Year C Sunday after Ascension : Acts 16:16-40
Today's passage is about the power of Jesus.
Power over evil.
Paul drove out evil spirit 'in the name of Jesus'. The spirit initially reacted to the presence of Jesus who lived in the disciples, saying that they were servants of God.
In the ministry of Jesus there were times when evil spirits would speak to him and acknowledge his authority over them. Jesus is more powerful than the devil and his followers. He showed this by his life, death, and resurrection from the dead. Jesus is still alive. His name still carries power and authority over evil.
There have been occasions when I have been called to people's homes to pray for them to be cleansed from evil spirits in the name of Jesus. When I have done such things I am not going in my own strength or power but relying upon Jesus. That is why Paul prayed 'In the name of Jesus...' It is not a magical formulae, like abracadabra ! It is a command made on behalf of another and relying upon the power of another. Like General Mike Jackson negotiating with the Yugoslavs this week. He was exercising power not because he was a particularly strong man but because he represented NATO.
On one occasion in Derby a couple called on the Vicar to come and pray in their house because they had heard funny noises at night. he sent me. I went and investigated. I found that they had relatives living with them who they would rather not have had there. I also discovered that they wanted to move out of this council house. I was suspicious of their motives but prayed around the house for the protection and cleansing of Jesus.
A few days later they visited the Vicar again complaining that the noises had not gone and could he come because I had not succeeded in getting rid of them. The Vicar replied that he would be praying to the same God in the same way that I had and would , therefore be no more effective than me ! This shows that when we minister we do so in the power that Jesus gives, in his name. It also shows that not every incident of alleged evil spirits is true. Having said that there have been other incidents, including one on this Parish where I have been called to pray in a house where extraordinary things have been reported. On these occasions I have prayed in the name of Jesus and there has not been a reoccurrence.
When this has happened it has not been my experience that the residents of these homes have rushed to church to worship God in gratitude and acknowledgement of his power. The exorcism of the slave girl led to her owners' anger at losing a source of a great deal of money. They had Paul and Silas flogged and thrown in jail.
The power of Jesus will result in opposition from those who's lifestyle is threatened by the changes and demands it makes upon them. For some people making money is more important than following Jesus. Some of those will never come to church. Others may for a time and then fade away as they pursue things that obviously become more important. Sometimes people say to me they do not have time to go to church but it is about priorities. What they are really saying is that it is not important enough.
Like us to think about where we sing ? Suggestions ? Church; in a choir; football match; party/disco; in the shower/bath; secretly when house empty; in car - UNPACK RE. HOW IT LOOKS like muppet bouncing around, showing off tonsils; prison ? - I have ! We have just seen the power of Jesus over evil. Next we see...
The power of Jesus over circumstances.
We have just thought of, perhaps unlikely, places where we might sing. But when do we sing ? When we are happy ? Bible says we can also sing when we are in difficulty, or scared. Psalm 59:14ff, Psalmist had said that fierce men conspire against him, then 14 They return at evening, snarling like dogs, and prowl about the city. 15 They wander about for food and howl if not satisfied. 16 But I will sing of your strength, in the morning I will sing of your love; for you are my fortress, my refuge in times of trouble. 17 O my Strength, I sing praise to you; you, O God, are my fortress, my loving God.
Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns in prison. Difficult when you are not a prisoner yet they rejoiced and relied upon Jesus, not their surroundings. It is Jesus we are called to pray to and to worship not our circumstances. When our circumstances block our worship it is not the work of God.
We said that we tend to sing when we are happy but our happiness does not depend on our outward circumstances but in following God's way for us. On Channel 4 tonight at 7.30 there is a programme called 'God's Army'. It features Martin and Brenda Neale who gave up a lovely home, a well paid job and a luxurious lifestyle to work full-time for the Salvation Army for £100 per week each. Martin says, 'Though we have very little materially, we are actually happier and more fulfilled than ever.'
Our happiness and our worship should depend upon our relationship with God. Not our homes, possessions, cars or holidays.
We have seen the power of Jesus over evil, and over circumstances.
We now see the power of Jesus over the world and over individuals.
After Paul & Silas had prayed and sung there was a violent earthquake, the doors opened and the prisoners' chains came loose. The jailer woke and thought the prisoners had escaped. This would have resulted in him receiving the death penalty so he decides to kill himself when Paul stops him.
It gives you a new perspective on life when you face death. Makes you realise what is really important. Perhaps we need to ask ourselves the question,
'How would I live differently if I knew I was going to die soon ? '
The next question should be , 'Why wait until you face the prospect of death until you change your ways ? '
The jailer saw the power of Jesus in the earthquake. He sees the compassion of Jesus through Paul who stops him from committing suicide. He responded by believing - expand.
This brought him joy, verse 24. Not just of avoiding physical death but the joy of receiving the gift of life. True life is knowing God through Jesus.
God calls each one of us to find out what this life involves. To commit ourselves to it, and to continue in it.
Like Paul and Silas we need to stand up for Jesus against evil and against circumstances. To put our trust in Him who can set us free. To praise and worship Jesus everywhere that we find ourselves but especially on a Sunday including July 18th at the Freeport.