Delighted to Be Invited—Acts 16, Part III

As I noted in the first two posts of this series, Scot McKnight, in his essay “Church in the Present Tense,” points out  that every sermon recorded in Acts, no matter how different the setting and audience, still includes the same invitation.

In each instance, we hear God’s invitation to either become a part of God’s great story or to take the next step with God in that story. In every case, that involved joining the story of Jesus’ life, cross, resurrection, and exaltation. In each case, this means seeing God’s Jesus Story as the next great step in God’s Master Story of human history and of the history of Israel. And in each case, this meant becoming a part of the community of believers that flows from God’s new step enacted through the life of Jesus.

In part 1 of this blog series, we explored what this looked like on Pentecost with a “church going” audience. In part 2, we explored an invitation to a person we might today describe as a “very spiritual person” or a “genuine seeker” or a “good person who is not Christian” or a “very genuine person of another religion.” Acts 10 also presented us with an invitation to a reluctant disciple to go much deeper into the Jesus story than he had ever imagined Jesus might wish him to go.

Now, in part 3, we will explore what an invitation to a hardened and non-devout pagan enemy looked like. In spite of the great differences in approach and audience, each sermon claims that we humans can find a new kind of peace/shalom by becoming a part of God’s Great Master Story.

Acts 16:20-34

20When they had brought them before the magistrates, they said, “These men are disturbing our city; they are Jews 21and are advocating customs that are not lawful for us as Romans to adopt or observe.” 22The crowd joined in attacking them, and the magistrates had them stripped of their clothing and ordered them to be beaten with rods. 23After they had given them a severe flogging, they threw them into prison and ordered the jailer to keep them securely. 24Following these instructions, he put them in the innermost cell and fastened their feet in the stocks.

25About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them. 26Suddenly there was an earthquake, so violent that the foundations of the prison were shaken; and immediately all the doors were opened and everyone’s chains were unfastened. 27When the jailer woke up and saw the prison doors wide open, he drew his sword and was about to kill himself, since he supposed that the prisoners had escaped. 28But Paul shouted in a loud voice, “Do not harm yourself, for we are all here.” 29The jailer called for lights, and rushing in, he fell down trembling before Paul and Silas.

30Then he brought them outside and said, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” 31They answered, “Believe on the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.” 32They spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all who were in his house. 33At the same hour of the night he took them and washed their wounds; then he and his entire household were baptized without delay. 34He brought them up into the house and set food before them; and he and his entire household rejoiced that he had become a believer in God.

  • This time, the invitation to join God’s great story comes not just to a pagan, but to an active enemy and oppressor of those who are currently involved in God’s great Jesus Story.
  • And, this enemy had not even bothered to clean the wounds—wounds almost certain to become terribly infected in a foreign jail—of these unwelcome “Jews.” (Note:  Paul and Silas are being persecuted as “Jews” not as “Christians,” according to the text. Obviously at this point in history, being a follower of Jesus mainly meant being a certain kind of Jew.)
  • For this tough vet, killing himself was going to be much easier than being shamed  and then probably executed in Caesar’s military court. In Paul’s shoes, wouldn’t you have been tempted to let him commit suicide in order to save your own skin and that of your fellow prisoners? Apparently all they had to do was walk out the doors.
  • This crusty old enemy and oppressor of these Jews ENDS UP DELIGHTED TO BE INVITED to join God’s great Jesus story. Who would have ever guessed?
  • The jailer’s new peace with God also gives him peace about what Rome may do to him, and peace with these Jewish followers of Jesus. It is probably safe to say that this testy old vet had never known genuine SHALOM at any point in his life before this event.
  • In addition to PEACE across political, national, cultural, ethnic, and religious boundaries, we find people at peace with those who have treated them very badly on a simple personal human level. This is a kind of peace seen all too rarely even among those of us who claim to be living the Jesus story.
  • Baptism—once again, as in almost all of the Acts accounts of invitations to join the Jesus Story, baptism is offered as a public sign that we are JOINING IN GOD’S STORY OF HUMANITY & ISRAEL, AS GOD HAS  MOVED IT FORWARD IN JESUS’ Life, Death, Burial, and Resurrection.

CHALLENGE FROM ACTS 16:

  • Do you have a harder time being willing to include people in your part of the Jesus story:
    •  from groups who have hurt you and “your people;” or
    • persons who have wronged and degraded you personally?
  • How many people who we don’t like, or people who consider us to be their enemies, are we writing off as individuals (even “households”) who would never be delighted to join the Jesus story?
  • What an amazing story God is writing in human history! And how exciting is it that “whoever will may come!”

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