Power - Acts 16:16-40
Now I want to begin by asking you what all these different pictures have in common: Acetates: Solar panels, wind power machines, oil rig, hydro-electric power station, coal train. And what do they have in common with these two pictures? Acetates: Houses of Parliament and the White House. The answer of course is that they are all connected with power. The first five pictures were all to do with making power through the sun, the wind, the waves, oil and coal. And the second two pictures are places where there is power. The White House is where the President of the USA lives and the Houses of Parliament is where the British government meet.
Now today I want us to think about power. But I dont want us to be thinking too much about the sun and the wind and oil, or about the White House. I want us to think about someone much more powerful than even these amazing and powerful things. And that is God! You see it is very easy to forget when we turn on a light or run the bath where the power comes from to power the light or to heat the water. It is easy to forget who runs our country as we simply go about our daily lives. And sometimes it is easy to forget just how powerful God is. And that is not very good. Because when we remember Gods power then it helps us enormously in our Christian lives because we remember that we can trust God who is the all powerful God. He is far more powerful than any nuclear power station or human leader. In fact, he doesnt just run a country, he runs the universe!
And to help us think about Gods power were going to look again at another story about Paul. You may remember that last Family Service we heard about how Paul became a Christian. And today we meet him visiting a town called Philippi. And here is a map of Europe with Hull and Philippi on it! (Acetate- Philippi) And in Philippi, Paul and his friend Silas get a very poor welcome. And in this story well discover three amazing things about Gods power:
1) God has the power to defeat evil
2) God has the power to help Christians
3) God has the power to change lives
1) God has the power to defeat evil
So the first thing that Paul discovered was that God has the power to defeat evil. (Acetate- Titles) And our story begins one day when Paul and his friends are in Philippi telling people about Jesus. And they bump into this strange girl. (Acetate- Paul with girl) And we discover that this girl had the ability to tell the future. And so people would come up to her and ask her all sorts of questions, and they would pay her money so that she would gave answers. And the people who looked after her made lots of money out of her. And so you would come up to her and ask her: "Hey, little girl, is Philippi going to win the Premiership this season. And she would say, no. Athens are!" Or whatever her answer was. Or you might go up to her and ask, "Will I marry the girl next door?" And she would give you her answer. Now the problem was that her ability to see the future was not a gift of God. It was actually something evil. In fact it was nothing to do with God at all. She was completely dominated by evil, not God. And this was really bad.
And this young lady was beginning to annoy Paul, because wherever Paul and his friends went, she was following them saying: "These are Gods messengers! They want to tell you how to be saved!" Now you would have thought that Paul wouldnt have minded a bit of extra publicity, but of course the problem was that wherever Paul went this girl followed. And so you can imagine people began to think that they had a deal. People may have thought that Paul had signed her up as a publicity officer! But Paul wanted nothing to do with evil. It was not good that Pauls message about Jesus was being confused with an evil girl. So one day, when this girl was doing her usual thing, Paul turned round, and in Jesus name healed her on the spot. And all the evil went out of her. She was completely clean. She was saved from the evil!
Now isnt that amazing power? It wasnt Paul himself who cured her of evil, but God. He had cleaned her up of all the evil that was inside her. And it is a great reminder for us that God is able to defeat evil. You see often I read the paper or see something on the news and I think: "Isnt the world a terrible place? There is so much evil all around us. When will it ever stop?" And the great news is that God will one day put a stop to all evil. One day all evil will be dealt and it will be a great day. Every injustice will be paid for, and all the wrongs will be righted. And the reason we can be sure of that day happening is because Jesus has already done the hard work on the cross. (Acetate- cross) It was there that Jesus defeated evil. He overcame all the evil powers and he defeated even death itself when he rose again. So we can be sure hell finish the job one day when he comes again. And its important for us to remember that because it is easy to forget that God has promised to do that, and to think there will never be justice. Well there will be, and all evil will be defeated, and its a great day to look forward to! So thats the first thing we learn about Gods power. He has the power to defeat evil.
2) He has the power to help Christians
But secondly Paul discovered that day that God has the power to help Christians. (Acetate- Titles) Lets continue with the story. Now you remember that the girl had been freed from the evil that had taken hold of her. She was a new person. But of course, she could no longer tell the future. People would come up to her and ask her things, and she would no longer be able to tell them. And so the people who kept her lost loads of money. And they were furious. So when they found out that it was Paul who had helped this girl to be freed from evil, they gathered together all their friends from Philippi, and surrounded Paul and his friend Silas. (Acetate- mob) And what a nasty mob it was! This mob was capable of doing anything, and Paul and Silas were scared. And when Paul and Silas were dragged before the towns police, the police ordered that they be beaten with sticks and then thrown into prison. And that is what happened. (Acetate- prison) They were beaten up and thrown into the smelliest, darkest, and most rat infested part of the prison that the jailer could find. And they were locked up in stocks. And it seemed like there was no escape.
Now what would you do if you were Paul and Silas? I think at this point I would be very angry and I would be on to my lawyer as soon as possible demanding to know what had gone wrong. And I think I would be angry at God as well. You can imagine it would be very easy to say to God: "Look, God, you brought me to Philippi to tell people about your Son Jesus. Now look where I am! Im in prison with Silas and a couple of dozen rats and Ive been beaten up. Come on God, you can do better than this surely!" I think thats what I would have been tempted to say!
But what about Paul? Paul doesnt say anything of the sort. In fact we discover that Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns, (Acetate- Paul & Silas in stocks) so loudly in fact that the whole prison heard! What an incredible response! Imagine having been treated so unfairly and then being thrown in prison, and then singing a chorus. Now why on earth did they do that? Well I think the reason they did is because they knew that God had everything under control. They knew that they were having to suffer for a good reason, as well see in a minute. They knew that God was able to help them even in their most difficult situation, and they knew that God would never leave them even in this horrible cell.
And that is another brilliant lesson for us to remember. That God has the power to help Christians. Now many Christians down the ages have been able to trust God in this way. God doesnt promise that life will be nice and rosy for us, but he does promise to help us and strengthen us in difficult times if we trust him. And Paul was a great example of someone who trusted in God, despite terrible suffering. He knew that God had bigger and better things in store for Paul and would get him through the tough times, even if it meant pain and possibly death. Paul knew that ultimately God was in control. Paul didnt blame God, he trusted God even in this horrible situation. And he believed that God had the power to help. Now sometimes we just dont know why something is happening to us, at other times, theres an obvious reason. But whatever situation were in and however difficult, we can be assured of Gods continued power to help.
I remember once my Mum made a tapestry, one of those pictures made of string and other materials. And it took her ages. And often we children would look at this tapestry and think, and often say, "Oh what a load of old rubbish. It just looks like a bundle of string. It doesnt mean anything! Come on Mum, I can do better than that." But we would be looking at the wrong side. When Mum turned the picture over, we saw a beautiful landscape beginning to take shape with trees and plants, and birds, and we could see what Mum was planning in this picture. And it is very important for us as Christians to make sure we look at the bigger picture, and to trust God even in the most difficult times which seem so confusing and painful. Because we know that he knows best and is able to give us the strength to cope. And thats what Paul discovered that day. Gods power to help Christians.
3) God has the power to change lives
But I guess not even Paul would have guessed quite how God would get them out of this situation and use their sufferings for good. But God did. Lets see how as we discover the third thing Paul found out that day. God has the power to change lives. (Acetate- Titles) As Paul and Silas were singing their hymns and praying to God, suddenly there was a huge earthquake which shook the whole building. Now I dont know about you, but Im not particularly keen to be in an earthquake because it sounds very scary. Apparently there was an earthquake up in Scarborough last week, but it didnt do any damage. But this earthquake in Philippi was big! (Acetate- Prison collapse) It was enough to break open the prison, and make the prisoners chains fall off. Luke tells us that the earthquake was so violent that even the foundations of the prison were shaken. Now that was some earthquake!
Now when the jailer saw what had happened he thought that the prisoners were going to escape so he tried to kill himself. The reason he did this was because in Roman times, if you let a prisoner escape, you were liable to die! So this jailer, thinking that everyone had gone, was about to kill himself. But Paul stepped in: "Dont harm yourself," he said. "We are all here." Well its at this point that the jailer realised that Paul and Silas were special prisoners. He knew that they had something to give him. They could tell him about Jesus. Im sure he had heard all about their reputation and he had no doubt heard their singing and praying like the rest of the prisoners. And so he flings himself before them (Acetate- jailer) and asks: "What must I do to be saved?" What a brilliant question! The jailer realised at that moment what was the most important thing to get sorted. He was facing certain death. And he knew he must get right with God. And Paul and Silas had the answer. What did they say? They said: "Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved." Well those words must have been fantastic for the jailer to hear! All he needed to do was to trust in Jesus and all hed done for the jailer. And the what was the result? The result was that the jailer had his life turned around. The jailer and all his family came to trust in Jesus. And he was over the moon.(Acetate- happy jailer!)
So the jailers life was turned around. Instead of beating Paul and Silas up, he washed their wounds and fed them. And his new life with Jesus had just begun. And again what a great reminder for us that God has the power to change lives. In Philippi there were now a small bunch of new believers- including this jailer and his family. (Acetate- Happy Philippians). And each of their lives was a testimony to what God can do. And each of us who trust in Jesus are an example of the power of God to change lives. For some of us it has meant a gradual shift over the years, for others a radical turn around like for this jailer. But it is all down to Gods power to do the changing. And thats why we need to keep praying that God would do the same in our friends lives. Lets not doubt his power. Rather lets trust in God who has the power to change lives. And it may be that you yourself are asking that same question. Maybe you, like the jailer, have had a life stopping moment. Well Pauls answer is the same for you today. "Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved." Trust that he died for you on a cross and follow him. And your life too can be changed. Trust in the God who has the power to change your life.
So weve learnt three amazing things about God this morning: (Acetate- titles) He is much more powerful than an oil rig, or a solar panel or even President Bush. Actually he has the power to defeat evil, to help Christians in difficult times and to change lives. So this week lets rejoice in those great things!
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