Sermons of David Chadwell
THE CASE OF THE INSENSITIVE PAGAN
Click here to listen to this sermon read by Greg McAbee.
Without sensitivity toward others, a human being ceases to be human. In any
advanced civilization, the most cherished social qualities are human traits that
encourage sensitivity toward other humans. The fundamental code words for such
sensitivity include compassion, caring, kindness,
neighborliness, mercy, and understanding. Any person would
live in an earthly hell if he or she was forced to live in a society where such
qualities were absent.
How would you survive if you knew no one felt for you, cared
what happened to you, did anything kind to or helpful for you, never extended
you one unselfish act, or never even tried to understand you? What if people
laughed when you hurt, rejoiced when you failed, found pleasure in your abuse,
treated you unjustly, and deliberately misunderstood you?
Such people exist. Such places exist. We could create such a place right here
without a lot of difficulty. All we have to do is destroy sensitivity toward
people, and we produce such people and places.
There are times when we see the ugliness left when such sensitivity dies. It
too often is seen when a crowd urges a distraught person to commit suicide. It
is too often seen when a woman is gang-raped as people cheer. It too often
happens when imprisoned people brutalize the defenseless. Nothing is more
frightening and dangerous than people who have lost the ability to feel for or
care about others. A human who thinks and feels like a vicious animal is a
It costs to have compassion, kindness, caring, mercy, and understanding.
Often those qualities create pain. We do not like prices, and we hate pain. If
the cost of such qualities are too high, too painful, we can exercise the option
not to feel and not to care. Sometimes we cope with high stress occupations and
burnout by distancing ourselves from those who hurt and are in need. That is an
"easy" coping mechanism for doctors, counselors, and preachers. It is certainly
an convenient coping mechanism for those involved in prison work who often are
forced to work with hardened, insensitive people.
Consider a jailor in Acts 16:19-34.
Background for the reading:
- Paul and his companions were instructed to go into the unevangelized
region of Macedonia and preach the good news of Jesus.
- They immediately went to Philippi (a significant, prosperous Roman
colony, but not the capital of the region).
- On their first Sabbath in Philippi, they went to the riverside to
assemble with a Jewish group gathered there.
- Philippi was a Roman colony with special status in the area.
- It, as a city, was very fearful of any non-Roman religious
influence, and that included Jewish influence.
- Such cities often required "new" religious influences in the
region to gather outside the city walls--perhaps this indicates that
Judaism was regarded to be a "new" and unwanted religious influence in
a Roman city.
- It might also indicate there was a small Jewish population in that
- Paul taught the women gathered at this site or place.
- As a result, Lydia and her household (a prominent Jewess widow or
single woman?) were baptized.
- She insisted that Paul and his company make her home (an
indication of prominence) their headquarters while in Philippi.
- Her offer would give this new Christian group status in the
- One day a girl possessing a spirit of divination (a fortune teller)
began following Paul.
- She was owned by two men who made money through her ability.
- As she followed Paul (and his company) she cried, Acts 16:17, These men are bond-servants of the Most High God, who are proclaiming
to you the way of salvation."
- The words, "the Most High God" are literally translated, "a Most High God" (see the reference in a study Bible).
- Remember, this is an idolatrous city.
- Remember, the girl has a spirit of divination, not the spirit of Jesus Christ--she is not acting as Jesus' helper.
- She is likely making a pagan statement of distraction, not of encouragement.
- Paul became extremely frustrated with her and her statement and
commanded her spirit of divination to leave her.
- When he did, he agitated her owners by ending her usefulness to
them in making money.
- They grabbed Paul and Silas and took them before the magistrates in the market place.
- They charged them with teaching customs it was illegal for Romans to obey--a very serious charge in a Roman colony!
- As a result, everyone became quite agitated (emotional) because
the accusation meant they might lose some of their status as a Roman
- Without a trial or hearing, the magistrates rushed to judgment and
publicly beat Paul and Silas.
- They then placed them in jail and charged the jailor to keep them
- That introduces us to the insensitive pagan.
- Carefully consider who this man was as his day ended.
- In all probability he was a Roman soldier of rank who oversaw a
- Such people were not noted for their sensitivity.
- They were acquainted with violence and suffering which they were
trained to inflict.
- Causing others to suffer was their job.
- Acts 16 documents the jailor was a man who was hardened to human
suffering to the point he just did his job without noticing.
- Two men were brought to him in the late afternoon just having been
- He was charged to keep them securely.
- Without concern for their pain, he does what he is told to do--he
makes certain it is impossible for them to escape.
- He placed them in the foul smelling, filthy maximum security section
and added to their discomfort by putting them in stocks.
- There sat Paul and Silas in the foul smelling darkness--wounds
crusting over, not daring to try to lay down, feet locked in a fixed
position, unable to stand, unable to help each other.
- The jailor was not moved, not concerned, not touched--without any
conscience problem, he just goes to his comfortable quarters and goes to
- In their misery, Paul and Silas sang and prayed to the Lord they
loved so much.
- They were singing and praying out loud--the other prisoners
- In this way they revived themselves and lifted their spirits as
they praised the Jesus they loved so much.
- Can you picture that scene?
- The insensitive jailor was sleeping in unconcerned comfort.
- Paul and Silas in horrible conditions were singing and praying to
- The other prisoners were listening (not harassing, but listening).
- Suddenly an earthquake shook the jail house to its foundation.
- Doors flew open, chains fell from the walls, nothing lay between
the prisoners and escape.
- All could go into the night if they wished!
- Look at the jailor!
- Before midnight all was under control and he had no worries.
- After all, the prisoners brought their troubles on themselves.
- He just did his job!
- One earthquake later and the jailor's whole world crumbles!
- It was no accident that when the earthquake shook him awake that he
headed for the locked cells.
- If the prisoners had escaped, he would be better off dead than to
suffer the humiliation and penalties caused by their escape!
- Paul, knowing what the jailor was about to do, cried, "Do not kill
yourself! We are all here!"
- A few hours ago he hardly noticed the suffering Paul, now that same
Paul saved his life!
- Now look at the jailor.
- He called for lights and rushed to Paul and Silas' cell.
- In trembling fear, he fell before them.
- With urgency, he asked, "Sirs, what must I do to be saved?"
- They taught him about Jesus.
- He washed their backs, and they washed him and his household in
- He took Paul and Silas to his home, fed them, and greatly rejoiced.
- What a change!
- In the afternoon he secured two suffering men in horrible conditions
as he "did his job;" at midnight he washed their stripes.
- He went to sleep harden to the suffering in his jail; at midnight he
fell at the feet of the sufferers.
- That afternoon he was a hardened man in a hard world; that night he
was a saved man filled with joy.
- That afternoon he was an insensitive pagan; that night he became a
sensitive Christian because he knew about Jesus.
- There are some important facts we need to note about the conversion of
- First, we need to note his question, "Sirs, what must I do to be saved?"
- There is no way to know if this man heard Paul and Silas preaching
prior to their arrest.
- We do know if he heard, he was unimpressed with the men or the
- He seemed to be a typical pagan in a pagan's Roman world.
- Why ask that question?
- In some way he realized Paul and Silas were religious men.
- A common pagan belief focused on the gods acting favorably in behalf
of those with whom they were pleased.
- It was not unusual to attribute events like an earthquake to the act
of the gods.
- Since Paul did not escape, it would seem likely from a pagan
perspective that the gods were with him.
- Whatever his reasons, this is obvious:
- The jailor realized Paul and Silas had a special relationship with
- He knew they just saved his life, and that kindness astounded him.
- He knew they could address his need.
- Second, it is obvious he did not understand the full significance of
what he asked.
- He did not know the source of salvation, how to approach the source,
or how to change his condition.
- He just realized he had a need and these men had answers.
- Paul began the only place he could--with Jesus.
- One cannot place faith in what he does not know.
- They taught the jailor how to believe in Jesus.
- The jailor demonstrated his belief not with words but with actions.
- Third, note what learning about and believing in Jesus did to the man.
- He washed the beaten, bruised backs of Paul and Silas.
- The uncaring man became caring.
- The insensitive man became sensitive.
- What a beautiful example of repentance!
- He was baptized immediately when he learned about Jesus.
- That was not convenient--dark, without electricity or flashlights or
kerosene lanterns, no baptistery, just a muddy river bank.
- Fourth, conversion (believing in Jesus, repentance, baptism) initiated a
new direction for his life.
- He took Paul and Silas out of the jail, to his own home, and fed them.
- He did this in the joy of his salvation.
- I have no doubt this was the first time he did these things for
Jesus came to destroy human insensitivity by destroying sin in our lives. He
wants to destroy your insensitivity! He wants to make you a complete person by
making you a compassionate person suitable for eternal relationship with God.
Will you let him do that?
sermon posted 10 August 2006
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