Let us pray: Dear Savior, all of us who have grown up throughout out lives with Your love and Your Word of truth surrounding us face the continual temptation of taking it all for granted. Most of us don’t really know what it’s like to be face-to-face with our own mortality and to have hell staring back at us. Most of us don’t know the loneliness of not trusting anyone or anything and feeling unloved and forlorn. Lord, our spiritual, emotional, and mental balance all stems from being exposed to Your Word of truth and feeding on the Living Bread that it brings. Today we rejoice over that blessing. Amen
GRACE MERCY AND PEACE ARE YOURS FROM CHRIST, THE SOURCE OF ALL BLESSINGS
TEXT: Acts 16: 25-34
Dearly Beloved By Christ:
The year was 50 AD. The place was the leading provincial Roman trade town of Philippi on the north coast of the Aegean in Macedonia named after Philip, Alexander the Greats’ father. Two Jewish men, Paul and Silas, had come to our town to preach about someone named: Jesus Christ. They seemed to attract a small crowd and this went on for a few days. They kept themselves to the local synagogue, so we didn’t really care. But then they made enemies. A few of our “merchants” owned a slave girl who would tell people’s fortunes for money. It was lucrative for them and usually her predictions came true. We all knew she was possessed of some kind of spirit, but we didn’t care, it wasn’t our business. Apparently the presence of Paul of Silas agitated her demon and she kept following them each day and yelling out after them: “These men are servants of the Most High God, who are telling you the way to be saved.” Eventually, Paul got upset by this and commanded the demon to depart. It did. And she lost her ability to fortune tell. Her owners became very upset. Their profit margin dropped to nothing. So, they called up some of my fellow law officers and had Paul and Silas arrested. The charge was bogus. We all knew it. Yet, the emperor Claudius in Rome had recently kicked the Jews out of Rome and they told us “good Romans would do likewise in a Roman trading center.” Yes, they also charged them with making an uproar in the market, but that was contrived by them as a handy excuse. Anyway, the local judges went along with it to preserve the peace. They had both these men flogged and beaten. Then they sent them to me, Lucius Marcos, the head of the local jail. I was to keep them secure in jail until told otherwise. So, I made sure they were chained to stocks and locked in a cell. After all, this was a Roman jail. If I lost even one prisoner, Rome demanded my life be forfeit—by a slow tortuous death. And I was good at my job. I never lost anyone…..
Perhaps you’re wondering about my name: Lucius Marcos? After all, it is both Roman and Greek. Well, my mother was a Roman and my father was a Greek from the city. She wanted me to have a Roman name and he wanted me to bear the proud name of the Marcos’ family. So, I guess I’m a hybrid.
These two new prisoners didn’t act like any other jailbirds I’ve ever had. They didn’t get angry with me, or my men. They didn’t fight us. They didn’t plead with us. Instead, they settled in and sang hymns of praise to their God. They preached out loud so that the other prisoners could hear about this Jesus Christ and how He was supposedly God’s Son Who suffered crucifixion to save sinners. They talked about His supposed resurrection three days after death. They taught of forgiving the unforgivable and loving the unlovable. But, the singing was especially hard to tune out. Did you know that of all the major religions of the world only Christianity has a hymnbook? Only Christians put their faith to tunes? At least this was the case in my time and for years afterwards. I guess they borrowed and improved on this tradition from the ancient Jews.
By midnight I was snoring at my desk and my men were asleep in their bunks. We had had a long day. But Paul and Silas were still going strong, albeit a bit quieter. Anyway, an earthquake occurred right then! It shook the prison, broke open the cell doors, and I was jolted awake! I knew the horrible penalty for losing a prisoner. Better to die by my own hand quickly than the lingering death of torture. I unsheathed my sword and was going to fall upon it when suddenly I heard Paul’s voice: “Don’t harm yourself! We are all here!” By then my men were aroused and I commanded them to bring torches and light. Paul was right. No one, not even the dregs of society in the other cells, had run away. I couldn’t believe it! So I fell at their feet, trembling with fear because I knew this was an amazing miracle, and asked them both: “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?”
With that question and with the answer that followed, Lucius Marcos’ life was forever changed! Their response was: “Believe on the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved—you and your household.” That last addition was especially poignant. You see my family and our various slaves and their children lived right next door to the jail. These men, representatives of the Most High God and His Son, Jesus Christ, wanted all of us to be saved! From the little infants to the teenagers to our wives and relatives, salvation had come to us that night. And all this was ours simply by believing and trusting in this Jesus as our Savior. It was so simple. All the religions and their temples throughout the city demanded sacrifices, money, energy, you name it, and then we might receive only a short-term favor from those gods if we were lucky. But this Christian God would give us open-ended blessings in this life and eternal life simply by believing in His love for us! Or, as Paul later taught me: “We love Him because He first loved us.” It was amazing and sweet and the darkness of unbelief was literally blasted from my eyes!
Well, I took Paul and Silas to my home. I had them washed and their wounds dressed. We fed them. We ate with them. We listened to them. We learned how to pray and most of all: Who to pray to: Jesus Christ alone. The Holy Spirit worked faith into my heart and into the hearts of my family and friends that night. When they baptized us, even the littlest ones were included and they smiled. How could we not take them to this new-found altar of God’s goodness and have them given the surety of heaven through baptismally wrought faith? And later on, all of us would help populate the new, growing congregation here in Philippi. Yes, it was a joyous night that none of us ever forgot.
The next day the judges sent word to me to release them. I told them: “Now you can leave, go in peace.” But then Paul really threw everyone for a loop. He told the police that he was a Roman citizen and they had unlawfully beat him and charged him! Since ancient times it was unlawful to beat a Roman citizen. The judges could well lose their position and property over this. Very soon those same judges showed up at my door, groveled before Paul and Silas, and carefully requested they leave the city. He went instead to Lydia’s house, introduced me to my new fellow believers and then left us together to support each other much like you are doing here at your church today.
I hope you really value your baptism and your faith and your times of Godly instruction at church. It is the Spirit’s way to give birth to goodness and blessing in your life. “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved!” I did. And I, Lucius Marcos, am. Amen