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Author:Rev. George van Popta
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Congregation:Jubilee Canadian Reformed Church
 Ottawa, Ontario
Preached At:Ancaster Canadian Reformed Church
 Ancaster, Ontario
Text:Acts 16:14b (View)
Occasion:Public Profession of faith

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Singing: Ps. 96:1,2,5; Ps. 33:1,2; Hy. 40:1,2; Hy. 1B; Hy. 4; Ps. 87

Reading of Scripture: Acts 16:6-15

Reading of text: Acts 16:14b

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. George van Popta, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

Beloved congregation of the Lord Jesus Christ:

This afternoon, Carole Snyder will make a public profession of faith and so become a member of this congregation. A wonderful moment, for Carole and for all of us. We witness in this God's direction over our lives. God is sovereign. He has our lives in his hand. He leads us and he guides us. We believe and confess that he has also led our Sister Carole to this day where she will make a profession of the Reformed faith and become a member of the Reformed Church.

This afternoon I would draw your attention to another sister of the church. A sister in the faith whose name was Lydia. The story of Lydia shows very clearly how God is sovereign; how God has our lives in his hand; how God leads our lives and guides us along through life. It all flows from God's hand. Salvation is of God. He begins a work in us; he brings it to completion; he will bring it to perfection.

SALVATION IS OF GOD It is God who: 1. Sends the gospel; 2. Opens the heart; 3. Works a response.

1. It is God who sends the gospel. He sends it where He will, when He will. That the gospel reaches certain countries in certain times is God's work and will. That the gospel of salvation by Jesus Christ is proclaimed here in Canada, from coast to coast, is God's will. God is sovereign over time and space. It is he who sends preachers of the gospel to this place and to that place.

We see this very clearly in the story about the conversion of Lydia.

How was is that Lydia should hear the Apostle Paul preach the gospel in Philippi? Both Lydia and Paul were a long way from home. Lydia was from Thyatira, about 500 km away while Paul was from Antioch, well over 1000 km away. How did it come about that they were both in Philippi?

Well, Lydia was a businesswoman. She sold purple cloth. Purple cloth was very expensive. Thyatira specialized in it. The purple dye was made from the secretion of a certain type of shellfish call the mollusk. (Only recently are colours produced chemically.) A certain gland in the mollusk produced a tiny drop of purple liquid. Since about 8,000 mollusks were needed to produce a gram of purple dye, purple cloth was very expensive. Purple was the colour of the emperors and the very wealthy. Lydia was a wealthy businesswoman from Thyatira who was plying her trade in the European city of Philippi. That is how she came to be in Philippi.

But how did Paul get to be in Philippi? It certainly had not been his plan to be there. Some time earlier, Paul had left Antioch on what would be his second missionary journey. His travel companion was Silas. As they were travelling, Timothy and Luke (the author of Acts) hooked up with them.

It had been Paul's plan to preach in the Province of Asia (the western part of what is today called Turkey). But, as v. 6 says, the Holy Spirit did not let them preach the word in the Province of Asia. We don't know how the Holy Spirit prevented them, but He did. Perhaps by a revelation, or vision, or dream. Paul and his companions were coming from the east. At some point the Holy Spirit prevented them from going farther west (into Asia). So they went north. They came to the border of the northern province of Bythinia. Paul wanted to take the gospel into Bythinia, which would have taken them in a north-east direction. But, again, the Spirit of Jesus would not let them go farther. So they went down to the coastal town of Troas, somewhat at a loss as to where they were to go.

The Lord made it clear that night. Paul had a vision of a Macedonian man begging Paul to come over (to cross the Aegean Sea) to help them. As v. 10 says, they concluded that God was calling them to preach the gospel in Macedonia. They found a ship going across, and in two quick days they made the trip that would often take five days.

They landed at Neapolis and travelled up to Philippi, an important city and a Roman colony of Macedonia.

God wanted the gospel preached in Philippi. He wanted a woman of Thyatira running a business in Philippi to hear the gospel and to be drawn into the church. God sends his herald of the gospel, the Apostle Paul, according to his plan. Not according to Paul's plan, but His. Paul wanted to go this way; God made him go that way. Paul wanted to go that way; God made him go this way-until he was where God wanted him: in Philippi. Man plans; God directs. That holds for all of life, and certainly for where and when the gospel message is proclaimed.

After they had been in Philippi for a few days, it was the Sabbath day. Apparently Philippi did not have much of a Jewish community. It did not have the required quorum of 10 men to form a synagogue. And so a few Jewish believers had the habit of gathering outside the town at the river to pray. Paul, Silas, Timothy and Luke went there on the Sabbath day. There they found a group of women. They sat down and began to speak with them about the Lord Jesus Christ. They showed from scripture that Jesus Christ was the Messiah, the Saviour, whom God had promised ages ago. They proclaimed the Lord Jesus as the eternal Son of God, sent by God the Father into this world, conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the virgin Mary. They spoke about how he had died on the cross for sinners, but had arisen again and ascended to heaven to sit at the right hand of God. They told the women that this Saviour Christ Jesus was coming again-on the clouds of heaven to judge the living and the dead.

They proclaimed the same Lord Jesus Christ, and the same gospel, that we proclaim today.

One of the women listening was Lydia. Lydia was not Jewish. She was a Gentile, but was attracted to the God of the Jews. She was a Gentile worshipper of the one true God, the God of the Jews. She listened to the gospel Paul proclaimed. She heard Paul's message. In the wonderful providence of God, Lydia was there; the Apostle Paul came; the gospel was proclaimed-all according to the sovereign plan of God.

God is in control. That you are hearing the gospel today is because of the providence of God. Did you grow up in a Christian family? Have you known the gospel as long as you can remember? That is in the providence of God.

Did you come to know the good news about Jesus Christ later in life? That was in the providence of God.

God is in control. Today God, in his providence, has brought you under the proclamation of the gospel. For you it may be the 5000th time or the first time-but today you are under the preaching of the gospel. That good news of a free salvation by Jesus Christ-that good news that calls you to faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.

SALVATION IS OF GOD It is God who: (1. Sends the gospel); 2. Opens the heart.

As Lydia listened to Paul's message, the Lord opened her heart to believe the message Paul spoke. God opens the heart. Not only does he sovereignly send the gospel; he also sovereignly opens the human heart.

Our hearts need to be opened. Lydia's heart needed to be opened.

By nature our hearts are closed. Ever since Adam and Eve fell into sin and took the whole human race down with them, our hearts are closed to God and locked. Man does not have a free will anymore. Once man did. He was created with a free will, but he lost that when he sinned. Man's will became bound to sin and the devil.

Oh, fallen man can make choices. He can choose to turn right or left when he comes to an intersection. He can choose to buy a Pepsi or a Coke. But he cannot, of himself (apart from the Holy Spirit), choose for God. He cannot, out of himself, choose to perform any moral good.

No one can convert himself. We are born spiritually dead, incapable of any saving good, inclined to evil, dead in sins, and slaves of sin. And without the grace of the regenerating Holy Spirit we neither will nor can return to God, reform our depraved nature, or prepare ourselves for its reformation.

But God can, and he does. Together with the message of salvation, God sends the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit opens our hearts. Brings us back to God. Prepares us for the change, and then actually changes us.

You see how God prepared Lydia for that day. She was a worshipper of God. She made a habit of gathering together with the few Jewish believers in Philippi on the Sabbath day to worship God. God was preparing Lydia. But Lydia did not yet know Jesus Christ. Until the Apostle Paul came with the full and true message of salvation in Christ Jesus.

It was like a key had been inserted into Lydia's heart, and turned. Her heart opened to the message, to the Saviour, to God the Father.

Paul and Lydia met that day. But it was not Paul's preaching as such that opened Lydia's heart. Paul did not open her heart. Neither did Lydia open her heart. There was someone else there that day: the Lord. And he opened her heart. The meeting between Lydia and Paul would have been meaningless if the Lord had not been there. He was there. And with His almighty, effectual and invincible grace, Christ Jesus opened her heart and entered it.

Today the Lord Jesus Christ has come here with his key. He is putting it into your hearts. He is turning the key and opening your heart. Do not resist it. Do not push yourself away from that work.

We need to understand that although it is the Lord who opens the heart, this does not mean that we are passive and complacent in the enterprise. Lydia went to the place of prayer. So we need to go the place of worship. Lydia listened to Paul's message. So we need to listen to the message of the gospel.

The preaching of the gospel is the way God has ordained to open people's hearts. We need to pay heed to the gospel message. If we push it away; if we say we have no time for it; if we say we are not interested in faithful gospel preaching; then we need to know what we are doing. We are pushing away the key that Christ is pointing at our hearts. With which he would open our hearts.

The message of salvation is being proclaimed. Christ Jesus is reaching forward to your heart. Embrace the message. Embrace the Christ Jesus proclaimed in the message.

SALVATION IS OF GOD It is God who: (1. Sends the gospel; 2. Opens the heart); 3. Works a response.

When the Lord opened Lydia's heart, she responded to Paul's message. It was the Lord evoking a response from her. Her response had several different aspects to it.

First, she began to believe in the Lord. She said it in v. 15: "If you consider me a believer in the Lord..." She realized that apart from the Lord Jesus Christ and his saving work done on the cross for her, she had nothing. She looked to Christ in faith.

Then she responded by being baptized. Baptism is a sign of the covenant God has with us. By baptism we are grafted into God's covenant people, the church. Through Paul, Christ Jesus was establishing his church in Philippi. Lydia was its first member. She has the distinction of being the first European Christian.

The Lord continued to build his church in Philippi. By the end of ch. 16 we see there were more converts, and they met in Lydia's house. We know the work continued, for we have a letter of Paul to the Philippians in which he mentions that there were elders and deacons. The offices were established.

Lydia was the beginning of the church. By baptism, she was visibly grafted into the church. Together with her household (v. 15). When Lydia came to faith, the promises of God's covenant and the blessings of church membership fell over her family, her household. Together with her, her household was drawn into the covenant circle as well.

The Lord evoked further response out of her-the response of hospitality. The Bible calls us to be hospitable to others. (Rom 12:13) Share with God's people who are in need. Practice hospitality. (1 Pet 4:9) Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling.

She invited the Apostle Paul and his three travel companions to her home. She was showing hospitality to fellow believers-and we must do that. But this response to Paul's message was more than even that. She was showing hospitality to the Word of God. When the Lord Jesus sent out his disciples to preach the message of the kingdom of heaven, he told them not to be worried about food and money. He said: Whatever town or village you enter, search for some worthy person there and stay at his house until you leave. As you enter the home, give it your greeting. If the home is deserving, let your peace rest on it....

Lydia was worthy. The Lord opened her heart to the gospel, and she opened her home to the gospel preachers. She opened it to the gospel itself.

This passage of scripture and the story of Lydia brings us to praise the sovereign God who in his direction over our lives ensures that the gospel is proclaimed; who in his invincible grace opens our hearts to the message of the gospel; who by the renewing work of the Holy Spirit evokes an obedient response out of us.

Our attention in this sermon has been focussed on the work God did in the life of Lydia some two millennia ago. Lydia who professed her faith. Later in this service, Carole will stand up and profess her faith. The same faith that Lydia professed. Faith in a sovereign God; in a gracious God; in a faithful God.

May the Lord confirm Carole and us all in that faith we share with our Sister Lydia. AMEN

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. George van Popta, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
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(c) Copyright 2003, Rev. George van Popta

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