We have seen in the last few weeks that God gave a commission, or a mandate, to Abram while the still lived in Ur of the Chaldeans. At that time the only apparent contact with God was through the spoken word. God told Abram, “If you will trust me and obey me I will bless you and make your name great” (Genesis 12:1-2). And along with the personal blessing there was a general blessing covering the entire earth. We find the general blessing in Genesis 12:3 “I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”
This promise that all the families of the earth shall be blessed was part of a divine plan. It would be 2000 years before that promise would begin to be completely fulfilled. God not only chose a man, he chose a people as well. Taking the promise forward from Abram through Isaac, his son, and Jacob his grandson God began to prepare for his promise to be completely fulfilled. God, through Joseph, brought Jacob and his extended family from Canaan to Egypt where they would live 400 years. In a sense they were “parked” until the iniquity of the Amorites would be complete (Genesis 15:16). God would not take the land away from godly people but he would take it away from ungodly people.
Joseph, the son of Jacob, had saved Egypt, and the surrounding areas, from a disastrous famine and through that act established a place for his chosen people to live. The result had been that the sons of Jacob were given the best agricultural land in Egypt. Toward the end of the 400 year period God raised up a pharaoh who did not know Joseph.
Had God sent in Moses while they were enjoying the best part of the land the people of Jacob would have refused to go anywhere. So, this new pharaoh, sent by God, made slaves of these people who were occupying the best of the land. This was an arrangement by God’s purpose to prepare his people to follow Moses when he came to call them out of slavery.
Let’s take a side trip to look at Moses. He was born during the time when the Pharaoh of Egypt was having all the baby boys born to Hebrew mothers killed at birth. In order to escape this cruel fate Moses was put in a basket and floated into the bath area of the daughter of Pharaoh. When the Egyptian princess saw this baby she took pity on him. Knowing that he was a Hebrew, she still decided to take care of him. Moses’ sister had been assigned to watch and see what happened to Moses. So, she boldly went to the Egyptian princess and asked if she wanted a nurse for the baby. Then she introduced Moses’ mother as the prospective nurse. You see, God used the household of Pharaoh to protect the man he had chosen to lead Israel out of Egypt and into Canaan. It’s a wonderful story. The most wonderful part is that it is true! You can read the account in the first two chapters of Exodus.
Throughout the Old Testament there are glimpses of the Missionary Mandate at work blessing all the earth. Early on we find Abraham rescuing his nephew Lot. On the way home from that rescue Abraham was met by a man identified as Melchizedek the king of Salem. The title King of Salem means King of Peace. He brought out bread and wine for Abraham. He was priest of God Most High! And he was a contemporary of Abram.
When Moses escaped from Egypt he was taken into the household of a man identified as the priest of Midian. Moses married one of his daughters and fathered two sons during the 40 years he was in Midian.
Time will not allow us to look at all those Gentiles who were blessed by God’s people. Or those who blessed God’s chosen people. We know that Abraham was used by God to provide a lineage that would be a blessing to everyone.
Specifically, that blessing would come through Mary’s Son, Jesus the Christ. Paul explained it to the Galatians this way, (Galatians 3:7-9). Know then that it is those of faith who are the sons of Abraham. 8 And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, “In you shall all the nations be blessed.” 9 So then, those who are of faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith.
A little further down in the letter Paul wrote Galatians 3:16, Now the promises were made to Abraham and to his offspring. It does not say, “And to offsprings,” referring to many, but referring to one, “And to your offspring,” who is Christ.
Last week we came to the first Jerusalem conference. Found in Acts 15 this conference settled the issues for Gentile believers. There was a group of Jewish believers who were convinced that any Gentile who came into the church had to first conform to the Jewish customs. Paul and Barnabas argued in favor of the Gentiles being received based on their faith. Peter recounted the story of his encounter with Cornelius the Roman centurion. He observed that the Gentiles were accepted by God and they could not refuse them. James, Jesus’ half-brother, quoted Scripture showing that God always planned to bring the Gentiles to himself.
After they settled these issues a letter was written listing four conditions that would prove they had left their pagan lifestyle behind. Those conditions are found in Acts 15:29, “that you abstain from what has been sacrificed to idols, and from blood, and from what has been strangled, and from sexual immorality. If you keep yourselves from these, you will do well. Farewell.” Each of the four practices mentioned in this verse took place regularly in Gentile culture and pagan worship and were condemned by the Jews as unclean.
Now, officially the Missionary Mandate could be pursued. All people everywhere could be invited into the church by grace alone through faith alone.
When the letter was read to the church in Antioch there was great rejoicing.
We have already granted the fact that the apostles, who were the first to receive Jesus’ instructions, did not go out to all the world. Instead they stayed in Jerusalem and the other believers went to Samaria and the end of the earth. These traveling missionaries only did so under the fist of persecution.
After the Jerusalem conference Paul and Barnabas settled into ministry.
The churches that Paul and Barnabas had established needed to be encouraged. Paul suggested they go back to those cities and see how they are doing. Barnabas believed they should take John Mark with them. Paul, on the other hand, believed that John had failed the “stick to it” test. We do not know why John Mark left them on the first missionary journey. This disagreement resulted in a split between Paul and Barnabas.
Barnabas took Mark and traveled to Cyprus beginning a new missionary fellowship. We do not have a written record of their trip. I am sure their trip resulted in effective ministry. Later Paul would write, more than once, to commend John Mark even referring to him as “very useful to me for ministry” (2 Timothy 4:12).
We do not have a record of the thousands who left Jerusalem after Pentecost and then again after the persecution following Stephen’s martyrdom. There must have been many believers who carried the gospel to the farther reaches of the empire. Imagine with me one possible scenario.
It was to be the trip of a lifetime. Money had been put aside for years. Now it was time to use it. The middle aged business man had dreamed of the day he would arrive in Jerusalem. He and a group of his friends had often parted from one another at the end of a Passover celebration with the words, “Next year in Jerusalem”. Now it was time to go and rejoice. When they arrived in the city they found a lot of discussion on the streets concerning a man called “Jesus”. It seemed the rulers were determined to be rid of him. All week long the focus came back again and again to the same person. Jesus had come into the city riding on a donkey. Later in the week he was arrested and put through a severe trial. Pilate, the Roman governor, had put him before the crowds and even called him their king! This is hardly the Passover these travelers from the far reaches of the Empire had expected. Many ended their trip and returned to their homes without a clear understanding what they had seen. Some of them decided to stay until Pentecost. After all, they probably would never again be able to visit Jerusalem.
Their time was filled with sightseeing and travel about the region just as it would be today. Finally, the feast of Pentecost was there! The day arrived and the crowds from all over the Empire gathered in the temple district. There seem to be a lot of confusion and so our friend pushed himself through the crowd to see what it was all about. Even though he came from a region that spoke a non-Hebrew language he was hearing his language coming from some who were gathered there. All around him groups were gathering to hear their own language being spoken as well. While they were trying to determine what was happening, a man stood on the platform and began to speak. He explained that these people were simply fulfilling the prophecies of Joel. The Spirit would be poured out on the people and prophecies would be fulfilled. And everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved. This was good news and it needed to be shared. At the end of the day our friend had gone to a nearby mikvah and had been baptized in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. He was one of 3000 saved that day.
He stayed a few days longer so he could hear the words these people were speaking. His life had been changed he couldn’t wait to get back to his friends and family and tell them about a man named Jesus who was called the Christ! A man who had been crucified, died, and raised back to life on the third day! He had heard the witness of many people about this man and now he had given his life to this Jesus. We do not have a record of such a trip but I am sure it happened hundreds of times.
Since we do have Luke’s record let’s follow his account for a while. In the absence of Barnabas Paul enlisted a new partner. Silas had been one of the leaders of the church in Jerusalem. After the Jerusalem conference he was one of those chosen to carry the decision back to Antioch. Luke identifies him as a prophet. When Barnabas separated from Paul, Silas was a good choice as Paul’s companion. Since Barnabas and Mark had left by boat for Cyprus Paul and Silas set out afoot. They traveled through Syria and Cilicia strengthening the churches. Along the way, they picked up Timothy. Timothy’s mother was a Jew and his father a Greek. When Paul decided to take him along it was decided to circumcise him since he was a Jew. Even today a person is identified as a Jew by being born of a Jewish mother. Obviously, the conflict between Jew and Gentile would continue to plague the church.
Paul had in mind that they would spend their time with the churches in what is today the western coast of Turkey. God had a different opinion. Acts 16:6-10, And they went through the region of Phrygia and Galatia, having been forbidden by the Holy Spirit to speak the word in Asia. 7 And when they had come up to Mysia, they attempted to go into Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus did not allow them. 8 So, passing by Mysia, they went down to Troas. 9 And a vision appeared to Paul in the night: a man of Macedonia was standing there, urging him and saying, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.” 10 And when Paul had seen the vision, immediately we sought to go on into Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to preach the gospel to them.
Remember, the Mandate given to the apostles so many years before had included carrying the gospel to the end of the earth. I believe we would have a great deal more patience if we paid attention to the kind of things happening here. There is a time and place for everything. Paul was full of the Holy Spirit and felt compelled to preach the gospel everywhere he went. He had a plan and it was going to work. He intended to go into the province of Asia. Ephesus is one of the cities of Asia and I’m sure Paul had in mind strengthening the church there. I do not know how the Holy Spirit blocked the trip. Each choice they made was blocked by God. Finally, Paul received a vision of a Macedonian man. Now they had something to work with!
No doubt they were to go on to Macedonia. They did not sit around talking about it. They immediately set out. Luke appears to have joined the fellowship at this point. For the first time in Acts we see the pronoun “we” rather than “they” or “he” thus indicating that Luke was traveling with them. Following the direction of the Spirit they came to Philippi. They looked over the city and on the Sabbath day went down to the riverside to join with a prayer group. That was where they needed to be when they needed to be there. We need to imitate the example set by these men. They already knew what they were to do but they had to wait on God to know when they were to do it and how they were to do it. God’s will done God’s way will never fail. It may not follow our planned timetable or even our methods. However, if it’s God’s way it’s the right way.
It happened on that day that a lady from quite a distance away was at the prayer meeting. Maybe this would be her only visit. It may have been the reason God urged them on to Philippi when they wanted to stay in Asia and preach the gospel. Luke tells us that the Lord opened her heart to hear what Paul had to say. After she was baptized, and her household as well, she insisted on the missionaries coming to her house to stay.
Paul and Silas kept up the ministry of prayer. One day as they were going to the place of prayer they were met by a demon possessed slave girl who was a fortuneteller. She followed Paul as he traveled down the road. She was shouting, “These men are servants of the Most High God, who proclaim to you the way of salvation.” (Acts 16:16).
She did this day after day. Now many people might think that any advertising is better than none. Obviously she would be gathering a crowd. There are people and programs real Christians do not want to be identified with. This was one of them and Paul, after many days, turned on her and spoke to the demon. “I command you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her.” (Acts 16:17-18). Immediately she was freed from the demon that had possessed her. That seems to be a good thing but it closed down the fortunetelling business. Her owners looked up Paul and Silas and had them arrested.
They were brought to the jail and beaten with rods. They were turned over to the jailer who put them in stocks and they waited for morning.
Meanwhile, Paul and Silas bided their time by praying aloud and singing hymns of faith. About midnight there was a great earthquake. In fact a strange earthquake because not only was the building damaged but the chains on the prisoners were unfastened. The jailer assumed the worst. He naturally thought that the prisoners would all be gone. It seems that the prisoners were probably waiting to see what would happen next! The jailer sought Paul and Silas and determined that no one had escaped he said to them, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” (Acts 16:30). Paul and Silas answered, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.” (Acts 16:31).
The jailer was a changed man. He had surrendered his life to the Lordship of Jesus Christ. He cared for their wounds and listened to their words. He and his household were baptized and joined together in a meal and fellowship with the missionaries.
When daylight came I am sure that everyone in the area already knew what had happened because the people who had arrested them and caused them to be beaten sent the police to let Paul and Silas go.
The jailer reported this to the missionaries. Now the tables were turned. Let’s look at Luke’s account found in Acts 16:37-40, But Paul said to them, “They have beaten us publicly, uncondemned, men who are Roman citizens, and have thrown us into prison; and do they now throw us out secretly? No! Let them come themselves and take us out.” 38 The police reported these words to the magistrates, and they were afraid when they heard that they were Roman citizens. 39 So they came and apologized to them. And they took them out and asked them to leave the city. 40 So they went out of the prison and visited Lydia. And when they had seen the brothers, they encouraged them and departed.”
There comes a time when it’s necessary to use civil authority. In the Roman Empire it was a good thing to be a Roman citizen if you’re going to be charged with a crime in court.
If God chooses we will pick up the story of the Missionary Mandate in a couple of weeks.
Let’s finish up today with another walk down the Roman road.
All have sinned and fallen short of God’s glory — Romans 3:23
The wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord — Romans 6:23.
God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. — Romans 5:8.
If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead you will be saved. – Romans 10:9.
We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. — 2 Corinthians 5:20.
Sin always has evil consequences. Just as Adam and Eve were promised a wonderful world of knowledge by disobeying God. Satan promises good things for us. The Bible says there is pleasure in sin for a season.
But seasons always come to an end.
Have you trusted Jesus for your salvation? Today could be your day.
All scriptures quotes are from: The Holy Bible: English standard version. 2001. Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.