THE EARLY CHURCH (14)/ PAUL’S DELIVERANCE FROM PRISON

Pastor (Mrs) Silvia Lia Leigh continued preaching the series The Early Church. The title for today sermon was ‘Paul’s deliverance from prison’. Her main text was taken from the Book of Acts chapter 16.

This chapter in the Book of Acts describes events during Paul’s second missionary trip. Paul’s first missionary started from Antioch. He was accompanied by Barnabas and his nephew John Mark. They went in Asia Minor, in present day Turkey. They preached the Gospel and started churches. They suffered persecution and Paul was very sick, but the trip was spiritually fruitful. The young man John Mark abandoned them halfway. Because of that, Paul and Barnabas had a heated argument, and both decided to separate at the end of the trip. They later reconciled. The unexpected challenges during this first trip helped Paul to seek God more, to die to the flesh, and to learn to totally depend on the Holy Spirit. He now decided to walk the Royal way of the Cross. His understanding of doctrine and application of doctrine in life, became deeper. He saw that the body is weak and relationships with brethren are fragile. He became more sensitive to the leading of the Holy Spirit. Chapter 16 describes his second missionary journey. God provided two new helpers for him: Silas and Timothy, who in a way, replaced Barnabas and John Mark. During this trip he met Dr Luke who became a close associate and friend for life. There are so many lessons for all of us in this chapter.

THE LEADING OF THE SPIRIT

 “Now when they had gone through Phrygia and the region of Galatia, they were forbidden by the Holy Spirit to preach the word in Asia. After they had come to Mysia, they tried to go into Bithynia, but the Spirit (of Jesus) did not permit them… Now after he had seen the vision, immediately we sought to go to Macedonia, concluding that the Lord had called us to preach the gospel to them” (Ac 16:6, 7, 10)

We see how the Holy Spirit guides Paul and his team during this missionary trip. The plan of God supersedes the plans of men. “There are many plans in a man’s heart, nevertheless the LORD’s counsel, that will stand” (PV 19:21). Man makes plans according to his understanding of events. But it is God’s eternal plan and purpose that stands, that is established and will be carried out.

“When He, the Spirit of Truth, comes, He will guide you into all the truth [full and complete truth]. For He will not speak on His own initiative, but He will speak whatever He hears [from the Father—the message regarding the Son], and He will disclose to you what is to come [in the future]” (John 16:13; AMP). The Holy Spirit is God, also called the Spirit of Truth. He guides only the believers. He leads them step by step into the fullness of truth, an unknown territory for them. He does not carry them. He leads them. You can carry loads, but you lead people. The believers need to cooperate with His leading. Because He is God, He speaks eternal truth because He knows the end from the beginning.    

The mistake the believers make is that they see God as passive, who is not really interested in the day-to-day events on earth. That is an error. God is the Creator of the universe. He has not abandoned His creation to men or devils. He rules and overrules all things on earth. He has His plans for men, especially for the believers. Listen to what God says: “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future” (Jer 29:11; NIV). In Hebrew, the word ‘plans’ also means thoughts, like a machine that works according to God’s will. God certainly has His own plans for us. His plans are always good for the present and for the future. His plans are always better than ours. We should trust God even when we do not understand His plans.

The same word ‘plans’ appears in this passage in Isaiah 55. We are told that God’s thoughts or plans for us are not only different than ours, but much greater and infinitely better. Our thinking is based on what we see on earth. God’s thoughts and plans are heavenly, eternal, and perfect. We are to seek God’s mind in all situations so that we can be led by the Holy Spirit. Seeking God’s will and His leading is vital for a believer. That is the only way we make spiritual progress. In seeking God, we must repent of sin, die to the flesh and to the worldly way of thinking. We go to the throne of mercy and grace to find those in times of need. This is a painful and humbling process, but necessary in finding God’s will and His leading. “Seek the Lord while He may be found, call upon Him while He is near. Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; Let him return to the Lord, and He will have mercy on him; And to our God, for He will abundantly pardon. “For My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways My ways,” says the Lord. “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts” (Is 55:6-9). From here we see that God does not reveal His plans and does not lead the unbelievers or the backsliders. He only leads the humble believers who desire to know Him more. Selah!

In this missionary journey, it seems that Apostle Paul wanted to go eastward, possibly to Ephesus where there was a big Jewish population. But the Holy Spirit wanted them to go towards west, to Europe. You see here how the will of man clashes with the will of God. The Holy Spirit leads them step by step. First, the Holy Spirit ‘hinders them’ and later He does not ‘permit them’ to go their own way. These are strong words showing that the Holy Spirit leads the way according to God’s plan. What is the lesson? We cannot preach what we want or where we want. Evangelism must be done led by the Holy Spirit and not according to our ideas. How does God lead? It is possible that the Holy Spirit spoke to their minds thru special revelations. They discussed among themselves and prayed. This is how they arrived at Troas (in present day Turkey) where Paul had a vision in the night of a man pleading for help, for them to come to Macedonia. Paul, accompanied by Silas, Timothy, and Dr. Luke went to Macedonia by boat. They stopped at the port of Neapolis (in present day Greece). From there they went to Philippi.

In Greek, the word ‘concluding’ means to unite, to drive together, to teach, to deduce something based on facts. It means that they were in the unity of the Spirit during this trip. Paul combined the internal leading with the vision received and concluded what the Holy Spirit was saying. The feeling is something like ‘This makes sense’.  He now saw the purpose of the trip. It was at Troas that God met Dr. Luke for the first time. He was a disciple of Christ already. He jointed Paul, Silas, and Timothy on the trip. It was Luke who wrote both the Gospel of Luke and the Book of Acts. See how he changes from ‘they’ to ‘us’ (Acts 16 verses 8 and 10). Luke was a medical doctor, a scholar, and a great writer. Paul trusted him completely. He became a faithful coworker in the ministry and a close friend for life. If Paul did not go west to Troas, he could not have met Luke. Apostle Paul is an example of how to be led by the Holy Spirit. Be dead to self, sensitive to the Spirit’s guidance, humble and flexible to move where He directs. The unity of the Spirit must be maintained. The sign and seal of God’s peace must be received.   

Practically, to be led by the Spirit it refers mostly to guidance, to make decisions on what road to follow. God’s commands are not to be debated. For example, you do not pray to be led by the Spirit about stealing or not. The leading is necessary when we need to make decisions in life that are not directly revealed in the Bible. For example, you need to be led to choose a city where to live, who to marry, how many children to have, or what job to take. In ministry, you need to be led by the Holy Spirit in choosing what sermon to preach or where to do evangelism. In the Bible there are only two places that speak about the leading of the Spirit: Romans 8:14 and Galatians 5:18.

“For if you live according to the flesh you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God. For you did not receive the spirit of bondage again to fear, but you received the Spirit of adoption by whom we cry out, “Abba, Father.” The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God” (Rom 8:13-16). “Walk in the Spirit, and you shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh. For the flesh lusts against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; and these are contrary to one another, so that you do not do the things that you wish. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law” (Gal 5:16-18).

We see that the leading of the Holy Spirit is given only to the children of God. The unbelievers are led by their fleshly desires or by demons. The leading of the Holy Spirit is always in accordance with the Word of God and prayer. The Holy Spirit inspired the Scriptures, and He alone knows how to interpret them to us. In the Christian, there is a battle between flesh and spirit. Thru the process of sanctification, we die to the flesh and live by the Spirit. The devil works thru the flesh. There are three ‘voices’ that the Christian hears: The impulse (voice) of the flesh, of the devil, or the voice of the Holy Spirit. The devil works thru deception pretending he is God. It takes spiritual maturity to discern, to listen and to obey the voice of the Holy Spirit. His leading comes thru the Word of God, by an impression on your mind, or thru sanctified imagination. When God speaks, there is a special feeling of hearing Him. You hear authority in His voice. You hear your Father, your Shepherd speaking. You feel a strong urge to follow, even if you do not totally understand the way. Often, God uses other people, especially the mature Christians who have a prophetic gift to confirm the leading. Once you hear from the Holy Spirit and you obey, peace comes to you and the strength to move on.  Never forget! As children of God, we are never alone. Like the shepherd leads his flock, the Holy Spirit leads us on ‘besides the still waters… in the paths of righteousness… and for the glory of His name’ (Psalm 23). Halleluiah!

THE ANCIENT CITY OF PHILIPPI

Philippi is an ancient city in Macedonia, in the present-day Greece. It was founded by King Philip of Macedon, the father of Alexander the Great.  Macedonia, including Philippi, was later conquered by the Romans. In the first century, Philippi was a Roman colony, more like an army post. Because the Romans built many structures similar with those in Rome, Philippi was called ‘The little Rome’. The population was made from retired soldiers in the Roman army and their families. They were given houses to settle there as a reward for being faithful in Caesar’s army. The city was governed by two retired senior soldiers called ‘magistrates’ who were directly under the authority of Caesar. They made sure that there is peace in that area. Because gold was found in the hills around, Philippi was a prosperous city.

Apostle Paul, with his team made of Timothy, Silas, and Dr. Luke, arrived by ship at Neapolis, a port by the Mediterranean Sea (Today, Neapolis is called Kavala, Greece). From there, they walked 10 miles up the hill, to Philippi. The Holy Spirit led on to this very place. Philippi is the first city in Europe where Paul preached the Gospel. When he came to Philippi, he must have felt good because he too was a Roman citizen. Historians say that Alexander the Great used Philippi as his European base to attack and conquer Asia with his mighty army. Now, Apostle Paul, armed with only the Sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God, came from Asia to Philippi, to conquer Europe for Jesus. Halleluiah!

THE FREE WOMAN

In this chapter we see two women, one is free and the other is in bondage; one is a child of God, the other is a child of the devil. Women in the Bible are symbols of churches. There are only two types of churches, the living, and the dead. There is no middle ground. Where do you belong?

“Now a certain woman named Lydia heard us. She was a seller of purple from the city of Thyatira, who worshiped God. The Lord opened her heart to heed the things spoken by Paul. And when she and her household were baptized, she begged us, saying, “If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come to my house and stay.” So, she persuaded us” (Ac 16:14, 15). The free woman’s name is Lydia. Her name means noble or beautiful. Lydia was a gentile godly woman who ‘feared God’. It means that she has repented of idolatry and now she is a Jewish proselyte who served only Jehovah God. Lydia was a businesswoman originally from the city of Thyatira, a city in the Asia Minor, in the present-day Turkey. She was selling fabrics died in purple. This die was extracted from a type of shellfish, and it was extremely expensive. Purple was considered royal color. Only the princes or the very rich could afford that type of fabric. She had a house in Philippi where she was selling the fabrics. From here we deduce that she was a wealthy hard-working woman. The Holy Spirit has located her and sent Apostle Paul to preach the Gospel to her. Like the Ethiopian eunuch and Cornelius, the centurion, Lydia was genuinely seeking God. She heard the Word preached by Paul with faith in her heart! Lydia had good ears. The ears must be opened for the heart to be opened. She ‘attended’ to what Paul was preaching. It means that she was truly interested. She obeyed the Word! Then God opened her heart! Lydia was baptized with her household. Later, in the same way, the jailer and his household got saved. Here you see the influence of the leader in his household. Lydia’s house became the first church in Philippi. Read the letter of Paul to the Philippians and see how much Paul loved the church there.

God’s ways are mysterious! Jesus chose a woman to be the first convert in Europe. Christianity brought dramatic changes. At that time, both to Jews and to Gentiles, a husband was like a slave master. Polygamy was common. A man could divorce his wife for any reason at all. The wife was almost like a slave to her husband. For example, a wife could not change her religion to be different than her husband. We do not know if Lydia was married, or she was a widow. She was clearly a successful woman on her own. She was like the virtuous woman in Proverbs 31. This is a good lesson: the Christian wife is to work-hard and become successful in her profession or trade, and at the same time, not neglecting her duties to her husband, children, and members of her household. No Christian woman should be lazy, foolish, or a liability to the people around her. By choosing Lydia as the first convert in Europe, Christ opened the door of faith to all, male and female. This is revolutionary, especially for the women. This revolution affected the men too, and the way they see their wives and daughters. “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Gal 3:28). The Christian marriage is unique in the world. It is based on submission, understanding, respect, and love, for God and for one another.  

What did Lydia do? She ‘heard’ Paul preaching the Gospel. In Greek, the word ‘heard’ means to listen carefully, to pay attention, to meditate and understand the message. The Lord Jesus opened her heart to heed to the preaching of God’s Word. ‘To open’ it means to remove a hindrance, a covering, or a veil. It means to expose and to allow entrance. “When one turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away. Now the Lord is the Spirit; and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty” (2 Cor 3:16, 17). In the morning, you wake up and open your eyes. It is the start of a new day. To open the heart is similar. Lydia woke up from the sleep of death by the power of resurrection. An open heart is a saved and living heart. God opened her heart to heed the word of God preached by Paul.  When God opened her heart, He planted the seed of faith. She was now willing to believe, accept, and respond to God’s Word. This beautiful picture describes the work of the Holy Spirit in salvation.

Just like with Lydia, the Resurrected Christ opened the hearts of the disciples to receive the Word and believe in Him. In the past, they trusted Him, but it was only after His death and resurrection that they truly understood Him. When Jesus opened their hearts and minds, they saw the truth that Jesus was the Messiah, that He was indeed the Son of God. They saw the connection between the Old Testament and Jesus, who is the fulfilment of all the law and all prophesies. “Then their eyes were [suddenly] opened [by God] and they [clearly] recognized Him; and He vanished from their sight.  They said to one another, “Were not our hearts burning within us while He was talking with us on the road and opening the Scriptures to us?”…  Then He opened their minds to [help them] understand the Scriptures” (Lk 24:31, 32, 45; AMP).

An opened heart is a pure heart. It is the heart of a worshipper who worships God in Spirit and in truth. God alone can purify the heart from sins, fears, doubts, prejudices, and wrong religious ideas of Him. God removes the veil of darkness from the minds of men. He opens and cleanses the heart to be like a child’s, simple, pure, and full of light, trust, and wonder towards God. The fact that God opens man’s heart is the proof that He has direct access to it. It is the work of Grace. God opens the heart of His child thru faith in His Word and by His sovereign power.

This is another godly woman’ story. Her name is Hannah. She was barren because ‘the Lord had closed her womb’ (1 Sam 1:5). She prayed for a son and vowed to dedicate him to God all the days of his life. God answered her prayer. He opened the closed womb and Hannah became pregnant with Samuel. Mother and son were true worshippers of God. In this sense, an open heart is a spiritually pregnant and fruitful heart.

Apostle James also speaks about the power of God’s Word ‘implanted’ in the open heart. The Word should be received deep, like a seed planted in good soil. For that to happen, we must be ‘quick to hear’ and willing to obey God’s Word. The Word planted will germinate in the heart and produce fruits to the glory of God. Sin manifests as talking too much, anger, or being careless with the things of God. These are hindrances to the opening of the heart unto salvation. An open and receptive heart is blessed by God. “Understand this, my beloved brothers, and sisters. Let everyone be quick to hear [be a careful, thoughtful listener], slow to speak [a speaker of carefully chosen words and], slow to anger [patient, reflective, forgiving]; for the [resentful, deep-seated] anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God [that standard of behavior which He requires from us]. So, get rid of all uncleanness and all that remains of wickedness, and with a humble spirit receive the word [of God] which is implanted [actually rooted in your heart], which is able to save your souls. But prove yourselves doers of the word [actively and continually obeying God’s precepts], and not merely listeners [who hear the word but fail to internalize its meaning], deluding yourselves [by unsound reasoning contrary to the truth]. For if anyone only listens to the word without obeying it, he is like a man who looks very carefully at his natural face in a mirror; for once he has looked at himself and gone away, he immediately forgets what he looked like. But he who looks carefully into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and faithfully abides by it, not having become a [careless] listener who forgets but an active doer [who obeys], he will be blessed and favored by God in what he does [in his life of obedience]” (James 1:19=25; AMP).

This is a great lesson: The most important thing about evangelism is not how smart, or how emotional you are when you preach. Your duty is to preach the Gospel of Christ crucified and resurrected with simple words anyone can understand. After that, you trust God to touch the hearts of the listeners. In Lydia’s case, God opened her heart. As preachers, we have work to do. But some things, only God can do. “Who then is Paul, and who is Apollos, but ministers through whom you believed, as the Lord gave to each one? I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the increase. So then neither he who plants is anything, nor he who waters, but God who gives the increase” (1 Cor 3:5-7). Glory to God!

THE GIFT OF HOSPITALITY

After she got saved, Lydia insisted that Paul and his team come to her house. She said that ‘if you judge me to be a true believer, come to my house’! Like the disciples on the way to Emmaus, Lydia ‘constrained’ them to come. She put pressure on them to come to her house. She was a true leader. Her whole household was converted and baptized. Like the jailer, Lydia clearly manifested the gift of Hospitality. This is a gift given by the Holy Spirit. Hospitality means to love, welcome, and help strangers (not only your family and friends). It means to treat people you just met warmly and generously. In the early church, there were no hotels or restaurants the way we have today. People depended on one another for food and shelter. Exercising hospitality to all needy people, but to believers and servants of God in particular, it is a sacrificial spiritual ministry rewarded by Jesus. This is God’s command: “Be hospitable to one another without grumbling” (1 Pet 4:9). Grumbling, stinginess, laziness, and bitterness are all hindrances to the ministry of hospitality and to receiving the blessings attached to it. Hospitality is one of the requirements for the position of leadership in the church. “A bishop then must be blameless, the husband of one wife, temperate, sober-minded, of good behavior, hospitable, able to teach” (1 Tim 3:2). Hospitality is a platform for the manifestation of miracles. “Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by so doing some have unwittingly entertained angels” (Heb 13:2). In Genesis 18 we are told that Jesus Himself, accompanied by two angels, went to visit Abraham and Sarah. The old godly couple welcomed them with much joy. Jesus told them that Sarah will have a son in a year time. This is how the promised son Isaac was miraculously conceived and born.

Hospitality has great spiritual rewards. Jesus said: “He who receives you receives Me, and he who receives Me receives Him who sent Me. He who receives a prophet in the name of a prophet shall receive a prophet’s reward. And he who receives a righteous man in the name of a righteous man shall receive a righteous man’s reward. And whoever gives one of these little ones only a cup of cold water in the name of a disciple, assuredly, I say to you, he shall by no means lose his reward”… “Come, you blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: for I was hungry and you gave Me food; I was thirsty and you gave Me drink; I was a stranger and you took Me in; 36 I was naked and you clothed Me; I was sick and you visited Me; I was in prison and you came to Me” (Matt 10:40-42; 25:34-36).

Socially, the home is the woman’s domain. She is free to use it as ministry. God has blessed many women for exercising the gift of hospitality. For example, the Shunammite woman welcomed the prophet Elisha in her house. This is how she got pregnant and had a son (2 Kings 4). Martha of Bethany opened her house to Jesus and His disciples (Lk 10:38-42). The church in Jerusalem was meeting in the house of Mary, the mother of John Mark (Acts 12:12). The first church in Europe started at the house of Lydia. Praise the Lord!

After Paul was released from prison, he went to her house to say goodbye and to encourage the brethren there (Ac 16:15, 40). Later, Apostle Paul remembers the sweet time of fellowship he had with the brethren in Philippi, the joy he had what that ‘first day’, when God saved Lydia by the river. He prayed for the church that started in her house. “I thank my God upon every remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine making request for you all with joy, for your fellowship in the gospel from the first day until now, being confident of this very thing, that He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ” (Phil 1:3-8).

THE WOMAN IN BONDAGE

“Now it happened, as we went to prayer, that a certain slave girl possessed with a spirit of divination met us, who brought her masters much profit by fortune-telling. 17 This girl followed Paul and us, and cried out, saying, “These men are the servants of the Most High God, who proclaim to us the way of salvation.” 18 And this she did for many days” (Ac 16:16, 17).

This is the story of a young woman who was in bondage to Satan. She has no name. She was a medium. She followed Paul when he was preaching in Philippi. She started shouting saying that Paul and his team are true servants of God. Maybe she went to the river where the women gathered for prayer and she heard Paul telling them about Jesus. What she said was true, but the way she was shouting, it disturbed Paul. He waited for few days, probably praying for discernment and wisdom. Paul hated the idea that the devil is ‘advertising’ his ministry. After few days, he rebuked the demon, and the girl was free. From that moment she could not practice divination again. Here we see that Paul had authority to drive demons even from unbelievers. We are not told what happened to her after that. Her masters got angry because they lost their source of money. They instigated the authorities to beat Paul and Silas and put them in prison. God sent an earthquake on the prison. This miracle saved them. The jailer and his household also believed. The Word of God continued to spread. What is the lesson? When God moves, the devil always attacks. The devil comes as an angel of light causing confusion. In the early church, the devil tried to infiltrate thru Ananias, Saphira, and thru Simon the Sorcerer. The devil used Saul, the religious leaders and King Herod to persecute the church. Infiltration is always more dangerous than persecution. During Paul’s first missionary trip, when the devil saw that the proconsul listened to the Gospel preached by Paul, Elymas the sorcerer tried to hinder the Word. God used Paul to stop him by causing him to be blind for a season (Acts 13:6-12).

This slave girl was a medium who had an evil spirit of divination. What she said about Paul was true. The devil can speak the truth but with an evil intent to deceive men. False prophets and cult leaders speak truth to deceive men. The devil masquerade as an angel of light so that men will follow him. “Such are false apostles, deceitful workers, transforming themselves into apostles of Christ. And no wonder! For Satan himself transforms himself into an angel of light. Therefore, it is no great thing if his ministers also transform themselves into ministers of righteousness, whose end will be according to their works” (2 Cor 11:13-15).

What was the plan of the devil? He wanted to use this girl to infiltrate the church in Philippi. People will think that she is saved when she was not. The devil will use her as a spy, giving information from inside the church. The devil wants to bring the Christians into his bondage again by corrupting the Gospel. But Apostle Paul was not deceived. He did not submit or cooperate with these religious evil spirits. “False brethren secretly brought in (who came in by stealth to spy out our liberty which we have in Christ Jesus, that they might bring us into bondage), to whom we did not yield submission even for an hour, that the truth of the gospel might continue with you” (Gal 2:4, 5). There are many pastors and preachers who married false prophetess thinking that they are women of God. Oh, the need for discernment, spiritual warfare, and moral courage for all preachers of the Gospel! Selah!

Divination is an occult skill by which a person, using supernatural powers, reveals secret things or can predict the future. In Greek, the word ‘divination’ is Phyton. This sad girl was possessed by a Phyton demon. She was working for her masters, making money by fortune-telling, predicting the future and by uttering spells. The word ‘medium’ means to be in the middle, in between states. The medium in a trance is in between the natural and the supernatural realm. A medium is a woman (or a man) who says that she can contact the world of the spirits, even the spirits of dead persons (called familiar spirits) while she is in a trance. These occultic sessions are called seances. The evil spirits use the medium’s voice to speak out. The messages come audibly, visibly or thru body feelings. During the seance people feel, hear, and see the dead person they want to contact. In the Bible, divination, casting spells, and all attempts to contact evil spirits, are seen as demonic activity. God totally condemns this type of practice or even any association with it. This is God’s Word: “You shall not permit a sorceress to live” (Exodus 22:18).  “Give no regard to mediums and familiar spirits; do not seek after them, to be defiled by them: I am the LORD your God… And the person who turns to mediums and familiar spirits, to prostitute himself with them, I will set My face against that person and cut him off from his people” (Lev 19:31; 20:6). These demons are spiritual ‘prostitutes.’ Going to them for counsel will result in ‘defilement’. In Hebrew, this word means to become leprous, spiritually raped, polluted, and unclean. An unclean person cannot come to God’s presence. This is a serious matter. The Christian needs to repent and pray for deliverance. Selah!

In 1 Samuel 28 we see that King Saul contacts a medium, a witch. He was fighting the Philistines. God refused to talk to him thru dreams, by Urim or thru His prophets. King Saul wanted to know the future of the battle. When he was younger, he drove all witches from the land. But now, he needed to see one. He went to consult a witch at Endor. The witch herself was surprised when the spirit of Samuel came up. We do not know why God allowed this to happen. Anyway, Samuel told Saul that he and his sons will die the next day. The word came true. Saul, Jonathan and his other two sons died in battle. The reasons why God killed Saul was because he was unfaithful to Him and he consulted a witch for guidance. “Saul died for his unfaithfulness which he had committed against the Lord, because he did not keep the word of the Lord, and also because he consulted a medium for guidance. But he did not inquire of the Lord; therefore, He killed him, and turned the kingdom over to David the son of Jesse” (1 Chr 10:13, 14). The mediums say that they can bring the spirits of the dead. They are liars and deceivers. They are servants of the devil who is the greatest liar. These spirits are demons (also called familiar spirits) and not the true spirits of the departed persons. When the rich man went to hell, he could not go back to earth again (Luke 16:18-31). In 1 Kings 22, we are given a glimpse into the spirit’ realm. God allowed a lying spirit to go to the earth and to deceive King Ahab to go into battle and die. This is not an easy story to explain but we see that demons influence evil people with God’s permission. Finally, this is God’s Word: Do not go to those who are mediums to ask for prayers or advice. Do not be attracted by them. Do not respect them. Do not submit to them! Selah!

THE PYTHON SPIRIT

The oracle of Delphi was the most famous oracle of ancient Greece. Its role in Greek politics was great as Kings and politicians sent representatives to consult its chief priestess called the Pythia, so named after the Python snake. They wanted to know what the gods are saying so that they make decisions for war or peace. Sometimes, the Pythia could cast spells on the enemies of those who patronize her. These spells manifested as incurable disease, accidents, sudden poverty, madness, or untimely death. The Pythia lived in the temple of Apollo who was the god of the oracle. The Pythia was the mouthpiece of the oracle. Most of the time she was a virgin woman of middle age who dressed in a young girl’s garments and wore her hair loose. The Pythia devoted her life to the oracle. She was a slave to the Python spirit. To have an audience with the Pythia, the person will sacrifice a sheep or a goat. The Pythia will chew some leaves, sit on a three legs stool, enter a trance, and speak ‘words of wisdom’.

The slave girl in Acts 16 was a medium and a false prophetess. She was paraded by her masters. When a customer wanted to know the future, the girl will fall into a trance and speak with a different tone of voice. Her masters will interpret what she is saying for a fee. Because many wanted to know the future, the girl was busy divining making a lot of money for her masters. She was possessed by a python spirit. This demon is the only demon named in the Book of Acts. How does it manifest? In the natural, the python is a big powerful snake. It does not kill by poison. It kills by suffocation. It coils around until the victim stops breathing and dies thru cardiac arrest (‘heart attack’). The victim bones are not crushed. There is almost no sign of violence on the body of the victims before the snake swallows it whole.  It may take weeks to digest it. Pythons can swallow big animals like the antelope. They can also swallow humans. There are cases when men made pythons as pets and the pythons killed their owners. Spiritually, the python demon chocks the victim. Under such a spiritual attack, the victim has difficulty in breathing, or asthma-like symptoms. As the demon slowly coils around, the victim feels gradually getting weaker. Fear of closed spaces (claustrophobia) or the fear of untimely death accompanies these attacks. Some experience oppression or sexual attacks in the dreams. The spiritual weakness manifests as loss of interest in the study of the Bible, in prayer or in praising God. The victims feel like leaving the sanctuary saying they suffocate inside. In Nigeria, this python demon is called by strange names as: Mammy-Water, Spirit-Wife or Spirit-Husband, Ogbanje Spirit, One Kind Eye… What is the solution? If the victim is an unbeliever, he must surrender totally to Jesus Christ. If the victim is a Christian under attack, he needs deliverance in the name of Jesus! Start to fast, pray, and praise God with a loud voice. This is what Paul and Silas did in the prison when they were attacked by the python demon. God answered and they became free. Halleluiah!

PAUL AND SILAS IN PRISON

This slave girl from Philippi was a false prophetess initiated at the Apollo temple. Initially, Paul ignored her words. Later, he rebuked the demon out from her. She was free from the demon. From that time, the girl refused to fall into a trance and speak. Her masters discovered that the girl could not ‘prophesy’ again. They got angry with Paul because they lost the source of their money.  We do not know why they arrested only Paul and Silas. They beat them and they were thrown into the prison. In the Roman law people should worship Caesar. The Romans allowed some religions, but they had to be approved by Caesar. Christianity was not yet approved by him. They beat Paul and Silas with rods. There was no trial. Just beating. They put them in stocks (they tie the legs to stretched to the maximum to cause painful cramps).

At that time, prison was a terrible place. They were thrown in the inner cell. Just imagine that they were rats and bad smell, no clean air. Paul and Silas could have complained to God. But they did not. They prayed and praised God. They were happy that despite the persecution, God’s work was successful and the first church in Europe was born. They knew that the devil attacked them because they had a great success. At midnight God sent an earthquake. In the Bible, the midnight hour is when Jesus comes again to defeat all enemies. “And at midnight a cry was heard: ‘Behold, the bridegroom is coming; go out to meet him!” (Matt 25:6). Paul and Silas were like the wise virgins. Their prayer and praise were fueled by the Holy Spirit. God sent a miraculous earthquake that affected only the prison. All chains got loosed. The gates got opened. The jailer was terrified and wanted to commit suicide. But Paul encouraged him. He then became saved. Him and his household believed in Jesus and were baptized. He later joined the household of Lydia, the first church in Europe. The next day, the officials discovered that Paul was a Roman citizen. By law, they were not supposed to beat him without trial. Apostle Paul refused to go quietly. He wanted everyone to hear that a Roman citizen preached the Gospel and started the first church in Europe.

THE CONVERSION OF THE JAILER

The story of the jailer is the classic story of salvation. He asked the greatest question of all and he received the greatest answer given to me:  “Sirs, what must I do to be saved? 31 So they said, believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved, you and your household” (Ac 16:30, 31). I imagine that the jailer was hard man, a rough retired Roman soldier with blood on his hands. His job was the best thing he now has. His job was his god. That is why when the jailhouse collapsed, he wanted to kill himself. Only the Holy Spirit could change this hard sinner unto an humble saint. He invited Paul and Silas in his house, feed them and washed their wounds. Like Lydia, we see the manifestation of the gift of hospitality as a sign of salvation. Finally, let us see how great God is! God is gentle with Lydia and opened her heart. With this jailer, God brought an earthquake. The earthquake was localized only at the prison. All chains get loosed and all gates got opened. God is all-powerful!     

THE POWER OF PRAISE

The word ‘praise’ is used more than 200 times in the Bible. God commands His creation to praise Him. Praising God means to glorify His name, perfection, character, power, and mighty works. It means to give God the glory and the honor He deserves. Praise is spiritual sacrifice and proceeds from a grateful heart. It manifests as singing, playing instruments, dancing, or clapping of hands. Why praising God is so powerful?

First, thru praise, you encounter God. He promised to manifest Himself as King and Judge when His people praise Him. “You are holy, enthroned in the praises of Israel” (Psalm 22:3). Problems are solved immediately when praising God with all your heart. In God’s presence there is fullness of joy (Ps 16:11). When Paul and Silas praised God in prison, the miracle of deliverance happen. Praising God humbles you. Praising God removes your attention from yourself and the circumstances around you. When you see how great God is, you also discover how small you are. You now look unto God. You realize how much you need God every moment. God gives grace and help only to the humble. The more you praise God, the more King Grace will bless you. Secondly, when you praise God, He will fight your battles (2 Chr 20:22). Thru praise warfare the victory is sure! Halleluiah! Worship the Lord!

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