Does your family like to play games?
I grew up in a game-playing family. I remember as a kid we’d go camping and play ChickenFoot, or board games. I always loved the game Sorry, and I have a strange affinity for the game Battleship. I’ve just always loved it. I was teaching my oldest daughter how to play Battleship the other day and had to work hard to hide my legitimate disappointment when she quit in the middle of the game because she was tired of playing.
I remember spending time at my grandparent’s house in the summer and playing card games with Gran. We played this really random game called Rack-o. It was simple and I loved it!
My wife and I like to play games and actually have played games together way back when we were dating. We’ve been told by friends that game nights can get a little intense, namely because we’re both super competitive.
One of those competitive games that have led to some pretty intense moments, is Monopoly.
Does anyone else identify with that?
I really enjoy Monopoly, but it’s definitely a play at your own risk kind of game!
Now, within Monopoly, there is a certain card that has become an iconic item from the game. It’s used in real life, or at least people wish it could be used in real life!
The “get out of jail free card.”
Sometimes this card is referenced as an idea, like the trump card that gets you out of anything.
But in the game, if you have this card, then you can use it to simply get out of jail for free.
Well, in our passage today, we find a biblical “get out of jail” card type of situation. Except I certainly don’t want to reduce it down to just a card to be used, or a trick to be played. Rather, we’re going to see an instance when God worked very dramatically, in a jail, to set people free.
Our passage today comes from Acts 16.
To properly understand what is happening in the book of Acts, it’s important to know some key details. As with all of scripture, context is key!
Acts is the second book written by Luke and is a continuation of what he wrote about in the Gospel of Luke. In his first book, Luke takes great care to describe the birth, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. The second book picks up after the resurrection and records how Jesus commissioned his disciples, promised them they would receive the Holy Spirit, ascended back into heaven, and then how the early church began.
In chapter 2 the promised Holy Spirit arrives and forever changes the lives of the disciples. What once was a rag-tag group of uneducated teenagers, became leaders, pastors, and missionaries. The change in their life was dramatic and because of the Holy Spirit working through them, people began to respond in faith, and Christianity grew rapidly.
Now with that growth came both opportunities and challenges. Stephen, whose death made him the first Christian martyr, provided the catalyst for the scattering of God’s people but also the spreading of the gospel. This was certainly a challenging time, and yet, it was persecution that God used to begin the spreading of the gospel message. As the church grew, some of the opportunities included the creation of new churches, and notably, the confirmation that God was working not just in the lives of the Jews, but in the Gentiles as well. This actually was a major part of chapter 15, if you haven’t read that yet be sure to go back and check it out. In chapter 15, Paul and Barnabas give testimony to how God was working in all people’s lives and how the gospel was for the Gentile also. In what became known as the Jerusalem council of Acts 15, the church declared, rightly, that salvation is found in Jesus alone, and this salvation is for all people.
And so, what follows is the church going forth from that meeting and continuing to spread the news about Jesus.
While there is so much we could talk about, we’re going to focus today on three lives that were changed.
Now let’s look at the first changed life. Her story begins in verse 12.
From there we traveled to Philippi, a Roman colony and the leading city of that district of Macedonia. And we stayed there several days. On the Sabbath we went outside the city gate to the river, where we expected to find a place of prayer. We sat down and began to speak to the women who had gathered there. One of those listening was a woman from the city of Thyatira named Lydia, a dealer in purple cloth. She was a worshiper of God. The Lord opened her heart to respond to Paul’s message. When she and the members of her household were baptized, she invited us to her home. “If you consider me a believer in the Lord,” she said, “come and stay at my house.” And she persuaded us.
At this point, they find themselves in Philippi. When studying the book of Acts, you might consider checking the back of your Bible to see if it has maps in it. If so, you might have one labeled Paul’s missionary journeys. It’s important to remember that these were real people and real places. I’ve never been to Israel, but I’ve been told that visiting this part of the world will forever change how you read your Bible. I hope to go one day. Also, you might make a note that this was the same place where Paul would later write a letter to the Philippians.
It’s here they meet a wealthy woman named Lydia, a “worshiper of God” (v. 14).
She is likely a Gentile who, like Cornelius, follows the Jewish religion but is not a full convert. Lydia sells purple clothing, meaning she is undoubtedly well off—purple cloth was prized in the ancient world and very expensive and time-consuming to produce. The process involved boiling sea snails that itself was not purple but when boiled produced chemicals that could be made into purple dyes.
Now, I’m not sure if they knew about Paul, the converted persecutor of the church. But at this point, Paul is established as a main figure within the Christian community. And so, I can’t help but imagine the prayer meeting they were having out by the river. It’d be like Billy Graham showing up and attending one of our Wednesday night prayer groups.
And so, the scripture records Paul showing up, sitting with them, and talking. They began to teach and then a wonderful statement is recorded in verse 14. It says, “The Lord opened her heart to respond.”
That is worth highlighting! This is an incredible truth. And it’s something I’ve been praying for! I’ve been praying that for many of you, “The Lord would open your heart to respond.”
This truth reminds us that apart from the moving of God, nothing of any lasting value is going to occur here. My words might elicit a laugh or a tear, but only the Lord can reach down and change a heart!
This is the same thing we see happening back in Luke 24 with the two on the road to Emmaus. Luke 24:31 says, “Then their eyes were opened and they recognized him, and he disappeared from their sight.”
This illuminates for us the truth that it’s God’s power that saves, but the task of sharing the message is ours.
Paul’s brief encounter with Lydia is a powerful example of the ways and means of evangelism.bThe task is ours, but the power is his.
Another way to say it is like this: The Lord’s job is saving, yours is sharing! You see, that is what evangelism is … sharing the good news. Another concise, yet powerful definition of evangelism that I studied this week was this: “Evangelism is teaching the gospel with the aim to persuade.”
Let’s unpack this definition together.
You can’t practice effective evangelism without teaching. More fundamentally, you could say you can’t practice evangelism without words! Well, what is it that we are teaching? We are to teach the truth about God, about sin, about ourselves, and the truth about how to find forgiveness.
Now, don’t let the word “teaching” make you think that it has to be some formal setting. We teach all the time.
Don’t over-complicate it, but also don’t underestimate its importance. People’s lives are transformed when they are taught the gospel!
This is a word that we use a lot in church and is worth defining over and over again. That’s because clarity here is of the utmost importance.
So, here’s what it means.
This is something that all too often trips us up. Effective evangelism understands that every person we meet is either walking in the light or trapped in darkness. And the thing that motivates us to share is the truth that unless a person responds with faith and repentance, then they will remain trapped in darkness on a path that leads to death and eternal punishment.
This word helps to remind us that we share our faith so that others might experience conversion. This does not mean that we reduce people into projects and that we don’t seek to genuinely love all people regardless of where they are at. But it does mean that our ultimate goal is that every person we encounter, would be transformed by Jesus so that they experience new life!
We don’t shy away from this. We don’t apologize for it.
We have been given an awesome responsibility and the greatest task we have is to love people enough to share the truth with them!
This word “persuade” also helps to guard against errors in thinking on our part. We persuade, we don’t manipulate. I was talking to Pastor Steve recently about his trip to Africa. He was telling me about how he goes about witnessing to the Maasai people there in Kenya. Part of the strategy that he uses is to go out with the vet teams because they get to travel to different parts of the villages and encounter many different people. Pastor Steve explained that through his translator he talks to the people and tells them, we want to treat your cows and I want to share with you good news. And I want you to know if you say “Yes, I believe” we’re going to treat your cows. And if you say, “No, I don’t believe” We’re still going to treat your cows.
Because the point isn’t to manipulate anyone. If I, or pastor Steve, or anyone else can talk you into following Jesus, then someone else can talk you out of it. Rather we want to be a part of seeing the Holy Spirit work in people’s lives so that genuine conversion takes place.
I hope that definition is helpful. What I want you to remember from this is: While the power to save rests squarely on the LORD, the responsibility to share is ours! This is not a suggestion, it’s the essence of what we’ve been called into! The Great Commission is found in Matthew 28. And it states, “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations!” We don’t call this the great suggestion. It’s our commission, our responsibility, our task!
When my girls ask why they have to do the dishes, I simply tell them, because you’re a part of the family. And being part of the family means this is your job. Well, being a part of God’s family means, sharing the gospel is your job!
And so, with Lydia, we see that God changes lives. In a lot of ways, she was a seeker. She was trying to practice a faithful religion and she was affluent. And the Scriptures tell us that affluence can certainly be a hindrance to a person because it blinds them to their true need for salvation, it doesn’t keep God from moving, because the gospel is for all people!
The next life that is changed is completely opposite from Lydia. And yet, despite this, God moves in her life to set her free from the bondage and captivity of her life.
Let’s read verses 16-18.
Once when we were going to the place of prayer, we were met by a female slave who had a spirit by which she predicted the future. She earned a great deal of money for her owners by fortune-telling. She followed Paul and the rest of us, shouting, “These men are servants of the Most High God, who are telling you the way to be saved.” She kept this up for many days. Finally, Paul became so annoyed that he turned around and said to the spirit, “In the name of Jesus Christ I command you to come out of her!” At that moment the spirit left her.
We’re not given much about this slave girl. But what we are given is a few key details that let us know she’s a captive. Her slave owners treat her like property, and she is abused by a demonic spirit meaning she’s a spiritual and economic captive.
And the scriptures tell us that in the name of Jesus, Paul delivers her from the oppressive spirit. Here the power of Christ is displayed.
Now Luke only writes about her deliverance, and not explicitly her conversion. But I believe we’re on solid ground to count her as a convert because Luke’s purpose in writing in this way is to showcase:
Contrast the two changed lives so far:
These two different ladies both were brought to faith in Jesus—a reminder that the gospel transforms all sorts of people from all sorts of backgrounds. The power that brought the evil spirit out of this girl is the same power that opened Lydia’s heart: It’s the power of Jesus.
Maybe you’re having trouble relating to a story about a demon-possessed slave girl? I think this passage should give you hope. If Jesus can free a slave girl afflicted with a demon, he can break your addictions. He can set you free today.
Now let me show you the third life changed. We’ve got to read it in context so look with me at verses 19-36.
This is what the Word of God says,
When her owners realized that their hope of making money was gone, they seized Paul and Silas and dragged them into the marketplace to face the authorities. They brought them before the magistrates and said, “These men are Jews, and are throwing our city into an uproar by advocating customs unlawful for us Romans to accept or practice.” The crowd joined in the attack against Paul and Silas, and the magistrates ordered them to be stripped and beaten with rods. After they had been severely flogged, they were thrown into prison, and the jailer was commanded to guard them carefully. When he received these orders, he put them in the inner cell and fastened their feet in the stocks. About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening to them. Suddenly there was such a violent earthquake that the foundations of the prison were shaken. At once all the prison doors flew open, and everyone’s chains came loose. The jailer woke up, and when he saw the prison doors open, he drew his sword and was about to kill himself because he thought the prisoners had escaped.
28 But Paul shouted, “Don’t harm yourself! We are all here!” The jailer called for lights, rushed in and fell trembling before Paul and Silas. He then brought them out and asked, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” They replied, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved—you and your household.” Then they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all the others in his house.
33 At that hour of the night the jailer took them and washed their wounds; then immediately he and all his household were baptized. The jailer brought them into his house and set a meal before them; he was filled with joy because he had come to believe in God—he and his whole household. When it was daylight, the magistrates sent their officers to the jailer with the order: “Release those men.” The jailer told Paul, “The magistrates have ordered that you and Silas be released. Now you can leave. Go in peace.”
This is an incredible story! The event which led the way to the jailer’s conversion was the arrest and imprisonment of Paul and Silas. And as we’ll see, there really is not a get-out-of-jail-free card being played here.
Rather we have a story of God working IN their difficulty, to accomplish his purposes. Meaning, “were their changes loosed to let the prisoners out, or rather, to let the guard in?” Because yes, they were chained, but the real prisoner was the one trapped in darkness. And as a result of God moving, the jailer here goes from being a prisoner to sin to being alive in Christ!
But first, look at verse 25. It says they were singing and praying.
Although lying in the deepest, darkest hole of that miserable prison, with bleeding backs and aching limbs, the joy of the Lord so filled their hearts that they were able to worship God!
For some of you, I know for a fact it is how you’ve responded because as a pastor I have a front-row seat to some of the most painful moments of life. And I’ve watched as moms have cried out at funerals, how dads have prayed in the face of cancer diagnosis, and how many of you have clung to the LORD, when everything else was crumbling. That is a gift from the Lord.
I know this can be difficult. Some of you today feel as if you’re in a prison. You feel you are in the prison of a bad marriage, a tough job situation, or chronic health problems. Or maybe you’re a victim of injustice. I’m not telling you to not do what you can to remedy it. In the next few verses (vv. 37-40) Paul is going to protest. What I am saying is don’t take your eyes off Jesus as you do. Don’t lose the joy of what you have in Christ!
I’m sorry for whatever you’re going through, but no matter how difficult it is, God can still work through it if you’ll see all of your life as an opportunity to glory him. When you do this, you’re declaring to the world that your external circumstances did not dictate their internal disposition. And you put on display the truth that no matter where you find yourself, Jesus remains on the throne.
As Paul and Silas sang, the other prisoners were listening, and then God moved powerfully.
The place shook and chains fell, and the jailer thought all was lost. But then Paul shouts to him, we’re all here, don’t harm yourself. And that was too much for him. The hardened jailer comes and says, tell me how to be saved!?
Paul and Silas’s response (v. 31) is a profound and elegant summary of the gospel.
He says, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved.”
The word “believe” here means to believe to the extent of complete trust and total reliance.
Paul begins with the presentation of the gospel, and then he and Silas speak “the word of the Lord” to the jailer and his household (v. 32). If we learn one thing about missions and evangelism in Acts, it’s that the message never changes and yet, because of God’s providential hand working: the times, methods, contexts, and opportunities are endless.
The gospel has an immediate effect on the jailer. He cares for Paul and Silas’ wounds—which would have been significant—and receives baptism.
Today if you’re asking, what must I do to be saved, the answer is to trust completely in Jesus!
I’m here today, in the words of Acts 16:17 to tell you the way to be saved. It’s by trusting fully in the finished work of Jesus. Will you respond today to the invitation of Jesus with faith and repentance?
This passage is crying out to us two things: The gospel is for all people and the gospel has the power to transform lives!
Don’t miss this! Truly! I’m talking to you! Me? Yes, you!
For some reason we’ve grown very skilled at acting like what the Bible says is true, but just not for you! No matter who you are, the gospel is for you and can transform you!
According to rabbinical sources, every morning a Jewish man would pray, “Lord, I thank God I am not a woman, a slave, or a Gentile.”
And in one chapter of scripture, the Holy Spirit blows up this whole way of thinking as Lydia, a wealthy woman, the slave girl, and the jailer (a Gentile) all come to faith!
We’re not just saying it because it sounds catchy, it’s true! The gospel is for all people and the gospel has the power to transform lives!
So, what are you waiting for?
If you are ready to surrender to God or want to know more, let us know by emailing email@example.com or calling 337-480-1555.
 Stiles, J. Mack. Evangelism. (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2014) 26.
All other religions in the world are based on you making and keeping promises to the “gods” in hopes of earning love and acceptance. The one true God, however, because of his great love, has promised to save us based on his faithfulness.
What’s happening here is Jesus has just finished a miraculous moment and is traveling with His disciples. He takes this opportunity to ask them some questions. He begins generally by asking, “Who do the people say that I am?” Remarkably, so many different opinions were held by the people, but that remains true to this very day.