Acts 16(11–34)


We’ve been working our way through the book of Acts. And we’ve seen how the Lord Jesus Christ, the head and king of the church, has been building his church here on earth through the reading and preaching of his word. First of all, he built his church among the Jews in Jerusalem. And then the good news of the gospel was taken out of Jerusalem and into the surrounding region, and soon the gospel was being preached not only to the Jews, but to the Samaritans who were kind of half-Jews and half-Gentiles. And some who heard the good news believed what they heard and they were added to the church. But then the time came when the gospel was preached to Gentiles and they too believed and were added to the church of Jesus Christ. And at the beginning of chapter 16 we saw how the Apostle Paul had that vision in the night of a man from Macedonia begging them to come over to Macedonia to help them. And so, Paul and his companions prepared to cross over into Macedonia which is part of Europe. They were taking the gospel into Europe.

And so, we’ve seen how the Lord Jesus Christ has been extending his kingdom and building his church throughout the world from Jerusalem and Judea and Samaria and into Europe. He’s been building his church through the preaching of the gospel. And through the preaching of the gospel, he’s been calling sinners to come to him in faith and repentance.

Verses 11 and 12

The last time we reached verse 10 of chapter 16 which tells us how Paul and his companions decided that God had called them to preach the gospel to the people who were living in Macedonia. So, they left Troas by boat and sailed across to Samothrace — which is an island in the Aegean Sea — where they stayed the night. And on the next day, they sailed on to Neapolis, the nearest port to Philippi. And Philippi is where they were aiming for. Luke tells us in verse 12 that it was a Roman colony and the leading city of that district. In other words, it was an important city. And Luke tells us that they stayed there for several days. And in the verses which follow we read of the conversion of Lydia, a business woman; the casting out of an evil spirit from a slave girl; and the conversion of the jailor at midnight. So, Philippi was an important city and important things happened there whenever Paul and his companions went there and preached the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ.

Verses 13 to 15

So, first of all, in verses 13 to 15 we have the story of Lydia’s conversion. Luke tells us how, on the Sabbath Day, they went outside the city to the river. Why did they go out to the river? Well, Luke tells us: they expected to find a place of prayer. You see, Paul’s usual habit whenever he arrived at a new city was to go to the Jewish synagogue on the Sabbath Day and preach the good news there. Just look at verse 1 of chapter 14 where Luke tells us that, in Iconium, Paul and Barnabas went as usual into the Jewish synagogue. That’s what they usually did. But there wasn’t a Jewish synagogue in Philippi. After all, it was a Roman colony. In other words, it was a Roman city and there were presumably not enough Jewish men — there needed to be at least 10 — in the city to form a synagogue. However, in those cities where there were not enough Jewish men to form a synagogue, whatever Jews there were in the city, would typically meet for worship near a river. So, when Paul and his companions went outside the city to the river, they were looking for the outdoor, make-do, synagogue. Just as they usually did whenever they arrived at a new city, they went to the place of worship and there they preached the good news about Jesus Christ.

And that, of course, is interesting. We tend to assume that there was lots of outdoor preaching in the book of Acts. But Luke keeps telling us that whenever he arrived at a new city where he wanted to preach the good news of Jesus Christ Paul started in the local synagogue. That’s where the people gathered; and so, that’s where he proclaimed the good news.

On this occasion, they met a group of women who had gathered there for prayer. And Paul and his companions began to speak to them. And Luke tells us about one of them: She was called Lydia and she was a dealer in purple cloth. Now, purple cloth was for the rich and it was for royalty. So, the fact that Lydia bought and sold purple cloth probably indicates that she was a fairly wealthy business woman. Luke also tells us that she was from the city of Thyatira and she was a worshipper of God. In other words, she was one of those God-fearing Gentiles who used to worship with the Jews.

And as Lydia listened to Paul, the Lord opened her heart to respond to the message. In other words, the Lord enabled her to believe the message so that she turned from her sin in repentance and she turned in faith to the Saviour. She was converted to faith in Christ. And as a result, she and her household were baptised.

Well, this is a marvellous example of the kind of thing the Apostle Paul wrote about in his letter to the Romans. Remember in chapter 10 how he quoted from Joel 2? He said:

everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.

And then he went on to ask a series of questions. He said:

How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed?
And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard?
And how are they to hear without someone preaching?
And how are they to preach unless they are sent?

They can’t call unless they first believe. And they can’t believe unless they first hear. And they can’t hear unless someone first preaches to them. And the preacher won’t preach unless he’s first sent. Well, the Lord has sent Paul to Philippi. And Paul has preached the gospel to that group of women. And Lydia heard the preaching of the gospel. And she believed the gospel so that she could call out to him for salvation.

Faith comes by hearing, Paul went on to write to the Romans. The way sinners come to believe in the Lord Jesus Christ is through the preaching of the good news about Jesus Christ. And that’s why, of course, we put so much emphasis on the reading and preaching of God’s word. When we gather on Sundays for worship, the preacher stands up and preaches the good news of the gospel. And preach the good news of the gospel because we believe that faith comes through hearing the good news of the gospel.

However, preaching by itself can accomplish nothing of any lasting effect. Preaching by itself can accomplish nothing of any eternal consequence. In order to have a lasting, eternal effect, the Lord must also be at work, while the preacher is doing his work, in order to open our hearts to receive the truth of his word with faith and obedience.

That’s what he did in Lydia’s heart. He opened her heart to respond to the message. There were other women down by the river who also heard Paul’s message. But it seems that their hearts remained closed. But the Lord opened Lydia’s heart. And so, one of the reasons we meet like this on a Wednesday evening is to plead with the Lord to work among us on Sunday and to make the reading and preaching of his word effective in all of our lives. We want him to prise open our hearts so that we will all respond to the preaching of his word.

That’s why our Catechism has question 89 which asks:

How is the word of God made effective to salvation?

And this is the answer:

The Spirit of God makes the reading, but especially the preaching of the word, an effective means of convincing and converting sinners and building them up in holiness and comfort through faith to salvation.

Those who wrote the Catechism knew that the reading and preaching of God’s word will have no lasting effect whatsoever without the help of the Spirit of God who makes the word of God effective in our lives. When the Spirit of God is at work, unbelievers will be convinced and converted to faith in Christ. And when the Spirit of God is at work, believers will be built up in holiness and comfort. And so, we must pray for the Lord to open our hearts to respond to his message on Sunday.

But then, notice one other thing before we move on. Luke tells us that Lydia responded to the message and she and her household were baptised.

This shouldn’t really surprise us. Throughout the Old Testament, we see how the Lord deals with his people in families. So, for example, in Genesis 5 we read how Noah found favour with the Lord — and yet all his family were allowed to enter the ark: Noah, his wife, his sons, and their wives. All of them. All the people of Israel were brought out of Egypt through the Red Sea: Moses, and all the men, and all the women, and all the children. All of them. God deals with his people in families. And so, not only Abraham, but all of Abraham’s sons were to receive circumcision as the sign that they belonged to God. God had committed himself to Abraham and to his descendants after him.

And the same principle appears here as well. Lydia responded to the message — and yet all the members of her family were baptised. All the members of her family received the sign that they belonged to God.

And today, because God always deals with his people in families, believers in the Presbyterian Church bring their children to be baptised. And so they receive the sign that they are part of God’s people and members of his church. Now, such children are not regarded as full members of the church until they publicly profess their faith in Christ. But nevertheless they are to be regarded as members of the church and therefore they are to benefit from the public ministry of the church and they’re to be taught that this is their spiritual home and that they belong here.

Verses 16 to 24

In verses 16 to 24, Luke tells us about this slave girl who was possessed by a spirit. And because of the spirit, she was able to predict the future. And because she was able to predict the future, she made a lot of money for her owners. In other words, she was a fortune teller and people paid her in order to know what the future would hold for them.

Well, Luke tells us in verse 17 that she followed Paul and his companions about and used to shout aloud:

These men are servants of the Most High God, who are telling you the way to be saved.

And this went on for several days. But it troubled Paul. Do you see that in verse 18? It disturbed him. Bearing witness to the way of salvation is one thing; but having a demon-possessed person, shouting aloud in the street about the way of salvation is another thing entirely. So, Paul finally turned to the girl and addressed this evil spirit within her. And he commanded the spirit to come out of her. And just as evil spirits used to obey the Lord Jesus, so this evil spirit obeyed the servant of the Lord Jesus and it left the girl.

Now, Luke doesn’t tell us if the slave girl was converted. However, the fact that her story is sandwiched between the story of Lydia’s conversion and the jailer’s conversion suggests that possibly she too was convinced and converted to faith in Christ and became part of this new church in Philippi.

But Luke doesn’t tell us anything more about her. Instead he goes on to tell us about the reaction of her owners. And they’re not pleased at all: their source of income has now dried up. And so, they seized Paul and Silas and dragged them before the authorities. And, of course, look how they dress up their complaint. Look at the spin they put on things. They don’t mention anything about the money they used to make from the slave girl. Instead they mention that Paul and Silas are Jews. That is, they’re Jews and not Romans like us. And they complained that Paul and Silas were advocating customs which we Romans consider unlawful. And the crowd which were there also joined in.

So the magistrates had Paul and Silas stripped and beaten and thrown into prison. And the jailer put them in the inner cell, where it was dark because there were no windows, and he fastened them into the stocks so that they couldn’t get up and walk about.

Verses 25 to 34

But Paul and Silas are not overwhelmed or crushed by what has happened to them. Instead, they turned to the Lord in prayer and, with hymns, they sang to him. Wouldn’t you love to know what they prayed for and what they sang about? Presumably, with their prayers they called out to him to help them; and with their hymns, they reminded themselves of God’s faithfulness and goodness.

God had not forgotten them, because he sent this earthquake which shook the foundations of the prison so that the prison doors flew open and their chains fell off.

The jailer, when he saw the doors lying open, drew his sword and was ready to kill himself. He must have thought suicide was better than facing the wrath of the magistrates for letting the prisoners escape. But, of course, they hadn’t escaped. They hadn’t run off. They were still there.

However, the jailer was still frightened. And he asked Paul and Silas:

What must I do to be saved?

Now, we don’t know what he meant. We don’t know what kind of salvation he wanted. We don’t know what he was thinking. But it doesn’t really matter, because Paul took the opportunity to tell him about the only salvation which matters. And in his answer, he summarises for us the way of salvation. How are sinners saved? By trying hard to be good? By trying to climb up to God by our good deeds? No. We receive salvation by believing in the Lord Jesus Christ. And this salvation — God’s free gift to all who believe — is offered to the man and to his household.

Well, Luke tells us how Paul and Silas spoke the word of the Lord to them which presumably means they explained the good news about Jesus Christ a little more fully. But, as we finish, look at the change that takes place in the man. Compare what he did in verses 33 and 34 to what he did in verse 24. In verse 24, he put Paul and Silas in the darkest cell and fastened their feet into the stocks. He didn’t bother to dress their wounds and he showed them no kindness whatsoever. But now, having heard and believed the gospel, and the message of God’s kindness towards sinners, this man is changed. And so, in verse 33 we read how he washed their wounds. And then in verse 34 we read that he brought Paul and Silas into his own home. And he fed them. Once he didn’t care about Paul and Silas. In fact, he was harsh with them and rough towards them. But now he is kind to them and he wants to help them.

As we prepare to come to the Lord’s Table — which reminds us of the love and kindness of the Lord towards us — our Catechism teaches us to examine ourselves in regard to our love for God and his people and our kindness to all people, and our forgiveness of those who have done us wrong. We’re to examine ourselves before we come, so that, where we have fallen short, we can ask his forgiveness and we can seek to make amends and put right what is wrong in our lives. And so, we should examine ourselves to see if we have treated anyone unkindly, or harshly, or if we have refused to forgive anyone who might have wronged us. And if so, we should seek the Lord’s forgiveness and go and put it right. In other words, we’re to go and do what this jailer did to Paul and Silas and show love towards our fellow believers and kindness towards all people — just as God our Father has loved us and shown us kindness in Christ Jesus.