I had coffee the other day with a man who told me that he has visions; that when he is at prayer for long periods of time, Jesus comes to him. He told me that he has spoken to many pastors and teachers about his visions and how he sees everyday things a bit different than most people, and that the first reaction most pastors have is to dismiss the visions, to dismiss the messages he receives in the hidden symbolism of everyday occurrences. Of course it’s easy to dismiss the mystic and his visions, or perhaps it’s just easier to dismiss him than admit to ourselves that what he sees may be real.
St. Luke would have believed my coffee drinking friend. St. Luke, Luke the physician, Luke the educated Greek, Luke the sophisticate who knew the difference between seizures and demon possession, Luke would have believed him. St. Luke knew that there are spirits, spirits both good and evil, and that those spirits communicate with us constantly in one way or another. Luke begins his affirmation by introducing us to a certain slave girl who sat in the marketplace telling fortunes. Most Bible translations tell us that the girl had a spirit but leave out what kind of spirit: the girl had what Luke called a “python” spirit. Now the python spirit was a known entity, it was associate with the Greek god Apollo. Apollo was an oracular god, a god who gave messages to his prophets, told them the future, and he was said to send either healing or ill health to anyone he chose. Apollo was seen holding his bow and arrow and has many other symbols associated with him, including the snake, the python, which made him a pythian god, a god of prophecy. This poor slave girl in the marketplace was possessed by a pythian spirit, and that spirit, feared for the knowledge it imparted, was nonetheless paid for that knowledge.
So let’s talk about spirits for one second. People do not worship that which they do not know. It’s a fallacy to say that the Greek and Roman gods were not real beings. That’s not to say that the myths they constructed around the beings were true, they most certainly were not, but the Greeks and Romans worshiped what they had seen and heard, and what they had chosen to worship were, in fact, demons like this python spirit. The Hindus worship three million gods, all of which are fascinatingly grotesque; many of which have been described in other contexts as demons. When St. Antony, the hermit and Desert Father, was bodily attacked by demons, they showed themselves in the form of the Egyptian gods. So things like fortune-telling, tarot-card reading, even horoscopes, these things are not benign, harmless ways to pass the time and entertain ourselves. These things have been outlawed since the times of Moses because they are tied to the unholy. And that poor slave girl that Luke’s been telling us about, she had the unholy inside of her. But Saint Paul is about to take care of that.
Luke tells us that the slave girl would follow around Paul and Silas and rest of their group and she would cry out, “These men are slaves of the Most High God, who proclaim to you a way of salvation.” Even the python demon inside of her knew an Apostle when it saw one. She kept doing this for many days. “But Paul, very much annoyed, turned and said to the spirit, “I order you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her.” Oddly, Luke gives us no clue as to what happened to this girl. There’s no evidence she became a believer. The only reaction recorded is from her owners who discover that their slave’s divine antennae had been snapped off. Suddenly they had a cash flow problem and so they haul Paul and Silas before the Philippian Chamber of Commerce. It’s an open and shut case, even the python spirit knew that Paul and Silas were trouble-makers, and so they are thrown in jail. The jailer locks Paul and Silas into irons and stocks in what was likely a very brutal procedure, resulting in an awful posture in which the apostles were forced to spend the night. They probably were not able to sleep but instead of moaning and complaining, Paul and Silas sing. They give glory to God and to Jesus in so striking a fashion it appears to have shut down the conversation throughout the whole prison. All the other prisoners were listening, not talking; listening, not cussing; listening, not telling dirty jokes. The only one not listening is the jailer, who is asleep at the switch. It took an earthquake to wake him up and seeing that the doors were opened, he figured all the prisoners would be gone. Knowing full well what his punishment would be, he thought he’d save the warden the trouble of killing him later by killing himself right then and there. Paul is kind enough to stop the man, pointing out that as a matter of fact no one had escaped and so the jailer did not need to fear any punishment from his boss. We assume, although the text does not tell us directly, that it was God himself who orchestrated the earthquake and the unlocking of all those leg-irons and chains. And we might assume that God did this so that Paul and Silas could go free. We assume, in short, that God is looking out only for his own followers—looking out for the good guys.
But not true. The purpose of this quasi-jailbreak was not to save Paul and Silas but to save the jailer! The jailer’s first question is, “What do I have to do to get saved?” They answered, “Believe on the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.” And at that very hour the jailer believed; he washed the wounds that he himself had inflicted on Paul and Silas, and then brought these rabble-rousers home for dinner. God arranged an earthquake in order to reach the heart of just one man–a man who, having just recently roughed up two of His dearest servants, could not have seemed a less likely candidate for the love of God. But we’re all unlikely candidates for that love. From possessed slave girls to brutal jailers and beyond, none of us are worthy of God looking down on us with love. But each of us will have an earthquake moment; maybe ours wasn’t or won’t be literally earth-shattering, but God will always get our attention one way or another. How will He get your’s?
Some material was taken from This Week