Throughout this Encounter series, one of the things that I have noticed is that every encounter with God reveals more about who He is – His character, His nature, and how He sees His people. For example, as we learned about God’s promise to Abraham and Sarah to give them a child, we discovered that God is patient and will allow us to wait in order to ensure that we are ready to do what He has called us to do. As Abraham was called to sacrifice his son Isaac, we learned that God wants to be first in our lives.
This weekend, we are going to be looking at Acts, Chapter 16 and four different encounters of Paul that reveal even more about God’s character. Through these encounters, we are going to see that God is always at work around us – our responsibility is to join Him in that work so that others might encounter Him.
Paul’s first encounter in Acts 16:9 is actually not with a real person, but a vision of a man from Macedonia begging him to come and help them. This vision came after Paul and his companions were kept by the Holy Spirit from entering into Asia to preach the gospel. It may seem odd that Paul was kept from doing what Jesus had commissioned him to do, but as we will see, God had good reason for keeping Paul from doing what he had originally planned. After Paul encounters the Macedonian man in his dream, he wakes up and, believing the vision was from God, sets out with Silas and Timothy for Macedonia.
Upon entering Philippi (a Roman colony and a leading city in Macedonia), I’m sure Paul and his traveling partners set out looking for the man from Paul’s vision. They don’t find him. Instead, going down to the river to pray on the Sabbath, they encounter a group of women who had come to draw water. Specifically, Paul encounters a woman named Lydia who is described as a worshiper of God. Luke writes, “The Lord opened her heart to respond to Paul’s message” (Acts 16:14). Lydia not only accepts the gospel herself, but takes it back to her family, who also accept it and are baptized and saved.
Later, as Paul and Silas are traveling to their place of prayer, they have another encounter with a female slave who was possessed by a demon who has given her the ability to predict the future. She followed the men, shouting over and over again, “These men are servants of the Most High God, who are telling you the way to be saved.” Eventually, Paul grows annoyed with this, rebukes the demon, who then leaves the girl, who is now no longer able to predict the future. Because this was a major source of income for her masters, they grow angry and accuse Paul and Silas of creating an uproar in the city. As a result of these false charges, the men are arrested, stripped, severely beaten, and put in jail.
The fourth encounter comes as Paul and Silas are sitting in a cell. You would think that this was a low point in their lives – having just been brutally beaten, humiliated, and chained to the floor of a jail cell. But Luke tells us that Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God while the other prisoners listened to them. Suddenly, a violent earthquake shakes the foundation of the prison, the doors fly open, and the chains are loosed. The jailer, thinking that everyone had escaped, draws his sword to kill himself. But Paul stops him, ensuring that nobody had escaped. Trembling, the man falls at Paul and Silas’s feet asking them, “What must I do to be saved?” Paul shares the gospel with Him, he accepts it, then takes it back to his family, who are all baptized and saved.
Four separate but connected encounters leading to the salvation of two entire families and a young slave girl’s liberation from demonic forces. All of which would not have occurred if Paul and his companions had traveled into Asia as they initially set out to do. The most interesting thing about these encounters, however, and where we see God at work, is in the fact that Lydia, the woman at the river who accepted the gospel, was from Asia. Luke described her as a dealer of purple cloth, likely in Philippi to do business. Paul was kept from going into Asia and led to Philippi by a vision of a man from Macedonia. What he encountered, however, was a woman from Asia who accepted the gospel and took it back home to Asia, the very place where Paul wanted to take the gospel.
You and I may not have visions like Paul did as he awaited instruction as to where he should go next. We do, however, have the same Holy Spirit living inside of us - the same Holy Spirit that kept Paul and his companions from going into a place that God, in that moment, did not want them to go. Why didn’t God want them to go there? Because he had a greater plan – a plan to do more than they could have ever asked or imagined. And God has a greater plan for you and me too. His desire today, just was it was in the first century, is to see people respond to the gospel of salvation by believing in Jesus Christ. Our responsibility is to go where he calls us and to trust that His plan is perfect even when our plan seems good to ourselves.
I pray that you will join us this weekend as we open up this encounter in Scripture and gain even more insight into God’s character, His providence, and His plan. Worship services are on Saturday evening at 5:30 PM and Sunday morning at 10:30 AM.