So last week we celebrated Easter culminating of course in the Resurrection of the Son of God. One of the great pillars of evidence for the truth of the resurrection is the complete and utter transformation of so many people’s lives in the wake of the Easter event.
Of course this is not merely referring to those who knew Jesus prior to the cross but also to those who wouldn’t have known Jesus from a bar of soap prior to his resurrection.
Meanwhile, I came across a quote during the week on facebook which for the life of me I could not find again to re-quote it so I’ll have to paraphrase it as best I can. I know it was from Eugene Peterson, so if anyone gets a hold of it, let me know. But it went something like this. “The resurrection is not simply an encouragement but an enormous challenge. It challenges us to live the resurrection life, to live every moment with expectation that it matters on an eternal scale.”
I’m not sure anyone was a greater exponent of the Resurrection life than the Apostle Paul. Today I want to look at a passage that I think paints such an amazing picture of the resurrection life and its effects on others, Luke is with Paul and his mates as their lives make an impact on a scale as large as a city and as intimate as one man and his family.
- The City in an uproar.
Acts 16:16-23 One day as we were going down to the place of prayer, we met a demon-possessed slave girl. She was a fortune-teller who earned a lot of money for her masters. 17 She followed Paul and the rest of us, shouting, “These men are servants of the Most High God, and they have come to tell you how to be saved.” 18 This went on day after day until Paul got so exasperated that he turned and said to the demon within her, “I command you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her.” And instantly it left her. 19 Her masters’ hopes of wealth were now shattered, so they grabbed Paul and Silas and dragged them before the authorities at the marketplace. 20 “The whole city is in an uproar because of these Jews!” they shouted to the city officials. 21 “They are teaching customs that are illegal for us Romans to practice.” 22 A mob quickly formed against Paul and Silas, and the city officials ordered them stripped and beaten with wooden rods. 23 They were severely beaten, and then they were thrown into prison. The jailer was ordered to make sure they didn’t escape.
Paul and his companions beginning to look a lot like Jesus himself in what happens when they roll up to a city. Like an asteroid into a planet, Jesus couldn’t help making an impact, ‘shaking up the dust,’ wherever he landed and now in the book of Acts we are seeing precisely the same pattern take place among the disciples. Let’s not forget that Paul is a person who has had a literal encounter with the risen Jesus on the Damascus road. (See earlier blog posts for a 3 part reflection on his conversion)
Every time I read the account above account I think “well, that escalated quickly!” But why does it? Because when you’re living a life that calls into question the deepest held values of the surrounding society get ready to at some point; cop it.
But the uncomfortable truth is this; when you look at the history of the Church, the major reason behind when we don’t seem to ‘cop it’ is because we look 95% similar to society around us. But in our time, that’s changing, and the great temptation is….to run.
Values are called values because people consider them to be value-able.
The first step of eliminating morality (and this has already happened), is to rename morals as values because it means that they can only exist and hold power to govern life as long as we all agree that they’re ‘worth it’. It transfers the ‘equation of worth’ off God’s whiteboard on to ours which we can rub-off and re-write any time we like. where does this process happen? In the marketplace.
It’s into this atmosphere that the resurrection life says “nope, wrong. There’s light, beauty and a justice that you cannot touch, cannot eliminate and cannot control by which we all will be judged, and this believe it or not is not only a good thing but the best thing.”
In the face of resistance, the resurrection life refuses to budge, in fact it cannot, because it’s based not on opinion but on fact. But it preaches this right into the heart of the real seat of authority in any society; the market place. The battle is fought in the market place because that’s where the real seat of power is, this is where public policy really comes from.
When we talk about marketplace ministry we’re talking about ministry on foreign turf, we’re talking about a direct and inevitable clash of ideas with the social powerbrokers of society, and a resurrection life will sooner or later bring us into conflict with the social powerbrokers. What we do when that happens makes all the difference.
- Midnight in the Prison of Rome.
Acts 16:24-28 So the jailer put them into the inner dungeon and clamped their feet in the stocks. 25 Around midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening. 26 Suddenly, there was a massive earthquake, and the prison was shaken to its foundations. All the doors immediately flew open, and the chains of every prisoner fell off! 27 The jailer woke up to see the prison doors wide open. He assumed the prisoners had escaped, so he drew his sword to kill himself. 28 But Paul shouted to him, “Stop! Don’t kill yourself! We are all here!”
I get the feeling these guys have a bit of a rep for at least strange things happening around them, if not prison break outs already. The Jailer is not taking any chances. He’s put them in the deepest, darkest, dankest part of the dungeon.
The question really becomes, What does the resurrection life do, when it is in the deepest, darkest, and dankest of dungeons? Answer: worship (and prayer of course). If you really want to know if the resurrection has redefined your reality, one of the best ‘tests’ is; what am I doing when I feel like I’m in the dark? When it feels like it’s midnight and I’m just waiting for the dawn? Can I acknowledge by situation and praise God nonetheless, or do I forget who I am, who’s in control?
Choosing to worship at midnight is where faith that moves mountains is developed.
It’s a faith that doesn’t care anymore about the immediate outcome of the situation, only that God be glorified. And it is the vehicle or vessel of the undeniable, undefeatable, unquenchable power of God. If you feel in the dark right now, if you feel imprisoned by something or someone but you’re worshiping God, you are a living testimony of the power of the resurrection.
And you are more than a conqueror. Here’s why:
Acts 16:25-28 Around midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening. (Notice and remember that.) 26 Suddenly, there was a massive earthquake, and the prison was shaken to its foundations. All the doors immediately flew open, and the chains of every prisoner fell off! (But this is NOT the biggest miracle, this isn’t the Amazing part. The amazing part is this:) 27 The jailer woke up to see the prison doors wide open. He assumed the prisoners had escaped, so he drew his sword to kill himself. 28 But Paul shouted to him, “Stop! Don’t kill yourself! We are all here!”
The only possible reason, the only hint of any motive that Luke includes as to why a jail full of prisoners in the worst squalor imaginable would choose to stay in their cells in spite of their chains falling off, the doors flinging open before them and the walls of their cells shaking behind them is the ‘overhearing of the worship of God.’
Put all that together and what you have is this; a mini revival triggered by two men’s midnight worship. The greatest witness to an unbelieving world is what we’re like when we’re in the dark. Lobby governments all you like, run all the intro to Christianity courses you like, write as many blogs, hand out as many tracts as you like all good stuff, not denying it; but nothing, but nothing, but nothing is a witness like who we are when the pressure’s on.
- How do we apply this?
About a thousand different ways really, but if I can, I’d like give an application that may surprise you a little bit:
Every now and then folks ask me something like: “how do I talk to young people?”
You know what they want to hear? They want to hear how you made it through when you weren’t so sure of who you were. They want hear about what your biggest struggles have been, and how God pulled you through it. They want to know what you struggle with now and how or if you’re seeing change in your journey. They don’t want a pre-packed answer, they want to know as much about your failures as your triumphs, they want to learn from you how on earth you learnt to worship in the dark. They don’t want expertise, they want vulnerability.
Because he lives, I can face tomorrow. Because he lives, all fear is gone. Because I know I know he holds the future. And life is worth the living just because he lives.
The resurrection life, owns its present vulnerability because it knows it’s future safety in him….and can celebrate it. Even at midnight.