In recent months, we have been privileged as a church to witness three Miracles. The conversion of three very different people, from very different backgrounds.
On their profession of faith they were baptised earlier this month (I believe the first to be baptised at Noddfa for 18 long years).
In lieu of testimonies the message went through the three converts in Acts 16 (Lydia, the oppressed lady and the Jailer) as there were clear parallels to their conversions to the three we baptised that day.
We come before an eternal God, who works the same today as He did 2,000 years ago! “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and for ever” (Heb 13:8)
Our first person in our reading who we meet in Acts 16:14 (Lydia), was a comfortable lady, she sold purple cloth, which was reserved for the rich, and she had her own home (v15) that she could invite people to. She was what you may call, a nice, normal, middle class woman of today. We can see in verse 13 that when Paul found her, she was praying and not only that, she was praying on the Sabbath! The Lord ’s Day! So, here was a nice, normal, friendly, hospital, loving middle class lady who knew of God (the God of the Bible), she worshiped God and she said her prayers.
But wait! What else does it say here in verse 14? The Scriptures tell us that the Lord opened Lydia’s heart to Paul’s message and she was Baptised! Despite all of this women’s previous outward “religion”, despite her wealth, her social status, her prayer time, her acknowledgement of God and her worship of Him on the Sabbath (the Lord’s day).Despite all of this outward religion, up until this point in our reading, where the Lord opened her heart, she was not a Christian, she was not saved and because of her imperfections she was destined for judgement and Hell!
What the scriptures are reminding us here is quite simple, and a clear lesson to us all! Christian or not! You cannot earn your place in Heaven by being a nice person, by saying prayers, even by worshiping God on a Sunday! Christianity is totally unique in this respect.
If you are a person that thinks that because you give to charity, or because you and your children have been Christened, or because you say your prayers at night, that you are going to Heaven! Think again! This is all religious nonsense! It is all I,I,I,I!
This kind of thinking is a “religion” based on what you can do to serve God, so it is a religion based on your pride, your greed and your selfishness! This is not the religion of the Bible! If it was, Lydia would not have needed her heart opened, would she? She would have been fine on her own!
Those that think you are going to Heaven when you die because you are a nice person! Think again! If the entry into heaven is relying on what you do, then you are not relying on God.Christianity is not about what you must do to earn favour with God! It is not about your climb up to Heaven! Christianity is all about God coming down, because it is uniquely from God!
The God of the Bible says in His Bible, I made you, I love you and I know that you can’t meet the perfect requirements needed to come before my presence on your own. So, in love I will come to earth in the flesh, and live a life of poverty and suffer immeasurably on the Cross for you! I (God) will pay the price for your failures, for your imperfections, and I will open your heart to this truth, so that in faith of my works (not yours) you can be saved! All you have to do is accept this free gift in faith, just as our sister did in January.
See the difference, it is not I,I,I,I but God, God, God! What we are dealing with here is not a man-made religion, it is revelation from God! In love He has done the work for us!
Lydia ticked all the boxes of a nice religious lady, humanly speaking, but yet she did not have a saving relationship with God, until the Lord opened her heart!
Paul moves on, so must I!
Paul leaves Lydia to go to a place of prayer and on the way he meets another woman, one who has been trapped for many years, kept in bondage, she was (v16) a slave. This woman knew of spiritual things and as it says in verse 17 she could even recognize men that were servants of God. Similarly, our second sister to be baptised spent her life aware of God, but has struggled in her walk, she was a slave to her circumstance, a difficult divorce and illness.
The woman in our reading, during her bondage was aware of the spiritual; we are told that she even predicted the future! She was involved in fortune telling and other superstitions. Our Sister, likewise kept various religious mementos around her house (a cross, statues of Angels and various plaques engraved with Bible verse). The woman in our reading pointed out that Paul was a Servant of God (v17), likewise our sister knew to come to Noddfa. But none of these attributes gave her a personal relationship with God, a relationship of trust! None of these trinkets gave her the assurance and confidence that she now has in Jesus Christ.
Our sister has been worshiping with us for nearly a year now; she has heard the Gospel proclaimed in the name of Jesus and it is in Him that she has now puts her faith in.Like this woman in our reading, it was only when the truth of Jesus Christ was proclaimed to her, that her burdens were lifted!
Finally, we have the Jailer!
Paul and Silas find themselves in prison for preaching the Gospel (you see the world hated the church back then, just as it does today!).The Jailer was a typical man that suffered with the same pressures of life as most do today. He had a family (v33) and a home (v31).The jailer had everything he could possibly want, so like many men today he probably thought “why do I need God in my life?”
The jailer was also a very proud man, (v 27) he was willing to kill himself rather than deal with shame of loosing prisoners. Now I am not saying that our brother (before becoming a Christian) would go to such lengths to protect his pride, but, I think we can all agree that you will not find anybody on earth more proud than a Welshman! (And I have welsh blood so can say this and get away with it)!
When our brother first came to church, it was clear that he came reluctantly, and in the first service he laughed out loud when I confessed during my sermon that I was a Tottenham Hotspurs fan! However, after hearing a sermon about what the early Christian church went through, how men and women were persecuted, to hear that they lost their jobs, their homes, they were killed and even cut in two because of their faith, our brother could see that there was more to this “church thing” than met the eye! Our brother began to offer his help to Noddfa, posting the Easter fliers around the houses of his area. He thought that if people can sacrifice even their lives for Jesus, he can post some letters and deal with the “embarrassment”.
Our brother started attending Bible Study, reading books and asking questions and then earlier this year he acknowledged the reality of God. Our brother asked Him for forgiveness and he put his trust in Jesus. Praise God!
So, what caused this change?
Paul and Silas, took a beating for the Gospel. They were being tortured in prison, we are told that they were in stocks (v24). Stocks were not simply vices like we may think of today, but torture devices that clamped on the base of your legs causing tremendous pain. Yet despite their pain, Paul and Silas were singing and praying to God. When they had an opportunity to escape the prison, they did not, they chose to help another man, they stopped the jailer killing himself, at the cost of their own freedom! Why? Because Paul and Silas have all they need in Christ! Christ gave Paul and Silas more than what the world could offer them, and this Jailer could see it! God used the witness of these two men to bring the Jailer to faith!
Like the Jailer our brother needed to be shown by the witnesses of other men. He came to Noddfa and could see that we were not snobs, claiming to be perfect because we come to church, in fact the very opposite, it was in the understanding of our own weakness and need for help that we come! He could see that like any other man in the Valleys, we too are all rough around the edges. But unlike any other men our brother has met in the Valleys, we had something that no amount of flat screen TV’s or the latest gadgets, or pub crawls, or football tickets, or fancy cars, or garden hot tubs or holidays in the sun could ever replace! Our brother could see that we have God on our side. So that when the trials of life come, we do not run away, we do not escape! We do not run off and hide, no, in God’s Grace we have the strength to stay and to do the right thing! Even if it means bad news for us!
As Christian men, we have to face mocking, we have to face embarrassment, we have to face peer pressure for not following the ways of the world! Being a Christian man is tough work! This maybe one of reasons why Jesus chose labourers, and fisherman to be His disciples. Strong men! That by God’s grace are willing to sacrifice all for their beliefs, men that will stay to help, rather than run from the church like cowards in fear of what others may think!
Ask yourself why would a man who has everything, the lovely family and the nice house, a man who could be sat at home watching his big screen TV, why would he choose to go through such a thing as being publicly dunked, if it was not for a genuine experience of deep repentance and knowledge of Jesus as His Saviour!
“Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” So they said, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved,” Acts 16:30-31