought to embody Apollo, and followers were clairvoyants. Others thought the followers mere ventriloquists. Luke doesn't commit to either theory, but observes that her owners were making a lot of money.
She proclaims the missionary group to be followers of the most high God, a phrase Jews used for Yahweh and Greeks for Zeus. Some have made more of this than is here. Salvation was a popular topic in those days, and this may not be as strange as it sounds to our ears. When this happens frequently, Paul casts out the demon. We do not know the ultimate result, but one can wonder if this girl did not become a part of the little group of believers developing at Philippi.
- 3. A jailer: 16:19ff. The fury of the owners of the slave girl led to the imprisonment of Paul and Silas, beginning the lengthiest of the conversion stories at Philippi. Accusations of causing a riot and introducing a foreign religion were quite serious. The owners apparently concealed their real reason for concern (the loss of income), and appealed to the racism of the crowd, so the crowd joined them in the attack. They were severely beaten and imprisoned. While singing and praying about midnight, an earthquake opened the prison doors, and the familiar story ensues. The jailer is aware of his wrongs, falls trembling, desires salvation. Had he heard the slave girl's claim that these knew of true salvation? Regardless, in response to his question, they spoke the word of the Lord to him, and another household is obedient. He believed, repented, and immediately was baptized. Chrysostom pointed out the irony: he washed and was washed. Paul and Silas are invited to the home, as in Lydia's home, and they eat together.
The rest of the story is interesting, for Paul elicits a sort of apology before exiting the city. The missionaries travel on, vindicated and cleared of illegal charges.
Now here is a wonderful story. What does it mean as we consider the gospel to the Gentiles in our day. I was you to see the power of the gospel to bring together different people under the Lordship of Jesus. These people were worlds apart racially, socially, psychologically.
- From different nations. An immigrant, a native girl, a Roman import.
- From different social strata. A wealthy woman of commerce, a girl from the lowest end of society, and a jailer in the middle. The Jews prayed: I am thankful I am not a Gentile, a woman, or a slave. Here are all three categories.
- With different personal needs. Lydia has a religious need, an intellectual need, and is interested in learning. The girl has a social and psychological need, to be freed twice. The Roman jailer has a moral/ethical need.M
I want us to see these things as we end of our brief studies in Acts. We have seen several things:
- (1) The beginning of the Gospel, declared by a witnessing church empowered by the Spirit;
- (2) The continuing power of the Gospel is seen in the final conclusion of the book as the message spreads boldly and unhindered;
- (3) The preaching of the Gospel is demonstrated in Acts 2 in a series of twos--2 Questions, 2 Facts, 2 Proofs, 2 Promises, 2 Provisions;
- (4) The nature of the Gospel is powerful, focused, and motivational. It is from the foundation provided by these basic truths that we have seen the gospel go to
- (5) the Religious and God-Fearers: Acts 13;
- (6) the irreligious, unchurched: Acts 14,17;
- (7) the Cities: Acts 16-19;
- (8) the nations, the world.
The gospel has a universal appeal, still in our world, to reach people of all stations, races, and places. The gospel has a unique message unlike any other. The gospel has a unifying power to unite those who accept it. The epic concludes: they went to the house of Lydia, the brothers....
The brothers in Philippi. A church that will mature and grow as evidenced by Paul's later letter. This is a church with tensions, but in the end they are firm in one spirit, like minded, having the same love, one in spirit and purpose. They are people of the mind of Christ. They are single hearted in their devotion, allegiant citizens of the heavenly kingdom.
Today's world is a world of social disintegration and challenge. The church has the challenge of taking the gospel into all the world. I hope we can. It's power is pervasive, its focus on Christ foundational, its motivating reasoning a reflection of reality. The book of Acts is a wonderful book of beginnings for the Spirit in the church is a power to tell that will not end. The preaching of the gospel is powerful to the religious, the irreligious, the cities, the world.
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Last updated March 20, 2005.