Bible Reference: Acts 16:9-10; 13-15
Jesus gave us the Great Commission in Matthew 28: “Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to observe all I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Have you ever heard the Commission – to reproduce as believers, to draw more people to become disciples of Jesus – and wondered, What are the qualities of a devoted disciple? I’d like to suggest four.
First, they would have a vibrant faith in Jesus Christ as the Son of God, the Savior of the world, and the Lord of the universe. More than just an intellectual agreement that these things are true, that the faith would trust Jesus in a relationship that is integral to how life is lived every day.
Second, that the person would be committed, throughout their life, to learn everything Jesus can teach them in the Word of God and live under Jesus as a master teacher.
Third, that their hearts would be open for the Holy Spirit to shape the character of Jesus Christ within them.
And fourth, that they would, offer their lives as Jesus Christ’s servants to be partners in the building of God’s kingdom on earth.
Lydia was one of those devoted disciples. I want to talk about her story of coming to faith in Jesus Christ today.
Throughout history God’s love story with the people of His creation had women filling an integral role in God’s plans. Where would we be in the Church of Jesus Christ without women? All the cleaning days, the church suppers, the mission societies, the Sunday school teachers and Bible study leaders, the active prayer groups, the mothers who nurture faith in the hearts of their children within the home. Where would we be without the passion and compassion of women in the church?
But it is also true of women in the Bible. Think of Rahab who helped the spies outside of Jericho before it fell. Or Ruth; Esther; Jael; and Deborah, brave judges; or Elizabeth, the mother of John the Baptist; Mary of Magdala; or Mary, the mother of Jesus. When the angel, Gabriel, visited this virgin girl, she asked, “How could it be that I, who have never known a man, could be impregnated with the Son of God?” The angel said, “No word of God shall be impossible for God to make happen.” Then Mary, in the submission of her heart, said, “Behold, I am the bond servant of the Lord. Let it be in me according to your word.” Let your promise be realized and fulfilled in and through me.
Throughout the history of the Christian Church, and without any question in the biblical narrative, God used women in His plan of salvation, in His love for God’s people, even in periods of time when society was dominated by male only leadership.
Lydia was the first convert to Christian faith on the continent of Europe. She was a woman of faith, a Gentile believer, from the town of Thyatira. She was unique in her time period as a businesswoman, an independent entrepreneur. That was extremely unusual in a patriarchal culture. She was a seller of purple clothing about the year 50 A.D. It’s presumed she was also wealthy.
John, in writing the book of Revelation, names Thyatira as one of the churches of Jesus Christ. Lydia, having come to faith in Jesus Christ was from Thyatira, so she had to have gone home from her business journey at Philippi and started a church in Thyatira. She had a role in God’s plan. Several things about this story are extremely intriguing.
The first is God’s divine providence. In the working of the Holy Spirit, Paul describes a vision he was given in the life of a man saying, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.” It was Paul’s sensitivity to the Spirit and his obedience to the Spirit that brought Paul and Lydia together so she could hear the message of the Gospel.
On the Sabbath day, when a group of women gathered by the river for prayer, Paul had the chance to sit down and share his faith, his understanding of the Scriptures. In this story of divine providence, we see what was fulfilling from Acts chapter 1, “You will be my witnesses when the Holy Spirit comes upon you, and you shall bear witness to me in Jerusalem, and Judea, Samaria and to the ends of the earth.”
The Word of God, the message of the gospel, was spreading to the ends of the earth. God isn’t interested in including only men in His salvation. He is working by His Spirit in the hearts of women too.
God is orchestrating a big picture here, but He is also responding to each individual life. He has a heart for Lydia to belong to Him. As those women gathered by the river, God’s Spirit spoke to Lydia through the words of Paul. So the second intriguing thing is Paul’s witness to that group that had gathered.
Think about who he had been – a terrorist and a persecutor of believers in Jesus. He was radically converted to Jesus Christ on the road to Damascus, bowled over by the bright light of Jesus as He revealed Himself to Saul. I’m sure Paul told the story of his conversion to those women that day.
He also, I’m sure, told them how Jesus bled on the cross for the sins of the world as the perfect Son of God, how God raised Him from the dead, and that in His name is forgiveness of sins and the promise that all the broken world, all the rebels of humanity, are reconciled to God through Jesus Christ. That God waits for each of us to come to Jesus Christ, confessing our sin and believing. You remember the promise, “All who call upon me, I will never turn away.” Maybe, because Lydia was in the textile industry dealing with the dying of cloth into purple, Paul quoted Isaiah, “Though your sins be as scarlet, they will be white as snow. Though they be red like crimson, they will be like wool.” Maybe he went on to share how Jesus is the Son of God, and that He lives. He who was crucified lives to make His home in our hearts and give us abundant life.
The third thing of the story that is striking to me is that Lydia had been a believer of God but through Paul’s sharing she came to be a believer in Jesus Christ. She placed her faith in the message of the Gospel, and, through the wonder of the Word, she invited the Spirit of Jesus to come into her life.
It says that Lydia listened intensely as Paul shared, focused on his words. Her faith went from general to specific. No doubt she heard the truth – “There is no other name under heaven given whereby we can be saved,” or maybe she heard Paul quote Jesus from John 14, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. Come to the Father through Me.” Jesus is distinctive as powerful Good News. More than just a general belief that God exists, Jesus is Good News because the message of the cross tells us that God is very serious about the sins of His people.
But the cross also tells us the depth of the Father’s love for all people, despite our sin. It tells us of God’s willingness to forgive all our sins and immoralities, and that He desires to reconcile us back into a relationship with Himself in Jesus’ name.
The cross also speaks to the truth that there is no darkness, no trouble, no adversity, no evil that can separate us from the love of God. No matter how dark the hell we might experience, the cross tells us that Jesus whispers to us even in that moment and says, “I’ll never leave you or forsake you.”
But God never forces Himself on anyone. So the fourth thing that compels me in this story is the phrase, “The Lord opened Lydia’s heart.” We remember how Revelation 3:20 says, “Jesus says, ‘Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in.” God opens our heart, and Jesus is willing to come in. The Lord opened Lydia’s heart.
Sometimes in the church, we talk about growing the church or a strategy for Christian growth as a technique or a marketing approach. Yet church growth is actually the Holy Spirit revealing the powerful Good News of Jesus to each individual heart that hears. Faith is a gift. That gift is offered to you today too.
Finally, I want to say that Lydia’s life was transformed magnificently by the gospel she heard from Paul that day. She became an enthusiastic believer in Jesus Christ. How do we know that? Because she immediately requested baptism, together with her whole household – whether that was her children or the servants of her household. That is, though she was a businesswoman, she was uninhibited. She didn’t worry about what people might think of her if she openly declared her loyalty of faith in Jesus Christ.
It reminds me of Paul’s words in Romans 1:17, “I’m not ashamed of the gospel. It is the power of God for salvation to all who believe.”
Lydia also showed her enthusiastic faith by welcoming Paul and his followers to her home. She had hospitality. Those who were far from home now received her love and care in an accepting atmosphere to assist them in their comfort, to show them love.
As I prepared for this message, I visited with one of the members of my church named Darrell Heckathorne. We were talking about when God’s Spirit opened our hearts to understand the message of the gospel. Right away he said. “I know when it was. I was four years old, and there was a woman named Irene Weist, who came to the farm. She asked my father, ‘Will you and your family come with me to church?’”
My father said, “No, we don’t go to church.”
“Well, could I come and take your boys to Sunday school?”
And he said, “No, Sunday is just another workday.”
Undeterred, Irene continued. “Well, sir, I’m gonna pray each day for your boys to know Jesus.” Darrell shared that in his mid-30s, when he came to faith in Christ, he was publicly sharing his love for Christ, and a person in the audience that day was none other than Irene Wiest who had come to the farm when he was four. “My prayers have been answered,” she told Darrell.
God can use you to share your love for Jesus with other people. The Holy Spirit is still in the business of using the Word of God to bring people to faith in His Son, our Savior, Jesus Christ.
In Acts 16 is the story of Lydia, a devoted disciple. When a seeking soul met an obedient witness, the wonder of the Word together with the power of the Holy Spirit, brought a dear one to faith in Jesus Christ. Glory to God. Amen.
Rev. Lee Laaveg