For the past couple of months I have been trying to lead us to see the Missionary Mandate given to Abram when he was called from his homeland to a promised land he would know when he saw it! Our God is under no obligation to explain to us his choices and other decisions. We would have a more peaceful life if we would just listen to God speak through his word the Bible and obey. Abraham believed God and it was counted to him as righteousness. In our study we began with Genesis 12:1-3 and progressed through the Bible to Acts 16. The key to the events in Acts 16 is actually found in Acts 15:37-40; 16:6-9.
Let’s review that before going on. Paul and Barnabas had separated from one another over a personnel matter. It was Paul’s intention to return to the churches they had established in their first missionary journey. Barnabas wanted to take along a young man who had left them on their first trip. Paul would not agree. Barnabas took that young man, John Mark, and sailed away to Cyprus. Paul chose Silas and they set out on foot to touch base with the churches.
Humanly speaking, this looks like a failure to follow the Holy Spirit. I believe that is not the case. I regret we do not have a record of what Barnabas and John Mark did. If Luke had not joined with Paul we would not have a record of what Paul and Silas did. We need to remember that this book, the Bible, was written for our instruction. It holds the record of events that God wants us to have. It is not a history book but if it touches on history what it records is true. In fact, anything the Bible touches on is true. Our problem? Sometimes is we just want to know too much. We want to know what we are not qualified to know.
I do not believe God is offended by our desire to know more but I do know that he may ignore us when we ask for more information. The psalmist stated the case:
“Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is high; I cannot attain it.” (Psalm 139:6). We are simply foot soldiers in God’s Army. As such, we only received the information we need to fulfill our mission.
Just like an enlisted soldier, a Christian believer can know when they’re in the right spot because people are attacking them. The hotter the fire the closer we are to being in the right spot. So long as we do not begin the battle on our own.
When we look at the saga of Paul and Barnabas we need to recognize that, no matter what they thought at the time, they did the will of God! Instead of one team going back around the old route now two teams were on the field. We like to think that Paul really knew what he was doing all the time. I doubt that and believe the second missionary journey is a good illustration. Folks, God is not offended when we don’t get it just right the first time. More likely, we fall into the category of bringing God grief rather than offense or anger. Matthew recalled the words of the Lord Jesus as he worked with the disciples. In Matthew 8:26 the disciples woke him from a sound sleep because of a storm that appeared to be destroying the boat. They had just recently seen a large number of miracles and now they expected to be killed by storm! Jesus said, “Why are you afraid, O you of little faith?” Or, when Peter walked on the water coming to Jesus and suddenly began to sink, Jesus said, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” Then again, the disciples had twice seen thousands fed from only a few loaves and fish. Jesus called them “little faith” people. Can you see the divine frustration in these events? Jesus is not discouraged by their lack of faith only disappointed.
Back to Paul and Barnabas! Had they been really clear in their thinking; had they focused on God’s will rather than their human understanding. They would’ve realized God intended they separate and each of them take a disciple to mentor. Let’s look at Paul’s experience in 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.
Paul’s plan differed from God’s. I know that’s true because I’ve been there several times. We can make all the plans we wish but if God is not on board we will have a difficult time getting to where God intended us to be. I remember, a number of times that I heard Pastor Jack Taylor say, “I just want to be in on what God is up to”. Count me in that category. Luke’s record tells us that Paul wanted to go into the province of Asia. He was sufficiently sensitive to catch the command from God not to go. Asia, like every other part of the Roman Empire, needed the gospel preached. But at just that time God wanted a preacher in Macedonia. Having been forbidden by the Holy Spirit to go into Asia, they attempted going to Bithynia. Again, the Spirit refused passage. Finally, God sent Paul a dream of a man from Macedonia who asked Paul to come to Macedonia and help them.
The consequence of Paul’s obedience brought them to Philippi and a prayer meeting by the river! Had they stayed in Asia they would not be there when God wanted them there. They were simply placed, by God, where they needed to be when they needed to be there. At that prayer meeting they met Lydia who gave her heart and her household to Jesus. Later, they would not have met the jailer if they had stayed in Asia. Meeting the jailer resulted in Paul and Silas being beaten and placed in stocks for the night. In our world today that would’ve simply resulted in Paul and Silas calling for a lawyer. Today, if things don’t go your way Sue! All of the things Paul and Silas wanted to do in Asia were good things. They just were not God’s things for them to do at that time. Paul and Silas paid the price of obedience to God. That price included being harassed on the street, being arrested, being beaten and put in jail.
Paul might have thought back to the words of Ananias. Paul, then named Saul, had been blinded on the road to Damascus. He had spent three days fasting and praying. Then, the Lord Jesus instructed Ananias to go to Saul and pray for healing. This event is recorded in Acts 9:4-16. Without reading all of it I will just remind you of what Paul may have been thinking. The Lord Jesus had told Ananias “I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.”
If Paul and Silas had just stayed in Asia preaching the Good News of salvation they would not have suffered as they did that night. Neither would they have rejoiced as they witnessed to the jailer and baptized him and his household. The joy came along with the suffering. The two are inseparable.
I remember a college professor talking to a class made up of preachers. “If you’re looking for a soft spot feel on top of your head.”
All of this, and what’s more, happened to fulfill those few words given to Abraham. In Genesis 12:3b we find this promise, “in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” No explanation was given to Abraham. Just a promise that he would be blessed and his descendants would be blessed so long as they obeyed him. Only in Jesus could the blessing be complete. So, Paul and Silas were taking the blessings to the world. The blessing of good news made available by the death of Jesus Christ on the cross.
After suffering at Philippi the little band of brothers hit the road Luke’s record tells us, “they came to Thessalonica, where there was a synagogue of the Jews. 2 And Paul went in, as was his custom, and on three Sabbath days he reasoned with them from the Scriptures, 3 explaining and proving that it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead, and saying, “This Jesus, whom I proclaim to you, is the Christ.”(Acts 17 1-3). Some of the folk in the synagogue joined with Paul and Silas. Also, there was a large number of Greeks who joined with them. Just as they were beginning to get a fellowship of believers together their Jewish opponents organized a riot. Rather than stand and fight the new believers sent Paul and Silas on their way.
After 21 days, plus or minus, Paul and Silas were able to leave a church behind. That church would be there when they came back, or wrote a letter. In fact, Paul wrote two letters to that church. So far as we know they are the earliest letters written by Paul. Moving on from Thessalonica they came to a place called Berea. Luke, no longer with them, continued to document the journey. Now these Jews were more noble than those in Thessalonica; they received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so. 12 Many of them therefore believed, with not a few Greek women of high standing as well as men. (Acts 17:11-12). Rather than riot the Berean Jews listened to the word on the Sabbath and spent the week searching the Scriptures to be sure what they heard was true. There is a real need today that type. We need to search the Scriptures and find Jesus throughout the Bible.
Rabble-rousers from out of town came to Berea and broke up the Bible study. It was important that Paul be able to continue his ministry so he was packed up and sent away. His students, Silas and Timothy stayed around to strengthen the new church. Now, Paul found himself in the philosophical headquarters of Rome’s Greek provinces, Athens! He looked around himself and found that there were thousands of idols. I’m sure he was praying that God would show him the right way to witness there. I have friends who I have heard say Paul’s preaching in Athens was wrong. In looking at these idols Paul found one that was inscribed, “To the unknown god”. Paul based his sermon on that idol. Let’s look at Luke’s account (Acts 17:22-31)
“So Paul, standing in the midst of the Areopagus, said: “Men of Athens, I perceive that in every way you are very religious. 23 For as I passed along and observed the objects of your worship, I found also an altar with this inscription: ‘To the unknown god.’ What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you. 24 The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man, 25 nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything. 26 And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, 27 that they should seek God, and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him. Yet he is actually not far from each one of us, 28 for
“ ‘In him we live and move and have our being’;
as even some of your own poets have said,
“ ‘For we are indeed his offspring.’
29 Being then God’s offspring, we ought not to think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone, an image formed by the art and imagination of man. 30 The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent, 31 because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead.”
Some people think that Paul was a failure in Athens because he seemed to mix their philosophical thinking with the gospel. Let’s look at his report.If you read on you will see that “some men joined him and believed, among whom also were Dionysius the Areopagite and a woman named Damaris and others with them.” (Acts 17:34). I wouldn’t call any meeting that resulted in an invitation to come back and explain yourself better as well as having a beginning study group or even a church a failure.
Paul moved on from Athens to Corinth where he met some other believers. Aquila and Priscilla were very important to because they had come from Rome. It was always Paul’s intention to preach in Rome.
While he was in court the team came back together. Paul, Silas and Timothy made up his team. Paul worked with his hands making tents. The profits from his business went toward supporting his team and the expenses of ministry.
I believe Paul was beginning to be discouraged. My experience has been that God always sends a “pick me up” of one kind or another anytime I get discouraged. For me it’s usually in the form of a note, letter, phone call or a visit at my home. Luke reports an event like that when “the Lord said to Paul one night in a vision, “Do not be afraid, but go on speaking and do not be silent, 10 for I am with you, and no one will attack you to harm you, for I have many in this city who are my people.” 11 And he stayed a year and six months, teaching the word of God among them.” This is the longest residency Paul experienced up to that time. Later he would spend over two years in Ephesus strengthening the church.
The Book of Acts allows us to look into the way the church developed over the first generation after Christ.
Missionaries went out they were approved by the churches. They were chosen by the Holy Spirit. Wherever they went they preached the gospel and trained the new converts. Most of the churches were established in very short time when they were established by a missionary. We have every reason to believe that many churches springing up out of the ground of evangelism. For example, when a person came to faith in Jesus they simply shared their experience with their family and friends. Prayer was an important part of all new church plants. The gospel is very important. Generally speaking people are not converted by good example. They are converted by a spoken witness.
The need for the good news of salvation is universal. John 3:1-21 tells the story of Nicodemus. He was a spiritual leader but he was not saved! He showed his respect for Jesus by going to visit him and complemented him on his ministry. Jesus’ answered him “unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.”
During the following conversation Jesus said God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. This is possibly the best known verse in the Bible.
The Good News
Romans 3:23, All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.
Romans 6:23, The wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Romans 5:8 God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”
Romans 10:9-10, 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. 10 For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved.
Matthew 10:32-33, Jesus said, So everyone who acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven, 33 but whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven.
All scripture quotes are from: The Holy Bible: English standard version. 2016. Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.