The sermon should be near the top of the player’s list, but if not, click on the tab that says, “speakers,” click on my name (Tom Fuerst) and it’s the sermon titled, “Disturbed.”
Acts 16: Disturbed
Introduction: In college I was a biblical studies major. One of the degree requirements was that I had to take a year of New Testament Greek. My soon-to-be-wife was an English major and she didn’t have that requirement. But our plans after graduation were to be Bible Translators inPapua New Guinea. So my senior year, my grammarian of a wife, joined all the other biblical studies majors and took Greek.
One of two women in the course, they destroyed every man in that room. We’d get quizzes back and Cassie’s grades were 100% here, 99% there. And mine were…well, let’s just say I passed.
Now, in order to be prepared to do Bible translation, our plans were for BOTH OF US, after college to go to the best seminary our denomination offered – a seminary known for its firm theological beliefs and conservative theology. So we went to visit the school. But when the welcome crew came out, they began speaking just with me. And I said, “Well, my wife is planning on getting a degree, too. Not just me.” They got a huge smile on their faces, and finally look at her, they said, “So, you’re planning on doing our unaccredited pastor’s-wife degree. And we were like, “Uh, what’s that?” “Well, it helps you learn how to plan meals when your husband’s bringing a group from the church home without any notice?”
Now, listen, there’s nothing wrong with being a stay-at-home-mom…that’s what my wife does now. But that wasn’t our plan at the time, and I said, “No. My wife is a brilliant grammarian. We want to do missions. She wants a legitimate, academic degree.” For the rest of the day, as we’d meet new people, they’d come up and just talk to me. And then I’d say, “My wife’s getting a degree, too.” And almost every time people said, “Oh, is she getting the non-accredited pastor’s wife degree?” NO!!
Needless to say, we decided against going to that school. It seems, looking back, that the Holy Spirit was in much of what happened that day – that the Spirit was calling our hearts away from our plans and goals because God had something else in mind. The Spirit disturbed our plans and agendas and we ended up going in a direction we never expected or intended.
EXPOSITION: In a similar way, Paul’s got a plan laid out to take the gospel to Asia, but the Holy Spirit inhibits his progress and gives him a different plan. The Spirit breaks in and disturbs Paul’s planning, strategizing, and agenda-making and calls him to do things he never intended or expected to do. Had Paul drawn up this evangelism strategy himself, he would went to Asia, not Greece. But the Spirit had different plans. And the disturbing of Paul’s goals and plans leads to the gospel disturbing and shaking the very foundation of the first city they come to – Philippi.
Application: Many of us have experienced this kind of thing – we thought we were following God’s will to do one thing and the next thing we know, he’s got us going in a direction we never saw coming – or didn’t even want. And often we get frustrated by the supposed setbacks in life instead of taking an opportunity to see where God is at work in a different way than we expected. Often we even push forward in a direction we know God doesn’t want because we’ve put all our eggs in that basket or even made an idol out of what was otherwise a good plan.
But if we will but sit back and listen, we will see that the beauty of God breaking in and disturbing us is that this is God’s way of freeing us from the tyranny of our own supposed omniscience, the tyranny of assumptions of being all-knowing, the tyranny of our own agendas and strategies. And by liberating us, the Spirit frees us to go with the flow of wherever God is leading. And it reveals that the power of the gospel in our lives is never a matter of our strategy or type-A drivenness, but the power of the gospel is in the freedom of the Holy Spirit to change all our plans and give us new goals…God’s goals.
EXPLANATION: So here they is Paul and Silas, having been denied access to Asia, they go toPhilippi. Within the city ofPhilippi, they meet 3 different people and through preaching to them, they disturb the entire city with the gospel.
Lydia: The first thing Paul likes to do when he goes into a new town is find the local Jewish worship gathering, called a synagogue. Now synagogues had certain rules, and one of those rules was, in order for it to be a proper, functioning synagogue, there had to be at least 10 Jewish men present. The rabbis did not trust women not to get carried away with religious fanaticism, so they had this rule that if there were 1 million women, but only 9 men, then you did not have an official synagogue. You had to have no less than 10 men.
So, on the Sabbath, Paul goes into Philippito find a synagogue. And what he finds is a gathering of local women praying – specifically a fairly rich woman named Lydia, who appears to be leader of one of these unofficial synagogues. And Paul sits down and begins to share the gospel with these women as if they’re a legitimate synagogue.
EXPOSITION: Now, you’ve got to understand the radical nature of what is going on here. Not only has Paul approached these women as if they’re an officially recognized synagogue –and thus showing them that while their own religion and husbands don’t give them credit, Paul does – but even more radical than that, in the ancient world, you don’t try to convert a woman to your religion without the permission of her husband or her father. But Paul is obliterating these rules. Paul sees women as rightfully able to make their own spiritual decisions without the direction and permission of a man. And he shows these women by his actions that the gospel elevates their status and gives them an equal position with men before God. The religious leaders and the surrounding culture thought these women were an inferior species, but Paul saw them as equally created in God’s image.
Application: You see, the gospel disturbs every aspect of human culture and religion – including the ways in which men and women relate to each other. We are not called to be each other’s superiors, rulers, or dictators; we are called to die for one another, serve one another, and mutually love one another. We are not called to force submission on one another through wielding Bible verses like swords; we are called to honor the gifts and talents God’s Spirit has given to each of us. Paul radically and unexpectedly validates these women’s worship, even when other men denied them. And God used his actions to open their hearts. But the gospel’s disturbance of Philippian culture and religion is just beginning.
Young Woman: Because when Paul leaves Lydia’s synagogue, he encounters a different young woman. She is not rich like Lydia. She is not a synagogue leader. In fact, she’s a slave who possesses, or rather, is possessed by a unique gift. Her owners basically sell her out to the highest bidder because she has the ability to tell the future using Parseltongue. For those of you who don’t speak Harry Potter, the spirit possessing her, giving her the ability to tell the future, is the spirit of a Python.
Greek mythology provides the background for this Python Spirit: The high god Zeus was married to the goddess Hera. But Zeus wasn’t exactly known for his marital fidelity. At some point, Zeus impregnated a lesser, but very beautiful, goddess named Leto. When Hera his wife found out, she sent out this giant Python to kill Leto for apparently seducing her husband. With this python chasing her, Leto could not settle anywhere long enough to give birth. She searched and searched for a safe place all over the world until, finally, she found a secluded island and for 9 days labored to give birth to twins – The first was Artemis, goddess of the hunt, who after being born, helped her mom give birth to the second child, Apollo, the god of archery. The Greek god Apollo, when he was a whole 4 days old decided to take revenge on this snake that had caused his mother such distress during her pregnancy. So he hunted it down and found it’s cave underneath a mountain at Delphi – a cave believed to be the center of the world. When he confronted the snake, it lunged at him, but Apollo, avoiding its strike, shot an arrow through the snakes head and killed it. After the snake’s death, a temple was constructed on the site of the rotting flesh, a temple that would give priests and priestesses an inside track to the god Apollo. I’m a little unclear as to how the process would work, but apparently the combination of the rotting flesh of the snake, the cave at the center of the world, and the great god Apollo would empower the priests and priestesses to make predictions about the future.
Now, as Paul and his companions are going through Philippithey are disrupted by a young girl with the ability to tell people’s future according to this python spirit. And she’s following Paul and his friends around, shouting, “Hey everyone, pay attention to these men! They are servants of the God above all gods; they can tell you how to be saved!”
And I don’t know if she’s mocking them or if Paul just doesn’t think the gospel needs the publicity of the Greek gods, but Paul turns around and commands the Spirit, in the name of Jesus, to come out of this girl. And it immediately obeys and submits to Jesus’ name. In other words, notice the subtlety here – It is Jesus, not Zeus, who is the God above all Gods; it is Jesus, not Apollos, who has power over the spirit of the python; it is Jesus, not this cave, who is the center of the universe! In everyway imaginable, Paul’s actions demonstrate the superiority of Jesus to the Greek gods and the Greek myths. Paul is deconstructing and disrupting and disturbing their religion and their very national identity. When Jesus’ name is proclaimed to a people, that name disturbs all that people hold dear; Jesus’ name renders their gods and their myths powerless and meaningless before his cross.
And the same thing goes for our own national myths and gods. Let me take something we’re all familiar with: There’s this story we tell our children about when George Washington’s dad told him not to cut down the cherry tree. He did. When asked about it, George said, “I cannot tell a lie, I cut down that cherry tree.” Now, the story is designed to reinforce for children the value of telling the truth. But I wonder how many people were like me when they heard this as a child, and walked away believing that George Washington never told a lie? The story, then, reinforced in my mind the infallibility of George Washington, and in fact, the infallibility of all or our founding fathers. But here’s the thing, 1) not only is the story of the cherry tree not even historically factual, more importantly 2) it is always good for Christians to keep in mind that our founding father’s were not inspired men like the biblical writers, they were not infallible, they were sinful human beings just like you and me. Yes, they had a great idea, and yes, they dreamed big, worth-while dreams. But they were broken and sinful like the rest of us. It was Jesus who could not tell a lie. It was Jesus who honored no falsehood. George Washington is not the icon of honesty for children – Jesus Christ is. George Washington is not our moral standard – Jesus Christ is.
The gospel calls us to take a serious look at all our cultural myths and assumptions. Because just like Paul shows here in Philippi, the very nature of the gospel, itself, is that it radically critiques our lives, our culture, and our nation and shows along the way that only Jesus Christ is the center of the world, only Jesus Christ is the faithful lover of truth, only Jesus Christ is knower of our future, only Jesus Christ should be our American Dream. And it teaches us that neither our founding fathers, nor the next president can hold a candle to the saving power of Jesus Christ. For only Jesus will outlive Democracy, Communism, Socialism, or any other form of government humans could ever invent. That is the message of Paul’s gospel. And it is a disturbing one, both to Greeks and to us.
Now, Paul casts out this spirit, but it’s far from over. This girl was a cash-cow for her owners – she was making them lots of money with her prophetic utterances. So Paul just cost these people some huge cash flow and they’re not going to take it lying down. So they rally the troops and begin making accusations against Paul and Silas. They have them beaten and arrested.
Philippian Jailor: Now, you’d think, upon being arrested, that these guys would be saying, “Seriously, Lord, we were going to go toAsia and preach to thousands, but you disturbed our agenda and led us here. And now we’re sitting in this stink hole of a prison. No one has even invented Rabies shots yet, so we’re just waiting to get bit by some rat, frothing at the mouth. C’mon, Lord, we thought you knew better than this!”
But they don’t say that. Just as nobody expected them to preach to a women’s synagogue, just as no one expected them to so easily defeat the spirit of the python, so too, no one expected to hear these guys singing praise and worship choruses while in prison! They fully believe that God sent them toPhilippiand that God knows what he’s doing…even when things don’t look good.
You see, the gospel even disturbs our normal way of suffering. The gospel calls us to ask the question, “How can God be glorified in my pain? How can God’s gospel be made known to someone else through my suffering? How can my mourning be a testimony to the faithfulness of God” And believe me when I tell you, I completely understand that those are hard questions to ask…especially in the midst of your pain. But even in our mourning and sadness, we must see that the gospel is at it’s most powerful when it is speaking into and through the life of a hurting person. God does not cause our suffering in order to bring about some glorious purpose. But God is always looking to bring glorious purposes out of our suffering.
And so we look at our own lives and we see places where we feel imprisoned – imprisoned in depression, shackled in pain – both physical and emotional, unemployment, bad relationships, debt, or whatever – and the gospel calls us in the midst of it, like Paul and Silas, to sing…to sing praises…to let our hearts overflow with song, even when we don’t feel joyful. Because joy is more than just a feeling, joy is the ability to say, “This doesn’t look good, this doesn’t feel good, I don’t like this, this hurts,” but then in the same breath say, “God I will praise you in this prison, God I will praise you in this pain, God I will praise you whether my well is dry or overflowing.” That is joy. It is more than a feeling. It goes beyond our temporary circumstances. And it cannot help but sing, even when it hurts. It cannot help but sing, even in your prison. In fact, I might say, that singing produces joy – it affects your heart in the midst of your circumstances. That’s why you sing even when you don’t feel like it…because singing will bring you to a place where you DO FEEL LIKE IT.
And what do we have to lose by singing? Is self-pity getting us anywhere? Is secluding ourselves from our family and friends getting us anywhere? Is anger at God getting us anywhere? Is snapping at our kids getting us anywhere? I’m guaranteeing you that those things are not only not helping you, but they’re hurting you because they’re pushing people away from you. So try singing…even when it hurts the worst. Let joy well up within your heart, even when you don’t feel like it. Because God is most present in the heart that hurts but still chooses to sing, Though Satan should buffet, though trials should come, Let this blest assurance control, That Christ has regarded my helpless estate, And hath shed His own blood for my soul.
So here they are singing and out of nowhere they hear a deep grumble in the distance. At first, Paul thinks Silas ate something funky and his stomach is throwing a fit. But then the earth begins to shake so strongly that it breaks open the stocks of all the prisoners and flings the gates of the prison wide open. Now, any security guard in our world would’ve surely freaked out at this point, pulling out his weapon in an attempt to keep the prisoners from escaping, right?
Not the case in ancientRome. This security guard is held personally liable for any and all of these prisoners, so when this earthquake occurs, he knows that the escaping prisoners are on his head. And the only thing considered “honorable” at this point is for him to kill himself. So he pulls out his sword – he’s ready to take his life, leave his family, leave this world in the name of honor. But Paul disrupts him.
“Hey, hey, hey, don’t do that, man. We’re all here. None of us have escaped. No need to take such drastic measures.” Somehow Paul’s influence on the rest of the prisoners was such that when they could have been set free, they hung around. In the presence of such an influential man, in the aftershocks of such profound joy, the Jailor cannot help but ask, “What must I do to be saved?! Your God has disturbed my body, now I want him to save my soul! ”
And Paul simply says, “Believe in the Lord Jesus. Trust him to save you. Trust him who disturbed your nice, easy life to save you from yourself…trust him to turn your world upside down…trust the God who disturbs society, and turns family dynamics on their head, disturbs nations and challenges their myths of greatness and perfection, disturbs our suffering by calling us to sing in the midst of affliction, and disturbs the very earth itself, if that’s what needed to bring one more person into his kingdom. Trust him.
And the man believes Paul and his whole family is saved. All because God disturbed Paul’s plans to go to Asia.
The Holy Spirit disturbed the plans my wife and I had to go to the seminary we originally planned to attend. But if he had not done that, we would’ve never went to Asbury Theological Seminary; and if we had never went to Asbury Seminary we would’ve never ended up in Lynn Haven….disturbing you! When God disturbs your life, don’t see it as a setback, see it as an opportunity…an opportunity to disturb your world with the gospel of Jesus Christ.