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17 May 2016

Day in the Life: Demoniac (Luke 8:25-39)

Day in the Life: “Demoniac”
Luke 8:25-39
May 15, 2016 – Kevin Rees - audio file posted at kevinrees.sermon.net

“Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell” (Matthew 10:28).


Fear, anger, and the balance of power are bound together.  If we find that we are angry, the first question to answer is: “What do we fear?”  If we find that we are fearful, the next question to answer is: “Who or what holds the power in our lives?”  If we find that we have no or lessening power, the last question is: “Why does that make us angry?”  Which brings it full cycle.  Fear, anger, and the balance of power are not bad things—they are good gifts given to show us the condition of our otherwise unobservable heart.  But fear, anger, and the balance of power are often misunderstood, avoided, suppressed, and misdirected.  Today’s passage highlights, in particular, the fear.

Regardless of what Roosevelt famously said—“The only thing we have to fear is fear itself”—sometimes there is more to fear than fear itself.  The object of our fear can be actual, external, and evil.  And on some days that which we fear the most stares at us in full daylight.  This was the situation on one particular day in the life of Jesus.  Although Jesus himself was not afraid, everyone else in the story exhibited intense fear. 

I count no less than four kinds of fear in this one paragraph—reverence, dread, terror, and obedience.  Two are holy and healthy; two are not.  While we will sort out these kinds of fear as the narrative plays out in Luke 8:25-39, it is essential to realize that all fears inevitably collide with and reveal our view of God.  If a healthy view of God already exists in the heart, then the fear carries us closer to God.  But if an unhealthy view of God exists inside, then the fear carries us further from God.

That’s a huge concept—so, how can I illustrate?  Take, for instance, the 139th psalm.  King David wrote some of the most endearing words of all time: “O LORD, you have searched me and known me!  You know when I sit down and when I rise up; you discern my thoughts from afar.  You search out my path and my lying down and are acquainted with all my ways.  Even before a word is on my tongue, behold, O LORD, you know it altogether.  You hem me in, behind and before, and lay your hand upon me” (Psalm 139:1-5).   For David, who has a healthy view of God, this inescapable nature of God’s omnipresence was a comfort: “Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is too high, I cannot attain it….  I am fearfully and wonderfully made; wonderful are your works, my soul knows it very well (Psalm 139:6, 14).  But for others who might harbor an unhealthy view of God, God’s inescapable nearness and intricate knowledge are terrifying prospects.  “What do you mean God ‘discern[s] my thoughts from afar’”?  “What do you mean God ‘knit me together in my mother’s womb’”?  “I object!”  Fear often amplifies what is already present on the inside.


I.          THE DISCIPLES’ FEAR—HOLY REVERENCE OF CHRIST (vv. 25-26)

25 He said to them, "Where is your faith?" And they were afraid, and they marveled, saying to one another, "Who then is this, that he commands even winds and water, and they obey him?"
26 Then they sailed to the country of the Gerasenes, which is opposite Galilee.

Reaching back to the previous paragraph, let me briefly pull forward the first of our four observable fears—the disciples’ fear.  For professional fishermen who virtually lived out on the water in the darkness of the night, this storm must have been enormous in order to scare them to a panic.  So they woke Jesus up, who was amazingly asleep in the stern.  They begged him to help bail water.  But within their begging was a borderline rebuke for not caring whether they lived or died.  Jesus then spoke a word, “Peace,” and gave a command, “Be still,” and the raging waves and the whipping winds became perfect tranquil.  Notwithstanding, even though the outside was miraculously calm, the inside of the disciples became even more afraid than 15 seconds before: “Who then is this that he commands even the winds and water, and they obey him?” (Luke 8:25)—and he is in the boat with us!  Theirs was genuine fear, but it was relationally connected to and directed at Jesus.  Therefore, this first kind of fear was a holy reverence.

Phobias exist all over the world—some are imagined, many are real, and several have been newly invented in the Western world; monstrosities like “Islamophobia.”  But there is one phobia that is immensely helpful and thoroughly healthy—the fear of the Lord.  More than any of the phobias that might be hurled at me, I am far more fearful of the Lord; a that fear rightly displaces all other fears.


II.         THE DEMONS’ FEAR—UNHOLY DREAD OF CHRIST (vv. 27-33)

27 When Jesus had stepped out on land, there met him a man from the city who had demons. For a long time he had worn no clothes, and he had not lived in a house but among the tombs.
28 When he saw Jesus, he cried out and fell down before him and said with a loud voice, "What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I beg you, do not torment me."
29 For he had commanded the unclean spirit to come out of the man. (For many a time it had seized him. He was kept under guard and bound with chains and shackles, but he would break the bonds and be driven by the demon into the desert.)
30 Jesus then asked him, "What is your name?" And he said, "Legion," for many demons had entered him.
31 And they begged him not to command them to depart into the abyss.
32 Now a large herd of pigs was feeding there on the hillside, and they begged him to let them enter these. So he gave them permission.
33 Then the demons came out of the man and entered the pigs, and the herd rushed down the steep bank into the lake and drowned.

The first kind of fear is holy reverence.  The second kind of fear is unholy dread.  “Immediately” (Mark 5:2) after this fearful event on the boat, the group arrived in the country of “Gerasenes” (which, if you imagine the Sea of Galilee as a clockface, is at 5 o’clock).  Thus continues this single day in the life of Jesus.  Gerasenes is in a predominately Gentile area—part of a league of ten cities called Decapolis that banded together in the Greco-Roman fashion for trade, culture, and protection.  As soon as Jesus stepped foot on the pebbly beach “there met him a man from the city who had demons” (vs. 27a).

I am not sure why it appears this way but demonic manifestations seem to be more prevalent overseas than here in America.  But my eyes don’t tell me what to believe; the Scriptures tell me what to believe whether or not my eyes ever see it.  And the Scriptures tell me that there is a raging war going on right now in the spiritual realm where God’s glory and man’s faith are under siege.  Even though Jesus by the cross has broken the power of sin, Satan, and death—the enemy and his hierarchical ranks of demons, together with world governments and corrupt religions, cling to the “real estate” that has been legally reclaimed by Christ.  They will not relinquish their haunts nicely.  Therefore, even though our church building is calm and cool and we sit in padded pews with our hands folded while some of our brothers and sisters drift off into a morning nap, the church is nevertheless engaged in open warfare.

Demons are just as active here as there and now as then.  The developed First World merely has different weak spots than the developing Third World … and demons hunt for weak spots.  Subsequently the ratio of overt to covert demonic activity adjusts to the environment.  Our weak spots exist in our rampant trust in money, our overdependence on medicines and doctors, our escapist tendencies that drive us into the snares of technology gadgets as well as chemical and sexual addictions.  Our blind devotion to our modern athletic heroes is disturbingly close to “religious.”  And don’t get me started about the personality cult that has become our political system.  The point is simple—today, demons still prowl around like roaring lions seeking those they may devour (1 Peter 5:8).

This man in our story was “devoured” by demons long ago.  What was the process that led him into deeper and deeper spiritual bondage?  We are not told the particulars but the pattern is often the same.  Trade a little liberty for a little more power, for a little more calm amid the debilitating waves of anger, or for a little better more shelter from the winds of fear.  But instead of delivering freedom and life, these false and demonic promises always only produce bondage and death.  At this point in the story, this man was virtually gone.  The demons controlled his mind, his body, and his soul.  He became the howling monster in the woods.

He once upon a time lived in the town like everyone else, but his demonic episodes apparently grew more and more frequent so that the town had him arrested and chained.  The people, likely his own kinfolk, “kept [him] under guard and bound [him] with chains and shackles, but he would break the bonds and be driven by the demon into the desert” (vs. 29).  So eventually the plan shifted from arrest to exile—they wouldn’t try to contain him in the town, but repel him from the town.  There in the wild, Mark 5:5 tells us that he shrieked at the top of his lungs constantly and compulsively cut himself with sharp stones—wearing no clothes, occupying no house, dwelling among the tombs (vs. 27b).  Demons, no matter what their forked tongues might promise—even if they appear as angels of light (2 Corinthians 11:14)—hate you, hate Jesus, and hate the gospel of grace.

“When he saw Jesus, he cried out and fell down before him and said with a loud voice, ‘What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God?’  I beg you, do not torment me” (vs. 28).  Whereas the people had trouble identifying Jesus as God’s Son, the demons did not.  But that doesn’t mean that they worshiped him—they loath Jesus but cannot deny his position or his power.  The demons “believe and shudder” (James 2:19) that God self-exists, but such was not a holy fear.  It was an unholy fear.  The demons fell down before Jesus, not to honor him, but to grovel and forestall their punishment.  “Have you come here to torment us before the time?” (Matthew 8:29).  The future judgment is coming—all the demons know it, yet they will repeatedly try to prevent it (Revelation 20:7-10).  But on this day on this solitary beach they begged not to be confined to the abyss ahead of the Great Judgment Day as other demons had been confined by God for their especially heinous sins … once, at least, in connection with Noah’s evil generation (2 Peter 2:4-5; cf Genesis 6:4-5).

“Jesus then asked him, ‘What is your name?’ and he said, ‘Legion,’ for many demons had entered him” (vs. 30).  A Roman legion was 6000 soldiers.  But a second time, the demons begged Jesus not to send them into the abyss, indicating that demons hate disembodiment.  And a third time they begged, this time for permission to enter a large herd of pigs.  “So he gave permission.  Then the demons came out of the man and entered the pigs, and the herd rushed down the steep bank into the lake and drowned” (vv. 33-34).


III.        THE DISTRICT’S FEAR—UNHEALTHY TERROR OF CHRIST (vv. 34-37)

34 When the herdsmen saw what had happened, they fled and told it in the city and in the country.
35 Then people went out to see what had happened, and they came to Jesus and found the man from whom the demons had gone, sitting at the feet of Jesus, clothed and in his right mind, and they were afraid.
36 And those who had seen it told them how the demon-possessed man had been healed.
37 Then all the people of the surrounding country of the Gerasenes asked him to depart from them, for they were seized with great fear. So he got into the boat and returned.

The first kind of fear is holy reverence.  The second kind is unholy dread.  The third kind is unhealthy terror.  The entire district—“city and country”—heard the tale from the herdsmen who were close enough to see the exorcism of the demoniac.  So the people—“everyone” (Matthew 8:34)—went out to the very place that they were normally afraid to go.  “They came to Jesus and found the man from whom the demons had gone, sitting at the feet of Jesus, clothed and in his right mind, and they were afraid.  Then the people went out to see what had happened, and they came to Jesus and found a man from whom the demons had gone, sitting at the feet of Jesus, clothed and in his right mind” (vv. 35-36). 

This is most peculiar.  What they had tried in vain to do with chains and shackles—to control this demoniac—Jesus did without restraints, without threats, and without violence.  They had achieved a semblance of control over this demoniac (and there were probably two demoniacs [Matthew 8:28]), but Luke just focused on the one who was the spokesman) but Jesus truly tipped the balance of power.  While they were frightened of the demoniac, even more so “they were afraid” of Jesus.  Jesus clearly had supernatural power.  He bested their boogey-man with a word.

It has been the common assumption that these townies were more concerned about their failed business prospect than about their rescued neighbor; and that may be part of the mix.  But all of the reasons that the gospels mention that unhinged the district have everything to do with this man’s deliverance by Jesus, not the loss of the herd of pigs, nor some veiled commentary about the non-kosher food supply chain.  They feared one thing—and their fear grew at an exponential rate—who holds the power.  In that respect, a nearby God is more terrifying than a remote demon.  The power balance has shifted and they no longer turn any of the knobs—that was what terrified them the most. 

Power, I believe, is woven into man’s insatiable appetite for idols.  With and through an idol, I still have some illusion of control over the uncontrollable elements of life.  I can build a shrine.  I can give a couple of gold coins.  I can sacrifice a pig every once in a while to get what I want.  But with Jesus, I have no pull. 

In my sanctified imagination I wonder if the townspeople had started to appease if not worship this demoniac with food offerings, with rituals, with religious deference.  Such is often the case with demon-possessed people in the animistic corners of the globe; they are revered as doors to the spirit world.  But Jesus has destroyed their equilibrium of power in one 15-second conversation.  Jesus has no weak points that I might manipulate.  He doesn’t need my worship, my gold coins, or my pig sacrifice.  He is absolutely superior, and I am undeniably inferior to him.  If my view of God is unhealthy, then this Jesus is terrifying.

Power is connected to fear, and fear is connected to anger.  We can see their anger in verse 37: “Then all the people of the surrounding country of the Gerasenes asked him to depart from them, for they were seized with great fear.”  This response produced one of the saddest half-verses in the Bible—“So he got into the boat and returned” (vs. 37b).  “Leave me alone Jesus!  I beg you, go away.”  If you have ever thought or said that—repent!  Take it back.  Strike if from the record.  Invite Jesus to come back, and stay!


IV.        THE DEMONIAC’S FEAR—HEALTHY OBEDIENCE TO CHRIST (vv. 38-39)

38 The man from whom the demons had gone begged that he might be with him, but Jesus sent him away, saying,
39 "Return to your home, and declare how much God has done for you." And he went away, proclaiming throughout the whole city how much Jesus had done for him.

The first fear is holy reverence.  The second is unholy dread.  The third is unhealthy terror.  And the fourth is healthy obedience.  “The man from whom the demons had gone begged that he might be with him, but Jesus sent him away, saying, ‘Return to your home, and declare how much God has done for you.’  And he went away, proclaiming throughout the whole city how much Jesus had done for him” (vv. 38-39).

Notice the repetition of begging, and its synonyms, throughout this passage.  The disciples begged Jesus to help.  The demons begged Jesus not to torment them.  The district begged Jesus to depart from them.  And finally, the healed demoniac begged to follow Jesus as a disciple.  Whichever way our heart is inclined, we beg the most for what we value the most.

For this man, the initial answer is “No.”  But that “No” gave way to a “Yes” to a different kind of mission.  I already have 12 disciples; I do not need more at this time.  But right now I have no evangelists; especially to the Gentile-sections of the Trans-Jordan region.  So, I want you to stay and proclaim what God has done for you throughout the entire league of ten cities known as the Decapolis (vs. 39, cf Mark 5:20).  This man, like all Christians, was set free from his chains so that he might freely serve others in Christ’s name.  He, having been granted a healthy fear of Christ, obeyed immediately and passionately.  To put a spin on verse 25—who then is this that even the demons and the demoniac obey him?

In a very real sense, in light of other passages that deal with the demonic, even though “Legion” is no longer possessing the man the demonic bondage was still very much present in the Gerasene region.  Listen to what Paul says in 2 Corinthians 4:3-4: “If our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing, in whose case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelieving so that they might not see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.”  In other words, the people of the entire district—although they long looked down upon the demoniac—were actually worse off than the demoniac at the end of this pivotal day because they sent away their only hope for deliverance whereas the healed demoniac was delivered and sent out by the one and only, blessed hope, Jesus Christ. 


Where do you stand today with Jesus?  There are only two options—with Christ in belief or against Christ in disbelief.  The demons don’t care if you believe in them; they just don’t want you to believe in Him.  Jesus has the power to break the overt and covert chains of demons—and it is applicationally appropriate to include some of our modern addictions and compulsions.  So, call out to Jesus!  For whoever calls upon the name of the Lord will be saved, even if he is buried under 6000 demons and years of terrible decisions.

10 May 2016

Day in the Life: Woman (Luke 7:36-50)

Day in the Life: “Woman”
Luke 7:36-50
May 8, 2016 – Kevin Rees - audio file posted at kevinrees.sermon.net

“Wisdom is justified by all her children” (Luke 7:35).

I seriously doubt that Hallmark Inc. would allow any American to forget that today, the second Sunday in May, is Mother’s Day.  In 1905 Anna Jarvis thought of establishing a holiday as a way to honor her mother’s death.  She called it Mother’s Day—with the explicit use of the singular possessive to celebrate the mother in each household instead of the plural possessive denoting all mothers everywhere.  Mother’s Day first became a local holiday in 1908, then a state holiday (West Virginia) in 1910, before it gained national attention in 1914 when President Woodrow Wilson named the second Sunday of May as Mother’s Day.

But an ironic twist inserted itself into Jarvis’ story in the early 1920s when Hallmark started selling Mother’s Day cards.  This commercialization bothered Jarvis so much—that it exploited her original idea—that she officially boycotted the very holiday she created and threatened litigation against Hallmark.  That irritation fomented and turned Jarvis from sentimentalist to activist at a candy makers’ convention in Philadelphia in 1923.  But there was no turning back for Jarvis’ new campaign, that is, not until she was arrested in 1925 for disturbing the peace over the sale of carnations, which had by then become associated with Mother’s Day.  Jarvis’ holiday has been adopted by many countries all over the world.

There’s just no pleasing some people.  Do you have several immediate examples that corroborate that statement in your own life?  I know I can think of several examples without even trying hard.  There’s just no pleasing some people--that emotional launch-pad is the place from which today’s passage ignites.  

Almost shaking his head at the disturbing humor of it all, Jesus says, “To what then shall I compare the people of this generation?  … ‘We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we sang a dirge and you did not weep’” (Luke 6:31, 32).  Or as we have already phrased it: there’s just no pleasing some people.  His explanation is simple—“John the Baptist has come eating no bread and drinking no wine,” and the people say, “He has a demon” (Luke 7:33).  But the same people, out of the other side of their mouth, say about Jesus, “Look at him!  A glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners” (Luke 7:34).  There’s just no pleasing some people.

Now, on the very heels of that stinging cultural indictment, Jesus interacts with two actual people who give real faces to the debate.  Not just “the Pharisees” in general, now Jesus demonstrates the unpleasable nature of one particular Pharisee named Simon.  And not just so-called “sinners” in general, now Jesus demonstrates the hidden humanity of one particular “sinner”—although we don’t know her name.  She was a woman of “ill repute” who has repented and believed in Jesus, but who still carries the social stigma of being a former prostitute.  But before this single day is over, Jesus will turn on its head the whole, faulty, cultural classification about who is the sinner and who is the saint.

I.          PRESSUMED A SINNER (vv. 36-39)

36 One of the Pharisees asked him to eat with him, and he went into the Pharisee's house and reclined at the table.
37 And behold, a woman of the city, who was a sinner, when she learned that he was reclining at table in the Pharisee's house, brought an alabaster flask of ointment,
38 and standing behind him at his feet, weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears and wiped them with the hair of her head and kissed his feet and anointed them with the ointment.
39 Now when the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, "If this man were a prophet, he would have known who and what sort of woman this is who is touching him, for she is a sinner."

Moral presumptions are often wicked.  Sometimes without a single shred of evidence a person might be labeled as a “sinner” or a “reprobate.”  Sometimes conclusions are draw based on plenty of evidence, but too often we make moral presumptions based on hearsay.  But here are some truly bad dudes out there.  Alas, “badness” comes in many forms … even the moralistic sort.  Let me illustrate:

A local busy-body noticed a certain church-going man’s pickup was parked outside the local saloon all night long.  Morally outraged, she went to confront him after he got home from work but not before first telling many fellow busy-bodies—“under the strictest of confidences,” of course—about the scandal that was brewing.  But the confrontation was virtually one-sided and unquestionably short as the man neither confirmed nor denied anything the busy-body accused except to agree, in general, that his pickup was relatively unique.   Feeling like she scored a moral victory, she went home and, although it was still early, she slept soundly through the night.  But when she woke up the next morning she was mortified to find that same unique-looking pickup parked in her driveway—apparently sitting there empty all night long.

We make moral presumptions all the time.  But in the case of our anonymous woman in Luke 7, the moral presumptions are true.  Or technically, they were true.  She was openly known as a courtesan.  That point is neither denied nor disputed by her or Jesus.  But the moral presumptions about her fail to take into account a genuine conversion—repentance and faith in Jesus; a brand new start.  In a day, in a moment she believed.  She took Jesus as his word.  Within this very context, on this very afternoon as recorded in Matthew 11:28 (Warren Wiersbe, “Luke 7:36-39,” The BE New Testament Commentary Series), Jesus gave an unprecedented invitation to all in Capernaum, and to billions of humans since then all over the world, “Come to me all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.”  She literally obeyed.

She was heavy laden, she wanted and needed and found the rest that Jesus promised through belief.  Accordingly, she came to him at first opportunity—while he sat at a private yet open-aired dinner party, but not before first going back to her quarters and pocketing her precious stash of perfume.  She had a plan; a plan for worship.

Her non-verbals speak very loudly.  She was a woman of the night, mostly set apart from the public.  But on that pivotal evening she ventured into a well-lit and well-populated area with her earthen jar of perfume; a symbol of her trade.  Her perfume would have been used for wrong reasons every other evening before this evening, but this evening she intends to use her perfume for good.  Very expensive to make, outrageous to transport, and extravagant to use, she pours her treasured perfume to honor her Savior as a token of gratitude and admiration.  The aroma would quickly overwhelm the room; maybe even wafting into the street.  Perfume normally anoints the head, but our heroine seems unable to lift up herself up off the floor out of humility concentrating only on his feet.

Her gesture is a rich one; highly symbolic, textured, meaningful, and shockingly personal.  It shows that there would be no going back into her trade.  She is burning her bridges once and for all.  Sometimes the shape of faith is a burnt bridge.  It reminds me of the time when the Ephesian converts from the magical arts publicly burned their books of spells (Acts 19:19).  And just as such devotion caused a riot in Ephesus, this woman’s devotion causes a riot in the heart of the Pharisee named Simon; the host who has lost control of his dinner party. 

Simon looks at this fragrant display of affection through his moral presumptions and concludes that it is both off-color and strong evidence that Jesus is not the “Great Prophet” that the people say he is (Luke 7:16).  In his heart he condemns both the woman and Jesus saying: “If this man were a prophet, he would have known who and what sort of woman this is who is touching him, for she is a sinner” (vs. 39).

Simon is 100% about labels—sinner and saint; in or out.  That is the basic unit of Simon’s empire.  But Jesus is from another kingdom.  In Simon’s own mind he is the judge, jury, and prosecutor of others.  His verdict is iron: he is the saint, the woman is the sinner, and it doesn’t look good for Jesus because he obviously knows less than he should.  But Jesus knows something that Simon doesn’t know.

I’m not saying that moral presumptions are always inaccurate, but I am suggesting that moral presumptions usually fail to factor in the possibility of a genuine conversion.  So, I am here to testify that God did and does and will change lives; he brings the dead to life and leads the lost home again.

Before the moment passes, it is important to say—and to say in no uncertain terms—that we are not made right with God or kept right with God based on our moral behavior (like the Pharisees believed, as well as too many in our Christian pulpits and pews).  Moral behavior has its place in the discussion of a Christian ethic, but it is never the gateway into Christianity just as it is never the basis of a right relationship with God.  It is the end of the train only.  The engine of the train is, and always will be, only belief in Jesus.  Belief in Jesus is the way we are made right with God.  Belief in Jesus changes us on the inside.  Belief in Jesus imparts a miraculously new heart.  When our new heart begins to beat a new morality pulses through our lives, but never the other way around.  We can counterfeit a “renovated” morality without getting a new heart through faith—that is exactly what Simon is doing—but biblical righteousness cannot be counterfeited.  Though it may fool men, it does not fool or please God (Hb 11:6).

What this culturally misunderstood woman is demonstrating is that faith has already started to change her.  She is already starting to show signs of life—gratitude, worship, courageous love.  Her tears and gratitude do not save her; they show that she has been saved.

II.         PROCLAIMED A SAINT (vv. 40-50)

40 And Jesus answering said to him, "Simon, I have something to say to you." And he answered, "Say it, Teacher."
41 "A certain moneylender had two debtors. One owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty.
42 When they could not pay, he cancelled the debt of both. Now which of them will love him more?"
43 Simon answered, "The one, I suppose, for whom he cancelled the larger debt." And he said to him, "You have judged rightly."
44 Then turning toward the woman he said to Simon, "Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave me no water for my feet, but she has wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair.
45 You gave me no kiss, but from the time I came in she has not ceased to kiss my feet.
46 You did not anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with ointment.
47 Therefore I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven-- for she loved much. But he who is forgiven little, loves little."
48 And he said to her, "Your sins are forgiven."
49 Then those who were at table with him began to say among themselves, "Who is this, who even forgives sins?"
50 And he said to the woman, "Your faith has saved you; go in peace."

Indeed, Jesus is a friend of sinners (Luke 7:34).  The Pharisees lobbed this title at him as a grenade, but Jesus knows something that they don’t know.  Right now, around this table, he is befriending and evangelizing an unrepentant sinner … but it is not the woman anointing his feet with perfume and tears.  The unrepentant sinner is Simon.  But Simon’s blindness to his own sinful condition eclipses everything else.  Therefore, Jesus tells a story … because nothing “lowers the guard” like a story.

“Simon, I have something to say to you,” Jesus initiates.  “Say it, Teacher.”  Two debtors were in default with a money-lender—not a friend, but a loan shark.  Lending money with interest is actually forbidden between Jews, but it was frequently practiced nevertheless.  We don’t know the conditions, but we know that both debtors are unable to pay.  One owes the equivalent of 500 day’s wages (70 weekly paychecks); the other 50 day’s wages (7 weekly paychecks).  The US Bureau of Labor Statistics for the first quarter of 2016 lists the median, weekly, take-home pay for Americans at $830 ($912 for men, $750 for women).  So, just for illustration, one person owed the Paycheck-Advance Loan Sharks—not even factoring in an interest rate—$58100 and the other owed $5810.  But both were in default; neither could repay.  However, surprisingly, the money-lender cancelled (forgave) both debts as an expression of his own generosity—not a new payment plan, the debts were just cleared.  So—“Which of them will love him more?” Jesus asks.  “The one, I suppose, for whom he cancelled the larger debt” (vs. 43a).

Simon, who has been making poor judgments all day and conceivably for many years, gets this one is right for a change: “You have judged rightly” (vs. 43b).  But the lesson is not over—“Do you see this woman?”  Whether Simon is just being rude or means it as a malicious dig against Jesus covered up by plausible deniability, all the hospitable things that normally would have been done for an honored guest but were left undone to Jesus, she has done.  She washed his feet with her tears.  She dried them with her hair.  She gave kisses of welcome.  And she even supplied her own perfume as oil.

Simon has presumed that she is the sinner and he is the saint, but in the light of Jesus his true colors show forth unflatteringly.  Jesus addresses Simon here, not the woman—“Therefore I tell you [Simon], her sins, which are many, are forgiven—for she loved much.  But he who is forgiven little, loves little” (vs. 47).  Simon, you have much to learn about forgiveness from her; your heart is exposed by your lovelessness.

Turning to the woman: “And he said to her, ‘Your sins are forgiven’” (vs. 48).  Technically, “Your sins remain released” (A.T. Robertson, Word Pictures in the New Testament).  If there were ever a reason to throw a party, this would have been it!  A daughter who was lost has been found.  A sister who was functionally dead has been raised to life.  But no!  There is no joy around that dinner table, only outrage.  “Then those who were at table with him began to say among themselves, ‘Who is this, who even forgives sins?’” (vs. 49).  They are now as exposed as Simon their friend.  Paying them no attention, Jesus says to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace” (vs. 50a).  Not your tears, not your gift of perfume, but your faith has saved you!  No matter how these men might label you, I publicly proclaim you in their hearing a saint!

So, what’s next?  The only imperative in the entire conversation: journey forward into the peace that I have set before you (vs. 50b).  Simon and company cannot move forward in their stories; they cannot step into the peace of God because they have decided to play judge and jury over God.    They cling to their presuppositions to their own demise even when forgiveness and peace sits at the table with them.   They only look backward.  But Jesus looks forward.  With dead religion, you only have a past; a non-glorious past for sure.  But with the living Savior, we get a past, present, and future gloriously peaceful.


Jesus can pardon all, but does not pardon any who refuse it through disbelief.  There’s just no pleasing some people.  But by Jesus’ forgiveness, covered by his righteousness, we are made pleasing to God.  Only God decides who is a saint and who is a sinner—the continental divide is not behavior, but belief.  Believe in Jesus and go into the peace that God has provided for you.

03 May 2016

Day in the Life: Centurion (Luke 7:1-10)

Day in the Life: “Centurion”
Luke 7:1-10
May 1, 2016 – Kevin Rees - audio file posted at kevinrees.sermon.net

True honor is measured by character, not rank.

There are many subjects about which I have no grasp.  The more I learn, the more I realize how little I know.  One subject within the growing field of things about which I have no grasp is military ranking.  I shield this ignorance, since it is assumed that every warm-blooded American knows from birth the subject of military rank—whether a sergeant outranks a major or which rank follows a second lieutenant or if a captain corresponds to the Navy or the Army.  I really don’t know anything about military rank even after several solid attempts to learn.

But I do know that the Bible casts a favorable light on soldiering.  In our modern era, American soldiers are often smeared as some form of legalized murderers; hired henchmen of the government.  I don’t hear a lot of that kind of talk in the rural Mid-South or the Mid-West, for which I am grateful.  But I am glad to report that the Bible has nothing negative to say about the military profession.  It has quite a lot information about corrupt kings and the carnage left over on the battlefield, but the category of soldier is either morally neutral if not overtly positive.

We have one of these overtly positive examples of a military man in Luke 7:1-10.  We don’t know his name, but—appropriately—we know his rank.  He is a centurion—a commander of 100 foot soldiers in one of Rome’s many legions.  Every legion would have 6000 professional legionnaires (troops), which works out to 60 centurions per unit (whose pay was 10-20 times more than a foot soldier). Centurions were foot soldiers, at first, but they rose in rank for valor and leadership demonstrated on the battlefield which impressed both their superiors and inspired their peers.

I tried to cross-check a modern equivalent of a centurion, but it is hard to pin down—most suggest that the rank is a middle-range officer between sergeant and major.  But, as I confessed already, that doesn’t gel in my brain.  The only sergeant I ever knew was Sergeant Pepper and his Lonely Hearts Club Band.

But the minutiae of military rank need not eclipse the main thrust of this passage, which includes rank but hinges on honor.  One of the chief values within the military culture is (perceived) honor.  How the military conceives and shows honor is largely communicated through promotion or demotion of rank.  That is why it is a huge deal, for instance this week in the news, that the Army gave a rare reversal of its own internal disciplinary action.  Before his appeal was granted, decorated Green Beret, Charles Martland, (Sergeant First Class) was stripped of his rank and dishonorably discharged from the Army after he publicly confronted and physically bested an Afghan officer who openly boasted about abducting and molesting a 12-year old boy back in July 2011.  Because of a misapplied military philosophy not to interfere with the internal culture of its very fragile ally, Afghanistan, Martland was reprimanded instead of celebrated; terminated instead of emulated.  But the Army reversed its decision this week (April 28) and restored Martland to active duty and full rank. 

It really came down to honor.  Martland and the Afghani officer who quickly ended up on his back obviously had two very different views of honor.  One used his authority to overpower the weak.  The other used his authority to protect the weak.  While the military struggled with its own ulterior motives, those outside the military who learned of Martland’s story were quick to pressure for a reversal.

If you have to tap the “bars” on your uniform in order to advance “self” and remind others how much honor you have, then for all practical purposes you have no honor.  True honor is measured by character, not by rank.


I.          Entreat by Proxy (vv. 1-5)

1 After he had finished all his sayings in the hearing of the people, he entered Capernaum.
2 Now a centurion had a servant who was sick and at the point of death, who was highly valued by him.
3 When the centurion heard about Jesus, he sent to him elders of the Jews, asking him to come and heal his servant.
4 And when they came to Jesus, they pleaded with him earnestly, saying, "He is worthy to have you do this for him,
5 for he loves our nation, and he is the one who built us our synagogue."

This is a very “military” passage.  The soldier treats Jesus, whom he observes from afar, in a way that would be normal for the military.  But the scenario is not at all normal.  The centurion then does something shocking: he entreats Jesus.  He makes an appeal—first by sending a proxy.  

Asking for help is not something centurions do.  Centurions are the helpers, not the helpless.  If help is needed, then requests go up the chain of command, not down … and certainly not outside the chain of command.  If help must be called in, then a centurion would have been hard-pressed to leave the jurisdiction of Mother Roma.  But the centurion has heard about Jesus.  He has heard about his miracles.  He has heard about his teaching.  He has heard that Jesus does what few other Jews are willing to do—to reach out to non-Jews (Luke 6:17-20).  And he has heard that Jesus is coming into Capernaum this very day (Luke 7:1).

Capernaum is a fishing community on the north shore of the Sea of Galilee.  But sitting just a day’s journey north of Capernaum is Caesarea Philippi, the largest and most “Roman” of Roman colonies in the entire region where the highest ranking soldiers and politicians lived.  And since this centurion is likely the highest ranking Roman in town, he likely had to think of his reputation.  He had to consider that he was a figure-head for Rome in everything he said and did. 

But overriding all of those sizable variables is need; great need.  For a man who holds considerable power, this centurion faces a crisis against which he is completely powerless.  What great need haunts this centurion on that particular day enough to provoke him to cross several cultural barriers?  He “had a servant who was sick at the point of death, who was highly valued by him” (Luke 7:2). 

Most of the people in the Roman Empire were slaves in one way or another, but this one is “highly valued” (Gr. entimos) by his “master” (kurios).  But it isn’t a monetary sort of valuation; it is emotional.  He is honored (timos); esteemed, distinguished, considered precious (Friberg).

Soldiers are stereotypically conservative in showing emotions, but when they finally estimate that someone is honorable they form a deep and lasting bond of brotherhood.  We don’t know any details of their relationship, but the centurion has this kind of brotherhood bond with his servant and it is tearing him up to see him “at the point of death.”  By itself this friendship is countercultural and a testimony to the depth of the centurion’s character.  But character is not enough to stop death from advancing.

This word used is the exact word a soldier hoped to hear at the end of his career when he received a certificate (entimos) of faithful service of 26 years (Moulton & Milligan).  “Honorable” is perhaps the highest praise of a military man to describe another person, whether inside or outside the military—you are very highly honored to me.

I love the quick action—when the soldier/statesman was in the act of hearing about Jesus he commissions a company of Capernaum’s elders to deliver his appeal for intervention (vs. 3).  This is all very formal, but it is also very smart.  The centurion doesn’t know if he will get either Jesus’ attention or his consent.  He sends the elders to give character witness and perhaps eliminate as many of the cultural barriers as possible so that his servant might have the best chance at healing as possible.  It could be seen as schmoozing Jesus, I suppose, but this is his “normal.”  He has plenty of reason to expect a traveling Jewish rabbi to refuse to help a Roman, not to mention a slave of a Roman centurion. 

So the envoy finds Jesus and gives him their prepared speech—“[This man] is worthy to have you do this for him for he loves our nation, and he is the one who built our synagogue” (vv. 4-5).  But, just like character is unable to stop or slow death, worth (in the sight of man) is unable to heal.


II.         Heal by Remote (vv. 6-10)

6 And Jesus went with them. When he was not far from the house, the centurion sent friends, saying to him, "Lord, do not trouble yourself, for I am not worthy to have you come under my roof.
7 Therefore I did not presume to come to you. But say the word, and let my servant be healed.
8 For I too am a man set under authority, with soldiers under me: and I say to one, 'Go,' and he goes; and to another, 'Come,' and he comes; and to my servant, 'Do this,' and he does it."
9 When Jesus heard these things, he marveled at him, and turning to the crowd that followed him, said, "I tell you, not even in Israel have I found such faith."
10 And when those who had been sent returned to the house, they found the servant well.

What is developing in this narrative is what scholars call a chiasm; a literary device that shows the reader where “X marks the spot” at the apex of the chiastic structure.  Luke marches to the most important point, circles it with a highlighter, so to speak, and then retraces his steps back the way he came.  The people and the centurion “hear” Jesus (vs. 1) and about Jesus (vs. 3a).  The envoy asks Jesus to “come and heal” the centurion’s servant (vs. 3b).  The elders testify to Jesus that the centurion is “worthy” of this miraculous intervention (vs. 4).  You will notice from verses 6 through 10 the same elements in reverse order: the centurion insists that he is not “worthy” (vs. 6b), that is why he did not presume to “come” to Jesus in the first place (vs. 7a).  But he understands from his military career, and believes by extension, that Jesus only has to say the word (from even far away) and the servant will be “healed” (vs. 7b).  When Jesus “heard” these things about the centurion, he “marveled at him” and gave a summary couplet, which forms a mini chiasm all by itself (vv. 9-10): “turning” to the crowd, testifying that he has not “found” in Israel such faith (the chiastic apex!) as in this centurion, he sends the friends to “turn” back to the house where they “find” the sick servant miraculously restored to health.

But let me return to the apex of the main chiasm of the entire narrative, which I saved for last, in the middle of verse 6.  “When he was not far from the house, the centurion sent friends saying to him, ‘Lord,   The centurion—whose life and career is built upon rank; whose social status is that of boss and master and commander and leader declares in public, in the full hearing of both the group of Jewish elders and the group of his Roman friends—addresses Jesus as “Lord” (Gr. kurios)—“master.”  This is the bull’s eye of this narrative!

This is no small thing.  It is not poetic license.  It is the microcosm of this man’s spiritual universe.  He is verbally bowing before Jesus as his superior—a thing that Romans never/rarely do—especially to foreign people on the extreme fringes of their empire.  It is not posturing.  It is not manipulating.  It is humble faith displayed in the last place anyone expected to find it—in the heart of a successful Roman soldier over a situation that he cannot fix himself, the decline of his dear servant’s health.  So he says, “Lord!”

"Do not trouble yourself, for I am not worthy to have you come under my roof” (vs. 6).  Did the centurion change his mind about wanting Jesus to “come” to his house?  I don’t think so.  Now that he sees that Jesus is willing to intervene, he sends this second envoy out to express a modesty that is, by implication, rare in those days by the Romans: “I am not worthy.”  Just give the word—that will be more than sufficient.  He indicates that his word can mobilize soldiers and servants to advance or to retreat, but he has no rank here; no authority where he can say the word and a man receive healing.  But Jesus has that higher rank!  Jesus possesses that greater authority!  This is the ultimate deference to Jesus as his superior.  It is nothing less than amazing.  The centurion possessed and applied an insight into Jesus’ power from his military worldview.

Jesus does not show favoritism.  He mobilizes to help the slave as well as the aristocrat.  He teaches the scholar as well as the uneducated.  He cherishes the dignity of the Roman as well as his own Jewish countrymen.  He sheds his blood for his enemies as well as his friends.


What is honor in your estimation?  Is it measured by rank, by career, by money, by awards, by the size of the crowd that follows you?  Or is honor measured in character—whether no one is looking or everyone is looking.  But still, even though the honorable centurion has character, he is nevertheless unable to save his friend; unable to save himself.  He must yield to the higher honor that he finds in Jesus who has an entirely different and completely higher rank.  And so must we.  Jesus is the one who shatters the house of cards by which we used to measure life.  Jesus is not a better version of me.  Jesus is someone wholly different and yet amazingly similar at the same time; someone who walks into our neighborhood and says, “Follow Me.”  “I am the way.”  “Whoever has ears to hear, let him hear.”  “I am the resurrection and life.  Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet he will live.”  “In this world you will have tribulation, but fear not, I have overcome the world.”  And today, just as it was that day in Capernaum, he can heal by remote.  He can restore from afar.  He can save from where he sits at the right hand of the Father.

26 April 2016

Day in the Life: Jailer (Acts 16:25-34)

Day in the Life: “Jailer”
Acts 16:25-34
April 24, 2016 – Kevin Rees - audio file posted at kevinrees.sermon.net

Sometimes the most action happens when the least movement is allowed.


Prisoner S-854, Ivan Denisovich Shukhov, was sentenced to a “special” prison in the Siberian Gulag for 10 years under the charge of espionage in 1944.  It was 1951.  “Old Whiskers” was still in power, though no one dared refer openly to Josef Stalin by that derogatory name. 

It is estimated that, by Stalin’s death in 1953, more than 20 million political prisoners died in these special camps strewn across the vast tundra, or on the way to them, or by the devastating fallout caused by them in terms of famine and starvation for the families left without their fathers and husbands, farms left without farmers, and factories left without laborers.

This was the setting of a novel I should have read in high school, but I didn’t until just last month: One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich.  Published in 1963, it was the first printed work that the Kremlin permitted which cast any sort of an unfavorably light on Stalin or his treatment of prisoners.  As a fiction work, it was obviously non-fictional.  The author, Alexander Solzhenitsyn, was himself a “special” prisoner in the late 40s and early 50s.  This was, for all equivalency, his snap-shot at the inside of the Gulag.  Although he didn’t talk politics at all, he showed the ripple effects of politics that brutalized the very people it idealized in its propaganda machine.

Among the many things that are interesting about this short book, I am captured by the fact that the author covers just the one day, 5:00 AM to 10:00 PM.  At one point, inside this day, the main character—most often called Shukhov—makes this comment about his perception of time: “The days rolled by in the camp—they were over before you could say, ‘knife.’  But the years, they never rolled by; they never moved a second” (p. 68).  Each prisoner yearned for freedom inside their interminable years, of course, but freedom was inaccessible and intangible.  More intensely felt than even freedom the prisoners obsessed over a cigarette (p. 50), or a crust of bread (p. 57), or a second bowl of soup: “That bowl of soup—it was dearer than freedom, dearer than life itself, past, present, and future” (p. 124).

One element from this novel especially propels us into our biblical text this morning; a comment made about the prison guards.  The prisoners knew that the guards, as well, were prisoners of a sort.  Their families were starving back at home, too.  They, too, had to endure the open worksite at -40° Celsius.  If their prisoner count was off at the end of the day, then they, too, would be beaten by their superiors.  They were there because of Stalin’s paranoia.

In our passage, we have a day in the life at a prison.  Oh, but what a difference a day makes!  Before 24 hours elapsed, one man’s entire existence … his eternal destiny … completely switched.  Ironically, freedom moved from the prisoners who were free in their hearts to the jailer who was bound to the prison even though he could sleep in his own bed every night. 

There was a tremendous amount of action in these two paragraphs (Acts 16:25-34), but not a lot of physical movement.   But ours is an upside-down gospel in many ways; often the most spiritual action happens when the least amount of physical movement is allowed.


I.          Singing to Quaking (vv. 25-28)

25 About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them, 26 and suddenly there was a great earthquake, so that the foundations of the prison were shaken. And immediately all the doors were opened, and everyone's bonds were unfastened. 27 When the jailer woke and saw that the prison doors were open, he drew his sword and was about to kill himself, supposing that the prisoners had escaped. 28 But Paul cried with a loud voice, "Do not harm yourself, for we are all here."

Tremendous action happened without much movement whatsoever.  Let me set the stage.  A few weeks had transpired, but probably less than a month since Paul arrived in Philippi.  Lydia and her household, as well as Dr. Luke, together with Paul, Silas, and Timothy, planted Europe’s first church.  They made Lydia’s house a headquarters and began evangelizing the city of Philippi.  In the course of ministry, Paul cast a demon out of a slave girl who—because of that demon—was exploited by her owners to be a fortune-teller (vs. 18).  [Note: any contact with the dead is contact with demons masquerading as deceased loved ones or spirit-guides.]

She was, in an instant, set free but her owners are furious at Paul over their loss of income.  So, they “seized Paul and Silas and dragged them into the marketplace before the rulers” (vs. 19).  “The crowd joined in attacking them, and the magistrates tore the garments off them and…beat them with rods” (vs. 22).  Without a trial, without medical attention given to their wounds, and without a chance to answer their accusers, Paul and Silas (I am not sure where Timothy or Luke were during all of this) were thrown into prison (vs. 23).  The jailer put them in the innermost cell of the prison and locked their feet in stocks (vs. 24).  So, who was free and who was in bondage?  This is as relevant a question now as it was then!

I can’t help but contrast the legal system of the ancient world and the legal system today.  For illustration, consider the development in the imprisonment of Anders Breivik in Norway, who this week sued Norway for inhuman treatment.  If you remember, Breivik is the Neo-Nazi who murdered dozens of students in a “future-leaders” youth camp just hours after he set off a car bomb in Oslo that killed 8 people in July 2011 to advance his fascist political views.  He sued that his solitary confinement was cruel and unusual punishment, even though his cell was a two-room suite with a television, padded chair, writing desk, full-sized mattress, and private bathroom.  This week he won and will be given more leniency in his treatment.

However, prisons in the ancient world—and in many places in the world today, not to mention the concentration camps of the Third Reich, or the Gulag of Soviet Russia, or Mao’s torture camps in Communist China—were merely holding pens for the dead.  Justice was not in these places.  But Paul and Silas were not playing the “victim card.”  They were not manipulating the system to advance their political cause.  They did not go on hunger strikes, or descend into the gang-warfare inside the prison system for minimum levels of protection or prominence.  What they did was far more shocking; far more radical than “an eye for an eye” justice.  “About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God” (vs. 25a).

Now think about that for a moment before we move on.  They were in a Roman colony where it was illegal to beat a citizen of Rome.  Both Paul and Silas were citizens, but no one bothered to ask.  They were imprisoned without a trial, appeal, attorney, or due process, which was all illegal … for a citizen of Rome.  Roman citizens were even given the right to appeal to Caesar himself if they felt that they could not obtain justice in a lower court, which Paul will famously do in the mid-60s which will transport him all the way from Jerusalem to Rome (Acts 25:12), just as the Holy Spirit revealed to Paul would happen (Acts 23:11).  But they mentioned none of this in prison.  They suffered for the gospel and counted themselves worthy to suffer for the sake of the Name.  So, they sang hymns.  Interestingly, all the prisoners, in the total darkness of a Roman prison in the dead of night, “were listening to them” (vs. 25b).

What were they singing?  I would love to know.  “Walk with me, Lord; walk with me.”  “This is the day, this is the day that the Lord has made; that the Lord has made.”  “Precious Lord, take my hand; lead me on, help me stand.”  But this is holy ground—as holy as that burning bush ever was!  Does that make them delusional?  No way!  “[They] sing because [they’re] happy.  [They] sing because [they’re] free.  For His eye is on the sparrow, and I know He watches me.”

That would have been enough—that would have been enough for a lifetime.  To go from that worship service in the dark immediately into the worship service in the eternal light of heaven would have been enough for Paul and Silas.  I want to believe it would be enough for me if I were in their place.  They were free in their hearts.  They were free in their spirits, having been set free by the gospel of Christ’s grace.  But God had more for them, so he interrupted their praise with a great earthquake “so that the foundations of the prison were shaken” (vs. 26a).  None of these prisoners were likely able to walk around, but they were moved by the singing of the Christians … and then they were moved by the shaking of the stone foundations that entombed them.  In every earthquake I’ve ever heard about—and there were several in Myanmar and Japan and Ecuador this week alone—things always tip toward chaos.  But in this earthquake—things tip toward order.  “Immediately all the doors were opened, and everyone’s bonds were unfastened” (vs. 26b).  Incidentally, this is the same word as when the Lord “opened” Lydia’s heart (vs. 14).

They were moved by the singing, moved by the earthquake, moved by the miraculous opening of their jail doors and their shackles, but no one moved from the spot in which they sat.  But the movement was not over yet; there was a new kind of quaking inside the heart and mind of the jailer.  His life depended on the security of those prisoners.  If he failed in his duty, the Roman penal code—of which he was an officer—would turn around and demand his life.  So it is no shock to read verse 27, “When the jailer woke and saw that the prison doors were open, he drew his sword and was about to kill himself, supposing that the prisoners had escaped.”  It would have been better to fall on his own sword than to be thrown into the prison where his inmates grew to hate him.  It would have been better to end it all now than to face the guilt of dereliction of duty.  It would have been better for his family to think that some escaped convict stabbed him to death than to think that he botched his one and only job.  But there was another force unleashed in that night—salvation.

“But Paul cried with a loud voice, ‘Do not harm yourself, for we are all here’” (vs. 28).  I love “bones” of the original language here: do not perform evil on yourself!  For it is an evil to perform evil on an image-bearer of our good God.  “We are all here.”  But why?  Why didn’t they all run for freedom?  It was not spelled out, but I think it was because freedom wasn’t outside the prison that night; it was sitting there inside the prison even after the doors and the fetters were loosed.


II.         Trembling to Rejoicing (vv. 29-34)

29 And the jailer called for lights and rushed in, and trembling with fear he fell down before Paul and Silas. 30 Then he brought them out and said, "Sirs, what must I do to be saved?" 31 And they said, "Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household." 32 And they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all who were in his house. 33 And he took them the same hour of the night and washed their wounds; and he was baptized at once, he and all his family. 34 Then he brought them up into his house and set food before them. And he rejoiced along with his entire household that he had believed in God.

Crunch the lever, put this car in reverse—the movement from singing to quaking then became the movement from trembling to rejoicing.  The point was not the shaking, but the singing.  The point was not physical freedom, but spiritual freedom.  The point was not that Paul and Silas have this freedom, but that others could receive it, too.  “The jailer called for lights” (since it was pitch-black in the cells) and he, himself, “rushed in” and as he was “trembling with fear he fell down before Paul and Silas” (vs. 29).

The switch-around is tremendous.  Paul and Silas hadn’t moved from their spot.  The only one moving around was the jailer; and as he literally shook with fear, he prostrated himself before these evangelists.  “He brought them out and said, ‘Sirs, what must I do to be saved?’” (vs. 30).  He was in the presence of supernatural power.  He was undone.  He needed no one to convince him that he needed saving.  We have an entire society that isn’t convinced that we need salvation.  I have heard many people say, “I have made it this far; I’ll just take my chances.”  But not this jailer—he was intuitively convinced that he was guilty in the higher court; higher than Rome … God’s court.  This was God’s work.

Notice the nuanced difference between the question and the answer.  He asked, “What must I do to be saved?”  They answered, “Believe in the Lord and you will be saved.”  The difference between doing and believing is the distance between heaven and hell.  The difference between doing and believing is the difference between freedom and bondage.  The difference between doing and believing is the difference between the gospel and every other belief system or philosophy ever attempted in all history; the difference between empty religion and a living relationship with God.  It is not our doing that saves; it is our believing in the Lord Jesus—that he did everything necessary for our salvation, that we cannot add a single tally mark to the finished work of redemption.  All that is left is to believe that “Jesus paid it all, all to Him I owe; sin had left a crimson stain but He washed it white as snow.” 

“You and your household”—salvation is not a collective experience, but the same offer extends to the entire group: belief instead of works.  “And they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all who were in his house.  And he took them the same hour of the night and washed their wounds; and he was baptized at once, he and all his family.  Then he brought them up into his house and set food before them.  And he rejoiced along with his entire household that he had believed in God” (vv. 32-34).  The progression was remarkable; the elevation.  Up out of the innermost cell, up to the prison lobby, so to speak, or outside the prison where all his household had assembled for the earthquake, up to his own personal house, and then—climactically—the jailer lifted up his eyes and heart to the Lord above and rejoiced along with his entire household.  All of this inside a single day; inside a solitary night.  Before dawn everything changed!


Great spiritual action without a lot of physical movement—this is a lesson in freedom.  The world thinks freedom is measured by absences—absences of walls, of limitations, of burdens, or fear, of pain, of discrimination.  But the gospel gives a freedom that is measured by presence—Christ’s presence even in the prison, in the hospital, in the nursing home, in the cemetery, in the grips of depression or panic or desperation where the only solution seems to be suicide.  The world says, “No more walls.”  The gospel says, “No more guilt.”  These prisoners had a freedom that the jailer could not imagine.  But the most beautiful part about this Christian freedom—it wants to expand.  It wants to set more people, more families, more communities, more cities, and more nations free.  Are you free?  You can have this freedom today; this very moment.  It is accessible through belief in Jesus as your only hope for peace with God.  “If the Son has set you free, you shall be free indeed” (John 8:36).