Acts 16:11-15; John 15:26-16:4a
There is a very popular painting called The Light of the World by the artist William Holman Hunt. You’ve probably seen it, you may even have a copy. It is an image of Christ holding a lantern and knocking on the door of a house.
In the gospel reading, Jesus told the Apostles that the synagogue doors would soon be closed to them. This did much more than just cut off their means of worship. For Jews, the synagogue was the center not only of religious life but social life as well. The Apostles, their families, friends, neighbors, and co-workers spent their entire lives within the confines of Judaism and the synagogue. Expulsion meant a total separation from the only way of life they had ever known.
Yet God never closes one door without opening another; if the doors of Jewish society were closing, the doors of Europe were about to open. In Chapter 16 of Acts, we read that (d)uring the night Paul had a vision. A Macedonian stood before him and implored him with these words, “Come over to Macedonia and help us” (Acts 16:9). So it was that Paul and his companions arrived at Philippi. They would find very few Jews; Philippi’s residents were mostly descended from Roman soldiers settled there in retirement by Augustus Caesar about 80 years earlier. That is why Paul went to a local river; lacking a synagogue, the Jews and God-fearers would gather for prayer there because they needed water for ritual washing.
As Paul spoke on the river bank in Philippi, a Gentile woman named Lydia listened, and the Lord opened her heart to pay attention to what Paul was saying (Acts 16:14). After she and her household welcomed Christ into their hearts through the waters of baptism, they welcomed Paul and the others into their house. We take church buildings for granted, but in those early days Christians had nowhere to meet for worship, instruction, and fellowship. Thanks to Lydia and her family’s generosity, the Christians at Philippi now had a house of worship.
Earlier, I referred to the painting of Christ knocking on the door of a house. Some people miss the fact that the door in the painting has no handle on the outside. The door to the human heart opens only from the inside. God could deliver Paul and his companions to Philippi, he could put the words in their mouths, even put them in her ears, but Lydia’s heart could only be opened by an act of her own free will in cooperation with grace.
Love is also an act of the will, and to love like Christ requires cooperation with divine grace. This is the love that we are all called to; the love constantly reaches out even to those who push it away; that speaks of healing even to those content only to wound; that speaks of light even to those who love the darkness; that echoes to our neighbor the same words that inspired the artist to paint that famous image of the true Light of the World knocking on the door of our heart: Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, then I will enter his house and dine with him, and he with me (Rev 3:20).