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Always Prepared

Date: 13 August 2023

Speaker: Ps Luwin Wong

Sermon Text: Acts 16:11- 40

13Aug23 Herald
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His name is Nirma Purja, known simply as Nims. An ex-Gurkha in the British Special Forces. There are 14 mountains on earth with peaks standing at over 8,000m above sea level. In 2013, South Korean mountaineer, Kim Chang Ho, conquered all 14 mountains in a record breaking time of 7 years and 10 months and 6 six days. In 2019, Nims climbed them all in 6 months and 6 days.

He has ascended Mount Everest 6 times. I once climbed 9 storeys to get to SKS, to avoid queuing up for the lift. 9 floors. When I reached the summit, I told myself “Never again. Next time, just wait for the lift.” He climbed Everest 6 times.

Nims is the closest a human being can get to a true mountain climber. But yet, in order to climb mountains, he has a lot of preparation to do. He has to train, he has to assemble a team of climbers, he needs his climbing gear, his jacket, his boots, his gloves, his ice pick, his supplemental oxygen tank, his pretty cool-looking sunglasses. And he needs to have his breakfast before he sets out for the climb.

Let me introduce you to another mountain climber. He is known as the Snow Leopard. This fella climbs mountains to look for breakfast, no prep, zero gear, he just wakes up and does it.

What’s the difference between Nims and the Snow Leopard? The differences is that for the snow leopard, climbing is in his DNA, it is his very nature – he lives and breathes the icy air of the mountains.

Christians describe conversion as a being “born again”. We are a new creation, we have a new self, we have, in conversion, been given a new nature.

And what does this new nature entail?

1 Peter 2:9 describes it this way:

But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.

Christians are proclaimers. It’s who we are. It’s what we do. As we have seen throughout Acts, it is why the Spirit was given to us. Evangelism is not simply a pursuit, or a hobby, or an event in our calendar. No, the Christian life is one in which we walk, and we live, and we breathe the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Does that describe your life? Is there a compartmentalisation in your life where spiritual pursuits and religious duty is confined to after-work hours and on the weekends? Or perhaps not even that. Just between 9:30am – 11:00am on Sundays maybe?

It’s easy for you to say Luwin, you’re a pastor, your day job is religious work. You have no idea what it’s like for the rest of us. Well, try it. Intern with me at the church office, reply emails, plan events, prepare sermons, attend session meetings, and see how spiritual you feel about it all after a while.

The temptation to compartmentalise our lives, to draw a line between the secular and the sacred, to confine the spiritual aspect of our lives to specific pockets of time in our week – that temptation is not something that is only found outside the walls of the church, in the marketplace where you work, no it’s not found out there, it’s found in here, it’s found in our hearts.

It’s found in the heart of a civil servant, in the heart of a doctor, in the heart of an accountant, as well as in the heart of a pastor.

I remember being on holiday, we were at the hotel having our buffet breakfast, and I was on my phone and my goddaughter Kianna, asked, “what are you reading?” And I said, I’m just catching up on some football news. And she said “If you’re a pastor, shouldn’t you be reading your bible more, I never see you reading your bible.”

What was I to say, “Hey hullo, I’m on leave, on holiday leh, gimme a break man.” No, that’s not right. Being a pastor is more than an occupation, it’s a way of life, we don’t get to take off from the priorities and practices and passions of a pastor. Even a 9 year old knows that intuitively. But what I hope we see, is that this isn’t unique to the pastorate. Being a Christian is not an occupation, it’s a way of life, it’s a way of being, it’s inheriting a new nature – we don’t ever get to take a break from being a Christian. It’s who we are.

And Peter is right and Christians are proclaimers, then we never get to take break from proclaiming.

And our passage today will tell us why this is important. It’s important because salvation through the proclamation of the Word can happen to anyone, at anytime, anywhere. So we the proclaimers, must be prepared to proclaim to anyone, at anytime, anywhere we may happen to be.

Let’s look at our text.

ACTS 16:14-15 14 One who heard us was a woman named Lydia, from the city of Thyatira, a seller of purple goods, who was a worshiper of God. The Lord opened her heart to pay attention to what was said by Paul.
15 And after she was baptized, and her household as well, she urged us, saying, “If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come to my house and stay.” And she prevailed upon us.

Paul’s first recorded convert in the city of Philippi was a woman by the name of Lydia. She was unique as a gentile, because she worshipped the God of Israel. The other but of information concerning Lydia which Luke records for us is her profession. She was a seller of purple goods, which is an upmarket product, because purple dye was costly at the time. Luke means to inform the reader that Lydia was an affluent woman. The Lord opened her heart to receive the gospel message, and she believed and was baptisted. The first of Paul’s convert in the city.

Here's the second convert on record.

ACTS 16:29-34 29 And the jailer called for lights and rushed in, and trembling with fear he fell down before Paul and Silas…
32 And they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all who were in his house. 33 And he took them the same hour of the night and washed their wounds; and he was baptized at once, he and all his family. 34 Then he brought them up into his house and set food before them. And he rejoiced along with his entire household that he had believed in God.

The second person could not be more different. Unlike Lydia, he is unnamed. He was a jailer. A lowly position, menial work that is often done by slaves. He had attempted to take his own life when an earthquake shattered the prison. He knew it wasn’t his fault that the prisoners escaped, but he knew the powers that be wouldn’t care, his life was of little value to society. He was replaceable.

But he too, heard the word and believed and was baptised. He too, like the wealthy Lydia, was saved. Why, because salvation can come to anyone.

And it can happen at any time.

ACTS 16:13 13 And on the Sabbath day we went outside the gate to the riverside, where we supposed there was a place of prayer …

It can happen on the Sabbath, a holy day set apart for worship, where the word of God is regularly preached, and people are regularly converted. It is the reason why even today we typically invite non-believers to Sunday service, because it is a time when Christ is proclaimed. And it is the reason why many churches have an “altar call” during the Sunday Service, because it is a time when people are typically converted. Paul and Silas was ready to proclaim on the Sabbath, the traditional time of worship.

But it can happen outside of the standard worship service timing too.

ACTS 16:25-26 25 About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them, 26 and suddenly there was a great earthquake, so that the foundations of the prison were shaken.

It can happen at midnight. Not a time you would typically organise an evangelistic event. But Paul and Silas managed to accomplish just that. Paul were praying and singing hymns to God at midnight! I mean, forget prison. I’ve been to many church camps, and at midnight, even on church camps, if you weren’t sleeping, you were playing board games, or you were having supper. If the prayer ministry organised a prayer and praise session at midnight at our church camp next year, the hall would be empty, save for Dns Malar and maybe the BOE. Maybe.

The youths and young adults had their prayer and praise event last night. They’re a good bunch, no way it stretched till midnight.

But during their midnight worship session, Luke recorded that sudden, an earthquake occurred which shook the foundations of the prison, and opened all the prison doors and unshackled all the prisoners. Now, I’ve never experienced an earthquake in my life, but I highly doubt that’s a normal consequence of an earthquake. Doors opening and shackles unfastening. It’s a bit too convenient, you could describe it as a miracle, as supernatural.

So, witnessing the worship and the results earthquake, the Philippian jailer put two and two together and asked Paul and Silas, “How can I be saved?” And they took the opportunity to share Christ with the jailer and his family. Because for Paul and Silas, worship happens all the time, even outside of the Sabbath. And they were always ready to proclaim Christ, which is a good thing, because salvation can happen to anyone at anytime.

And it can happen anywhere.

ACTS 16:13 13 And on the Sabbath day we went outside the gate to the riverside, where we supposed there was a place of prayer, and we sat down and spoke to the women who had come together.

It can happen at a place of prayer. Paul’s custom in his missionary travels was to begin his preaching in a synagogue. It requires a quorum of 10 Jewish men to establish a synagogue, which apparently could not be found in the Gentile city of Philippi, so he had to find a place of prayer – an unofficial synagogue where worshippers of Yahweh met to worship.

No synagogue, no problem, we’ll just have to find the place of prayer. Paul and Silas were ready to proclaim Christ at traditional places of worship.

But they were also ready to proclaim Christ in unlikely places.

ACTS 16:23-24 23 And when they had inflicted many blows upon them, they threw them into prison, ordering the jailer to keep them safely. 24 Having received this order, he put them into the inner prison and fastened their feet in the stocks.

The jailer brought Paul and Silas out of the inner prison cells when the earthquake occured, but they were likely still within the prison compound when he fell before them asked them to share with him the way to be saved, and there, in the prison, they proclaimed Christ “Believe in Jesus, and you will be saved, both you and your household.”

So, salvation can come to anyone, high or lowly in society, it can happen at anytime, on the Sabbath or at midnight, and it can happen anywhere, in a place of worship, or in prison.

But another thing the text teaches us is that it cannot be done anyhow.

ACTS 16:16-18 16 As we were going to the place of prayer, we were met by a slave girl who had a spirit of divination and brought her owners much gain by fortune-telling. 17 She followed Paul and us, crying out, “These men are servants of the Most High God, who proclaim to you the way of salvation.”
18 And this she kept doing for many days. Paul, having become greatly annoyed, turned and said to the spirit, “I command you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her.” And it came out that very hour.

“These men are servants of the Most High God, who proclaim to you the way of salvation.” Why was Paul annoyed by this? It’s free publicity, people pay good money for advertisement, and here we have a girl following Paul around for free and publicizing his ministry. Why was he so annoyed that he exorcised the spirit of divination from her?

Plus, it’s true isn’t it what she’s saying? “These men are servants of the Most High God, who proclaim to you the way of salvation.” It’s true.

The issue, though, is that in evangelism, it is not good enough simply for your message to be true, it is also necessary for it to be precise. Our gospel must be precisely true. It must not mislead through ambiguity.

In a pagan culture, in the city of Philippi, the Most High God would not be the Christian God. It would be assumed to be Zeus, the chief God of the Greek pantheon. And Paul was not a servant of Zeus.

And while Paul would often describe himself in his letters as “the servants of Christ”, it in no way describes the typical servant-master relationship in the pagan world, characterized by cringing servility and the fear of punishment.

In other words, Paul would not introduce himself to the citizens of Philippi as “the servant of the Most High God, who have come to proclaim the way of salvation”, because that would deceive rather than disclose their gospel message.

“God loves you and has wonderful plan for your life”. True? True.

But tell that to a Singaporean and what kind of plan do you think he’s picturing? He’s imagining a God who is going to secure him a life-partner by 30, help him make the C-suite by 40, allow him to retire comfortably by 60. That’s the Singaporean dream.

But that’s not the plan, that’s not plan at all.

“God loves you and has wonderful plan for your life”. That statement is true, it’s broadly true. But it’s imprecise, and as they say, the devil is in the details, and an opening statement like that is going to cause a lot of misconceptions.

Because the wonderful plan of God entails self-denial, self-sacrifice, cross-bearing and following Christ. It may mean you never get to travel to all the countries in your bucket list, it may mean curtailing your career for the sake of Christ, it may mean rejecting that really nice guy because he isn’t a believer, it may mean emptying yourself for the sake of love.

Does that sound like a wonderful plan for your life?

Because that sounds like the plan, and its wonderful because what can be greater than knowing Christ the Lord?

But come on, you know that when you say to a person in Singapore, “God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life”, that’s not what they going to imagine at all. At best, it’s a bait and switch.

I remember as a young adult, helping out in a Christian camp for kids. A big one, interdenominational, 100s of kids. And they got this speaker, this evangelist to share the good news of Jesus with the children. And I remember he brought box, a gift wrapped box. And he placed in it on the stage. And he says, “does anyone here like presents?” And all the hands went up, excited.

And the speaker said, something along the lines of, “Believing in Jesus is like opening up a box of presents” and he opened up the box, and he took out one present at a time, and he says “you’ll receive unconditional love, and forgiveness for all the bad things you do, and you’ll receive the power of the Holy Spirit, and you’ll get eternal life…” And then at the end he asked, “Now, who wants to believe in Jesus?”

And I remember sitting there with my group of kids, all of whom have raised their hands, thinking, “True, that’s true, but it’s only half the truth man, it’s only half the truth. These kids have no clue what they’re getting themselves into.”

You see, when Jesus evangelised, he didn’t put the cost of discipleship as the fine print at the bottom of the page in order to win disciples. He’s upfront about it. So, people knew what they were signing up for. Jesus told people to count the cost of discipleship before deciding to follow him. If you can’t afford it, don’t bother. He’s clear about what discipleship entails.

And when the crowds were about to take him by force to make him king, Jesus withdrew again from them. Why? Isn’t he the king? Yes, but not they kind of king they expected, nor wanted. So he will not wear their crown. His crown will be a crown of thorns.

In our evangelism, let’s take a page from Jesus the Word of God himself. Let’s follow his example, and not water down the message to erase the cost, nor so generalise the truth as to obscure the whole truth, or allow ambiguity to deceive our hearers about what is truly good about the good news.

Paul exorcised the demon possessed girl because her words, though true in a sense, was mainly a hindrance, rather than a help, to his ministry of proclaiming the gospel.

ACTS 16:28-32 28 But Paul cried with a loud voice, “Do not harm yourself, for we are all here.” 29 And the jailer called for lights and rushed in, and trembling with fear he fell down before Paul and Silas. 30 Then he brought them out and said, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?”
31 And they said, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.” 32 And they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all who were in his house.

Hear Paul’s summary of his message, when asked directly, “what must I do to be saved”, he said “Believe in the Lord Jesus”, which is the essence of the gospel. It is true, but it is also precise. Faith is required, in person called Jesus, and he is the Lord”.

But Paul would go on to elaborate on that before baptising the jailer and his household.

Finally, this is how the passage concludes.

37 But Paul said to them, “They have beaten us publicly, uncondemned, men who are Roman citizens, and have thrown us into prison; and do they now throw us out secretly? No! Let them come themselves and take us out.” 38 The police reported these words to the magistrates, and they were afraid when they heard that they were Roman citizens.
39 So they came and apologized to them. And they took them out and asked them to leave the city.

What’s happening here? Why is Paul giving off “I wanna speak to your manager” vibes? Why is he asserting his rights? It’s totally out of character. He devotes an entire chapter in 1 Corinthians talking about surrendering his rights for the sake of the gospel.

Paul was not in the habit of insisting on his own rights (cf. 1 Cor. 9:12), so why did he do so here? Is he finally sick of it? Sick of being mistreated man, sick of it. Sick of these people thinking they can treat me however they want. That was the last straw. I’m going to put my foot down and be difficult here.

No. For Paul, it’s not about him. It’s about the reputation of the Gospel.

Do you remember why he was thrown into prison? It wasn’t because he cast out the demon from the girl. Exorcism was not a crime.

Here’s why.

ACTS 16:19-21 19 But when her owners saw that their hope of gain was gone, they seized Paul and Silas and dragged them into the marketplace before the rulers.
20 And when they had brought them to the magistrates, they said, “These men are Jews, and they are disturbing our city. 21 They advocate customs that are not lawful for us as Romans to accept or practice.”

The clue here is what Paul says: having beaten us publicly, would they send us away secretly?

The accusation was that Paul and Silas, Christians, are disturbing the peace, disrespecting customs and violating law and order. In other words, the reputation of the church was tarnished in public and he wants to restore that reputation publicly as well.

He's insisting that the authorities escort them out properly, so that everyone can see that they were innocent of the charges laid against them.

What does it mean for us today?

Well, I think the principle here is this: do not allow the reputation of the gospel to be tarnished in the eyes of the world. Do not let the mission of the church be maligned before the world. Demonstrate that although our gospel may be offensive, although it may be counter-cultural, Christians are neither trouble-makers or law-breakers.

We are a force for good, not for harm, in the world.

How do we uphold the good name of the church? Well, the first thing is ensure we are not trouble-makers nor law-breakers. Which, given the headlines the church has been making in the media, cannot be taken for granted. Be good citizens in order to uphold the reputation of the church.

But Paul’s example is saying something else. The context here is that the church already has a bad public reputation, and Paul is showing us that we must strive to restore it.

Today, simply by being a Christian, certain assumptions are being made about you, namely, that you are intolerant, homophobic, sexist, unscientific and delusional.

We should not allow that perception to stand, not because we want to look good, but because we are ambassadors of Christ, and we want to uphold the goodness and glory of the Lord Jesus.

Defend the reputation of the church and the gospel for the sake of Christ. In our lives and in our deeds, and through our speech, show the world that the church is animated by love, it is filled with grace, and it upholds the truth.

In summary, the application can be found in 1 Peter 3:15-16:

but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame.

Be always prepared to proclaim, to explain and to defend the gospel, do this, for the salvation of all peoples in all places at all times, and for the sake of the glory of Christ.

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