St. Matthew’s Sermon 05-08-2016

St. Matthew’s Sermon 05-08-2016

It’s All in the Context; Good Will Prevail

Acts 16:16-34, Revelation 22:12-14, 16-17, 20-21, John 17:20-26

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O God. Amen.

I remember hearing today’s reading from the Book of Acts many times, although it is usually broken into two parts; with the story of the fortune-telling slave girl separated from the jail scene.

I always had trouble understanding the part about the slave girl, specifically; why did Paul have a problem with someone who professed a serious Christian tenet when she would cry out “These men are slaves of the Most High God, who proclaim to you a way of salvation.” But this is why it is so important for us to understand the context of the writings of the Bible.

In the context of the Book of Acts, earlier in this same chapter, Luke tells us that Philippi is “a Roman colony”. He also mentions that there is no Synagogue there, indicating that there are too few Jews in the city to warrant one.

Within this part of the account of Paul’s ministry the slave girl’s owners take Paul to a Roman court indicating that they are certainly not Jews either. And, Paul drives the spirit out of her by the name of Jesus Christ; letting us know for sure that this is no “Holy Spirit” that posses the girl. Add this up and we might begin to question our interpretation of her reference to “The God Most High”.

In the context of a Roman colony outside of Israel and with a lack of Jewish settlers, we can expect to find lots of Romans and, of course, Roman social and religious practices to go with them. If we look at their religion we find that they, too, had a “god most high”. It was Jupiter: the god of sky and thunder and the King of all their gods. Jupiter was also, among other things, the protector of the Roman Empire.

Now, we might see why Paul became annoyed with the girl. She wasn’t referring to our “God Most High, but to a false god of the Romans. And she wasn’t talking about a way to spiritual salvation but a false hope of national salvation.

Also, in this cultural / religious context, Jupiter was the Roman god concerned with oaths, treaties, conscience, and with the sense of obligation and right dealing. Notice how the Roman owners of the slave girl, when they take Paul and Silas before the magistrate, don’t accuse them of stealing their livelihood by casting the spirit out of the girl, rather, they make up charges claiming, “These men are disturbing our city; they are Jews and are advocating customs that are not lawful for us as Romans to adopt or observe.”

Think about this, how does that reflect on people who worship a god concerned with oaths and right dealings?

And then comes another part of the context; the social context of mob mentality and justice based on appeasing the majority rather than on truth. As Luke tells it, “The crowd joined in attacking them… and the magistrates had them stripped of their clothing and ordered them to be beaten with rods”. Then Paul and Silas are thrown into prison.

By now you might be noticing the parallels between this story and that of Peter in Jerusalem. Twice, once with other Apostles and once by himself, Peter was arrested and jailed. But this is where the similarities stop. Peter was rescued from prison by an Angel both times. But for Paul and Silas in Philippi, it’s a timely earthquake that opens the gates and releases the chains.

Many suppose that the earthquake was an act of God. But Luke doesn’t tell us that, and assuming so takes away from the rest of the story. Paul could have watched the jailer kill himself and walked out of the prison unhindered but instead he ceases the opportunity to save the jailers life and his soul.

By the way, that social context thing rises again here. You see, the jailer was about to take his own life preferring a quick end as opposed to the long, excruciating execution he would have faced at the hands of the Roman authority for allowing the prisoners to escape. This way, too, his family would not be berated if he was thought to have been killed by the escaping prisoners, actually giving his life trying to do his job.


With this close look at the context of this story we may begin to hear it differently and see it more clearly. Now, we know a little about the Roman god Jupiter being their god of sky, thunder, national protection, oaths, treaties, conscience, the sense of obligation and right dealing, as well as the “King” of their gods; (doesn’t this sound a bit like our God?). But of course it’s not.

What we are seeing here is more than Paul and Silas’ challenges in their ministry; we’re witnessing a battle! We’re watching the false god most high versus Thee God most high. And we’re seeing the adherents to false religion in conflict with true religion; those professing lies in the name of their god of oaths, conscience, and right dealing against bearers of truth; those who call for condemnation using racial prejudices against those who call for inclusion of all people in God’s love; and we’re witnessing a battle between justice based on popular opinion and justice based on truth. In short, we’re watching the fight between our God of Goodness and Mercy against the forces of evil.

And now, at this point in the story, we’re seeing the beginning of the defeat of those evil forces; in a prison cell where the innocent have been suppressed by them; a prison cell, the perfect place for the fight for love and justice to take place; a prison cell, where the encasing doors of oppression are flung open and the confined are liberated.


When the jailer, in great fear, falls at Paul and Silas’ feet and pleads “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” We cannot be sure if he is asking to have his life or his soul saved; or maybe he’s asking for both. But it doesn’t matter where his mind was set as he asked the question; what does matter is that he opened himself to hear the words Paul would tell him, and by that, he will have both his life and his soul placed in the hands of the true “God Most High”. Goodness and Mercy have prevailed!

And now there’s one more aspect of context for us to look at; the context of our time and place.

I mentioned briefly that the character of Jupiter sounds a bit like our God; but did you notice any similarities between the context of the ancient world and our world today?

Like, two men, out of place, not in their natural country, being heckled by the residents… who were themselves not natives of the land they occupied?

And the greed of people, who would own another person, and force them to use their gifts and talents for great personal gain without regard to the needs and desires of their underling?

Or false charges brought against the meek to satisfy the mighty; namely, false charges of anti nationalism and false charges of nationalism versus religion?

Are there instances in our nation where popular opinion overrides the call for truth and justice?

Are there people thrown in prison for unjust reasons; and people imprisoned far longer than their offence calls for?

Have you ever seen anyone act in self-preservation even though their liberation would be very costly to someone else?


These are just 6 acts of injustice that I’ve seen in this small piece of scripture that can also be seen in our world today. For Paul and Silas, everything worked out in the end owing to the faithfulness of their God and their faithfulness to their God. And through this episode a new Church was founded in the name of Jesus Christ. Not by the power of nationalism, or forced labor, or greed, or money, or popular opinion, or threat of imprisonment; but by the power of love; love of God, love for God, love of justice and… even love for the enemy.

In the context of the ancient world and in the context of our world today, Good will prevail. But it is through God’s workers: Paul and Silas; you and me; that it will be so.

And what does the Lord require of you, O mortal but to do justice and love kindness and walk humbly with your God.

Love will prevail, Good will prevail God will prevail. Amen 


Acts 16:16-34
16:16 One day, as we were going to the place of prayer, we met a slave girl who had a spirit of divination and brought her owners a great deal of money by fortune-telling.
16:17 While she followed Paul and us, she would cry out, “These men are slaves of the Most High God, who proclaim to you a way of salvation.”
16:18 She kept doing this for many days. But Paul, very much annoyed, turned and said to the spirit, “I order you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her.” And it came out that very hour.
16:19 But when her owners saw that their hope of making money was gone, they seized Paul and Silas and dragged them into the marketplace before the authorities.
16:20 When they had brought them before the magistrates, they said, “These men are disturbing our city; they are Jews
16:21 and are advocating customs that are not lawful for us as Romans to adopt or observe.”
16:22 The crowd joined in attacking them, and the magistrates had them stripped of their clothing and ordered them to be beaten with rods.
16:23 After they had given them a severe flogging, they threw them into prison and ordered the jailer to keep them securely.
16:24 Following these instructions, he put them in the innermost cell and fastened their feet in the stocks.
16:25 About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them.
16:26 Suddenly 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.
16:27 When 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.
16:28 But Paul shouted in a loud voice, “Do not harm yourself, for we are all here.”
16:29 The jailer called for lights, and rushing in, he fell down trembling before Paul and Silas.
16:30 Then he brought them outside and said, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?”
16:31 They answered, “Believe on the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.”
16:32 They spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all who were in his house.
16:33 At the same hour of the night he took them and washed their wounds; then he and his entire family were baptized without delay.
16:34 He 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.

Revelation 22:12-14, 16-17, 20-21
22:12 “See, I am coming soon; my reward is with me, to repay according to everyone’s work.
22:13 I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end.”
22:14 Blessed are those who wash their robes, so that they will have the right to the tree of life and may enter the city by the gates.
22:16 “It is I, Jesus, who sent my angel to you with this testimony for the churches. I am the root and the descendant of David, the bright morning star.”
22:17 The Spirit and the bride say, “Come.” And let everyone who hears say, “Come.” And let everyone who is thirsty come. Let anyone who wishes take the water of life as a gift.
22:20 The one who testifies to these things says, “Surely I am coming soon.” Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!
22:21 The grace of the Lord Jesus be with all the saints. Amen.

John 17:20-26
17:20 “I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word,
17:21 that they may all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me.
17:22 The glory that you have given me I have given them, so that they may be one, as we are one,
17:23 I in them and you in me, that they may become completely one, so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.
17:24 Father, I desire that those also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory, which you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world.
17:25 “Righteous Father, the world does not know you, but I know you; and these know that you have sent me.
17:26 I made your name known to them, and I will make it known, so that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.”