Posted by: Johnold Strey | May 9, 2016

Sermon on Acts 16:6-10

Seventh Sunday of Easter — May 8, 2016 — Sermon starts at 32:40

WHAT DECISION SHOULD WE MAKE?

Text: Acts 16:6-10

I.

She graduated from college magna cum laude in her field of study. Surely the employers would be knocking at her door to ask her to work for them. But as brilliant as she had proven herself to be in her field, her field wasn’t all that promising in the current economy. So what should she do? Go on for a master’s degree? Pursue a career in a different area? Move to another area where her education and skills might be more likely to land her a job?

He thought the promotion was a slam-dunk. He had been with the company for quite some time and it seemed that he was the perfect fit to move up onto this rung of the corporate ladder. But it didn’t turn out that way. That made him wonder. Should he stay put at his job? Should he take an offer with the company’s competitor? Should he go out on his own and start his own business like he had thought about doing for years and years?

What is true in our personal lives is also true in the church’s life. The church faces dilemmas and decisions that don’t necessarily take things in the direction we had hoped for or planned for. Last Thursday, after our Ascension service, our church’s Executive Committee met to place final touches on the budget before it is presented to the Coordinating Council and then ultimately to our voters at the meeting scheduled for the first Sunday in June. And as things tend to go in church finances, the picture seems to be in constant flux from month to month and week to week. What decisions should we make? Should we look at the data and assume offerings will be greater or less? Should we look at school enrollment and assume that tuition will be more or less? And wouldn’t it be nice if God came down and whispered in our chairman’s ear with the right action to take?

Think about the outreach work of the church? Where should St. Mark’s concentrate its efforts? Where should our church body plant the next church in the greater Sacramento area? There are multiple options before us, all with a level of risk but also a level of promise? What decision should we make? And wouldn’t it be nice if God came down and whispered in someone’s ear during a meeting with the right action to take?

Today’s service puts us in mind of the task Jesus left his church after he ascended into heaven. The Gospel for today contains a prayer Jesus offered on Thursday of Holy Week, in which he prayed for the missionary work of his church after he ascended into heaven. And on this Sunday after Jesus’ Ascension, it’s good for us to think about the missionary work that he has left for us to do. We have very clear examples of that kind of missionary work in the other two readings today, especially in the First Lesson from Acts 16. In that reading, the apostle Paul was on his second missionary trip. He had just revisited some of the churches he had already founded on his previous trip, and now it was time for him and his team to move to a new location for mission work. The world was before them! So where should they go? Wouldn’t it make sense to start new work in some of the regions right around them? Well, not so fast! 

II.

“Paul and his companions traveled throughout the region of Phrygia and Galatia, having been kept by the Holy Spirit from preaching the word in the province of Asia.” As this second missionary journey continued, Paul was in the modern-day Turkey, north of the Mediterranean Sea. It seemed logical for him to continue to travel westward in that region, but for some reason unknown to us it was made clear to Paul that planting new churches is not what they were to do if they traveled westward. We don’t know specifically how God revealed this information to Paul and his companions—whether by a miraculous direct message, or just by the circumstances they were facing. What we can say is that God kept them from doing missionary work in the places that it may have seemed most logical to do that from our human perspective.

new-testament-illustrations-004Well, given the lay of the land there, if you couldn’t go west to do more mission work, it made the most sense to go north next. But that didn’t play out, either. “When they came to the border of Mysia, they tried to enter Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus would not allow them to.”

The well-known Anglican theologian N.T. Wright wrote, It’s one thing to trust God’s guidance when it’s actually quite obvious what to do next. It’s something else entirely when you seem to be going on and on up a blind alley” (Acts for Everyone, Part 2: Chapters 13-28, page 59). In fact, when you have doors and windows of opportunity shut before you multiple times in succession, you tend to feel downright frustrated! You begin to question yourself. You begin to question others. Worst of all, you can be tempted to question God! Paul certainly could have justified that at this point! He may have felt like he was reenacting Israel’s 40 years of wandering in the desert! Where is he supposed to go next? Without any clear direction, Luke tells us that Paul and his missionary companions “passed by Mysia and went down to Troas,” a city along the Aegean sea in the northwest corner of modern Turkey.

III.

Wouldn’t you start to wonder after a while? Has God stopped blessing our work? His Ascension commission was to take the gospel to all nations. This seems like the exact opposite of that direction! Doesn’t God want us to have mission success? Doesn’t God want all people to be saved and come to a knowledge of his gospel truth (cf. 1 Timothy 2:3)? Paul had just traveled hundreds of miles, and what mission accomplishments did he have to show for it?

Doesn’t it feel that way to us some days too? God, here we are, trying to be a beacon for the truth when the world and half the church seems to be unable to spell “truth” anymore! Why isn’t God blessing our efforts more? Has he left us? Are we no longer connected to his divine WiFi signal? It seems like we have this challenge and that struggle and this other obstacle, but where are the headline-grabbing divine blessings? And after a while, isn’t it tempting to shake our fists at God in frustration and wonder if he remembers his Ascension promise to be with us always to the end of the age—as if we had really caught God failing to keep his word with us!

IV.

As much as it may seem desirable to us, we simply don’t have the direct line of communication with God that the apostle Paul and all of Jesus’ apostles had. But as an apostle, Paul did, and now he finally had direction that he would not have anticipated otherwise. “During the night Paul had a vision of a man of Macedonia standing and begging him, ‘Come over to Macedonia and help us.’” Paul’s divine vision pictured a man across the Aegean Sea who was constantly calling to him and pleading with him for urgent assistance! This may not have been the mission direction that Paul expected, but it was what he and his missionary team needed. And it was quite a mission! They would need to travel by ship for two days until they arrived in modern Greece. And then they would be the first to bring the gospel of Jesus Christ into the continent of Europe!

This wasn’t the mission Paul expected, but what an exciting mission trip it would be! It turns out he wasn’t aimlessly wandering around for those previous weeks after all! We don’t know why God directed Paul to not evangelize in the region he had previously been—at least not at this time—but we do know that the people of Macedonia needed to hear the gospel. A vision with a “Help us!” plea is not a minor request! And could there be any more dire circumstance than an entire continent of souls that would otherwise be lost unless the message of Jesus Christ was delivered to them? What an honor for Paul and his companions to receive from God, that after all their previous travels, God would honor them with the task of being the first ones to evangelize Europe!

The man in Paul’s vision pleaded, “Help us!” Isn’t that similar to the plea we spoke to God near the start of this service? The service we use on this Sunday of the month is based on an ancient pattern of daily morning worship called Matins. And in some of the first words of this service, we cry out, “Hasten to save me, O God!” And let it be known that the biggest thing we need God to save us from is the end result of our sin—including our continuous struggle to trust that he is guiding and directing us as individuals and as a congregation. As much as the uncertainties of life may trouble us, there is no greater trouble or problem for us to overcome than the permanent separation from God that our sins should cause us.

But that’s not going to happen. That’s not going to happen because as believers in Jesus Christ, we have no uncertainty about our status before God. The holy Son of God, Jesus Christ, lived the perfect life God expects from you, and he did it in your place and on your behalf. As believers in Jesus Christ, we have no uncertainty caused by sin. The gracious Son of God, Jesus Christ, mercifully offered up his life into death and endured the hellish separation from God that our sins deserved, and he did it in our place and on your behalf. As believers in Jesus Christ, we have no uncertainty about death and the grave. The almighty Son of God, Jesus Christ, took back his life in power and victory on Easter morning and sealed God’s promise that our grave is only the doorway that leads to everlasting life in heaven!

V.

 You have been given those blessings from God. Paul was given those blessings. And if the people of ancient Macedonia didn’t have those blessings from faith, then God was going to make sure that Paul was his spokesman to bring those blessings to a new continent! “After Paul had seen the vision, we got ready at once to leave for Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to preach the gospel to them.”

We may not enjoy a direct line of communication with God in the same way that the apostles of Jesus did, but we do have very clear and direct communication from God. It’s called his Word, the Bible. And for the thing that matters most—the rescue from sin that every human being needs—he has not left our prayers unanswered. He has heard and already answered our prayer to hasten to save us and to come quickly to help us. He came to save us through his miraculous virgin birth. His perfectly righteous life and perfectly innocent death have rescued us from the end results of all our sins and imperfections. His resurrection has already saved us from the permanent clutches of the grave.

With that good news firmly ringing in our ears and planted in our hearts, he has given his Church one task: to bring this good news to all nations. When it comes to the specifics of which group and what approach, God has not given us specific directions. He does not specifically tell us what decision we should make, or that “choice A” is better than “choice B.” But he has given us our sanctified sense to see and then take up the opportunities that lie before us in our personal lives and as a congregation.

When it comes to our purpose, what we are all about as an individual Christian and as a gathered church, there is no question. God has placed all sorts of people in your life. God has placed all sorts of people and groups and opportunities in our community. You know the tremendous and gracious rescue God has given to you! What a blessing that now uses you to deliver that same rescue to someone else! God bless our efforts to his glory. Amen.

 

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