Wednesday, May 04, 2016

Blessed Assurance, Is Jesus Mine? Acts 16:16-34

New Testament Lesson                                                                 Acts 16:16-34

16 One day, as we were going to the place of prayer, we met a slave-girl who had a spirit of divination and brought her owners a great deal of money by fortune-telling. 17 While she followed Paul and us, she would cry out, “These men are slaves of the Most High God, who proclaim to you a way of salvation.” 18 She kept doing this for many days. But Paul, very much annoyed, turned and said to the spirit, “I order you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her.” And it came out that very hour.
19 But when her owners saw that their hope of making money was gone, they seized Paul and Silas and dragged them into the marketplace before the authorities. 20 When they had brought them before the magistrates, they said, “These men are disturbing our city; they are Jews 21 and are advocating customs that are not lawful for us as Romans to adopt or observe.” 22 The crowd joined in attacking them, and the magistrates had them stripped of their clothing and ordered them to be beaten with rods. 23 After they had given them a severe flogging, they threw them into prison and ordered the jailer to keep them securely.24 Following these instructions, he put them in the innermost cell and fastened their feet in the stocks.
25 About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them. 26 Suddenly there was an earthquake, so violent that the foundations of the prison were shaken; and immediately all the doors were opened and everyone’s chains were unfastened. 27 When the jailer woke up and saw the prison doors wide open, he drew his sword and was about to kill himself, since he supposed that the prisoners had escaped. 28 But Paul shouted in a loud voice, “Do not harm yourself, for we are all here.” 29 The jailer  called for lights, and rushing in, he fell down trembling before Paul and Silas.30 Then he brought them outside and said, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” 31 They answered, “Believe on the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.” 32 They spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all who were in his house. 33 At the same hour of the night he took them and washed their wounds; then he and his entire family were baptized without delay. 34 He brought them up into the house and set food before them; and he and his entire household rejoiced that he had become a believer in God.

Has anyone here ever been to Stone Mountain in Georgia?

It is a giant granite mountain, made famous by the fact that on the face of the mountain is a giant carving of the three horsemen of the Confederate apocalypse – General Lee, General Jackson and President Davis.

Years ago I lived in the Atlanta area and very often my wife and I would walk up that mountain about once every other month or so.  It was good exercise and the hiking trails were safe and clean.

If you ever visit Stone Mountain you will notice that people have taken the liberty of making their own carving into the granite hiking trails.  There are all sorts of messages.

Some are very interesting!

There were phrases like – “Betty Lou was here, 1955.”

Or “Bob loves Ann, 1909”

And “Alice loves Robert.”

But along that trail there was one particular bit of graffiti that stands out among the rest.  On a rock higher than the others, so high that you know whoever carved it went to a great deal of trouble to make it visible to anyone on the trail, words carved so deep that you can put your fingers into the letters...all the way up to your knuckles.  The letters are carefully and artistically designed. 

They are the words... “Jesus Saves.”

This bit of graffiti has captured my imagination, and of many others who have hiked that trail. It is easy to imagine someone bundled up and making his way up the trail at night, taking out a hammer and chisel and beating out the letters, night after night for weeks, until the work was finished.
And it is also easy to wonder ... Why?
Why would someone go to all that trouble to carve the words  JESUS SAVES into the side of a mountain.

Let your imagination run wild and it is possible to conceive of a sinner who had led such an immoral life who thought that a carving out the words JESUS SAVES on the face of a granite rock was some form of repentance.

        In my imagination, I have often wondered who this man was trying to convince.

And I finally decided that it possible that he was simply trying to convince himself.

Perhaps it was not with the commitment of Faith that this man carved the words JESUS SAVES.

Perhaps instead it was with the HOPE that Jesus Saves.  And maybe he carved those words to convince himself, as well as others, that those words were true.

Subconsciously, there is within many of us, a stirring of doubt, a twinge of fear – “Jesus Saves, doesn't he?  Or does He?  What if he doesn't?  What if?”

A recent article in a Christian magazine reported on some findings about a church growth program in a metropolitan area church.  Part of the program was to interview and survey those who were already members.

Only half of those interviewed were sure of their salvation. 

The rest were trying to convince themselves that there was truth in the words...JESUS SAVES.

At the conclusion of our worship service today, we will sing a stanza from the familiar hymn, BLESSED ASSURANCE, JESUS IS MINE.  But for far too many of us; that statement becomes a haunting question....BLESSED ASSURANCE???   IS JESUS MINE?

Behind those doubts and fears is a question....what must I do to be saved?

The jailer in our New Testament lesson faced that question when he found himself in a bind.

Like so many of us, this all important question had taken a place on the back burner of his mind until circumstances forced him to face the question.

As Luke tells the event, he and Timothy and Silas and Paul were going to the place of prayer one day, when this demented slave girl began following the group, shouting over and over,  THESE MEN ARE SERVANTS OF THE MOST HIGH GOD.  THEY ANNOUNCE TO YOU HOW TO BE SAVED.”

This went on for days and days.   Finally Paul, fed up with this, suddenly turned and miraculously healed her in the name of Jesus.

In that miracle, the slave girl, who had made money for her masters by telling fortunes, suddenly lost that ability.  And having lost that, was no longer of any value to her owners.

The owners, angered by this, had Paul and Silas jailed. 

Timothy and Luke, being GENTILES were not arrested, but the mob, the crowd, arrested the two Jews, Paul and Silas, and charged them with the honest offense...

        It was, in many ways, a racist situation.

        But – God uses it for good.

That night, Paul and Silas prayed and sang hymns, while the other prisoners listened.  Then, there was an earthquake.  Doors were thrown open, and chains fell from the hands and feet of those in the prison.

It was then that the jailer woke up and for a moment thought that the prisoners had escaped.  Realizing that his superiors would have him put to death for sleeping on duty and allowing the WHOLE prison to escape, the jailer drew his sword and decided to kill himself.

It was at this point that Paul stepped in and stopped the jailer by up pointing out:  WE ARE STILL HERE.

So the jailer asked, “What must I do to be saved,” --- saved from what?

For the jailer, the question was – who will save me from execution for falling asleep on the job – because that was going to be his punishment.
For Paul, and the writer of Acts, they take that question one step further and think theologically, and they lead the jailer to think theologically as well. 
It becomes more than a simple question of how do I save my hide, it is how do I save my soul.  And more than just a question of how to save my soul – it is how to give meaning and value to my life.

It is a haunting question.  And once asked it may haunt even those who think that they are saved.   Because it resurrects those ancient doubts and fears -- Am I really saved?

How can I be certain?

People have differing opinions about the answer to that question of certainty about salvation.

For many people, the secret is to live the good life.
After all, everyone knows that good people go to heaven and the bad people go to hell----or do they???

In George Bernard Shaw's play, MAN AND SUPERMAN, an old woman dies.  At first, she is not quite sure what has happened to her, or where she is.  So she approaches another soul and asks.

To her greater despair, the answer is that she is in hell.

"Hell,” she exclaims.  "How can I possibly be in hell?  I was a faithful member of the church.   I was a solid pillar of the community.  How dare they send me to hell....I was a GOOD person"

To that, the other condemned soul replies... “There are a lot of good people in Hell.”

The truth illustrated by this imaginative play is that if we try to life the good life as a means of salvation, then we will find that we can never be quite good enough.

Paul in one of his New Testament letters --- the one to the Roman Church, said that “All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.”

Well, that takes as back to our question.   And the question of the Philippian jailer....what must I do to be saved?

If we are all sinners, maybe the way to be saved is by confessing each and EVERY sin.  Martin Luther, the great 16th century reformer believed this -- at least in the EARLY PART of his life, that this was the way of confessing.   Roland H. Bainton, in his biography of Luther, wrote that Luther confessed "Frequently, often daily, and for as long as six hours at a time.  Every sin, in order to be absolved, was to be confessed.  Therefore, the soul had to be searched and the memory ransacked, and the motives probed.  Luther would repeat a confession and to be sure of including EVERYTHING, would then review his entire life, until the priest who had to listen to the confession grew quite tired of all this.”[1]

I suspect that none of us confess like Luther did, searching and examining every action and motive and spending hours confessing.

And even if we did, it would not save us.  Luther himself came to realize that he could never be absolutely sure and certain that EVERY sin had indeed been confessed.

So---as important as confession is...that is not the way of our salvation.  We are thus brought back to that question that the Philippian Jailer addressed to Paul and Silas.



It is as simple as that.

The act of baptism did not save the Jailer.  He was baptized later, as a sign that he HAD BEEN an outward expression that a he did indeed believe.

The achievements of good deeds did not save him.    The kindness and concern he expressed to Paul and Silas were the RESULTS of his salvation and were done AFTER he came to believe in Christ.

And so it is with us.


Copyright 2016. 
Dr. W. Maynard Pittendreigh
All rights reserved

Ministers may feel free to use some or all of this sermon in their own ministries as long as they do not publish in print or on the Internet without ascribing credit to the author.

[1] Roland H. Bainton, A Life Of Martin Luther:  Here I Stand.  Nashville:  Abingdon.  1950.  Page 41.