Bible Study with Jairus- Acts 16
The verses of Acts 16 begin with Paul coming to Derbe and then traveling to Lystra, where he met Timothy. The brothers at Lystra and Iconium had spoken well of him. Paul intended to take him along on the journey, but his father was a Greek (which is the Greek of the Gentiles). He took Timothy to be circumcised for the sake of the Jews who lived in that area before they began their travels. Paul traveled with Timothy, and they went to different cities, and they delivered the decisions reached by the apostles and the elders in Jerusalem for the disciples to obey. So the churches were strengthened in the faith and grew daily in numbers.
At this time, the flow of the writing of the Bible had suddenly changed, and it began to describe how the Holy Spirit did not allow them to preach in Asia. They had no choice but to go through the region of Phrygia and Galatia. When they came to the border of Mysia, they tried to enter Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus would not allow them to.
Because many of us are not familiar with the geography of ancient Israel, when we hear these names, we may feel confused or overwhelmed, trying to understand the story. As a result, the names of these places will not leave a deep impact on us. This is one of the difficulties in reading the Bible. We have a relatively poor understanding of ancient geography and historical knowledge, so it causes some difficulty understanding the Bible. When the author of the book was writing these, the original readers would understand these differences, so no special explanation was needed.
I studied the map and found when you travel from Derbe to Lystra, you’ll be going from west to east, and then north to Iconium. Then from Iconium, you go west before you arrive in Asia. This time, Acts 16:6 says that the Holy Spirit forbids them to preach the word in the province of Asia. The location of Asia is in the south, so this means that the Holy Spirit does not allow them to go south. Then they went to the region of Phrygia and Galatia, which were in the north of Asia, but it’s located in the south of Bithynia. They tried to go north to enter Bithynia from the border of Mysia, and the Spirit of Jesus did not permit them to go again.
If you are confused, Galatia, Phrygia, and Mysia are lined up from east to west, and north of them is bordered by a place called Bithynia. In other words, Paul and others went from the southeast of Derbe, Lystra, and Iconium to the northwest, and when they tried to go south to Asia until the Holy Spirit forbid them so, they had no choice but to go northeast and go to Galatia, then go west and continue to go to Phrygia, and then continue west to Asia, and then continue to go north to Bithynia, but again, the Holy Spirit would not allow them to.
During this time, Paul had a vision that told him the Macedonians needed them to preach the gospel. Macedonia is closer to the west. At that time, Macedonia was a place where the message of the gospel had not yet reached. Therefore, this so-called “Macedonian Call” is often used in Christian history to describe the call of God to His servant to head to places where the gospel had not yet been preached.
Even though we discussed the locations, order of travel, and names of the various places unless you are looking at a map now, it may still be a bit confusing. Because of this, we thought of an analogy. It’s like Paul went to Washington DC (the capital of the United States) from Florida. But he also hoped to go south to Virginia, which is south of Washington DC, but the Holy Spirit did not allow him. So he had to go northeast to New York and then go west to Pennsylvania (which has the same latitude as the State of New York) and Ohio. Throughout this process, they tried to go north to Canada, but the Spirit of Jesus did not permit them. Then suddenly Paul had a dream at night. From the other side of the Pacific Ocean, he dreamt that a Chinese person said, “Paul, we need you to come to China to preach the gospel.”
My analogy may be over-exaggerated, but perhaps you can understand the difference in this journey. That is, Paul came from the southeast. If you go out to preach the gospel, you may not want to use the original route to come back so that you wouldn’t go southeast. At the same time, the road to the south was blocked by the Holy Spirit, and the road to the north was blocked by the Spirit of Jesus. Then he had a dream at night, and a man from Macedonia in the west came to call him to preach the gospel. We should clearly understand what this means now. It is God who wanted them to go to the west of Macedonia.
This was an example of the environmental stewardship of God leading them. There was a Pastor who said that God is present in all our environments. If you know God, every tree, wood, and flower has His traces. If you don’t know God, you won’t recognize Him, even if you see the thorn bush where He appeared to Moses. For you, it’s just a pile of thorns.
But how to recognize God in an environment, especially in a difficult environment, is not an easy task. Let’s take a look at Paul’s experience after he came to Macedonia to follow God’s lead.
They sailed from Troia, and passed through Samothrace, Neapolis, and finally to Philippi, a Roman colony and the leading city of that district in Macedonia. The transportation during Paul’s time was not as developed as it was later on. We’re not exactly sure how long it took them to get there. In short, it could have been a very difficult trip. In the nineteenth and early twentieth century, when Western countries such as Britain and the United States sent missionaries to third world countries, it took about a month for people to sail from the United States to China. After a long journey, many people had still not arrived in China, or they’d just arrived in China and were infected with diseases and died. From this example we can see the challenges that the missionaries faced when going to foreign missions. If this was true in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries we could say that during the time of Paul, it was even harder, and the conditions were even worse.
When we think that God is calling us to do something, to go to Macedonia to preach the gospel, we’re hoping that just like Lord Jesus’s entry to Jerusalem, someone will shout: “Hosanna, praise to the one who comes in the name of the Lord.” And lay the palm branches and clothes on the ground to let the colt pass through. Of course, we know that we can’t compare with the Lord, but we hope to gain some respect and be well-received. Many preachers go to work in the mission field hoping that others will praise them as servants or messengers of God.
Even if we don’t want material blessings and praise from people, we may hope that at least, we can be greatly blessed to be working for the Lord. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if it was as powerful as when Peter preached on the day of Pentecost, and 3000 people were saved?
Let’s look at Luke’s narrative in Acts 16:13 next.
On the Sabbath we went outside the city gate to the river, where we expected to find a place of prayer. (NIV, Acts 16:13).
The word “expected” is very interesting. They thought that it was a place to pray, but maybe it wasn’t because this is just one of the places where women gathered. They began to talk about Jesus Christ. Lydia, a dealer of purple cloth, who was a worshiper of God and whose heart the Lord opened, had accepted the gospel. In other words, when they arrived in Macedonia, they did not preach in the Synagogue or stadium. They just preach the gospel in the market. This is the “Marketplace Gospel” that is often mentioned in churches now. The “Marketplace Gospel” is very difficult. I’ll give you an example, and you’ll see why.
I often take the subway to Washington, DC, and occasionally meet people who preach the gospel on the subway. Once there was a woman who stood up on the subway and said that everyone should accept Jesus Christ or else he/she would face judgment. The tone and the way she talked were very unnatural as if she was memorizing a speech. The people on the subway ignored her and treated her as though she were crazy. Although there was no objection at the time, there was dead silence. I also often see an African American man preaching the gospel at Union Station in Washington, and passers-by seem to treat him the same way. The United States is a Christian country. Street gospel or marketplace gospel is still very difficult. What’s more, Paul came to a city where there was little preaching of the gospel. You can see that Paul’s difficulty in preaching the gospel in Macedonia was not much different than someone preaching on a subway.
Later, Lydia insisted they live in her house, and then they went to the “Place of Prayer. They went there because they were still looking for places where the Jews gathered. These Jews may have feared God, but they did not know Jesus Christ. They had first preached the gospel among the Jews in order to win some converts. They didn’t expect that they would encounter a female slave, who was possessed by an evil spirit, and who shouted all day long: “These men are servants of the Most High God, who are telling you the way to be saved.” (NIV, Acts 16:17). Paul became so annoyed that he commanded the spirit to come out of her in the name of Jesus Christ.
What’s going on here? Why did they encounter this slave girl who was possessed by the evil spirits? And isn’t what the evil spirit said (through the slave) actually true? They were indeed slaves of the Most High God, promoting the way for people to be saved. This problem was very confusing for the members of this meeting.
My understanding is this. I said that based on the experience of Lord Jesus’ deliverance of demon-possessed people, even a demon-possessed person has a chance to be wide awake; the person could seek help from Jesus. Although this female slave was possessed by evil spirits, it’s possible that she hoped to be delivered. Her repetitive monologue was not necessarily from the evil spirits. Even if this was what the evil spirits said, we should not rule out the possibility that this woman was asking for help. Paul’s annoyance was directed at the evil spirit. He was not necessarily annoyed by this female servant.
The Bible does not tell us what happened to the woman after the evil spirit had been cast out. Was she saved, or did the story have another outcome? The ending is left to our imagination.
I often say that the Holy Spirit is the best screenwriter. When a good screenwriter creates a script, he/she always creates new drama in order to grab your attention. The people here didn’t have much time to consider the situation of this female slave before the conflict escalated, and a new contradiction suddenly emerged. Therefore, the dramatic conflict in this chapter had entered a new climax.
When her owners realized that their hope of making money was gone, they seized and dragged Paul and the others into prison. (NIV, Acts 16:19). Some of our members asked why these things happened. The reason is very simple. You’ll understand when you look at the experience of Jesus. Wherever Jesus went, there was still opposition. Jesus himself said, “I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to turn a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law.” (NIV, Matthew 10:34).Why? Because wherever there is light, power, and the authority of the gospel, darkness, evil spirits, and people’s sin will be the exposed. Evil spirits like to act secretly and lurk in the dark. If we go to a place and the evil spirits are still hiding within people, this means that we do not have the light, power, and authority of the gospel. The opposition that Paul encountered here is actually evidence of them being filled with the Holy Spirit.
When we talked about this, I mentioned that Paul’s experience is actually intertwined with our lives today. The members in our study were confused when they heard this. How can Paul’s experiences be applied to our lives today? They didn’t see the connection.
In my experience, every time we read the Bible, it can be applied to our lives because the Word of God is not limited by time. “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.” (NIV, Hebrews 13:8). The Holy Spirit is also with us. He is always ready to shine on us
If we read the Bible, and it feels like just words on a page that don’t stir up our spirits within us, we are missing the Holy Spirit’s illumination. The same goes for attending a Bible study and coming away empty.
I said that I would give you a few examples of this, and then you will understand why Paul’s experience can be applied to our lives today. I’ll start with an example that I mentioned earlier. During the 19th and 20th century, an American Christian felt that he had heard the call of God and saw the vision of Macedonia. He traveled by boat to China for a month. In the end, he died of illness shortly after landing. Does this help you understand how to apply Paul’s experience to our lives today? Our Bible study group still didn’t quite understand.
Let me give you another example. When Hudson Taylor saw a vision at the sea of England and saw thousands of Chinese people heading for hell, then he moved to the slums of the East End of London. He lived on nothing but bread and water every day and endured a lot of hardships in order to evangelize in China. He also established the China Inland Mission in China to preach in places that were inaccessible. He also called many Christians overseas to participate in the service in China. As a result, many Western Christian Missionaries were killed in the subsequent emergence of the Boxer Rebellion. The vision that Hudson Taylor saw is often called his Macedonian Call. But what he experienced in China was almost opposite to God’s calling to him. He did not understand why God allowed the boxers to kill these dear Christian workers.
Sometimes you may feel that you have seen visions, and you think that this is the Macedonian Call that God has given you. You may also feel that you’re following God’s lead to your Macedonia. But you may find that the environment you face is very different from what you’ve imagined or expected. How would you deal with this? Especially when you experience being locked up in prison? How would you face this?
By this time, our Bible study members began to understand what I meant about Paul’s experience being practically applied to our Christian life.
I have further stated an example, saying that once we encounter a situation like this, most people’s reaction is to doubt whether they have really heard God’s voice, or whether they feel that God’s leading is really God’s leading. Most people begin to doubt.
For example, I heard the testimony of a preacher, Benny Hinn, who divorced for some reason and later remarried. After he remarried his wife, he testified that he clearly heard God telling him to marry his wife when he was young. But after the marriage, he was busy with ministry, and he had neglected his wife. His wife was then determined to file for a divorce. During the most painful period after the divorce, he often wondered if he had heard God saying that He wanted him to marry his wife in the first place.
This is an example of a person who serves the Lord. I have further examples of some circumstances from our Bible study members.
For example one Bible study member thought that God was telling him through prophetic words and visions that he would have financial blessings in his business. Unfortunately, in actual life, he experienced customer fraud and payments in arrears quite contrary to the visions and prophetic words.
Another lady thought that God promised her that she would marry this year. There was also another woman who had a prophetic dream that her marriage would take place soon, but it has not yet appeared in actual life. This is the difficulty we encountered in real life. This is our Macedonia. When we are led by the Word of God or the environment leads us to some point, we thought that we were riding on the crest of success or achieving our dreams, but we find ourselves trapped in prison. What should we do at this time?
Several Bible study members commented that they didn’t feel like they were held in prison today.
I told them this. Though we don’t have a tangible prison today, we have all kinds of invisible prisons, and we are being held in various invisible prisons. For example, our wrong understanding of God, our misconception about ourselves, and our wrong perception of others are all cages. All of these have locked us up in our invisible prisons.
I’ll use my personal experience to give an example. Because I lacked my father’s love since childhood and grew up in the countryside as a peasant’s son, I gradually began to develop a misconception that I was extremely inferior. Whenever I encountered difficulties, I was fearful and ran away from them. Everything was blamed on our background – that I was the son of peasants. But God has made many callings and promises to me. God tells me through visions and touches that He will use me to preach the gospel for His kingdom and bring about the revival of churches. But my actual situation is the opposite. I am full of fear and have low self-esteem. If I can’t live out God’s great calling for my life, is it because God has not promised me anything or my Macedonian Call is actually false? Or, is my own misperception limiting myself?
The issue that I had is called the Orphan Spirit. It’s like the Prodigal Son, written in Luke 15, who is a typical representative of the orphan spirit. He does not feel that God loves him, so he goes wandering. It’s when he is financially destitute that he finds out that Our Father is actually God, and He loves him. This led him to return home and repent. I was a person with an orphan spirit, but God has done a lot of inner healing and deliverance in my life. I’ve broken free from the orphan spirit to a certain extent, and I’ve gradually learned to enjoy the love of God and rest in the Lord.
Another woman in our study had a different situation. In English, it is often called “Performance Orientated.” The reason why she had this issue was because of her experiences as a young girl. When she was young, her mother loved her brother. The family was also poor, so she felt that she could only receive the love of others if she did everything to the best of her ability. Therefore, this type of person is very concerned about the attitudes and praise of others, and they live very a tiring life. These people are also weary and burdened. They are like the eldest son in Luke 15, desperately trying to get the praise of his father. When he thinks that he can’t get anything, he becomes extremely angry and embarrassed. He doesn’t realize that his father has always loved him. You don’t need to work hard to get God’s love. God has loved you to the point where he gave his one and only son. Many people work to win people’s praise. However, a person who rests in God’s love does not need it. He doesn’t need to be concerned about the praise and denial of others. He is very relaxed in God’s love. But there are some who don’t know how to rest because they care deeply about what others think of them. These are people who have no experience or who lack the experience of unconditional love.
I have analyzed these two situations and showed you invisible prisons that bind us. You may have one of them – the orphan spirit or the spirit of performance. Or your prison could be your unforgiveness towards others. The call of God and the Macedonia Call are the same as the call of God to the Israelites to enter the Promised Land. Both the call and the promise are there, and the Promised Land is indeed the land of milk and honey. But if you don’t have the faith when you go in, all you see is that the enemy is tall as a giant. Where is the difficulty here? The difficulty lies in our lack of faith.
God often gives us a call, a Macedonian vision that takes us to a certain place. It’s as if the whole environment is full of our enemies and darkness, and God’s presence does not seem to exist. We seem to have been abandoned by God, but actually, God did not leave us. God is just hiding to see how we react. If we have faith, it can bring us to the Promised Land. If we are full of unbelief and disobedience, we may die in the wilderness.
Let’s see how Paul reacts. Paul preached the gospel before the evil spirit had come out of the female slave. Consequently, he and Silas were opposed by people who were stirred up by the evil spirits and unbelievers, and they were beaten and put in prison. But around midnight, Paul and Silas were praying and praising God. The question that we discussed in the meeting was, how could they still pray and praise in such a difficult situation?
My understanding is this. Paul and Silas were able to praise because they really knew God from within. They didn’t just see the hardships in the environment, the attacks of evil spirits, and the opposition of the people, but they saw the impact and power of the gospel and the truly impactful power which brought about the opposition from their enemies.
Earlier, I said that we would face some difficult situations, but what Paul and Silas have done is actually what each one of us can do. We have God living in us. We have victorious Christ living within us. The key is to release this power through faith and praise.
Paul seemed to be stuck in jail. He had only saved one person named Lydia and driven out an evil spirit from another slave girl. Then he brought a jailer and their family in prison to salvation later. This was like a snowball effect. This snowball will get bigger and bigger.
Many times, it’s not about what we can do or how much we can do for God. One of the principles of how God works is to allow us to be placed in a difficult environment for us to show our true understanding and faith in God. This becomes a powerful testimony that can open our prison, breakthrough all the darkness that binds us, and release the power of the gospel.
We may face the same situation as Paul today, but we may not have the knowledge and experience towards God like Paul and Silas, so we may not be able to live out our lives just like the testimony of Paul and have the prison doors open up for us. We often think that they are able to do this because they are apostles; they are Paul and Silas or Peter. However, the Bible clearly tells us that God is no respecter of persons. The principles established by God are the same. If you have the same understanding and faith towards God as Paul, the prison you are in today, whether it is tangible or an invisible prison, will open itself for you.
No matter what kind of circumstances and hardship you are in now, don’t be discouraged. Don’t feel that God has abandoned you. The darker the times, the more that God will secretly watch you and see how you react. Your unbelief and disobedience will shut you down in the wilderness, just like the Israelites. You should know that the Israelites were not able to enter the Promised Land, not because they don’t have God’s promise. They have God’s promise there, but they did not go in. If you don’t mind the darkness and you put your hope in God, He will treat you, in the same way, He treated Caleb and Joshua. No matter how hard your circumstances are, how big the darkness is, and how impossible the situation is, God can lift you out of the predicament and let you enter a blessed state.
This is how my own experience proves this. I felt that all of hell was attacking me when I was suffering from ten years of bitter trials of my wife’s infertility. Especially the two weeks before we found out that my wife was pregnant with our miracle baby. On one side, I was shedding tears because of the difficult environment, and on the other, I was praising and expressing my earnest gratitude to God. I was shedding tears while I was praising. God then supernaturally healed my wife, gave us a miracle baby, ended the ten-year hard trial, and I walked out of my prison. For more information, please go to the website and YouTube channel of Jairus Bible World Ministries to hear my testimony of the birth of our miracle baby. We will continue our fellowship next time. Thank you for reading and listening.