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Shaking Up Philippi

As the missionaries head over to Philippi, there is a whole lotta shakin’ going on: Lydia and her household are shaken, and hospitality pours out. The demon-possessed are shaken, and evil spirits are driven out. Businessman who prey on oppressed women are shaken, and greed pours out. Paul and Silas are shaken, and psalms pour out. The jail and the jailer are shaken, and despair pours out until he is stopped by good news from God. Philippi is shaken up, and Rome tries and fails to ignore the gospel.

After crashing the women’s bible study down by the river and meeting Lydia, the missionaries are met by an enslaved, demon-possessed fortune-teller who announces to everyone who they are and what they are doing. Paul commands the evil spirit to come out in Jesus’ name, and it does. But when the demon goes out, the money goes out, and the men who made their living off of this woman angrily haul Paul and Silas before the magistrates, claiming that setting women free is downright un-Roman, such a Jewish thing to do.

Since by this time a crowd is rioting, the authorities presumptively strip and flog Paul and Silas, and throw them in jail. Paul and Silas have been obedient and faithful, only to end up bloody and bruised, their beautiful feet locked down in the stocks. But down in the tomb-like jail at blackest midnight, worship breaks out and the earth itself bears witness to the innocence of these men by shaking the jail apart.

The jailer is in despair, preparing to end his life when Jesus speaks to him through Paul – don’t hurt yourself; we are all here. Shaking with fear, the jailer collapses before Paul and asks: “What must I do to be saved?” The fortune-telling girl had announced these men as the bringers of salvation, and the jailer desperately wants to know this salvation after seeing what their God did for them.

Paul answers with the gospel: believe on the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household. Paul and Silas speak words of life to him and his household, baptize them, and eat with them. The next day, the jailer lets them know that they are free to go, and gives them a Christian farewell.

But there has been a public confrontation between Jesus and Rome, and everybody outside the jail thinks Rome won. Paul cannot let that stand. Rome tries to send them away and act like nothing happened, but something did happen: Rome threw Jesus’ messengers in jail, and the jail fell down. And so Paul insists that Rome bow to Jesus, and the magistrates come humbly and apologize, publicly escorting them out, signaling that they were not criminals in the eyes of Rome. After one last stop at Lydia’s house to encourage the new church, the missionaries depart, having shaken Philippi to her knees.

Remember what happens in Philippi – this will be the story for the rest of the book of Acts, for the rest of Christian history. What happened to Jesus happens to His people. Death, then resurrection. Bearing witness for God, suffering for it, and then being vindicated by God. Can Jesus be ignored? Just ask Philippi. Kiss the Son, lest He shake your whole city down.

Brothers and sisters, this is our situation: our culture occasionally harasses a Christian or two, but usually she just tries to pretend that Jesus doesn’t really make a difference, quarantining the gospel into a personal, private space between the ears and under the ribcage. All too often, we act as if we are content with that. But the gospel we preach is a world-shaking gospel, and Jesus changes business practices, changes economic practices, challenges idols, challenges emperors, challenges governments. The gospel does not and cannot stay hidden in the human heart. Jesus owns the world, and we His people need to act like it. Not with a swagger, but by preaching the good news that sets slaves and jailers free. Not by thumping our chests, but by honoring women and being blessed by them. Not by hauling people who don’t share our views into court, but by praying and singing hymns to God until He shakes the earth for us again, to the glory of Jesus Christ.

Posted on Thursday, November 20, 2014 by CJ Bowen