Formations lesson for May 20: Providing a Witness
May 4 2001 by F. Calvin Parker , Acts 16:16-34

Formations lesson for May 20: Providing a Witness | Friday, May 4, 2001

Friday, May 4, 2001

Formations lesson for May 20: Providing a Witness

By F. Calvin Parker Acts 16:16-34 Like "boldness" and "spirit," the term "witness" holds a prominent place in the book of Acts. In the opening verses Jesus tells his disciples, "You will be my witnesses." The remainder of the book tells how they carried out this demanding assignment. So often did it lead to persecution and death that the Greek word for witness, martus, entered our language as martyr, one who gives his life for a cause. Today's scripture passage bears witness to the freedom and inner peace that comes through faith in Jesus Christ. It relates how Paul set a slave girl free; expressed his own sense of freedom while in chains; and shared the liberating gospel with a jailer on the verge of suicide.

Freedom from exploitation (Acts 16:16-18) The slave girl whom Paul set free was afflicted with "a spirit of divination," literally, "a spirit, a python." This "python spirit" points to the god Apollo, who was thought to be embodied in a snake (python), at the shrine of Delphi. The illusion that the snake-god was speaking through a mentally unbalanced girl enabled her to tell the fortunes of gullible clients and make a profit for her owners.

In old Japan, many girls and women were said to be possessed not by a snake but by a fox. The victim could hear and understand what was spoken by the fox inside her, and the two often argued with one another. The fox's voice was always different from the person's natural voice. When a fox demon was exorcised by a Buddhist or Shinto priest, it sometimes departed amidst fits and screams.

Whether possessed by python or fox or no demon at all, women with strange and peculiar powers are still exploited today. Even the perfectly sane are used as sex slaves or "comfort women." Many are in bondage to brothel owners, restrained by cruel debts they can never pay down. Thousands of victims are found among illegal immigrants in Europe and America. Children too are exploited as sex objects and as soldiers and laborers. The Christian gospel condemns all such abuse and demands the release that Paul brought to the demented slave girl.

Freedom from injustice (Acts 16:22-26) Though flogged and imprisoned unjustly, Paul and Silas demonstrated that their spirits were still free. "The legs feel no pain in the stocks," wrote Tertullian, "when the heart is in heaven." The apostles prayed and sang hymns to God while the other prisoners listened. Their singing reminds us that the universal language of music plays a powerful role in the Christian witness. In Japan, the works of Handel and Bach have opened many a heart to the gospel of Christ.

Suddenly, one of the earthquakes common to the Philippi region freed the prisoners of their chains and opened the cell doors for their escape. All physical restraints were gone. But Paul and Silas, rather than exercise their freedom to leave, chose to remain in jail as a testimony for their Lord.

Freedom from hopelessness (Acts 16:27-34) When the aroused jailer hurried in and saw the open doors, he naturally assumed that his wards had escaped. Instinctively, like a true samurai, he drew his short sword to dispatch himself. Because Roman law held him responsible with his life for the prisoners in his custody, the jailer saw no way to save himself, no hope of pardon. Imagine his surprise and relief when Paul shouted, "We are all here."

This shocking turn of events left the jailer open to Paul's message. He believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, as did his family, and they were all baptized without delay. The jailer experienced the spiritual freedom that Paul and Silas had displayed so convincingly while in the stocks.

Last month my church ordained a retired physics professor to the gospel ministry. Tom Turner, Ph.D., who formerly taught at Wake Forest University, is deeply involved in prison ministry. His firsthand reports of lives transformed behind bars are inspiring, sometimes awesome. Turner's new status as an ordained minister gives him greater access in the prison system to those who need the freedom only Christ can provide.

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5/4/2001 12:00:00 AM by F. Calvin Parker , Acts 16:16-34 | with 0 comments
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