The 15th Sunday after Pentecost September 5, 2010
776 (TLH alt. 37), 501, 527, 254
Hymns from The Lutheran Hymnal (1941) unless otherwise noted
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. 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.” And this she did for many days. But Paul, greatly annoyed, turned and said to the spirit, “I command you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her.” And he came out that very hour. But when her masters saw that their hope of profit was gone, they seized Paul and Silas and dragged them into the marketplace to the authorities. And they brought them to the magistrates, and said, “These men, being Jews, exceedingly trouble our city; and they teach customs which are not lawful for us, being Romans, to receive or observe.”
Dear fellow-redeemed by the blood of God’s own Son:
How many Christians do you know who deliberately stir up trouble in the lives of others? I don’t know of any Christians like that. And yet, Christians often do cause trouble, not only by sins of weakness, but just by being Christians.
In our text we find Paul and Silas being charged with making great trouble in the city of Philippi. They had ruined the money-making scheme of some evil men! Was this a fair charge? Was Paul a “trouble-maker”?
Let’s take a quick look at the record of Paul’s missionary journeys beginning with Acts 13. Then you be the judge.
Paul began his first missionary journey on the island of Cyprus in the Mediterranean Sea. On this island there lived a sorcerer, named Elymas. This man was the chief advisor to the governor of Cyprus. Imagine the trouble Paul and Barnabas caused when they began to preach the Gospel of Christ to the governor! As Paul spoke of the Savior, who had conquered Satan on the cross, Elymas the sorcerer sensed that he was losing his power and influence over the governor.
When Elymas kept interrupting Paul’s message with his deceitful contradictions, Paul really created a scene. He turned to Elymas and said: “O full of all deceit and all fraud, you son of the Devil, you enemy of all righteousness, will you not cease perverting the ways of the Lord? And now, indeed, the hand of the Lord is upon you, and you shall be blind, not seeing the sun for a time.” Immediately, Elymas became blind, and the governor believed “when he saw what had been done, being astonished at the teaching of the Lord” (Acts 13:10f,12).
A few months later in the city of Antioch, Paul was telling the Jews in the synagogue about the coming, suffering, death, and resurrection of the Messiah. Later, the Gentiles of the city “begged” Paul to preach the same words to them on the following Sabbath. When the day came and “almost the whole city” had come to hear the Word of salvation, the Jews became filled with “envy.” They persuaded the leaders of the city to drive these “troublemakers,” Paul and Barnabas, out of the territory (Acts 13:42ff).
In the city of Iconium (Acts chapter 14), the preaching of Paul and Barnabas troubled the unbelieving Jews and Gentiles so much they tried to stone those who brought the Good News! So on they went to Lystra. But the people of Lystra wanted to worship Paul and Barnabas. When they refused to be worshiped, a gang of Jews who had been following them stirred up the people of the city until a mob stoned Paul, “dragged him out of the city,” and left him for dead (Acts 14:19f).
In Acts chapter 16, Paul and company came to the city of Philippi in northern Greece. Down by the riverside the Lord “opened the heart” of a woman named Lydia who was baptized along with her whole household. But then it happened again—Paul stirred up trouble in Philippi! One day as he and his fellow missionaries—Silas, Luke, and Timothy—went to pray, they met a slave girl who was possessed by a demon. She was being used by her masters as a fortune teller and making them a lot of money. When the Holy Spirit directed Paul to cast out the demon in the name of Jesus Christ, the girl was freed and the power of the Gospel preached by Paul was revealed.
But in the process of saving this girl, Paul had ruined the money-making scheme of those wicked business men! Later on, in the city of Ephesus, Paul troubled the business of the silversmiths who made their living by selling hand-crafted statues of the goddess Diana. When the Gospel of Christ touched the money bags of the wicked, Paul stirred up a hornets’ nest of trouble!
Yet we can say more about the trouble that may be caused by the Christian. For example, suppose a person regularly cheats the government when he files his income taxes, or cheats God when giving his offerings. This Word from His Savior brought by the pastor or a fellow Christian may trouble that person’s conscience: “Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s” (Matthew 22:21). And suddenly, we may be called “troublesome meddlers!”
Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 5 that we are not to keep company with anyone who considers himself a “brother” (i.e., a fellow Christian), and yet is sexually immoral. We are told “not even to eat with such a person” (1 Corinthians 5:11). But, Oh! what trouble the confessing Christian causes when he obeys this Word of His Savior for the sake of moving his impenitent friend or family member to repent of his sin and return to his Savior!
Do you have friends who are satisfied with their own righteousness and goodness? What can happen if you remind them in the gentlest way possible that their goodness counts for nothing before the holy God? What if you encourage them to place their trust in the righteousness of Christ alone so that they do not perish in their sins? You may find that you have put a crack in the image they have of themselves, and you have become a troublemaker in their eyes!
Recently, a Christian couple, members of a large ELCA congregation in the Charleston, SC, area, took part in an open discussion of the ELCA’s 2009 resolution to ordain homosexuals into the public ministry. After stating their opposition to this practice and their desire to be faithful to God’s Word, they were accused of troubling the “unity” of the congregation!
Have you ever awakened someone from a deep sleep, only to find that you have disturbed their dreams? Live your own life in word and deed as one who knows the truth about salvation through Jesus Christ and you may arouse the consciences of those who are happily sleeping through every departure from God’s Word. You may cause trouble for the soul that is working very hard to forget and deny the authority or even the very existence of God!
What “troublemakers” we Christians may be and often are! But Jesus said, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the sons of God” (Matthew 5:9). How can troublemakers be peacemakers and sons of God? Are not the “I’m OK, you’re OK, do your own thing” advocates the real peacemakers?
When a church in our community advertizes itself as a place where people may worship no matter what they believe because they “all worship the same God,” are they the “peacemakers” of whom Jesus speaks? Many think so. We must admit that if we suggest that only one road and one Savior leads to Heaven, we are heaving huge boulders into the peaceful ponds of human pietism causing, not ripples, but tidal waves of trouble!
But if our neighbor is building his house on sand rather than on rock, shouldn’t we trouble him about his dangerous efforts? Shouldn’t we trouble him with the plea that he rather build his house on the teachings of Christ before the hurricane of the Great Judgment comes and sweeps his house into the eternal sea of death and misery? (cf. Matthew 7:24ff).
If someone is caught in a life of sin, living without repentance and faith in his Savior, shouldn’t we trouble him in the hope that his soul may not die, but be restored to life and peace with God? We are not called to join with the false prophets who shout, “‘Peace! Peace!’ When there is no peace” (Jeremiah 6:14). As the angel “troubled” the calm waters of the Pool of Bethesda in order to bring healing to the body (cf. John 5:4), so we Christians must also trouble the waters of spiritual sleep in order to bring the peace of Christ to a sin-sick soul.
“Come,” Jesus said to His fisherman-disciples standing by their nets at the Sea of Galilee, “I will make you fishers of men” (Matthew 4:19). But what fisherman ever caught fish without disturbing the water?
Jesus, the Great Peacemaker between God and sinners, came into the darkness of this world as “The Light of the world” (John 8:12). Have you ever seen any light meet the darkness without troubling it? Jesus still troubles for the sake of peace wherever His saving light shines to men through His Gospel and through those who speak and live His Word. He comes to stir up our hearts, to take over and make over our lives—otherwise He does not come at all!
If any of us becomes lazy in our spiritual life, or begins to go in a direction which threatens our faith and our eternal peace with God, He may graciously send us a “troublemaker” in order to get us back on the road to peace.
Let us give thanks to God for pastors, council members, and all our fellow believers who make this kind of trouble for us. You children may also give thanks to your Father in heaven for parents who give you this kind of trouble! Let us all with Jesus and Paul be “troublemakers” for the sake of true and lasting peace with the only God and Savior of poor sinners. Amen.
All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.