Miracles in Macedonia
June 18th, 1978 @ 10:50 AM
MIRACLES IN MACEDONIA
Dr. W. A. Criswell
6-18-78 10:50 a.m.
On the radio and on television, you are sharing with us in the First Baptist Church of Dallas our ten-fifty o’clock morning worship hour. This is the pastor bringing the message entitled Miracles in Macedonia, or The Preaching in Philippi. And the sermon today is a homily; that is, we are taking the passage verse by verse, and just expounding its message and meaning to us—Acts chapter 16.
We have begun in our preaching through the Book of Acts, we have begun our expounding the sixteenth chapter. And today, beginning at verse 16: “And it came to pass, as we went to prayer, a certain damsel possessed with a spirit of divination met us, who brought her masters much gain by soothsaying” [Acts 16:16]—fortunetelling, predicting the future. The Greek of that is very interesting, for this damsel, who is demon possessed, is a pitiful and tragic victim of a deranged mind. She is described here as “possessed”—in the King James Version—“with a spirit of divination.”
The Greek is pneuma puthona—“spirit of Python.” The Oracle at Delphi, the most famous in the ancient world, worshiped a python—a symbol of wisdom, and the priestesses of Delphi, on Mt. Parnassus in Greece, ancient Greece—the priestesses were called Pythonian priestesses—priestesses of the python. And as you know, the entire ancient world went to Delphi in order to know the unfolding future. So this demented and possessed girl is described as having a “spirit of python” [Acts 16:16]—a very unusual description on the part of Dr. Luke who writes this story.
And he says that she brought her masters much gain by her “out crying”—that word interpreted as revelations of the future [Acts 16:16]. That is one of the most damnable and dastardly of all of the things I see going on today. And that is pimps and procurers using girls for money; to prostitute their lives for gain. Out of all of the things I have ever heard of, that is the low-downest. And that is what these masters were doing with this pitiful and demented girl. They were using her and were always there for the money. She brought her masters much gain by her demented outcries and her tormented spirit that they interpreted as being prognostications of the future [Acts 16:16].
Now, what do you do about money gained from murder, and tears, and terror, and blood, and drunkenness? What do you do? This same demented girl “followed Paul and us”—that is, Silas and Timothy and Dr. Luke—“crying, saying, these men are the servants of the Most High God, who show us the way of salvation. This she did many days” [Acts 16:17-18]. Well, how did Paul take it? He was grieved. But Paul, instead of receiving the tribute—“But Paul, being grieved, turned and said to the unclean spirit, I command thee in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her. And he came out the same hour” [Acts 16:18].
What about the church receiving the praise and the money from the liquor traffic and from men who do evil, such as the seventh race in the horse race will be run for charity? What about that? Well, there are men world without end who cover over such a dastardly reception with facetious words like this: “This money has been used in the devil’s traffic long enough. Now we are going to use it for the glory of God.” That is an impossible thing, that the church or the people of the Lord would take money, receive from, and then name any of those dastardly lives; take it from the prostitution of young girls, or take it from the breaking of homes and the widowing of wives and the orphaning of children which is what the liquor traffic does, or to take it from any other evil and God-defying measures. Paul was grieved by her witness and her testimony. And turning, he commanded the evil spirit to come out of her, and she was delivered and became a sane, normal girl that same hour [Acts 16:18].
“But when her masters saw that the hope of their gains was gone, they caught Paul and Silas and brought them before the magistrates, saying,” now what do they say? Do they say we have lost our money? We have lost our gains because we no longer have this poor demented girl as an instrument of all of this soothsaying and fortunetelling? No, they do not say that at all. They bring them before the magistrates, and they say, “These men, being foreigners, yea, even Jews, they have come here, and they have disrupted our community, teaching customs and laws that it is not right for us to receive, and we now are defenders of the community!” [Acts 16:19-21]. What an unmitigated lying! They never mention their gains. They never mention the money they were making off of her. They just present themselves as being the champions of moral conscience and civic morality—blast them! And you have that every day of your life where we now live.
Why, it hasn’t been but about a month ago when all of these horse-racing organizations descended upon us here in our Lone Star State of Texas, and they say to us, “What we ask for is the privilege to breed fine horses and to take part in that noble sport of horse racing. That’s all we ask.” Confounded lying. You can raise all of the thoroughbred horses you want in the state of Texas. You can run all of the races you want to in the state of Texas. It is just that you cannot gamble on it. You cannot make a public offering of gambling on the race. That’s all. Do they mention that? Do they mention about robbing the poor? Do they mention about the gambling? No, they are lying. Excuse me, I thought of a bad word—the lying people. They are just talking about and never mentioning what they actual mean. God’s going to have to forgive me.
So, they stirred up that multitude: “Man, we’re for civic morality and for the godly conscience of our people and the traditions of our fathers”; never mentioned that money and that ill-gotten gain. There are men actually who would sell the bones of their fathers for gold. They would sell the dirt off of their mother’s grave for silver. They would offer the very altar of God for stipend. And these men were that. But they never mentioned it, and having delivered Paul and Silas, as being men who had disrupted the civic conscience [Acts 16:19-21], why, they, creating a riotous mob, beat them! [Acts 16:22-23]. And the Roman lictors laid heavy rods upon them [Acts 16:23]. Remember Paul said of the Jews, “five times received I forty stripes save one. And thrice was I beaten with Roman rods” [2 Corintians 11:24-25]. This is one of those times, beaten with Roman rods, that fascist bundle that represented the strength of the Roman Caesar carried by the lictors—beaten with Roman rods.
And having been beaten, why, the jailer took them and cast them into an inner dungeon, and made their feet fast in the stocks [Acts 16:23-24]. That meant the only way that they could be at ease was to lie down in their own blood, with their feet fast fastened in the stocks. Ah, what a pitiful story and what a sadness to read in the life of these godly preachers. They are not vicious men. They are good-news men telling about the Lord Jesus, and yet, lying there in their own blood in an inner dungeon with the feet fast in the stocks.
And what do they do? [Acts 16:24-25]. Do they complain? No, they live by faith and not by circumstance. If they cannot pray at midday, then they will pray at midnight. And they literally turn that prison into a church house of worship and glory. They change that cell into a sanctuary. And they lift up their hearts in praise and prayer to God. “And at midnight Paul and Silas prayed, and sang praises unto God” [Acts 16:25]. And then you could not help but follow after with this concluding clause, “and the prisoners heard them” [Acts 16:25]. No wonder they did. And the prisoners heard them. You couldn’t help but notice that. All of those prisoners had ever heard were vile oaths, and imprecations, and cursings, and denunciations. And here are these men, lying in their own blood, their feet fast in the stocks, and they are praising and glorifying God [Acts 16:25].
Ah! How could a man ever attain to a godly life and spiritual fortune, elevation such as that? No wonder the prisoners heard them [Acts 16:25]. Now, that is the way with you. You don’t ever come to church alone. Somebody sees you and is influenced by you. And you don’t ever walk in the pilgrim way, you don’t ever sing or testify to the goodness and the grace of the Lord Jesus, but that somebody notices and somebody listens. The angels do. They are here, and they bow down their ears to hear our testimony before the Lord [1 Peter 1:12]. And how many others listen to us? We don’t know; known but to God.
When I was in the seminary in Louisville, I lived in the single men’s dormitory—a large beautiful building called Mullins Hall. It was built in the form of a “U” and the opening faced the beautiful campus. One morning when the sun was shining, I stepped out of the dormitory into the courtyard. I felt like a million dollars. I was just happy in the Lord. And I stood in the middle of the courtyard, on the top of the steps that leads down into the campus. And standing there, I began singing like a mockingbird on the top of a tall tree; just singing out there to the top of my voice, all alone in the courtyard of Mullins Hall. And the song that I was singing was this:
It pays to serve Jesus, it pays every day,
It pays every step of the way.
Though the pathway to glory may sometimes be drear,
You’ll be happy each step of the way.
[“It Pays to Serve Jesus,” Frank C. Huston]
That is what I was singing out there. Oh, dear! Well, a long time after that, about a couple of years after that, we were being graduated from the seminary. And one of the men in my class, who was graduated from the seminary with me, came to me, and he said, “Criswell”—that is what I was always called in school, never by my initials or name; always called “Criswell”—he said, “Criswell, I have something that I think I ought to tell you.” He said, “A couple of years ago, up there on the top floor in Mullins Hall, I was so blue and so discouraged—trouble at home, and my own life and work there in the seminary, I was so depressed and crestfallen; I was so down, that as I sat in my room, I made the decision that I was going to quit the ministry, and I was going to quit school, and I was going back home and find some kind of a secular job.” And he said, “While I was seated there in my room, on the top floor of Mullins Hall, so deeply depressed and in absolute despair, having resolved to quit and to go back home,” he said, “Suddenly, I heard somebody singing in the courtyard of Mullins Hall.” He said, “I got up and went to the window and looked out. And there you were standing on that step in the middle of the court, singing to the top of your voice:
Though the pathway to glory may sometimes be drear,
You’ll be happy each step of the way.
[“It Pays to Serve Jesus,” Frank C. Huston]
He said, “I turned and went back in my room, and got down on my knees by the side of the bed, and there,” he said, “I recommitted my life to the Lord and regave myself to the call of God to be a minister of the gospel. I just wanted you to know,” he said. Why, I never dreamed of such a thing in a thousand years. Have no idea why in the world I was out there singing to the top of my voice. And some time ago I was in Virginia, and that young fellow is pastor of one of the finest churches in Virginia.
“And the prisoners heard them,” singing and praising God [Acts 16:25]. You are never alone. Always there are unknown listeners who are affected by what you do. The preacher thinks when he stands before the congregation that these are the people that he is preaching to. He is preaching to a thousand others besides. And how much is that true in this church.
I received a letter from a United States Army pilot. And he said to me, “Riding in a plane—driving my plane over the continent of America from the East coast to the West coast,” he said, “I picked up your sermon on my radio—way up there high in the sky.” He said, “I picked it up around Shreveport.” And he said, “I listened to it all of the way to Albuquerque, New Mexico.” It must have been an evening hour over KRLD. And he said, “I want you to know that listening to your sermon, way up there in the sky, I bowed my head in the cockpit and gave my heart to the Lord Jesus Christ as my personal Savior. And I just wanted you to know it.” And he wrote me that letter. You never know. You never realize. Paul and Silas, praying and singing praises to God, and the prisoners heard them [Acts 16:25]. And then, Somebody else heard. The Lord God Almighty heard. And He took both of His fists and He grabbed a good hold of that whole earth around there, and He shook it! And that jail quaked, the doors fell off the hinges, and every man’s manacles and stocks all fell off [Acts 16:26]. And the prisoners were free.
Do you remember in the twelfth chapter of the Book of Acts, the men who were guarding Simon Peter when Simon escaped; those men were to be put to death [Acts 12:19]. That is according to Roman law. They were chargeable for the lives of their prisoners.
And when that jailer saw that the prisoners were all loose—their bands, their chains, the doors opened—he thought that they had escaped [Acts 16:27]. And facing ignominious and disgraceful execution, he raised his short Roman sword to plunge it into his heart. And Paul happened to see him, and cried, saying: “Man, we are all here. Not one of us has fled. Not one has escaped. We are all here—all of us” [Acts 16:27-28]. And that poor, unhappy, condemned, suicidal, facing execution, disgraced jailer took a torch and came into the dungeon and falling at the feet of Paul and Silas said, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” [Acts 16:29-30] Evidently he had been listening to the men preach; not going to speak of that. That’s the sermon tonight; The Doctrine of Salvation.
“They said, Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved” [Acts 16:31]. And so having accepted the Lord, the Book says that “He took them the same hour of the night, and washed their stripes; and was baptized”—in that same water—“he and all of his house” who heard the gospel. And then “he set meat before them, and rejoiced, believing in God with all his house” [Acts 16:32-34].
There is not a more preciously, beautiful, poignantly, meaningful significant Word in this Book, than is the description of this converted jailer who took them and washed their stripes [Acts 16:33]. Washing stripes; doing all that he could in his power to undo what he had already done; to wipe out yesterday; to make retribution; to make up for what he had done. Let me tell you something. Whenever you see a man who is washing wounds that he has inflicted, mending hearts that he has broken, drying tears that he has caused to flow, whenever you see a man like that, that’s the man who has Jesus in his heart. Washing stripes—trying to do double in redeeming the time to make up for the hurt, and the sorrow, and the tears he has caused.
Upon a day, I was in a city in the East, changing planes to turn south, with another airline, where I was to preach at a state evangelistic conference. In the airport between planes, waiting for the other one to take my journey on down to the conference meeting, I saw a man in the airport with a woman who was crippled. Evidently, greatly hurt by rheumatoid arthritis. He was so solicitous of her, so affectionate toward her, so kindly disposed, so lovingly careful, I couldn’t help but notice. And when our plane was called, the way he tenderly and affectionately bid her goodbye moved my own heart. Well, as I stood in line to go into the fuselage of the plane, that man came up to me and said, “Could I sit by you on this journey?”
I was overwhelmed! I said, “Oh, yes! Welcome.” So we sat side by side on the plane. I was so interested in him. I said, “I noticed how tenderly, sweetly, affectionately, solicitously you were kind to that crippled woman in the airport. Is she your wife?”
He said, “Yes. She’s my wife.”
Well, I said, “Where are you going?”
And he told me the city. “Well,” I said, “that’s where I am going also.”
And he replied to me, “That’s why I am going there because you’re going to be there.”
Well, that was an amazing thing! I said, “Are you going down there because I’m preaching there?”
He said, “Yes, yes.” He said, “Whenever it is and wherever it is you are on this side of the American continent, I go to hear you preach.” And he said, “You’re preaching at the state evangelistic conference, and I’m going down there to listen to you.”
“Well,” I said, “that is the most amazing thing. Why do you do that? Wherever I go, there you are to hear me preach, why do you do that?”
And he said, “It is a long story. But I will tell you”; and let me capsulate it now.
What he said was that he had an affluent business and a beautiful wife, and they lived in a beautiful, spacious home. And in the midst of those years, he fell into depravity and degradation. He became an alcoholic. He became addicted to gambling. And he gave his life to debauchery and to sin. He told me that his wife pled with him; wept over him; prayed for him; begged and beseeched him to no end. And as the years passed of his debauchery, he finally lost his business. They lost their beautiful home, and eventually his wife, unable to live with it any longer, left and went back to her father’s home.
He said, “I was in a little room, a little cheap room in the city, in misery so deep I could not describe it. My life a shambles, in ruin.” He said, “In those days, you came to the city to hold a revival meeting. And in my misery and despair, I attended the services of the meeting. In the meeting, I found the Lord. I accepted Jesus as my Savior.” And he said, “After the passing of a few weeks, just to be sure that I had really found the Lord,” then he said, “I made my way to another city and knocked at the door of her father’s home. And she came to the door. And when she did, I said to her, ‘Dear wife, I am a new man. I have found the Lord. I have been saved. I am a Christian. And please, come back home.’”
He said to me, “She came back home and we rebuilt our lives.” And he said, “God has prospered me beyond anything that you would ever know. I now own,” he says “a whole chain of men’s clothing stores—a whole chain of them. And we have our beautiful house.” But he said, “When my wife came back, I noticed that she was becoming afflicted.” And he said to me, “When I look at her, I think I have done it. It is because of my drunkenness, and my debauchery, and my sin that she, in her grief unspeakable, finally broke and became as you saw her in the airport.” So he said to me, “What I do now, I try to make up for the wrong that I did, and the tears and the hurt that have come into her life. And that is why you say you see me so tenderly affectionate and solicitous toward my wife.”
Man, that’s it! Whenever a man gets right with God, there will you find him trying to do right by others—any recompense, any kindness, any remembrance. Just doubly giving himself to it. Did you notice how that sentence ends? “Rejoicing, believing in God with all of his heart” [Acts 16:34]; why, that is what it is to be a Christian. It’s a happy way. It’s a glorious way. It’s a triumphant way. A man does not descend from light to darkness in loving God. He does not descend from the glory into the gloom of life becoming a Christian. It is just the other way around. When a man becomes a Christian, it is a rejoicing. It is a conquest. It is a victory. It is light and glory! And it is that every step of the way.
Sweeter as the years go by,
Richer, fuller, deeper;
Jesus’ love and grace is sweeter,
Sweeter as the years go by.
[“Sweeter as the Years Go By,” Lelia N. Morris]
Having found the Lord, we have found the treasure at the end of the rainbow. We have found the purpose for which God made us. We have found the meaning and significance of life and living. This is it—what God hath purposed for us [1 Peter 1:3-5].
And that is the appeal that we make to your heart this beautiful and solemn Sunday morning hour—to give your heart and your destiny and your life to the blessed will of God in Christ Jesus. There are a host of you who have shared this hour with us on television and on radio. If you are in your car and you’ve been listening to the message, as you drive along the road, would it be that you would pull to the side of the highway and bow your head over that steering wheel and say, “Lord Jesus, come into my heart. Give me life and glory in Thee. Thy will, Lord, be done in my life.” Do it. Are you watching on television? Are you in the living room? Are you in the bedroom? Would you kneel by the side of your chair or kneel by the side of the bed, make it an altar, and on your knees, give your heart to the blessed Jesus. “Lord God, take my life, and may I fulfill the divine purpose for which You created me” [Ephesians 2:8-9]. Do it. Do it. And the great throng in the heavenly presence this morning, God is here and the angels are near. In the balcony round, a family you, a couple you, one somebody you; in the press of people on this lower floor, a somebody you to give your heart to the Lord. He came that we might have life abundantly [John 10:10]. He came to bring glory into our souls. He came to forgive us our sins [1 Corinthians 15:3; Ephesians 1:7], to give us a new leaf on which to write every succeeding page. Come to Him in faith [Romans 3:24-25], in commitment, in prayer, in love, in rejoicing; and welcome. A family, a couple, or just you; do you have your wife with you? Bring her by your side. Do you have your children? Bring them all; “Pastor, my wife, my children, we are all coming today.” As the Spirit shall press the appeal to your heart, make the decision now, and in a moment when we stand, stand up walking down that aisle, down here to the front: “Here I am, pastor. I give you my hand. I’ve given my heart to the Lord.” May God bless you. May angels attend you in the way as you come, while we stand and while we sing.
PREACHING AT PHILIPPI
I. “Spirit of divination”(Acts 16:16)
A. Pneuma python
– “spirit of python”
B. Her masters used her
II. Paul refused the patronage(Acts 16:17-18)
A. Shall we refuse
money gained from murder, tears, drunkenness?
B. Paul was grieved
III. What liars the masters were(Acts 16:19-21)
A. Not a word about
their lost gain, but concern for the city
up the multitude – Paul and Silas beaten, imprisoned(Acts
IV. The prison at Philippi turned into a
A. Midnight turned into
B. The prisoners heard
observers and listeners
a. Singing outside
b. Army pilot listening
V. The earthquake, the bonds loosened, the
doors opened(Acts 16:26)
A. Facing execution,
jailer attempts suicide
B. Paul calls to him –
“We are here”(Acts 16:27-28)
C. Conversion of the
jailer (Acts 16:30-34)
D. Testimony of man who
travels to hear me preach