Reading: Acts 16:16-34
A lot has happened since last week’s reading and the Council at Jerusalem. The apostles and elders have written to the new churches in Antioch, Syria and Cilicia. The letter was hand delivered by Judas and Silas so that these new Christians would know how seriously the Jerusalem church was taking these matters.
The letter tells them they should not be overly burdened but asks they avoid the things that were mentioned last week. On receipt of the messengers and the reading of the letter they were glad and it was received as a letter of encouragement. The messengers spoke further words of encouragement and strengthened the new Christians before leaving to head home again they too were offered the blessing of peace. Paul and Barnabas remained in Antioch, continuing to teach and preach the word of the Lord.
The plans they had differed and they had a parting of the ways here. Barnabas set sail for Cyprus along with Mark. Paul set off with Silas continuing to teach through Syria and Cilicia before setting sail once more, arriving at the port of Neapolis before travelling to the city of Philippi. This is where we re-join their journey. As was his way Paul always looked for a major centre, trading routes or busy ports with people from every corner of their world passing through. It was a real clever strategy as his message of Jesus could spread with great haste from these bustling places, much quicker than if he himself tried to visit all the places represented at these major amalgams of the Roman and Greek worlds.
I mentioned last week how by this time there may have been more Gentile believers than Jewish. We notice here even that is surpassed in Philippi. We know Paul would always head for the synagogue and preached there first before moving out. He cannot do that here as there is not one in the city. The significance of this cannot be lost. According to Jewish law there had to be at least ten Jewish men living in a place before a Synagogue could be established there. So much is happening here it is hard to focus on the right things. People are still worshipping the one true God but not in a building, they are doing so down by the riverside. The first European who is named is a female by the name of Lydia. The second person is also a female but this time a demon possessed young girl. Not only are we moving away from a predominantly Jewish base to a Gentile one for the new church. Not only are we moving away from the word being heard within a building called a Synagogue but now it is heard down on the river bank. Not only are we hearing of men who are joining the swelling ranks and leading the new church forward but now the first two encounters within Europe are with females.
Paul & Silas in Prison recap
The word spreads ever further as it reaches Europe. They enter through the port of Neapolis before journeying to the city of Philippi. Our first European Christian and her household are baptised. Paul and Silas are thrown into a dark dungeon. They are not downtrodden but in the night they worship God in song and prayer. Suddenly their chains fall off and they are free. The prison guard is terrified by the light and then when darkness falls again he fears his prisoners are off. Knowing this will be the end of him he intends to take his own life. Paul reassures him that is not the case and the guard expresses his desire to know their God and to be saved. He and his household are baptised. The story does not quite end where our reading finished. Upon their release it became known that Paul and Silas were Roman citizens and therefore illegal according to Roman Law for one of their citizens to be beaten. If this news gets out to their superiors it will be the beaters who will be beaten themselves. Last week it was all about the rules and if you know them or not. Here is a reminder. Even when you do know the rules you also have to be sure you are administering them properly. The jailing of Paul and Silas was a very public affair showing how the magistrates were in control. Once the truth is out and the tables are turned Paul demands an equally public apology on their release from prison. Paul and Silas return to the house of Lydia were believers have gathered to see them on their way. We know from his letter to the Philippians that this small church continued to grow as many more came to faith in Christ.