Luke says And setting sail from Troas we had a good run (favorable winds which allowed the ship to sail straight to where they were headed) to Samothrace (about 70 miles north), and then, on the following day, into Neapolis (about the same distance). Neapolis was located on the northeast coast of Macedonia, and served as a harbor for Philippi which was about 10 miles inland. A very important highway ran through Neapolis called the Via Egnatia (Egnatian Way). It was a paved and carefully maintained military road that ran from Dyrrachium on the Adriatic Sea eastward all the way to what we call today Istanbul (Turkey). It served as Romes main land route across northern Greece, and Paul and his team traveled west on it from Neapolis to Philippi, and later on to Thessalonica.
In spite of the fact that it was located in eastern Macedonia, Philippi was the site of an important battle in Roman history. There, in 42 B.C., Antony, Octavian (Augustus) and Lepidus defeated Brutus and Cassius, the assassins of Julius Caesar. To honor that victory the city had been declared a colony, which meant it became a military outpost and its citizens had all the same privileges as the citizens of Rome.
Then Luke tells us how this missionary team began evangelizing Philippi. He says,
we were staying some days in this city, and on Sabbath days we went outside the (city) gate by a river where we thought there would be prayer, and sitting down we spoke to the women who had come together. And a certain woman named Lydia, a dealer in purple cloth (the favorite color for Roman togas) from the city of Thyatira (a city in Asia Minor that specialized in dying purple cloth), a Gentile who worshiped God (Ac 13:43, 50; 17:4, 17), kept listening, and the Lord opened her heart to understand and receive the things spoken by Paul. And as she and her household were baptized she (invited us to be guests in her home) saying, If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come into my house and stay, and she urged us so strongly she prevailed.
Reviewing the facts
Luke must have been a surgeon. He is so precise in the way he explains things we can often see whats taking place. In this passage he explains to us with remarkable clarity what happened to Lydia as she received Christ and, as he does so, a great mystery is revealed. We are able to recognize what God does in the process, and also to see what she, the human, must do. And the truth he reveals is so much deeper and more beautiful than the shallow arguments we often hear debated on this subject. So, lets review the facts he presented to us about Lydia:
1) She was a business woman who sold purple cloth to Romans for togas (export/import).
2) She was a Gentile who worshiped Israels God.
3) The city had no synagogue (minyan) and only a few believers who met on the Sabbath, by a riverbank (safer, anti-Semitism, demonic atmosphere).
4) She didnt stop listening while Paul was presenting the gospel.
5) As she listened the Lord opened up her heart (completely) to understand and to receive (take to herself) the things being spoken by Paul.
6) Because this was a group of Jews and God-fearing Gentiles, Paul would have preached the same information he used in Ac 13:16-41.
Opening the heart (v.14)
Christianity is different from all other religions and, for that matter, from all human speculation and philosophy because Christianity isnt meant to be a religion, it isnt merely a better way to think or live. Its God inviting people to come into relationship with Him through His Son. The gospel announces that the One true God has made a way for people to be with Him forever, and it warns that if they reject that way they will end up separated from Him forever.
When we present the gospel we arent salesmen, were servants through whom God is speaking. Hes literally there, in the moment, pursuing those who will believe. He knows who will come to Him and guides us to them or them to us. Then He empowers us to say what He wants us to say, and while were saying it He moves upon the listener to open their heart, meaning He enables them to understand what they are hearing, and to recognize how it applies to them personally. And as this takes place they become aware of the fact that God Himself is there, He has come to them. The human whos speaking is just a vessel. God doesnt call to people from a distance, as if He were saying Im over here, come to Me. Hes aggressive. His Spirit comes to us and starts moving in. He invades our personal space. Its wonderful and terrifying at the same time. Then, inevitably, our rebellious human spirit springs into action. It recognizes its doom is at hand, that if it doesnt do something quickly it will lose control and another master will enter the house. Instantly an internal assessment takes place: my spirit asks, If I dont stop this, what will God do to me? And in the blink of an eye a decision is made: either yes, this is what (who) Ive always wanted, and I dont care what it costs, or no, I dont want Him, or at least Im not willing to pay the price that being His will bring.
At that moment the gospel must do more than confront me with truth and demand a decision, because my spirit is held in bondage. The rebellion I inherited from Adam is too strong for me to overcome. Left to myself, I will always be dragged back by my fears, my fierce independence, and my rebelliousness. But thats why He came over me so suddenly. He caught me off guard. He arrived before my rebellious spirit could stop Him. I made a choice to keep listening, but when I did he opened my mind to see the truth. And I also discover Im free. I sense I can open my arms and embrace Him if I want to. I actually have the power to make a real, informed, free decision about God. Do I love this pure, holy, just, merciful God or not? Do I want to be with Him forever?
You would think everyones answer would automatically be yes, but its not. Some have been giving themselves permission to ignore Him, and choosing to love other things for a long time, and apparently somewhere along the way they passed a line and they really dont even like Him or want to be with Him. Others arent willing to pay the price, so they choose what they consider the safer road and will hope for the best when they die. So a decision is made to shut down, to close the door, to harden the heart, to stop listening until we sense the danger is passed, until we dont feel that way anymore, until were normal again, and we can relax. From then on we watch for the soonest opportunity to get away, and note to ourselves not to get caught like that again.
Parables (Mt 13:1-16)
The gospel isnt just information, raw data. Its the truth about God and when it is presented honestly, God Himself is there offering to come and dwell within us. The encounter forces a person to respond, which can be good or bad. It can be the moment someone starts to walk in a true relationship with God, or it can leave a person hardened. By saying no to God someone had to push Him away, which makes it much more difficult to say yes the next time. The experience brings the innocence of ignorance to an end. He or she met Him and walked away.
This is why Jesus used parables when He taught large groups. He gave the seekers in the crowd enough truth that if they reflected on it, it would draw them closer to Him, but because the truth was hidden in a story, a person who was not seeking didnt have to harden themselves (much) to avoid it. His parables were a way of being merciful to those who didnt love God. He didnt want to leave them in a worse condition than He found them. So he told stories they could ignore, rather than propositional truth they would have to reject. But, of course, sooner or later everyone moves from ignorance to decision. Life forces us to decide.
Lydias heart (Ac 16:13-15)
So, if we dare boil down something so mysterious and intimate as someones conversion, here are steps Luke shows us in the process of Lydia coming to Christ:
1) She chose to keep listening, she didnt run away. She recognized a familiar voice (Jn 3:21)
Youll never speak to anyone to whom God has not spoken first (Luis Palau) (my paraphrase).
2) God moved upon her mind so she could understand what she was hearing.
3) God empowered her to apply what she heard to herself.
4) She then took to herself, not only the truth of the gospel, but the Lord who was present in that moment.
5) She was immediately baptized. As she publicly was buried and raised from that water she was declaring to God: I die with Christ and I will rise with Him. I bury the old me, and now I will live as a disciple of Jesus Christ.
6) She confessed Christ with her mouth (Ro 10:9, 10). She shared her faith with her whole household and they joined her in baptism.
7) She instantly expressed the fruit of the Spirit (Ga 5:22, 23). She urged Paul and his team to stay in her home. In fact, she wouldnt take no for an answer. Certainly this was hospitality at work, but it was more than that. It was her desire to protect them. She realized the danger they were in in that highly anti-semetic city (Ac 16:19-22; 18:1, 2).
Luke makes it clear that salvation is a divine action. We dont find God, He comes to us, but he also makes it clear there is a human action involved. When He comes to us in the gospel we are forced to make a decision. Will we shut down whats happening, or let Him draw us further? Why would anyone deliberately push Him away? Many reasons:
They dont want to stop doing something they enjoy.
They dont want to give up control.
They dont want family or friends to laugh at them or punish them.
They are determined to stay angry at God and punish Him for something He did or didnt do.
They are afraid He will require too much (be single, be poor, go to Borneo
) and they arent willing to trust that His will is best.
They arent willing to forgive themselves for something awful theyve done.
Why do people receive Him? Like Lydia, they realize He is the One they want to be with forever. Its always been about love.
1) Tell us how you responded when you first heard the gospel. Did you say yes at first or did it take awhile? 2) Did you fear the price you would have to pay if you became a Christian? Was it as bad as you feared? 3) Have you presented the gospel to someone? Was God there helping you? Was the person listening aware of Him?