Let me ask you what is the biggest obstruction to the spread of the Gospel? The biggest thing that gets in the way of your friends hearing about Jesus? Maybe its "christians" predicting the end of the world, perhaps its a culture thats too obsessed by the hear and now, maybe you think it in the glitz and glammor of 2011 the Gospel simply is not attractive enough.
Well tonight we are continuing our studies in the book of acts and we will see two big obstructions to the Gospel and look at the answer to both.
So we are in acts 16 and if you're here last week you will have seen how the gospel is now in Europe. We saw last week how Lydia was converted and began to serve the church immediately… great, however Things get a whole lot tougher in our passage this week. So lets dive in under the following two headings:-
1. The devil distracts but Jesus is Lord
2. Idols entangle but Jesus is Lord. So firstly
1. The Devil Distracts but Jesus is Lord
Read with me from v 16
Once when we were going to the place of prayer, we were met by a slave girl who had a spirit by which she predicted the future. She earned a great deal of money for her owners by fortune-telling. This girl followed Paul and the rest of us, shouting, "These men are servants of the Most High God, who are telling you the way to be saved." She kept this up for many days.
So here they are in Philipi and as was their normal practice they head out to the place of prayer. That was how they had met Lydia - it makes sense, go - pray - then chat to others as they come to do so. Only today they meet a slave girl on the way. And not just a normal slave girl but a minor celebrity - a demon possessed lass who claimed she could predict the future. So here we are we have got a demon and a team of missionaries. What is going happen? Well at first glance it looks quite amiable doesn't it? She starts shouting "These men are servants of the Most High God, who are telling you the way to be saved." and you might be thinking 'nowt wrong with that - It's the truth - preach it sister!' And yet there are two big problems her yelling and who is yelling.
I wonder if you noticed where they met this lass - v16 on the way to the place of prayer. And she starts yelling. We are not told if they get there but even if they did can you imagine them trying to pray. When they have prayed can you imagine them trying to chat to people about Jesus with a screeching woman behind them? IT would be like inviting your mates to christianity explored and having someone yelling behind the speaker. What would your mates remember? What a distraction! You see satan hates Jesus and where there are those living and speaking for Jesus - Satan and his minions love to try and distract attention from them. Just think about it:-
Why are your work friends so much more willing to talk about the football or lady gaga than Jesus?
Why is it that when we invite our friends along to stuff they first check what is on TV.
The fact is we live in a world where the truth is drowned in a sea of irrelevance
In Hollywood, in grand designs, in the olympix, in video games, in who did what last Friday, in celebrity culture and royal weddings.
The truth is drowned in a sea of irrelevance
When I were a lad I had a nickname Tangent Tanboy. Because at school one of our favourite pass times was get out of doing work by asking tangental questions of the teacher. This worked really well on my AS level maths teacher who was only teaching for a year to get some funds to continue her Japanese degree. She was a prime target - easily distractible - just mention anything to do with Japan and she was off. It was great... At least until I sat the exam.
Distraction, its one of the oldest tricks in the book. And one the devil uses the world over. Man's almost infinite apatite for distraction. And if it weren't bad enough that there is so much of it out here the truth is there is so much of it in here. And maybe one of the reasons we struggle to talk to people about Jesus is that we are selves are distracted.
Distracted from thinking about how the Gospel effects our life because we are far more interested in the latest christian controversy
Distracted from coming along to church by work deadlines or tiredness or even dare I say it family
Are we distracted from speaking about Jesus because our mouths are full of football or fashion.
The devil distracts but notice how. The girl is yelling but notice what she is yelling '"These men are servants of the Most High God, who are telling you the way to be saved." She is endorsing these missionaries, giving them her stamp of approval if you like. Saying 'yeah listen to these guys they are right' and this coming from a girl who makes her living by predicting the future. Now the bible clearly says God alone knows the future. (Is 46:10). So the demon here is setting itself up as God. And when we realize that we see what is really going on here is a power struggle. It would be like me yelling out at the end of each of Rod's sermons "yep you can listen to that that is true." I would be likes something out of an awkward comedy program. I setting myself up as an authority on how trustworthy Rod is. Thats what the demon is trying to do here.
Knowing this then Paul becomes verse 18 grieved at this demon and so turns to it and says "In the name of Jesus Christ I command you to come out of her!"
Paul commanded the demon to leave not in his strength but in the name of Jesus. So here we have, it is the big show down, the distracting demon claiming to be God against the King Jesus. There can only be one champion and unsurprisingly Jesus wins. On the cross disarmed and defeated the devil and so Like the darkness cannot remain when the light is turned on so the demonic cannot help but flee when Jesus tells them to be gone.
You see for all there imitating God, for all there distraction demons powerless in the face of the real thing. Powerless in the face of the Cross of Jesus. The book of james says "Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you" (Ja 4:7). Are we getting distracted? Are our friends getting distracted as we are trying to talk to them? We need Submit yourselves to God, Submit yourselves to the risen Jesus is Lord and pray against it.
1. The Devil Distracts but Jesus is Lord he is in control, he is in authority
2. Idol's Entangle but Jesus is Lord
Check out v19
When the owners of the slave girl realised that their hope of making money was gone, they seized Paul and Silas and dragged them into the marketplace to face the authorities. They brought them before the magistrates and said, "These men are Jews, and are throwing our city into an uproar 21 by advocating customs unlawful for us Romans to accept or practice."
So in Jesus' authority Paul has kicked out the Demon. And you can imagine how the news would have spread, this girl was pretty famous – we can tell that because she made a lot of money for her Masters. It would have been big news the bloggers would have been going crazy it would have been trending on twitter. Fortune teller actually demon possessed. You can imagine the headline in the mirror 'bet you did not see that coming love' The girl is free.
But I wonder if you noticed her Masters reaction there – they were angry about this and in one sense you can understand them. Their source of income has disappeared, the slave who was so profitable for them is no longer bringing in a penny. They have lost their finical security.
And so they drag off the apostles and charge them on a made up charge. They see them beaten and locked up.
But arn't they missing something here? Surely it is clear to all that what Paul has done is a brilliant thing, this girl has been possessed by a Demon. Paul in the name of Jesus has set her free, has cast out that Demon – this is fantastic! The girl has her life back. But the owners were angry, they think and speak evil of what Paul has done.
What hard hearts to call the work of God evil, what dangerous place to be in siding with a demon a defeated demon and attacking the people of God.
How have these owners got into such a dangerous position? Well look at verse 16 "She earned a great deal of money for her owners by fortune-telling." verse 19 "When the owners of the slave girl realized that their hope of making money was gone," The primary concern of these slave owners was money. It drove them, what made them get up in the morning. You see they were more concerned with the money that the girl brought in than the girl her self.
Sure they probably would not have said that out in the open. In fact they did not did they, when they went to the magistrates they made up a different reason for their anger. but their heart attitude is shown in their reaction to loosing their finical security. There are in fact two slaves in this passage, the slave girl and her owners. Slaves to money. The Bible says that we can not serve two matters either we serve God or we serve money.
And whilst serving God leads us to be like him, serving anything else leads into captivity.
You see our idols are ruthless masters demanding more and more from us. For the slave owners what started out as simply exploiting a poor slave girl ended up with siding with a demon over God. Money was their God, Money was their idol.
The scary thing is they don't even see it. When we stop worshiping God we don't worship nothing, but we will begin to worship anything. Again what a picture of our world, this is a picture of our friends.
So enslaved to money that the average person in the UK is £33,000 in debt
You only have to walk into newcastle on a Friday night to see those enslaved to drink, sex and being popular
But again what is going on out there in our friends lives are so often the same battles that are going on in here. If we have not got our vision right, how can we help them? Let me ask you what is your idol? What are you putting in front of God?
When I was growing up in our youth group there a 5 girls who were going for it with Jesus and who are no longer seen anywhere near a church. Would not call themselves Christians, would not claim to know Jesus. Their idol was relationship - and what started out as simply dating someone who was not a christian ended up with them turning their back on Jesus entirely.
What's your idol?
Maybe its having the right house, or car, being respected or wearing labeled brands, maybe its your wife or your kids, being in control or maybe your idol is simply yourself, you love yourself more than Jesus? I don't know but you do. What is your idol? What are you putting in God's place?
It is that thing you are thinking about right now. And as you sacrifice to that idol you hurt not only yourself but those around you. Just as we see Paul and Silas here beaten and jailed for removing the idol of these slave owners. So as your idol is threatened or removed from you you hurt those around you. You lash out at them and God.
You see the irony of this story is that the Slave owners lock up the very people who can show them how to be free. The people bringing the message of Jesus christ and Him crucified. You see that is the answer to our Idolatry, it is the Cross that is the answer to our friends idolatry. There Jesus victory and supremacy over all other things claiming lordship. What Idol can say 'I am he that lives, and was dead; and, behold, I am alive for evermore, I have the keys of hell and of death.' Can money say that? Can work say that? Can relationships sex or power?
It is as we see Jesus' Lordship at the cross and resurrection that our idols simply melt away. As we proclaim that to a needy world that their idols make way. They just cannot compare.
Tonight we have seen two oppositions to the Gospel of God, The distracting demon and the entangling idol but the answer to both is look to Jesus and proclaim him as Lord. I will conclude with the words of an old hymn :-
Turn your eyes upon Jesus, Look full in His wonderful face, And the things of earth will grow strangely dim, In the light of His glory and grace.
Will you do that tonightt?