She was a successful businesswoman, actually she was a successful business owner, and that was virtually unheard of in the time and society she lived in. Remember this was 2000 years ago in a culture that was slightly male centred; actually, it was very male centred. Females weren’t exactly chattel, but they weren’t exactly equals either.
And here was a woman who was not identified by whose wife she was. Instead, she was identified by what she did. She wasn’t Lydia Bob’s wife, she was Lydia from Thyatira, a merchant of expensive purple cloth.
And she was a woman who had an appointment with destiny. It was the Sabbath, and Lydia had gathered with a group of women to pray at the edge of the river that flowed past the city of Philippi.
If we pull down our trusty map here, we discover that Philippi, which was named after Phillip the father of Alexander the Great, was located here in what we know as Greece and this is actually the first place that the Gospel was preached in Europe, and it would appear that Lydia was the first convert in Europe. We are told that she was from Thyatira, which is across the Aegean Sea in what we now know as Turkey.
And we know that she was a specialized merchant. She sold purple cloth. A cloth that was worn by royalty and by those in wealthy families. The city of Thyatira was famous throughout Asia for the purple dye they produced, and Lydia had obviously capitalized on this and was now marketing her fabric in Europe using the city of Philippi as her base.
And it was to the city of Philippi that Paul and his companions had come after leaving Asia. As was their tradition they immediately sought out the closest Jewish community to teach about Jesus. In this case there was no synagogue in town, probably because the Jewish community wasn’t large enough. Instead, the people gathered alongside the river on the Sabbath to pray and worship together. And this is where Lydia first encountered Paul and consequently encountered Jesus.
This is the beginning of our summer series, A few of my favourite things. And though the summer the preaching team will be preaching some of our favourite messages.
I wrote and preached this message in March 2006. It was for the first baptism service that we held in this building. We baptized four people that week and three more the following week.
So, let’s go back to the story.
The question has to be: what moved Lydia on and down the path of her faith journey? Well, it started in Acts 16:13 On the Sabbath we went a little way outside the city to a riverbank, where we thought people would be meeting for prayer, and we sat down to speak with some women who had gathered there.
First of all, Lydia was in the The Right Place I know that we can meet God anywhere. That we can worship God on the golf course or at the hockey rink or fishing on the lake.
We can, but we don’t. If God’s name is used on the golf course, it’s normally not in a positive way, not to say it couldn’t be.
There is something to be said about sacred spaces, about church. That’s why the Israelites had the tabernacle in the wilderness and the temple in Jerusalem. God knew the value of there being a spot where you could leave the world outside for a little while and focus on Him.
When a congregation decides to build a church building one of the first issues is often finances. I love the cartoon where a man is telling the pastor at the door, “Pastor I’m glad you don’t know where the money is coming from for the new building, for a minute I was afraid you wanted to get it from us.”
But the pattern from the Old Testament was that the people of God would pay for the house of God.
When we built this building, we called our campaign “Building on Faith” and the precedent for that offering was set in the Old Testament where we see how much the people of Israel gave sacrificially to make the tabernacle and temple a reality.
When we chose to move ahead with a second campus last year, we knew that the funds to renovate the building wouldn’t come from a magical pot, instead the funds would come from those who call Cornerstone their church home.
And that desire for sacred space is one of the reasons why we built this building. Now you know and I know that the church is not a building it is the people in the building. But, if you were to ask any one of the people who worshipped with us during the ten and a half years, we met at the Lion’s Den, or Empire Theatre in Bedford I am sure they will tell you this is different.
And different in a good way. And there are those of you who have met God here and have been changed, it is the right place. King David wrote in Psalm 55:14 What good fellowship we once enjoyed as we walked together to the house of God.
Now I know that Lydia and her companions weren’t in a “Church” building, but they were at a spot that they had set aside for prayer and worship.
They weren’t at the river fishing, or swimming or boating. They had gone to the river to seek God. The commentators tell us that in cities and communities were there was no Synagogue that it was not unusual for Jewish worshippers to find a place close to the water to meet with God. Here is a photo of the actual river where this happened.
Not only was Lydia in the right place but she was there at The Right Time And it was at that time that it all came together.
We’ve all been there, perhaps you’ve been in church a hundred times but then it happened, you knew the time was right.
I don’t know how many times my best friend has spoken to me about my need for God, but it was on September 2nd, 1979, at 8:15 p.m. that I met with God, and he forgave my sins. It was the right time. Two days before that, I was fishing off the Gaspe Coast in Quebec and our quota was cut, and so we came home for a few days.
If that had happened a week later, Reg would have been back at Bible College, and I wouldn’t have been invited to church that Sunday evening. If you feel a prompting to speak to someone about your faith, or spiritual issues, pay attention. It might be just the right time.
Charles Spurgeon was a London Preacher in the late 1800s and he had this to say “She (Lydia) was a seller of purple, of the city of Thyatira, but just at the right time for hearing Paul we find her at Philippi; providence, which is the handmaid of grace, led her to the right spot.”
The week before Paul wasn’t there. A week later, and he wasn’t there again. But that day he was. If Lydia had decided to sleep in that morning, or go to the flea market, or mow the lawn or spend the day at the beach, she would have missed it. But it was the Sabbath, and she had gone to meet God and she did.
There is a great promise in the book of Jeremiah 29:11–13 For I know the plans I have for you,” says the Lord. “They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope. In those days when you pray, I will listen. If you look for me wholeheartedly, you will find me.”
Now, I know that promise was originally meant for the people of Israel and spoke to their captivity, but I would suspect that God’s promises for God’s people hold true today.
When is the right time? When you decide to seek Him, you will find him. Is that today? Only you can answer that question, but Paul would probably tell you the same thing he told people 2000 years ago in 2 Corinthians 6:2 For God says, “At just the right time, I heard you. On the day of salvation, I helped you.” Indeed, the “right time” is now. Today is the day of salvation.
When is the right time to meet God? Right now! You have no idea what will happen in your life when you leave this service this morning. There is no better time than now.
But it still wasn’t enough that Lydia was in the right place at the right time. She made The Right Decision.
I truly believe that Lydia was being wooed by God, that she was being pursued by the Hounds of Heaven.
Paul spoke, and she heard with her ears. But God spoke and she heard with her heart. The Bible says that she was a worshiper of God. Scholars tell us that meant that she was a gentile who recognized the God of the Jews but hadn’t actually converted to Judaism.
She knew of God, but she didn’t actually know God.
There are people like that here today; you’ve come to worship a God you’ve heard of but that you haven’t actually met. You are in the right place at the right time, but you have yet to make the right decision.
Listen to what happened that day. Acts 16:14 One of them was Lydia from Thyatira, a merchant of expensive purple cloth, who worshiped God. As she listened to us, the Lord opened her heart, and she accepted what Paul was saying.
Three things happened. First of all, Paul was preaching. That’s what I do, I preach, and I love to preach. I was called to preach, and it is who I am. When people ask me what I do, I prefer to tell them I am a preacher over a pastor or minister.
When I was nineteen, so maybe twenty years or so ago, I preached my first sermon. My pastor was a man named Jack McKenzie and after the service he came up and shook my hand and said, “You did a good job preacher.” And for the next forty years, whenever I saw Jack, he called me “Preacher”. And, for me, Preacher is the highest compliment I’m ever given.
But understand it wasn’t anything Paul said that changed Lydia’s life. The second thing that happened was the Bible tells us that the Lord opened her heart. She did not open her own heart. Her prayers didn’t do it; Paul didn’t do it. God did it. But it still wasn’t enough, the puzzle still wasn’t complete.
In theory, everything was in place. When I travel overseas teaching one of the favourite phrases of our team is “In theory” but in theory it was Benjamin Brewer who said “In theory there is no difference between theory and practice but in practice there is.”
But what made the theory a reality was the last part of the statement “And she accepted what Paul was saying.” She still had to make the decision.
God may have brought Lydia to that place next to the river. God may have brought Paul at that specific time. God may have opened her heart. But Lydia still had to make the decision.
And it will have to be you who makes the decision. Nobody else can do it for you. Not your parents, not your spouse, nobody but you.
And finally Lydia had The Right Response
If we keep reading the story, we discover, that two things happened.
The first is we were told that she was baptized Acts 16:15 She and her household were baptized. . . I am sure she asked Paul, “What now, what is my next step?” And he would have said “You need to be baptized.” And she probably looked down at the river and said “Ok.” And she was baptized. That was it.
In the early church that is the way it happened. You became a Christian, and you were baptized and there was all kinds of symbolism wrapped up in that.
It was a public statement, you were saying “Look everyone I am a Christian and I want everyone to know.” It was illustrative of the washing away of your sins and of you becoming a new creation. It was an outward sign of an inward experience.
Listen to the stories of people deciding to follow Jesus in the book of Acts:
Acts 8:12 But now the people believed Philip’s message of Good News concerning the Kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ. As a result, many men and women were baptized.
Acts 8:36–38 As they rode along, they came to some water, and the eunuch said, “Look! There’s some water! Why can’t I be baptized?” He ordered the carriage to stop, and they went down into the water, and Philip baptized him.
Acts 22:16 What are you waiting for? Get up and be baptized. Have your sins washed away by calling on the name of the Lord.’
Why was it so important for them to be baptized? Because they remembered the words that Jesus told the apostles Mark 16:15–16 And then he told them, “Go into all the world and preach the Good News to everyone. Anyone who believes and is baptized will be saved. But anyone who refuses to believe will be condemned.
Baptism is illustrative of the death and resurrection of Christ but in another sense, it is indicative of our new lives. We die to our old lives and are buried and then we come out of the grave as a new person.
It wasn’t the baptism that did the saving, but it is a demonstration of our obedience. Christ commanded us to be baptized as believers and so anything less is disobedience.
We read in Colossians 2:12 For you were buried with Christ when you were baptized. And with him you were raised to new life because you trusted the mighty power of God, who raised Christ from the dead.
With the understanding that they were at the edge of the river I’m assuming the baptism happened in the river. And yes, I know what happens when you assume.
There is no question that Lydia’s baptism was a water baptism. But there are different opinions about how the water was applied.
Some would insist that Paul would have simply poured water over Lydia’s head while she was standing. Others speculate that maybe Lydia knelt and had water poured over her, while still others argue for full immersion.
We don’t know.
I do know that in the account of John the Baptist baptizing Jesus, we are told that after Jesus had been baptized that he came up out of the water. Which would imply that Jesus had gone down into the water. In John’s account we read John 3:23 At this time John the Baptist was baptizing at Aenon, near Salim, because there was plenty of water there; and people kept coming to him for baptism.
And so, John wasn’t looking for a little bit of water, he was looking for plenty of water. Which would lead me to believe that whatever method he was using required plenty of water. And if you are just going to pour water on someone, then all you need is enough water to pour.
And so, if you are unfamiliar with Cornerstone, we baptize by immersion, and you will see that in just a few minutes.
We figure you were good and lost so you ought to get good and wet. Is that engraved in stone? Probably not. In 2010 I was in Northern Ghana and while there our team performed 89 baptisms, many of them were performed in rivers but at one church we were way too far from the closest body of water for that to be a reality. So, on that day, in that church, we poured water on the candidates. And I believe that they were just as baptized as those who had been baptized in the river.
But when it can happen by immersion, I believe, this is Denn talking, that it should be by immersion. And I know that entire denominations disagree with me, and that’s ok, and I’m not saying that if you were baptized by sprinkling or pouring it doesn’t count, I’m just saying that I believe that when it can happen by immersion, it should happen by immersion.
But Lydia’s baptism wasn’t the end of the story, Acts 16:15 She and her household were baptized, and she asked us to be her guests. “If you agree that I am a true believer in the Lord,” she said, “come and stay at my home.” And she urged us until we agreed.
The next thing that happened was that she invited Paul and Luke and Silas and whoever else was with them back to her place for a meal. What happened on the inside that day was evidenced by her actions. She wanted to be with other believers. We are told in Romans 12:13 Always be eager to practice hospitality.
You should want to be with other Christ followers and not just on Sunday.
You can’t have an inward change without it causing an outward change. People ought to say, “There’s something different about you now.” The first evidence was her obedience, the second evidence was her love, and that’s what Jesus meant when he said in John 13:35 Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples.”
The last we hear about Lydia is at the end of this chapter. If you know the story, shortly after Lydia’s conversion and baptism, Paul and Silas were arrested and thrown into prison. This was the story where the Philippian jailer became a Christian. And by the way we are told as part of that story, Acts 16:33–34 Then he and everyone in his household were immediately baptized. He brought them into his house and set a meal before them, and he and his entire household rejoiced because they all believed in God.
Back to Lydia’s story. After Paul and Silas had been released, we pick up the story in Acts 16:40, where we read Acts 16:40 When Paul and Silas left the prison, they returned to the home of Lydia. There they met with the believers and encouraged them once more. Then they left town.
It wasn’t very long and Lydia’s’ home had become a gathering place for Believers.
Today we have a number of people, both here and at Windgate, four children and an adult, who have experienced the forgiveness of Christ in their lives, and they are testifying to that inward transformation by being baptized.
Video next week