Day 39: Jesus’ Focus is Unity with God (Acts 16:11-40)
Today’s Passage: Acts 16:11-40
Unity is a big deal in our day-and-age. We live in a fractured world. The 24-hour news cycle and social media, as they strive to get our attention, AMPLIFY messages, driving us further into our corners.
It seems to be getting harder to listen to other’s points of view.
Many people consider Jesus, with his claim that no one can come to the Father except through him, to be divisive.
Yet when I read Scripture, I try to keep in mind its overall aim. I try to look through lens that focuses me on God’s ultimate goal—humanity united with Him.
So, consider this section of Acts. The text highlights three specific events.
No doubt, Luke could have recorded more events. Paul and his group stayed in the area for
“some days”, but Luke only mentions three. All three demonstrate how…
God breaks down dividing barriers and unites, in Christ, people of very different kinds.
To get to this conclusion, let’s take a short look at the people.
We start with one woman, named Lydia. She came from Thyatira—that is on the other side of the Aegean—in the province of Asia. She is not of Greek origin like the many of people of Philippi but, she was a worshipper of God. What does that mean? It means she was believing and behaving like a Jew without having become one.
As she listened to Paul’s message, the Lord opened her heart to respond. That is, God opened her inner eyes to see and to believe in Jesus.
The message was Paul’s, the saving initiative was God’s—this is always the case.
Next, we come to the slave girl. Literally, she had ‘a spirit of a python’ or ‘a python spirit’. The reference is to the snake of classical mythology which guarded the temple of Apollo and the Delphic oracle at Mount Parnassus. She is exploited as a slave by her owners, for whom she made a lot of money by fortune-telling.
The girl’s shrieks continued for many days until finally Paul was provoked to take action.
I need to take an aside for a moment. Many people when they read this section comment not on the three episodes, but on Paul. My text (the ESV translation) reads that Paul was “greatly annoyed”.
To be specific, the verb which is used would certainly indicate he was troubled. It can be translated “annoyed”. It would be an overstatement to say that Paul had “a burst of irritation” or “lost his temper”. It is better to understand that he was “grieved”, indeed indignant, because of the poor girl’s condition. His distress led him to turn around and command the evil spirit in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her, which it immediately did.
Back to my suggestion of unity in Jesus. I have been drawing on John Stott’s commentary. He notes that the slave owners were very clever. THEY DID NOT SEEK UNITY—THEY SOUGHT DIVISION. They not only concealed the real reason for their anger (economic), but also presented their legal charge against the missionaries in terms that appealed to the latent anti-Semitism of the people (“these men are Jews”) and their racial pride (“us Romans”). Bigotry never unites.
Speaking of division, consider one other little tidbit. The head of a Jewish household would pray the same prayer every morning, giving thanks that God had not made him a Gentile, a woman or a slave.
Paul would have heard that prayer prayed—every day.
What a contrast! Here were representatives of these three despised categories redeemed by the message brought to them by a Jew—all now united in Christ. For truly, as Paul had recently written to the Galatians: “There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”
This part of the Scripture often leads people to focus on Paul or the “miraculous delivery from jail”. How do you see it? What lens do you look through as you read Scripture? Some find some or all of it improbable. Yet “looking through a lens” means you are trying to focus on something, something that perhaps is far off.
The eye of faith, which believes in a gracious, sovereign God, sees God’s aim. All things work together for God’s glory. In this case, the conversion of a woman business leader, a spirit-possessed girl, and a jailer work together to reveal one of God’s great characteristics—He welcomes all, uniting them in Christ.
Jesus met the needs of all these people, and a church, the church of Philippi, was founded.
How about today? We know that the needs of human beings do not change much with the changing years. Today, Jesus Christ meets our needs, just as he did in Philippi.
Is there anyone you think is beyond God’s redemption? Is there any sin the blood of Jesus cannot cover?