Our drive through eastern Macedonia along a recently constructed section of the Egnatia Highway took us to Philippi and then to the port of Kavala (ancient Neapolis). Tracy's prayer at the beginning of our journey, asking that we be attuned to God, the long traffic queue we saw on the opposite side of the highway as a result of an accident, and the sight of water bombers gracefully descending onto a lake to scoop up water in readiness to fight fires, helpfully illustrate the importance of Luke's description of the Gospel entering Europe. While in Asia Minor, Paul had wanted to continue west to evangelize in Ephesus, but they were 'forbidden by the Holy Spirit to speak the word in Asia'. The missionaries then tried going north into Bythinia but, like that traffic jam, were prevented by the Spirit of Jesus from moving there. Paul and his friends had the right motivation, to 'preach the word', and they were on the move, passing by Mysia to Troas on the coast. Such people can be guided by God. The recently deceased Christian writer Elisabeth Elliot said, 'Experience has taught me that the Shepherd is far more willing to show His sheep the path than the sheep are to follow.' At Troas Paul had a vision of a Macedonian man begging him to 'come over and help us'. Should they go? How could they know? Luke tells us that after considering the call, they concluded (together adding all the circumstances) that God would have them move to Macedonia. The crucial attitudes in guidance are faith in God who 'will be our guide even to the end' (Psalm 48:14) and obedience. From Neapolis Paul and his team travelled to Philippi, the city where the church would for the first time become European and no longer only Near-Eastern. Philippi was a Roman colony for retired soldiers. There was no synagogue there so Paul and his companions went outside the city to a river where they found a place of prayer (Acts 16:13; Psalm 137:1). Here a wealthy business woman and 'a worshipper of God' named Lydia had her heart openedby God to the gospel. Her open heart became an open home and an open continent. Within 300 years hers was the faith of the empire.
Two women - the fabric seller and the slave girl - were saved in Philippi. When you touch the economics of evil there is always a hostile reaction. The owners of the slave girl 'seized Paul and Silas and dragged them into the marketplace to face the authorities.' Their accusations were exaggerated and based on prejudice (These men are Jews)and pride (and are throwing our city into an uproar). Paul and Silas were singled out since 'anti-Jewish sentiment lay very near the surface in pagan antiquity.' (Bruce) Wrongly assuming they were not Romans, 'the crowd joined in the attack against Paul and Silas, and the magistrates ordered them to be stripped and beaten. After they had been severely flogged, they were thrown into prison, and the jailer was commanded to guard them carefully. Upon receiving such orders, he put them in the inner cell and fastened their feet in the stocks.' It was illegal for Roman citizens to be humiliated or punished in public, and to be denied a trial. Roman punishment was severe and it left scars. Reflecting on Paul's words, 'For to you it has been granted on behalf of Christ, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake.' (Philippians 1:29) Amy Carmichael wrote:
'No wound? No scar?
Yet, as the Master shall the servant be,
And piercèd are the feet that follow Me.
But thine are whole;can he have followed far
Who hast no wound or scar?'
How do you react when you are wronged? How are you reacting to life's pressure and pain? With bloodied backs and bruised bodies Paul and Silas sang to God at midnight! (16:25) As traditional Greek music played in the background of our bus I wondered, would I, like Richard Wurmbrand, who spent 14 years in prison for preaching the gospel, three of them in solitary confinement, be able to testify, 'Alone in my cell, cold, hungry, and in rags, I danced for joy every night'? We are well attuned to praising God when the sky is blue and the weather fine, but do we sing at midnight, when life is difficult? As Jesus prepared for the cross, when it was night (John 13:30) and darkness reigned (Luke 22:53), He and His disciples sang the Hallel - Psalms 113-118 (Matthew 26:30) which begins, 'Praise the Lord, Praise O servants of the Lord, praise the name of the Lord' and ends, 'Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his love endures forever.' God, give us songs in the night! 'Brothers, rejoice in the Lord' (Philippians 3:1). 'Rejoice in the Lord always; I will say it again, rejoice!' (Philippians 4:4). 'Through Jesus, therefore, let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise—the fruit of lips that confess his name.' (Hebrews 13:15) We need to sing songs at midnight because other people need to hear our praise. In the cell 'the other prisoners were listening to them.' We travelled past a town called 'Drama'. As the economic crisis reached its D-Day the headline in today's newspaper announced, "Tsipras of Athens - a gripping drama entering its final act "
But can anything match this salvation drama in Philippi? 'Suddenly there was such a violent earthquake that the foundations of the prison were shaken. At once all the prison doors flew open and everybody's chains came loose. The jailer woke up. When he saw the prison doors open, he drew his sword and was about to kill himself because he thought the prisoners had escaped. But Paul shouted, 'Don't harm yourself! We are all here!' The lives of others were always more important to the missionaries than their personal freedom. 'The jailer called for lights, rushed in and fell trembling before Paul and Silas. He then brought them out and asked, 'Sirs, what must I do to be saved?' The jailer's heart was changing. He called them 'Sirs,' and the missionaries gave him the greatest answer to the greatest question. 'Believe in the Lord Jesus and you will be saved - you and your household. Then they spoke the word of the lord to him and to all the others in his house.' The jailer who had punished Paul and Silas now cared for them. 'The jailer took them and washed their wound.' 'He washed and was washed: he washed them from their stripes, and was himself washed from his sins.'(John Chrsostym, Homilies). He 'was filled with joy because he had come to believe in God, he and his whole family.' God's Word entered Lydia's heart, the slave girl required an exorcism and the jailer needed an earthquake to believe!
When told that they could leave Paul said to the officers: 'They beat us publicly without a trial, even though we are Roman citizens, and threw us into prison. And now do they want to get rid of us quietly? No! Let them come themselves and escort us out.' The magistrates risked losing office or worse if they mistreated a Roman citizen but Paul and Silas were determined to stay until their rights were recognized. Like the water bombers we had seen preparing to put out fires, Paul's only thought was for the safety of the new church. To be escorted from prison by the magistrates was a public admission that the magistrates were wrong and that Christians posed no threat to Rome. After encouraging the church, they left Philippi, but not all of them. Since the 'we' sections of Acts stops after the events at Philippi and does not resume again until Acts 20:5, again at Philippi, we can assume that Luke remained in Philippi to strengthen and support the young church.
Like Paul we too left Philippi, not by boat but by bus. With our journey through this biblical land almost at an end, it was tempting to dream of continuing travelling with friends old and new, our guide Stelios leading the way, our fellowship rich and satisfying. Yet, like Paul, we too must move on, as the Lord guides, to places of God's choosing where Christ is not known. Perhaps we will return!