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This sermon isn't mine, but was supplied by our missions department, and tweaked slightly by me to better suit our congregation and my delivery style.  I was away the previous week, and the sermon was presented by one of our members.

Ready to Restore

If you ever have the time or inclination,

 it is fascinating to trawl through TradeMe

looking for abandoned projects.

Be they cars, furniture or houses,

there is never a shortage of auctions

for things that people had every intention of working on

 but never quite found the time or energy for.

Sometimes they can be quite tempting

 – that period villa, that classic car, that solid rimu hutch dresser;

their potential is right there under the surface,

just waiting for a little elbow grease and a couple of free weekends.

But we all know that restoring a rusted-out chassis

or borer-riddled bedsit is actually a big job.

 If it was easy,

these objects of desire wouldn’t be relegated to selling as-is, where-is.

What’s more,

 it is a lot more expensive in terms of effort and investment

to make an old car useable again.

 Even for the enthusiast,

 it would be cheaper to buy something newer and less demanding

 than to persevere with an antique china cabinet

or turn-of-last-century home.

It just makes very little financial sense (or any other kind, for that matter)

 to try to restore something old and worn out.

But the reason people do it is not to make money, usually.

 I am sure if you asked any one of a number of enthusiasts

 why they laboured over these projects,

these has-been relics and rusted wrecks,

the answer would invariably be the same: it is a labour of love.

They do it for the joy that the thing brings them

and for the thrill of seeing something old and ready to be discarded

turned into something fresh and vibrant and full of life.

I know someone else who feels that way

about the worn out, beaten up and looked over

– it seems to be God’s attitude towards us.

The text this week is a story that paints this for us in vivid colour.

 It follows on from last week’s reading,

 tracing the on-going events in Paul and Silas’ mission work

 in the Greek province of Macedonia,

and the Roman town of Philippi there.

 Last week these two confronted the local merchants

 in their abuse of a slave girl turned seer,

 and released her from her bondage in the name of Christ.

 However, it unleashed the fury of the marketplace

 when those responsible for her found their cash flow was cut off,

and the backlash was directed squarely at these two missionaries.

[Read Acts 16:22-40]

We open the story immediately following last week,

in the midst of the action.

It’s a riot in full roar.

After their perhaps ill-advised act of redemption with the slave girl,

 Paul and Silas are being set upon by an angry mob.

With the full consent of the city’s magistrates,

 the crowd strips and beats them to within an inch of their lives

 and throws them into jail.

They are priority prisoners;

the guard is under orders to keep them secured

 and he takes the command seriously,

chaining them up in the innermost cells.

Paul and Silas are in trouble.

 They’re in a strange town, with few friends,

 imprisoned, black and blue.

They have lost their liberty, their dignity and, it would seem,

 their opportunity to evangelise this town.

 They need some serious restoration, don’t they?

 I would think so, but apparently not.

Instead of petitioning God for freedom,

 they are found singing praises in the heart of their predicament.

 They are worshipping;

not building up to some sort of intercession event,

but genuinely expressing their love and gratitude to God.

And then the earth moves.

The language in this passage is raw, and primal.

Everything in these few verses happens with such urgency,

 it reads more like an action movie script than the Jesus Film.

 An earthquake strikes with such force

that chains are broken and doors swing free.

Paul and Silas are rescued – God has set them free, right?

If I was in their place,

I’d be saying my hallelujahs

 and hot-footing it for the dark, deserted streets.

 But not these two.

As the jailer rushes in,

 they don’t try to avoid notice so they can slip out,

but make as much noise as they can,

 calling for his attention.

They want to be found!

This tells me something about the character of these two.

 They realise the cost for the jailer if they are missing.

 According to custom,

 the jailer’s role carried a heavy responsibility.

 If a prisoner escaped, he would suffer that person’s fate in their place.

The consequence of dereliction of duty was substitution;

 keep them secure or be locked up in their stead.

 So seeing all the doors swinging on their hinges,

 finding every lock broken or dislodged,

 his heart must have sunk.

It’s likely he was a former soldier,

 and this absolute failure would have left his sense of honour in tatters.

How would he pay for so many escapees?

 It would be easier not to;

falling on his sword seemed like a more viable alternative.

But Paul and Silas step up. “Stop!” they cry,

“No-one is missing! We’re all still here!”

Why? Why would you do that?

 I don’t imagine it would have been easy,

restraining the other prisoners,

 convincing them to remain in their cells,

but Paul and Silas seem to be taking responsibility for having done so.

What possessed them to do that,

 especially with freedom beckoning to them just through the door?

I think it was love.

That same slightly mad inclination

 that makes some people sweat and mutter

as they clean the scrollwork on an old desk,

 but not give up in frustration,

 is at work in these two.

They are engaged in a labour of love.

They have seen that one-of-a-kind masterpiece;

that unique example of the Master’s handiwork,

 and they want to get to work.

Though it is beaten and abused,

with the paint worn thin and the gloss long gone,

 they can see beauty and life and they want to see it restored.

Even this opening effort is enough to get the jailer’s attention.

 He’s dumbfounded, and more than a little rattled.

 What the earthquake shook,

these two men have stirred with their compassion and unexpected mercy. He’s hooked; whatever is going on, he needs to know more.

So he comes to them and in humility

asks them to explain this salvation that got them thrown into his keeping.

And Paul and Silas begin the real work of restoration.

The text says they speak the word of the Lord to this man,

this jailer who has come right to the brink.

We have no idea what that entailed exactly.

You might imagine a brief gospel message.

 Maybe a quick illustration of the bridge to life in the dust on the prison floor.

Some hope and truth wrapped lovingly in grace.

 Regardless of what the words were, the heart of it was Jesus.

The Word of the Lord, if we borrow from John, is Jesus.

They spoke to him of the One who restores,

the Word made flesh that came to reconcile God and man.

They spoke of the cross and resurrection,

of a full manger and an empty tomb.

They spoke about incarnation and transfiguration,

about life and teaching and atonement.

They literally spoke Jesus to this man at the end of his rope.

As he braced himself to end his life,

 Paul and Silas opened up eternity to him,

a new life full of light when he was just about to surrender to the darkness.

In that pivotal moment, Jesus restores the jailer.

 And see what it does, this restoration?

While nothing in the context changed, everything was different for him;

he is changed on the inside.

 Just hours earlier this man had put two beaten prisoners in stocks.

These were devices of torture,

intended to hold people securely and also make them deeply uncomfortable.

It probably didn’t trouble his conscience at all;

 it was just what he did.

But now he takes these two same men and invites them into his home!

 He puts ointment on their wounds,

binding up their injuries and offering them food from his own table.

Callous indifference gives way to compassion

 as the gospel takes hold and restores the very heart of this man.

God does more than just ‘touch him up’; he is born again.

What challenges me most about this story is where it occurs

 and what happens around it.

All of this joy and beauty takes place in the prison.

 Even after a hearty meal and some much needed medical attention,

 do you notice what verse 35 indicates?

Paul and Silas are back in prison.

They didn't escape.

In fact, they are offered at least three chances to get away

 before they are finally and properly released,

and they don’t take any of them.

They remain incarcerated.

While God is about this incredible work of restoration,

it doesn't automatically mean they get a free ride.

Their circumstances improve gradually, bit by bit,

 even though they are involved in this incredible work of transformation.

A modern version of this story can be found in the last NZ Baptist magazine, in the story of Libby Little and her husband, Tom. 

Medical workers in war-torn and impoverished nations, Libby writes,

 “I can remember two Occasions when we and others stayed….

… within a yard of Hell””

Within days of writing those words, Libby’s husband Tom was murdered while returning from a medical mission.   

 When Paul speaks about his life and ministry in 2 Corinthians,

it seems to be a litany of hardships and harrowing ordeals.

Beatings, shipwrecks, arrests; you name it, he suffers it.

But he doesn’t quit.

Like the woodworker with splinters in his palms and blood on his knuckles,

this labour of love is just too important to give up

 when it becomes a little uncomfortable.

Like Libby and Tom Little in Afghanistan,

 Like Kerry and Annie in Kolkata,

and every other faithful servant of God in every part of the world,

Paul will continue to serve,

 to strive to bring restoration,

wherever he finds himself and in any circumstances.

This is the heartbeat of God;

this is what He has shown us in Jesus Christ our Lord,

 and what He calls us to.

Wasn’t it God who saw us in our sin,

lost and angry, confused and aggressive,

 opposed to everything He stood for in our lives,

and yet sought to reach us?

Wasn’t it Christ who came to bear our sorrows,

to take our abuse in our stead, because of His great love?

Wasn’t it our Saviour who looked upon our beat-up brokenness

 and saw real beauty beneath the surface,

valuing what He made us as

above what we had made of ourselves,

 and then paid the price to restore us?

This is what the love of God looks like;

this is what Paul lives out

and this is what we are called to.

So are you ready?

 If you have felt the master’s touch;

if you have been taken on as a project, your beauty being restored,

 your purpose and value being remade in His hands,

then are you ready to continue that work in those around you?

 It may not be easy.

Those projects are not always pretty to start with.

 Some need a lot of work.

 And sometimes we don’t feel like we are in any place to do it.

We might be uncomfortable,

struggling and feeling stranded,

 not even aware that this is exactly where God wants us to be,

 so we can reach those no-one else can.

 We just need to be ready and ready to stick with it,

 even in the dark and painful times.

We need to have our eyes and our hearts open,

especially in the most unlikely places.

You never know when you will stumble upon one of the Father’s treasures,

just waiting to be restored.

Sermon by Paul Dunn, the Media and Communications Specialist for New Zealand Baptists Reaching the World. He has a passion for seeing God’s Word communicated in a way that brings whole-life transformation.