Salvation for All is Costly
Sermon Text: Acts 16:11-40
Sermon Theme: God can save all types of people by using the same gospel. And as with His Son, it often comes at great cost to us.
A solemn assembly the worshippers of God must have, if possible, upon the Sabbath day. If we have not synagogues, we must be thankful for more private places, and resort to them; not forsaking the assembling together, as our opportunities are. Among the hearers of Paul was a woman, named Lydia. She had an honest calling, which the historian notices to her praise. Yet though she had a calling to mind, she found time to improve advantages for her soul. It will not excuse us from religious duties, to say, We have a trade to mind; for have not we also a God to serve, and souls to look after? Religion does not call us from our business in the world, but directs us in it. Pride, prejudice, and sin shut out the truths of God, till his grace makes way for them into the understanding and affections; and the Lord alone can open the heart to receive and believe his word. We must believe in Jesus Christ; there is no coming to God as a Father, but by the Son as Mediator.
Satan, though the father of lies, will declare the most important truths, when he can thereby serve his purposes. But much mischief is done to the real servants of Christ, by unholy and false preachers of the gospel, who are confounded with them by careless observers. Those who do good by drawing men from sin, may expect to be reviled as troublers of the city. While they teach men to fear God, to believe in Christ, to forsake sin, and to live godly lives, they will be accused of teaching bad customs.
The consolations of God to his suffering servants are neither few nor small. How much more happy are true Christians than their prosperous enemies! As in the dark, so out of the depths, we may cry unto God. No place, no time is amiss for prayer, if the heart be lifted up to God. No trouble, however grievous, should hinder us from praise. Christianity proves itself to be of God, in that it obliges us to be just to our own lives. Paul cried aloud to make the jailer hear, and to make him heed, saying, Do thyself no harm. All the cautions of the word of God against sin, and all appearances of it, and approaches to it, have this tendency. Man, woman, do not ruin thyself; hurt not thyself, and then none else can hurt thee; do not sin, for nothing but that can hurt thee. Even as to the body, we are cautioned against the sins which do harm to that. Converting grace changes people’s language of and to good people and good ministers. How serious the jailer’s inquiry! His salvation becomes his great concern; that lies nearest his heart, which before was furthest from his thoughts. It is his own precious soul that he is concerned about. Those who are thoroughly convinced of sin, and truly concerned about their salvation, will give themselves up to Christ. Here is the sum of the whole gospel, the covenant of grace in a few words; Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved, and thy house. The Lord so blessed the word, that the jailer was at once softened and humbled. He treated them with kindness and compassion, and, professing faith in Christ, was baptized in that name, with his family. The Spirit of grace worked such a strong faith in them, as did away further doubt; and Paul and Silas knew by the Spirit, that a work of God was wrought in them. When sinners are thus converted, they will love and honor those whom they before despised and hated, and will seek to lessen the suffering they before desired to increase. When the fruits of faith begin to appear, terrors will be followed by confidence and joy in God.
Paul, though willing to suffer for the cause of Christ, and without any desire to avenge himself, did not choose to depart under the charge of having deserved wrongful punishment, and therefore required to be dismissed in an honorable manner. It was not a mere point of honor that the apostle stood upon, but justice, and not to himself so much as to his cause. And when proper apology is made, Christians should never express personal anger, nor insist too strictly upon personal amends. The Lord will make them more than conquerors in every conflict; instead of being cast down by their sufferings, they will become comforters of their brethren.
[From Matthew Henry’s Concise Commentary]
- We’ve seen that God works providentially to draw very different people to Himself. He does it through the same gospel message, proclaimed by His servants. But, who is listening and seeking God? For those who hear the gospel can either respond in faith or reject it because of the hardness of their hearts. The New Testament is clear that if we believe in Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord, it is not because we were so brilliant as to make that decision. It is because God graciously opened our hearts to respond as He did for Lydia along with her group, and for the Philippian jailer and his household. For saving faith is the gift of God (Acts 11:18; Ephesians 2:8-9; Philippians 1:29). The lesson for us is not to despise any person as unimportant in God’s sight. We can easily think, “This person is not a key person. It would be a waste of my time to share with him or her.” Not so! “God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to shame the things which are strong, and the base things of the world and the despised, God has chosen, the things that are not, that He might nullify the things that are, that no man should boast before God” (1 Corinthians 1:27-29).
- How many, so often, hear the sound of the life-giving message preached without really listening to it? Jesus gave the reason people fail to listen to His Word: “Why do you not understand what I am saying? It is because you cannot hear My word. You are of your father the devil, and you want to do the desires of your father. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. Whenever he speaks a lie, he speaks from his own nature; for he is a liar, and the father of lies. But because I speak the truth, you do not believe Me” (John 8:43-45). This view of things is exactly the same as we find in Paul who says that people do not believe because their minds have been darkened by the god of this world (2 Corinthians 4:4), but that they are converted when the gospel comes to them “not only in word, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full assurance” (1 Thessalonians 1:5). To be sure, this way of looking at the matter does not lessen the responsibility of the Christian to implore and entreat people to receive the Word (2 Corinthians 5:20; 2 Corinthians 6:1), nor does it in any way remove the responsibility of the hearer to repent and believe the gospel. For everyone is either liberated by Jesus Christ or enslaved by Satan. The only path to freedom is that followed by Lydia — of seeking God, listening to the gospel, and having a heart opened to respond by the Lord. Those who do so will not be disappointed, for the Lord Himself promises that “You will seek Me and find Me, when you search for Me with all your heart” (Jeremiah 29:13).
- Do you understand that God’s sovereignty in salvation is the foundation of a proper perspective on evangelism? Salvation does not depend on clever evangelistic strategies, or the skill of the preacher, or a masterful presentation. It is not a human work at all; it is God’s work. “I planted,” Paul wrote to the Corinthians, “Apollos watered, but God was causing the growth. So then neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but God who causes the growth” (1 Corinthians 3:6-7). The most important element of any gospel presentation is clarity of content. To present the gospel clearly requires invoking the power of the Spirit and leaving the results to God.
- Are we taking all our Christian responsibilities earnestly? God holds us responsible to gather for worship, fellowship, and edification as the women did by the river in Philippi. He holds us responsible to proclaim his Word effectively as the missionaries did in the pagan city of Philippi. He holds us responsible to keep our spirits up by his grace when life crumbles all around us. He holds us responsible to explain the gospel at every opportunity he puts in our paths. As he did with the small group of believers at Philippi, so he holds us responsible to be lights in darkness, witnesses of the resurrection and of the Savior’s grace both as individuals and as the collective body of Christ.
- Are we being watchful that Satan does not take advantage of us? Are we not being ignorant of his schemes (2 Corinthians 2:11)? One of Satan’s subtle strategies is to align himself with the truth. What the demon-possessed girl was saying was absolutely true but it was a subtle and dangerous attack — a bold attempt to infiltrate a deadly tare among the wheat. The demon even used biblical terminology. The term Most High God was an Old Testament designation of the God of Israel (Psalm 78:35; Daniel 5:18). She also spoke of the way of salvation. The father of lies speaks the truth when it suits his purposes, disguising himself and his emissaries as angels of light (2 Corinthians 11:13-14). Some of his most effective and diabolical work is done in the name of Jesus Christ. He often uses a little truth to ensnare people in a false system of religion. Since the demon-possessed girl was agreeing with the Christian preachers, the natural assumption would be that she was part of their group. She would then have been in a position to do unspeakable harm to the cause of Christ. Sometimes Satan will use outright aggression against the Lord’s people, such as unjust beatings and imprisonment. But his more dangerous strategy, because it is more subtle, is not aggression, but alignment. “These men are bond-servants of the Most High God, who are proclaiming to you the way of salvation” (Acts 16:17). Those were perfectly true words! So, why would Paul get irritated with her shouting out the truth?
- Have you taken a close look at the reaction of the demon-possessed girl’s masters and their inhumane cruelty in the institution of slavery? Instead of rejoicing in her deliverance, they became enraged when they saw that their hope of profit was gone. Such reactions illustrate a sad spiritual reality: love of money blurs spiritual perception. As Paul wrote to Timothy, “Those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a snare and many foolish and harmful desires which plunge men into ruin and destruction” (1 Timothy 6:9). That is true because “the love of money is a root of all sorts of evil, and some by longing for it have wandered away from the faith, and pierced themselves with many a pang” (1 Timothy 6:10). So, be very careful of were your hope of profits and happiness comes from.
- With no trial, no hearing, and no opportunity to defend themselves, Paul and Silas were beaten with a wooden rod and thrown into the inner cell of the prison with their feet placed in stocks. How could Paul and Silas praise God under such conditions? They understood what many Christians seem to forget — praising God does not depend on circumstances. “Rejoice in the Lord always,” wrote Paul to the Philippian church (Philippians 4:4). Christians do not rejoice in their circumstances — not even Paul did that. He knew what it was to experience affliction so severe that he was “burdened excessively” and “despaired even of life” (2 Corinthians 1:8). Christians rejoice in the glorious truth that the sovereign God controls every circumstance of life. They “know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose” (Romans 8:28). When trials come, believers can take comfort in the truth expressed by Peter: “After you have suffered for a little while, the God of all grace, who called you to His eternal glory in Christ, will Himself perfect, confirm, strengthen and establish you” (1 Peter 5:10). For we Like Paul can say: “Therefore we do not lose heart, but though our outer man is decaying, yet our inner man is being renewed day by day. For momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison” (2 Corinthians 4:16-17). The key to having joy in every circumstance of life is to be filled with the Spirit. Joy is a part of the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22) and yielding to His control produces songs of joy (Ephesians 5:18-19). The problem with sad, miserable Christians is not their circumstances but the lack of living a Spirit-controlled life. So, take heart instead and evaluate your circumstances in light of what you know to be true about God. For Paul and Silas expressed confident trust that God would use their circumstances for their good and His glory. Or, as James wrote, “Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance” (James 1:2-3). It’s not enough just to grit your teeth and endure trials; God wants us to rejoice in them! For the attitude of Paul and Silas was not based on their knowledge of a happy outcome. It was based on their knowledge of a good and sovereign God.
- Are you taking the opportunity to meet God? Consider some in this story who could have met God, but they missed Him. The owners of the slave girl missed God because of their greed and anger toward Paul for taking away the source of their income. They also lied to the city magistrates, trumping up false charges about Paul and Silas. The city magistrates could have listened to Paul’s defense, which surely would have included the gospel. But they missed their opportunity to meet God because they wanted to keep their constituency happy. The crowd in Philippi missed meeting God because they swallowed the accusations of the slave owners without hearing Paul’s message and thinking carefully about it. Those who reject Jesus Christ cannot blame God for not opening their hearts to the gospel. They are responsible for their own sin. God does not owe them salvation. If they perish, they perish because they are “darkened in their understanding, excluded from the life of God, because of the ignorance that is in them, because of the hardness of their heart; and they, having become callous, have given themselves over to sensuality, for the practice of every kind of impurity with greediness” (Ephesians 4:18-19). The question is, how will you respond? In your hardness of heart, will you cling to your greed and sin and respond in anger to the message, as the slave owners in the story did? Or will you join Lydia and the jailer and their households by responding in faith and giving glory to God for opening your heart to the good news, that Jesus Christ will save every sinner who believes in Him?
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