Don’t Forget the Gospel: 3 Surprising Conversion Stories that Remind Us why the Gospel is Good News
“I have good news and bad news. Which do you want to hear first?”
I’m sure you’ve been asked this question before. How do you respond?
A few years ago, I read a story about a doctor who called his patient and asked that question. After a short pause, the patient said, “I guess you can give me the good news first.”
“You have 24-Hours to live,” the doctor said.
“What?!” the patient shouts into the phone, “How is that good news? What is the bad news?”
Another short pause. The doctors says, “Well, I’ve been trying to call you since yesterday.”
Obviously, the doctor had a terrible definition of good news.
As Christians, we cannot afford to make that mistake.
It’s true that the gospel starts with bad news. We are all sinners, separated from God and deserving of judgment. But we only start with the bad news because it sets the stage for the good news.
We cannot afford to be confused about why the gospel is good news.
In Acts 16, we read about Paul’s second missionary journey. He starts by encouraging churches in Lystra, Derbe, Inconium, and Antioch. Then, at Troas, he receives a vision to take the gospel to Macedonia.
So Paul and Silas travel across the Aegean Sea to the city of Philippi.
In Philippi, there were many conversions, but Luke chooses to single out three of them. And these three surprising conversions tell us why the gospel is good news for everyone.
The first unlikely convert that we meet is Lydia. Lydia was a wealthy businesswoman who works in the fashion industry.
She is wealthy and successful, and she’s also religious.
She’s not a Christian, but she’s attending a Jewish bible study. So she’s a conservative, moral person.
Paul engages her with the gospel, and while he is speaking to her, the Bible says that God opened her heart, and she is wonderfully saved.
Next, Paul meets a girl who is almost the exact opposite of Lydia. This unnamed girl is a demon-possessed slave. She is in bondage, both physically and spiritually.
She is not on her way to the prayer meeting. She has no interest in being there, and even if she did, she probably wouldn’t be welcome.
Paul sees her and casts out the demon. In a moment, he heals her, and she also comes to faith in Christ.
Of course, her masters were furious at this, because they couldn’t make money from her anymore. So they have him beaten, arrested, and thrown into prison, and in prison, Paul meets his third unlikely convert, the Philippian jailor.
Most jailers had experience on the battlefield and (of course) in prison, so they were normally very cynical about life and human nature.
But then he meets Paul and Silas. In the middle of this incredible persecution and suffering, Paul and Silas are praying and singing, and this time of worship is followed by an earthquake that throws open all the prison doors and loosens all the stocks.
The jailer sees all of this happen and assumes that the prisoners have all fled, so he pulls out his sword to take his own life. Why? Because if you lost prisoners in those days, you paid with your own life.
But before he can kill himself, Paul calls out and stops him. He says, “We’re all here. Don’t kill yourself.”
Now, this brings up a question that all of us should be asking – “Why? Why is Paul still there?
He’s innocent. He knows he doesn’t deserve to be in prison. And now, God miraculously frees him from his chains and opens the door to their cell. Why is he still there?
When this happened to Peter in Acts 12, Peter takes it as a providential act of God and quickly makes his escape. But here, Paul sees that this is part of the plan of God to reach Philippi.
If this was God’s plan to reach more people with the gospel, then Paul was willing to sacrifice in order to be a part of what God was doing.
Paul stands there with his freedom in front of him, but he passes on it so that he can reach the man who has treated him cruelly and unjustly.
No wonder the jailer responds by asking, “What must I do to be saved?”
In Acts 16, we meet three people who come to faith in Christ:
- A businesswoman, who is successful, wealthy, and religious
- A slave girl, who is hopelessly in bondage
- And a jailer, who is angry, cyncial, and cruel.
These conversion stories are surprising, because these people do not seem like the kind of people who would be interested in hearing the gospel.
And there is good reason to believe that these stories were not selected at random.
Every morning, Jewish men would pray from a prayer book called the Siddur. In one of these prayers, they would pray, “Lord, I thank God I am not a woman, a slave, or a Gentile.” They thought they were above these types of people.
But look at who God saves in Philippi – a woman, a slave, and a Gentile. Then, at the end of Acts 16, we find these new believers sitting down next to a former Pharisee as brothers and sisters in Christ.
These stories remind us that the gospel is for everybody.
It doesn’t matter whether we think someone is unlikely to listen to the gospel. It doesn’t matter if someone seems cynical, self-sufficient, or even antagonistic. Our labels don’t matter. What matters is that they are a person in need of our Savior.
We have no right to place boundaries around an invitation that God has opened up for everyone.
We might label someone more or less likely to trust Christ, but there is no one that is beyond His reach.
This is good news that cannot be controlled or maintained. It is a gospel without borders
So what makes the gospel good news?
It’s simple. The Christian message is not “Go and do.” The Christian message is “It is done.”
That’s why it’s called the gospel.
It’s not “good advice” or “good directions”. It’s “good news”.
God saves. That’s the good news. And you should know this, because God saved you.
Like the successful businesswoman, slave girl, and angry jailor in this chapter, we all have a story to tell (1 Corinthians 6:9-11).
We could stand and give testimony to how God reached into our emptiness and brought joy, how God reached into our brokenness and brought healing, and how God reached into our anger and brought peace.
So as we look at those people in our lives who need Christ, let’s not forget to remind ourselves of the grace that has been extended to us.
This is good news for broken people. Jesus saves.