Too many people in our culture have the misconception that encountering Jesus is like going to a job interview – impress the boss to get the nod. Some how you feel you have to impress God enough for him to invite into his house for the big party on Friday night. We wouldn’t all admit it, but perhaps if we realized the walls between humanity and God have already come down, then we’d attempt to discover who he is and what he offers in and through Jesus.
Acts 16 lets us in on 3 characters who encounter Jesus. They all come to God’s story from different angles, non of them perfect, all of them in need.
Lydia’s a business woman who has been gathering with other God-fearers (people attracted to God’s story, but don’t feel any need to become Jewish). Paul finds her, not at a synagogue, where we’ve seen him and Silas go to when they arrive in various towns, but by a river where people (women) meet to pray. Philippi is a (very) Roman city (a leading city they say). It would be hard pressed to find 10 Jewish men to make quorum in order to officially have synagogue. So people intrigued with God’s story becoming their story gather outside the city to pray. It’s here that Lydia hears Paul’s explanation of Jesus and when ‘God opens her heart’ she jumps in – fully committed. Lydia becomes an influential person in the New Testament – it’s her home that hosts the first church in Philippi.
Paul & Silas then meet a slave girl who is demon possessed. She follows them around telling everyone what Paul & Silas are up to. Paul gets so frustrated (annoyed) that he calls the demon out of her. Instantly she is freed from her prison. This leads to some serious trouble for Paul & Silas. The slave girl’s owners are ticked that they’ve lost profit on the slave girls gift (which she had via the demon) of predicting the future, so they see to it that Paul & Silas are flogged, Stripped, Beat up, and put in Prison. Don’t forget that in this part of the story a girl who is troubled by evil is set free by the power of Jesus, through Paul.
In comes character number three. While Paul & Silas are in jail (singing hymns I might add), an earthquake occurs and releases them from their chains. The prison warden is scared of the trouble he will get into and thinks that taking his life is the best option. Paul & Silas surprise him by revealing that they haven’t gone anywhere. This (along with open mic songs on night one in prison) must impress and inspire the warden, and leads him to ask the question: ‘What must I do to be saved?’ It’s worth noting that salvation for the warden wasn’t what we think it to be. At that moment, in his present darkness, salvation meant ‘help me right now’. We know salvation to be about eternity with God. This is true, but salvation for that warden meant something very practical, ‘what must I do to get out of this mess?’. The gospel answers those questions too. The Warden (and his family) are baptized. His life takes a new direction, as did Lydia’s, as did the slave girl.
God’s story is the same, but how we encounter it is different. Our way to God is the same – Jesus, but our way to Jesus is often very different. God opened Lydia’s heart; He ripped out a demon out of the slave girl’s heart; And in the case of the warden, he inspires a question, because of the actions of Paul & Silas, that leads to salvation through Jesus.
No matter where we find ourselves, where we come from, what our bank account says, what our report cards said – no matter where we’re from or what we’ve done – God can open our heart and lead us to ask the question of all questions, ‘what must I do to be saved?’ To that question, it’s not simplistic or unintelligent or even foolish to say, Jesus is the Answer. I’ve always thought that there are more questions than answers, and I’m comfortable with that. However, I do believe that Jesus is the answer, to Lydia’s searching, the slave girl’s troubles, the Wardens fear, and more importantly to your (and my) question about faith and life and God.
As complicated and imperfect as my life gets, I believe that where ever I am, Jesus meets me there. He fixes my brokenness. He is my answer.
A business woman, a slave girl and a prison warden walk into a bar. The bartender says, what do you want to drink? They each go into long stories about why they are thirsty. The bartender says, I have the perfect drink for you…