20 August 2008

Verse by verse through Philippians (Introduction, part 4)

Our study of the church at Philippi continues. We are still studying the beginnings of this church. In Acts 16. Just to kind of update our story real quick. Paul and Silas left Jerusalem with the letter from the apostles and elders proclaiming that circumcision is not necessary for salvation. They travel through the cities of Lystra and Derbe. They meet Timothy and Paul has him circumcised as a way of showing the non-Christian, still-bound-by-the-law Jews in that city that Timothy was no less saved before they mutilated him than he was after. Paul wants to go west, the Holy Spirit says “No.” He wants to go northeast. The Spirit of Jesus says “No.” God gives Paul a vision that leads him to the city of Philippi. There is probably no synagogue in the city, so they go to the riverside, they meet a group of women praying there, the most prominent among them being a woman named Lydia—she sells purple fabric to the wealthy, she’s from the city of Thyatira, a pagan city, and yet she worships the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Then they get into a bit of a pickle. They cast a demon out of a young girl who was the source of income for her masters. Her masters take Paul and Silas and Timothy to the magistrates, who have them flogged. That’s where we pick up today.

Before we begin, I want to point something out about verse 21. See how these men claimed that “they teach customs it not lawful for us to accept?” Paul and Silas were not just “teaching customs.” You see, one of the differences between a Christian and every other religion--not only do we know that we are saved by the single act of Christ on the Cross, and it is nothing we could ever deserve, or earn. But not only that--we don’t just “teach customs.” We don’t just follow our master’s teachings. We follow our Master. We follow Christ Himself. We preach Christ and Him crucified. Another thing: one reason I believe that the owners of this girl were tied in pretty good with the local government is this—if there’s one thing you can say about the Roman government and the Roman judicial system—they actually had a very good model for a court system. No one was sentenced to any punishment by any branch of the Roman government without a trial. And according to Roman law, what was done here by these magistrates was illegal. This points out a glaring contradiction in the actions of the men and their words. What were they complaining about in verse 21? “…they teach customs which are not lawful for us, being Romans, to receive or observe.” What do they do in verse 22? They beat these men unlawfully. So that tends to make me believe that the reason Paul and Silas were treated this way was because the men who owned this slave girl had used her “gifts” to kind of buy themselves some “justice.”

And you know, we can see that same kind of contradiction in America today. If a liberal in this country knows only one thing about the Constitution, what is that one thing they know? “Separation of church and state!!” Which isn't even in the Constitution. They know it says, “Congress shall pass no law respecting any establishment of religion.” But they tend to overlook that next little phrase, anybody know what it is? “Nor the free exercise thereof.” Whenever these people think there is some danger to their “freedom,” they get all up in a tizzy. But it’s OK for them to take away our freedom. “Freedom of speech—as long as you agree with me.” In fact, the Supreme Court just recently had to announce a ruling that the Second Amendment to the Constitution is Constitutional. So the owners of this slave girl get all upset because Paul and Silas are “breaking the law” and they must be stopped. But they don’t have a problem with the magistrates breaking the law themselves by punishing them without a trial.

So, we pick up our story in Acts 16 verses 23-24. 23 And when they had laid many stripes on them, they threw them into prison, commanding the jailer to keep them securely. 24 Having received such a charge, he put them into the inner prison and fastened their feet in the stocks.

The inner prison was for the most violent offenders. Obviously these men were a threat to public safety, right? Now, this wasn’t just Brushy Mountain Prison they took them to. We’re talking the bowels of SuperMax. Not because these men were any kind of violent threat, or because they were some dangerous criminals. But really, out of a desire for vengeance. But they might also have heard what happened at Jerusalem in Acts 5:19-20, when the angel of the Lord opened the prison doors, and brought Peter and the other apostles out. And it’s almost like the magistrates are saying, “Hey, you remember a few years ago, those guys that were part of ‘The Way.’ You know, those guys that supposedly escaped from a jail in Jerusalem? They follow the teachings of that Jesus fellow. That rabbi that Pilate had crucified. And he supposedly escaped from his tomb? And His followers are supposedly escaping from jail? We got some more here. We can't have these guys escaping this time, ‘K?

So Paul and Silas were put in that part of the prison that had no windows, no air, no way for these men to get out. They had their feet bound. You’ve seen prison inmates shackled, with the chains around their feet. Uh, no. These stocks were made of solid wood or steel, and kept their feet and legs locked in one unmoveable position. Like the pictures you've seen of the 17th Century, when they would put a person in the stocks in the public square, with their head and hands sticking through the holes? Yeah, that. There was no way these guys were getting out. Right?

Is there any place that God cannot find? There is not one place in all of creation, from the middle of the earth to the farthest reaches of outer space that a person can go that God can't. Psalm 139:7-127 Where can I go from Your Spirit? Or where can I flee from Your presence? 8 If I ascend into heaven, You are there; if I make my bed in hell, behold, You are there. 9 If I take the wings of the morning, and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, 10 even there Your hand shall lead me, and Your right hand shall hold me. 11 If I say, “Surely the darkness shall fall on me,” even the night shall be light about me; 12 indeed, the darkness shall not hide from You, but the night shines as the day; the darkness and the light are both alike to You. The cells in this inner prison were made of solid rock, they were deep underground. The only way into these cells was through the cell door, and each of them was guarded. For God—piece of cake.

Verses 25-3125 But at midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them. 26 Suddenly there was a great earthquake, so that the foundations of the prison were shaken; and immediately all the doors were opened and everyone’s chains were loosed. 27 And the keeper of the prison, awaking from sleep and seeing the prison doors open, supposing the prisoners had fled, drew his sword and was about to kill himself. 28 But Paul called with a loud voice, saying, “Do yourself no harm, for we are all here.” 29 Then he called for a light, ran in, and fell down trembling before Paul and Silas. 30 And he brought them out and said, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” 31 So they said, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved, you and your household.”

I've never witnessed an earthquake in person. I hope I never do. I've seen pictures on the news, and home video. I can imagine going through a hurricane. You can prepare yourself and your house for it. You can evacuate. Tornadoes, they're pretty scary. But if you see it soon enough, you can get down into the basement. An earthquake? The ground under your feet is moving. What are you gonna do? And this was no ordinary earthquake. This was God Himself—I believe He literally grabbed hold of this prison and shook it with His hands. You know, I've been saying the last couple weeks that there is no such thing as a hopeless situation. I wonder where I got that idea?

OK, verse 25. But at midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them. If you follow God, if you are obedient to God, you will never have any troubles in your life. And if you do, then you are under a curse, or you have some unconfessed sin in your life, or your faith just isn't strong enough. I speak as a fool. Were these men “confessing” their freedom? Were they “sowing seeds” into somebody’s ministry? No. They were praying and praising God. When Peter and the other apostles were put in jail and beaten for preaching Christ and Him crucified, did they question God? Did they cry, “Oh, Lord, I’ve been so obedient to You! How could You let this happen to me? TO ME!! I don’t deserve this kind of treatment!” No. Acts 5:41…they departed from the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for the name of Jesus. 1st Peter 2:20But when you do good and suffer, if you take it patiently, this is commendable before God.

They're singing hymns, what are the other prisoners doing? Listening. Do you think these other prisoners know God? I doubt it. You know, a lot of times we think about this event and we think that the other prisoners were Christians as well. But what kind of city was Philippi? It was a Roman colony. One translation says it was a "garrison-town." Paul and Silas were bringing the gospel to this city—nobody in Philippi knew this Jesus. They were pagans, and they worshipped the Caesar. And if they were in the inner prison, these were, most likely, some very dangerous and quite evil men. And just as with crucifixion, the inner prison was reserved for the worst scoundrels. Murderers, violent criminals. One thing to remember here—who wrote the book of Acts? Luke. When you read Acts, or Luke’s gospel, pay close attention, don’t skip anything. Little phrases that might not seem important--usually are important.

Like the little phrase the prisoners were listening to them. This wasn’t the Super 8, it wasn’t the Hampton Inn. This was the darkest, dreariest, one of the most unsanitary places on earth. Do you think they had indoor plumbing? A toilet? If you wanted to, you could scratch a hole in the dirt and...well, no I ain't going there. Do ya think they got three square meals a day? Put yourself in the place of one of those prisoners. You have no hope of ever seeing the light of day ever again. It’s midnight. All of a sudden you hear something. “Is that singing? Hey Lucius! Do you hear that? Aren't those the Jews they just brought in today? They sound happy! Who is this Jesus they're singing about? He took their stripes? What is all that about? What’s that about being obedient and dying on a cross? Willingly? Shhh!

When we go through the dark trials in life, the world watches us, to see if we are going to curse God. What did Job’s wife tell him to do? “Curse God and die!” Job’s response? “Shall we accept only good from God and not adversity?” When the world sees that our strength comes from God—they may not follow Him, but He will still be glorified. Believe me, God is glorified in the depths of an inner prison, while we’re stuck in the mud and dirt and filth.

Verse 26. Suddenly there was a great earthquake, so that the foundations of the prison were shaken; and immediately all the doors were opened and everyone’s chains were loosed. Remember that part in “The Ten Commandments” where Yul Brynner comes back after his men have drowned in the Red Sea? He sits on his throne and he says, “His God is God.” I have a feeling that was the sentiment in this building. “The God these men worship—their God IS God!” These prisoners of Rome did not know of a God who helps His people. In fact, they don’t know of a God who considers people to be His children. In Roman mythology, we’re just little ants to the “gods” of Olympus. But to God, those who know Him are His children. Romans 8:14For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God.

Then verse 27. And the keeper of the prison, awaking from sleep and seeing the prison doors open, supposing the prisoners had fled, drew his sword and was about to kill himself. The jailer is about to fall on his sword. If a Roman soldier was charged with watching a prisoner, and that prisoner got out—Buddy, you're taking his place. They would suffer the same fate that the prisoner was supposed to get. Sometimes worse. Acts 12:18-19 tells of how the soldiers who were on guard the second time Peter escaped were put to death for letting them get away. It says, Now as soon as it was day, there was no small stir among the soldiers, what was become of Peter. And when Herod had sought for him, and found him not, he examined the keepers, and commanded that they should be put to death. So rather than face such a fate—and endure the shame and disgrace that would go along with it—the soldier decides he’ll kill himself. And the keeper of the prison, awaking from sleep. It was bad enough that he forgot to lock the cell doors. Which would have been the charge. But then he went and fell asleep, and let the prisoners slip out. Just like those soldiers that were supposed to watch the tomb of that Jesus fellow a while back.

Verses 28-30. 28 But Paul called with a loud voice, saying, “Do yourself no harm, for we are all here.” 29 Then he called for a light, ran in, and fell down trembling before Paul and Silas. 30 And he brought them out and said, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” Paul and Silas knew that this soldier needed to be saved, and wanted to be saved. Not just from the punishment from his superiors. But I really think this jailer knew that this earthquake and the opening of the cell doors was not natural—and was not the work of some imaginary “god.” That this was the work of One who was greater than even the Caesar. Think about it. He’s just been through an earthquake that shook the foundation of this building. And let’s face it, this wasn’t any Clayton Home. It wasn’t a double-wide on a concrete slab. This was very well-built. Plus, all the doors had been flung open and the prisoners had not gone anywhere. Notice, Paul says, “We are all here.” Even these prisoners knew something big was happening.

And what does Paul tell him he must do to be saved? “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved, you and your household.” Remember the rich young ruler? Jesus told him, “Get rid of your idols.” What happened in that story? The young man sold everything, gave the money to the poor, and got a hundredfold in return. No, wait, that's the Creflo Dollar Translation. Paul tells this soldier “Believe.” “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?”Well, you have to go through these classes, memorize a catechism…” No. Believe. Believe in whom? “Well, that depends on what you mean by ‘saved.’ There’s more than just one way to Heaven…” Now, to believe means more than just believing that the facts are true. Satan believes the facts are true. He knows God. He knows Jesus died for our sins, that Jesus rose from the grave and that Jesus is coming back. Last week I mentioned James 2:19You believe there is one God! You do well! Even the demons believe and tremble. If that’s the case then what Paul is telling this soldier is more than just “Believe this set of facts is true.”

So, what is faith? Because everybody has faith. Every single person on the face of the earth has faith. Even atheists have faith. Everybody has faith—in something. Everybody believes—in something. What does Paul mean when he tells this soldier, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved?” John Gill said it this way—that when Paul told the jailer to "Believe," he meant for him to “look unto [Christ] alone for life and salvation, to rely upon him, and trust in him; to commit himself, and the care of his immortal soul unto [Christ], and to expect peace, pardon, righteousness, and eternal life from him.”

We know that Christ was crucified along with the two thieves. The one on His right looked over at Him, and with a repentant heart said, “Remember me to the Father.” What was Jesus’ response? “Today you shall be with Me in Paradise.” (Luke 23:41-43). What kind of “good deeds” did this thief do from his cross? What could he do? How did he get baptized? What, did somebody throw a bucket of water at him? No. He did nothing--he could have done nothing! He “believed.” And if he could have come down from that cross, I dare say he would not be the man he was before.

And that is the faith that saves. That is the faith that saves. Everybody has faith in something. Everybody believes in something. There are a lot of people who will tell you they believe in God. They will tell you they believe in the God of the Bible. But many times these people believe in a God who looks nothing like the one we find in the Bible. The night before He was crucified, as Jesus was praying to the Father, He asked in John 17:3, “And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent.” Because, you see, if someone believes that God exists and the Jesus died and rose again and is coming back—but they go on with their life as if nothing is different, they continue in their sins, thinking they got their ticket punched and they’re headed for the big house in the sky—wrong.

After He was baptized, and after He went through being tempted by Satan, what was the first command Jesus gave? Matthew 4:17“Repent, for the kingdom of Heaven is at hand!” Faith without repentance is not faith. Faith without repentance is simply believing a bunch of facts—facts that even the devil believes. It’s like saying “I believe that tractor-trailer is going to hit me, but I’m not going to move.” You can believe with all your heart that that tractor-trailer is coming and is going to make a pizza out of you. But unless that “faith” causes you to move, it doesn’t do you any good.

We will pick up here next week, because what happens next is the source of some wrong beliefs, and I want to go deeper into what happens that what we have time for today. And we will also begin looking at the book of Philippians itself—finally. Guess how far we’re going to get into Philippians? About 4 words.

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