That night, Jason and the other new believers gather at his home and pray for Paul, Silas, and Timothy. It is decided that Paul and Silas will leave secretly, immediately, and go to the city of Berea, just south of Thessalonica. Timothy, being younger and not as well known in Thessalonica, will remain with the new believers to help them establish their church, and Paul and Silas will summon him when they are ready for him to rejoin them. So Paul and Silas travel on to Berea, and, as the next day is the Sabbath, they go into the synagogue and begin to teach the Bereans about Jesus. They find a much more welcome reception there, and the Jews as well as many of the Gentiles are eager to hear the message. For several Sabbaths, Paul and Silas speak, and the Jews scour the scriptures to determine the truth of what they are hearing. When they discover that every word spoken to them is supported by the descriptions their own scriptures give of who the Messiah is, they are overjoyed. They gather by the water to pray to receive the Holy Spirit and to be baptized, along with a large group of Gentiles. Soon after that, Timothy rejoins them, and they begin again to build another new church. But when word of this reaches the Thessalonican Jews, they come to Berea to try to put a stop to it. The new believers immediately send Paul away, telling him to go to the seaport and get on a boat, any boat going away from the area. Silas and Timothy stay to help build the church as Paul sails to Athens with a small contingent of the new Berean believers. When they arrive in Athens, the Bereans prepare to return to their city, and Paul asks them to send Silas and Timothy to him in Athens as quickly as possible. He is alone in the city for the first time in many years, and he misses the company of his brothers.
Among the new believers is a man named Jason, a Jewish man who had allowed the Greek customs of the city to creep into his life and begin to take precedence over his Jewish faith. Now, having heard Paul speak about Jesus, he sees how great his sin has been in allowing other things to come between himself and God. He is so grateful to hear that Jesus came to forgive sinners such as himself, and that it’s not just for one single sin but every sin he, or anyone else in the world, has ever or will ever commit in his entire life. The concept is almost too enormous for him to take in, but he understands what it means for him. He is free from the guilt of knowing that he has not lived as God wanted him to live, and because of that freedom and the knowledge of God’s unconditional love for him, he no longer wants to live the way he has been. He wants to live for the one who has forgiven him. Because God loves him so much, it makes him love God more. Paul, Silas, and Timothy, the men who brought this message of freedom and love to his city, are heroes in his eyes, and he wants to honor them. He has plenty of room in his home, so he goes to the men and asks, “My brothers, I wish to show my gratitude for the message of forgiveness, freedom, and love through Jesus that you have brought to me and to my city. Please, be my guests in my home for as long as you are with us in Thessalonica.” The three men accept his gracious offer and move their belongings into Jason’s home. For a few months, Jason’s home becomes their headquarters as they make tents to sell to support themselves during the week and work with the people to set up their new church on the weekends. Meanwhile, the Jews who heard Paul speak in the synagogue but are against Jesus’ message hear that the men are staying at Jason’s home. Incensed at the blasphemy that is being welcomed in their city, especially by fellow Jews, they go into the marketplace and gather a mob made up mostly of men who spend their days hanging around the bath houses, waiting for some action to take part in. They lead the mob to Jason’s house, intending to drag Paul, Silas, and Timothy before the people to be condemned, but they only find Jason and his household there, meeting with some of the other new believers. So they seize everyone there and bring them out to the marketplace to accuse them before the people. When they arrive, they start shouting, “The men who we have heard about, who are traveling all over the world stirring up trouble, have come here, and Jason and his household are sheltering them! They are spouting treason against Caesar, saying that Jesus is the real king!” The rulers of the city are alarmed at this accusation, but since the accused are not present, they do not wish to act hastily. Instead, they demand a bail bond payment of Jason and the others who are accused of sheltering Paul, Silas, and Timothy, and let them go until a trial can be put together.
It is now the Sabbath day, and after spending a few days acquainting themselves with the city, Paul, Silas, and Timothy are ready to go into the synagogue and teach the Jewish people about Jesus. Paul teaches for three Sabbaths in a row, explaining all about how the scriptures point to Jesus as their Messiah, and why He had to suffer and die, and then come back to life again. The fact that the Jews allow Paul three Sabbaths in a row in which to teach them is very promising. Paul’s wounds are all but forgotten as he passionately cites scripture after scripture to support his teaching. But in the end, there are only a few Jews who believe. Paul, Silas, and Timothy pray with them and baptize them, rejoicing for each one of them, even if they are few in number. Then, just as he did in the other cities he brought Jesus’ message to, Paul turns to the Gentiles. The Jews who have turned to Jesus for their salvation join them and listen attentively as Paul once again explains who Jesus is and why He is the only one who can give them forgiveness for their sins and eternal life in Heaven. There is a diverse mix of people listening to his words – some Greeks who have converted to Judaism, some who have been worshipping idols, and a very large group of influential women of the city. Some of these had also converted to Judaism, and now see the truth Paul teaches about Jesus as the Messiah prophesied all throughout the scriptures. The whole group prays together to receive the Holy Spirit and everyone is baptized. That evening, they hold a celebration in honor of all the new believers.
Paul, Silas, and Timothy depart from Philippi and make their way down the main Roman road called the Via Egnatia. They walk for about thirty miles, stopping to rest for the night at Amphipolis, the capital city of Macedonia. It is a very tiring journey for Paul and Silas, who are recovering from the beating they received only two days before. Arriving at Amphipolis, they are hopeful that they will find a Jewish population and that the Holy Spirit will lead them to declare the good news of Jesus’ sacrifice. They pitch tents on the outskirts of the town, having arrived after dark and not wanting to trouble anyone of the town at that hour. After a rather restless night, trying to find a comfortable sleeping position with their wounds, they arise at dawn to assess the possibilities of the city. They go into the marketplace and inquire about a synagogue that they might attend, but they are informed rather rudely that there are no Jews in the city. So they decide to press on to the next city and see what they might find there. They continue down the Via Egnatia for another thirty miles, finally stopping for the night at the city of Apollonia. But they find the same reception at Apollonia the next morning that they had at Amphipolis, and so, once again, they continue on down the road. After another thirty mile journey, they have not yet reached the next city, so they decide to keep going until they get there instead of stopping for the night before reaching it. They are glad to have kept on when Thessalonica appears another seven miles down the road, and they happily pitch their tents on the outskirts for the night. The next morning, they go into the marketplace of the bustling port city and discover that there is, indeed, a Jewish population there, and a large synagogue.
Acts 17:1, https://opentheism.files.wordpress.com/2015/06/map-05.jpg
As the sun rises, the generals who sentenced Paul and Silas to the beating and imprisonment meet again. They are worried that they may have acted too hastily in trying to avoid a riot and pacify the crowds. “After all,” one points out, “we never even gave them an opportunity to defend themselves. It really wasn’t a trial at all, just a sentencing based on the word of the accusers.” The others agree, and after a short deliberation, decide that the best course of action is to just quietly let the men go free. Calling the same soldiers who beat Paul and Silas yesterday, the generals order them to go to the prison and have the guard release them. The soldiers do as ordered, and the prison guard goes down to the dungeon, where Paul and Silas have returned after their visit to the guard’s home, to relay the good news. “The soldiers have just come from the council of generals. They are ordering me to let you go free. Please, go in the peace of our Messiah, Jesus.” But Paul has no intention of letting the matter go without a fight. He knows his rights, and he knows that if these generals get away with what they have done this time, it won’t be the last time innocent citizens are wrongly convicted and punished for crimes they did not commit. “We are Roman citizens, and they have beaten and imprisoned us without so much as a trial! There’s no way I’m letting them get rid of us quietly. Tell them to come to us personally to release us!” Paul says indignantly. The guard’s face turns white at his words, and he quickly goes to the soldiers to relay Paul’s response. The soldiers also look alarmed by this news, and they do not relish the thought of passing this information along to the generals. But they do, backing away quickly as soon as the information is given. The generals exchange nervous looks. “Roman citizens? Did anyone know that they are Roman citizens?” “It doesn’t matter. Ignorance is no defense. We didn’t even give them the opportunity to tell us that.” “What are we going to do? It’s bad enough not giving them a trial if they weren’t citizens, but we all know that beating a Roman citizen, especially in public, is an offense punishable by death! We have to think of something fast to placate these men.” So they decide to go personally to the prison and speak with Paul and Silas. They apologize profusely and beg the men to forgive them, because they only did it to stop a riot. Paul gives them a proper dressing down and warns them that this is never to happen again, not even to prevent a riot. The generals, chagrined but grateful that the two men are not going to press charges against them, agree, and Paul and Silas are escorted out of the prison. They go directly to Lydia’s house, and after freshening up and encouraging the brothers and sisters meeting there, decide to move on. Luke, though, remains in Philippi, in order to continue to work with the new believers there and strengthen the new church.
The guard is astonished. He cries out, looking for another torch, and after lighting it, runs into Paul and Silas’ cell. Seeing them still sitting there, he falls down at their feet and removes their ankles from the stocks. Leading them out of the cell, he asks, “My lords, what do I have to do to be saved?” Paul and Silas exchange smiles, then both declare to the man, “You only have to believe that Jesus is the Lord, who came to rescue all who sin, and He will save you and all your household, if they believe too.” They look up, hearing running footsteps, and soon see several people coming toward them. “My family,” the guard explains. “We felt the earthquake and wanted to make sure you were alright,” one of the women says. “I am more than alright!” the guard exclaims, “I am about to learn the way to salvation! Come, let us gather all the prisoners, and sit together to hear what these men have to teach us.” The guard’s family is very surprised by this, but they all do as he has asked, and soon there is a large group of people sitting before Paul and Silas. The two men begin to teach everyone all about Jesus. They speak for several hours, taking turns and resting when needed. The prisoners and the guard and his family sit transfixed until the men are done, and then feel as if they are waking up from a trance. The guard looks at Paul and Silas and realizes that they are exhausted and still in great pain from their beating. “Forgive me, my lords! Come into my home and I will clean and dress your wounds,” he says to them. Paul and Silas follow the guard and his family to his house, which adjoins the prison, where the guard proceeds to do just that. When he is finished, he and his entire household pray together to be saved, and Paul and Silas baptize them all. Then they prepare a meal, making Paul and Silas the guests of honor, in celebration of their newfound faith and salvation in Jesus.
Paul and Silas are beaten, bleeding, and locked in ankle stocks in the dungeon of a dark, filthy prison. They are in great pain and they have no idea whether or not they will ever see the light of day again. They are given neither food nor water, and they have to decide between laying on the open wounds of their backs on the dirty, cold floor, or sitting with their legs elevated but nothing to support their backs. They can hear the sounds of the other prisoners yelling at each other, hurling insults at the guard, even alternately screaming and muttering to themselves incoherently. So what do they do? They begin to sing prayers to God. Their voices are clear and strong, and soon everyone within hearing range is listening with rapt attention. The other prisoners have never heard anything like this in their prison. It’s like a concert just for them. By this time it is just about midnight, and suddenly there is an earthquake right under the prison. Earthquakes are common in this area, but there hasn’t been one directly under the prison before. The foundation is shaken, and all the prisoners who are chained to the walls find that their chains have been loosened and the doors opened just enough to let them escape. But they don’t escape. The songs of Paul and Silas, and the earthquake that followed, have given them pause. Is this the work of the Mighty God that the men have been singing about? What should they do? If this is of God, perhaps they should wait to find out what He wants them to do first. Besides, what if parts of the floor have opened up? There is no light down there, and no way to see where they are going. They might take one step and fall to their deaths. No, better to stay put and see what happens. The prison guard, awakened by the earthquake, comes running down the stairs to the dungeon. He is carrying a torch, its light dancing wildly as he hurries along. He sees that the cell doors have opened and cries out in despair, knowing that his life is over. Any failure in his line of work brings a death sentence. Unwilling to go through the agony of waiting and enduring the trial to come, he draws his sword to kill himself. But Paul, seeing in the flickering light what the guard is about to do, calls out, “Stop! We are still here!”
The slave girl’s masters have been using her soothsaying ability as a lucrative business, offering fortune telling for a price. They are outraged at Paul for what he has just done. “You just lost us our business! What right did you have to interfere?” one of them shouts. “I’m sorry that you will lose income over this, but this girl has been enslaved both by you and by Satan for too long. She is now free on the inside, and I would ask you to free her body as well, if she truly is no longer of any use to you,” Paul replies calmly. But instead of defusing the situation, Paul’s words only fan the flames of rage in these slave masters. They grab Paul and Silas and drag them into the center of the marketplace, demanding in loud voices to be heard immediately in the Forum, the council of the rulers of this Roman colony. Paul and Silas are not even given an opportunity to tell their side of the story. The irate slave masters shout their accusations to the generals assembled before them, saying, “These men, these Jews, are wreaking havoc on our city. They are preaching about things that are against Roman law to even see or hear! They have even sabotaged our livelihood and taken away our slave girl!” The crowd, which gathered quickly upon hearing the shouting in the marketplace, turns on Paul and Silas, and the assembled generals order the men to be stripped and beaten severely with rods. The flesh of their backs is torn open repeatedly, and by the time the beating is over both men are a bloody mess. Soldiers grab them and drag them to the prison, telling the guard at the door to keep them in the dungeon and make sure they are chained securely. The guard salutes and takes Paul and Silas down several flights of stairs to the bowels of the prison. They pass by hundreds of prisoners as they go, all chained to the prison walls. The prisoners spit at the guard and shout obscenities as the men pass by. Some are placed in stocks – not just head and arms, but legs as well, leaving these prisoners unable to get into any kind of comfortable position. The deeper into the prison they go, the darker it gets, and the foul odors grow exponentially stronger. Finally, they stop at an empty cell. The prison guard shoves the men inside and locks their ankles into two sets of stocks, which are chained to the brick wall of the prison’s foundation. He leaves the rest of their bodies free, but with the ankle stocks several inches off of the floor, sitting is not an option for very long. As painful as their backs are, the two men eventually must lay down on them in order to relieve their aching muscles. The situation looks bleak for them.
The following Sabbath, as the group is headed to the riverbank for a prayer meeting, they pass by a priestess of Delphi, muttering to herself as she prepares concoctions for soothsaying. The priestesses are said to be oracles of the god Apollo and able to tell the future. They are also known as Pythia, after the snake supposedly killed by Apollo. The Pythia are revered by many in the city as spirits of wisdom, but the Christians walking by do not share that reverence. They can feel the evil emanating from the “python spirit” within the priestess and they quicken their steps to get past a bit sooner. But then, they turn a corner and almost literally run into a young slave girl. This girl is muttering just like the priestess was, and in an eerily unearthly, deep voice. Her eyes are unfocused and she moves jerkily, as if someone else is controlling her like a puppet. Paul and Silas exchange a concerned look, but attempt to pass by. The girl, however, or the “python spirit” controlling the girl, knows who Paul and Silas are, and so she follows the men, calling out in a loud voice, “These men are servants of the Most High God and they are here to show us the way to be saved from our sins!” Paul and the rest of the group try to ignore her and continue on, but she does not stop. In fact, even after they meet at the riverbank to pray, she is there waiting for them, following them home and still calling out the same message. When the group leaves Lydia’s home the next day, she is there. Everywhere they go, for several days, the girl follows and shouts out who they are and why they are there. Finally, Paul has had quite enough of it, and turns to face her. “In the Name of Jesus, our Messiah, I command you to come out of her!” he cries out, speaking to the spirit possessing the poor girl. The spirit immediately leaves the girl, and she falls to her knees before Paul, weeping in relief.
A man named Luke has been staying with Paul and Silas at Troas. Luke is a physician and a historian, as well as a teacher of the good news of Jesus’ sacrifice for all who trust in Him to save them from their sins. He has actually founded the church at Troas, and is an old friend of Paul’s, so Paul and Silas have been conferring with him, discussing their journeys and all the exciting adventures they have had in their work for Jesus. When Luke hears about Paul’s vision, he asks to accompany the men to Macedonia. “I am compiling a record of all of the events from Jesus’ birth all the way through what is going on with the church presently,” he explains to the men. “Of course, my brother, we would love to have you with us,” Paul says, and five minutes later they are on their way. The men go straight to the nearest seaport and board a ship sailing to Macedonia. They sail past the towns of Samothrace and Neapolis, finally disembarking at Philippi, the first Macedonian town they come to, which is a Roman military colony, inhabited mostly by Roman soldiers. The journey has taken about three days, and they stay in the city for several days, waiting for the Holy Spirit to lead them to the man Paul saw in his vision. On the Sabbath, they decide to go down to the river, thinking it a logical place for believers to gather to worship. They meet several women there, one of whom is a merchant selling purple cloth. Her name is Lydia, and she is a very influential woman there. She isn’t a resident of Philippi, but of the city of Thyatira. As Paul and Silas are speaking to some of the other women about Jesus, she is listening in the background, and soon comes over to seek more information for herself. She is already a follower of God, having learned about Judaism and embraced it fully. She is quite intrigued by the message these men are preaching, and the Holy Spirit is working in her heart to show her the truth of their words. She asks the men to start from the beginning so she can hear the whole story. Paul patiently explains who Jesus is, talks about His life on earth, His death and resurrection, defeating death itself for our sakes, and how everything He has done is to save us from having to pay for the sins that we commit. He then talks about all that he has seen and done in his time in ministry. Lydia is excited. She knows in her heart that this is what she has been waiting for all of her life. She asks Paul, “Could you pray with me so that I may receive the Holy Spirit, and baptize me right now in the river?” Paul readily agrees, and Lydia emerges from the water a completely new woman. She is overjoyed! She dances onto the riverbank, singing a song of praise to Jesus. “Wait until I tell my household!” she cries. “I’m going right now, because they need to hear this immediately!” She goes home and tells everyone in her house about Jesus, and the next day they all meet Paul back at the riverbank. Everyone in her household believes in Jesus and is baptized, receiving the Holy Spirit into their hearts. “I have seen where you are staying in Philippi,” Lydia says to Paul. “Please, come and be my guests at my home. You will have plenty of space to do your work.” Paul looks at his companions. They have been quite comfortable staying in town, and are reluctant to move. Lydia sees the hesitation in their eyes and pleads with them, saying, “You have seen how I and my entire household have believed and are now baptized. Is this not enough proof for you that our hearts are true? Please, if you believe us to be faithful to our word, come and stay with us.” And so she persuades the group of men to pack their things and go with them to their home in Thyatira.