The Interested, The Captive, and The Skeptic
We have been studying the book of Acts for the past several weeks and I am amazed at how fast the message of Christ spread across the early Christian world. Did you know that by 325 A.D. Christianity had spread like wildfire? In fact, scholars say that during that period over half of the Roman Empire had become Christian. That thought is unbelievable when you understand that the growth came because of the efforts of 12 guys who started on a hillside with no money, no marketing, and no celebrity endorsements. They and others were driven by an absolute conviction that Jesus had risen from the dead and were filled with a strange power called the Holy Spirit that completely filled their lives.
In Chapter 16 of Acts, Paul and Silas continue their mission activities in Philippi, a Roman colony and the leading city in the district of Macedonia. Luke shares an interesting encounter between Paul, Silas, and three people who could not have been more different. This encounter was the catalyst in establishing an exciting new church.
Why did Luke only tell us about these three people? I believe the scripture shows that the Gospel is for everyone; whether you are wealthy, a slave, or a gentile. Luke introduces us to: Lydia, a wealthy “fashionista,” who can be described as “spiritually interested;” a slave girl who can be described as “physically and spiritually captive”; and the Roman jailor who can be described as the “skeptic.” As an interesting aside, did you know that using the ancient prayer book, the Siddur, each morning Jewish men would pray, “Lord, I thank God I am not a woman, a slave, or a Gentile.” Did you notice who Luke writes about … I’m just saying.)
Anyway, back to the story at hand. Luke is showing us what evangelism looks like through the eyes of the common people we come in contact with every day. Evangelism simply means sharing the good news of Jesus Christ, and in Luke’s account we see people who are spiritually at three different places: the spiritually interested, the physically and spiritually captive, and the skeptic.
Successful evangelism happens when we reach people where they are first. For instance, spiritually interested person can be reached through the word of God. Lydia already accepted the authority of scripture so we simply address her with the Word of God and spend time guiding her to a saving faith in Jesus. However, the other two are a little more difficult because they have no foundation in the Word and reject the authority of Jesus Christ. While the spiritually interested would be interested in attending a church service or special event, the physical and spiritual captive and the skeptic, would have no interest in showing up to our church. Even in the most desperate situations they wouldn't set foot in a church building. No matter how cool our worship service is, how funny and eloquent the pastor can be (and we know I am not ;), that we are covering an interesting topic, the physically and spiritually captive or the skeptic would ever be interested in attending any of our services.
How then do we reach those two groups of people? To reach the physical and spiritual captive we have to get involved in their lives. Interestingly, the captives will show signs of interest in the gospel. In fact, they are both attracted to the faith and antagonistic toward the faith. They see something about the gospel that draws them, but have just enough anger and mistrust in them that they rail against the church. Don’t be fooled; this can actually be a cry for help. Since they won’t come to us, we must take Jesus to them.
The skeptic, from outward appearances, is the least likely of the three to receive the Lord. In Luke’s example, the centurion is a battle hardened, decorated veteran who is very cynical to the word of God. He even treats Paul and Silas with disdain by throwing them in the inner prison and putting their feet in stocks. How do you touch someone like this? He probably won’t read the Bible with you. He isn’t the least bit interested in knowing more about the Lord. He will only be changed by witnessing the joy we have (like Paul and Silas) in the midst of our sorrow and through the gift of extravagant grace. Even the most hardened cynic has to wonder where someone could get the strength Paul and Silas demonstrated by not leaving when they had the chance. Nothing puts the gospel on display like grace in the midst of injustice.
So, what does this all mean? “The spiritually interested needs to be confronted with the Word of God. The spiritually captive needs to encounter someone willing to love them. And the spiritual skeptic needs to see grace before he will listen to it. The gospel shows no partiality: there’s only one Creator and Father: God; we all have one problem: sin; and there’s only one hope: Jesus’ death in our place. Because of that, the church is the place where people from every background—religious and irreligious: male and female; young and old; rich and poor; from good families and broken ones—find a unity in Christ they wouldn’t find anywhere else.” – JD Greear
Just because someone sees the world through different glasses than you do does not mean they cannot be reached for the Lord. Our job is to go out there and take the message of Jesus Christ to the streets!