Sunday, 1 May 2016

Paul’s Second Missionary Journey

Easter 6 – 1 May 2016 – Stewkley

Reading Acts 16

9 During the night Paul had a vision of a man of Macedonia standing and begging him, ‘Come over to Macedonia and help us.’ 10 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.

11 From Troas we put out to sea and sailed straight for Samothrace, and the next day we went on to Neapolis. 12 From there we travelled to Philippi, a Roman colony and the leading city of that district of Macedonia. And we stayed there several days.

13 On the Sabbath we went outside the city gate to the river, where we expected to find a place of prayer. We sat down and began to speak to the women who had gathered there. 14 One of those listening was a woman from the city of Thyatira named Lydia, a dealer in purple cloth. She was a worshipper of God. The Lord opened her heart to respond to Paul’s message. 15 When she and the members of her household were baptised, she invited us to her home. ‘If you consider me a believer in the Lord,’ she said, ‘come and stay at my house.’ And she persuaded us.

Gospel John 14

Jesus said, ‘I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die.’ Alleluia.

23 Jesus replied, ‘Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching. My Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them. 24 Anyone who does not love me will not obey my teaching. These words you hear are not my own; they belong to the Father who sent me.

25 ‘All this I have spoken while still with you. 26 But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you. 27 Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.

28 ‘You heard me say, “I am going away and I am coming back to you.” If you loved me, you would be glad that I am going to the Father, for the Father is greater than I. 29 I have told you now before it happens, so that when it does happen you will believe. 30 I will not say much more to you, for the prince of this world is coming. He has no hold over me, 31 but he comes so that the world may learn that I love the Father and do exactly what my Father has commanded me.

‘Come now; let us leave.


When I was young, Sunday school leaders used to give those children who had attended regularly and faithfully, presentation Bibles. KJV. Maps.

Acts 16—part of Paul’s 2nd missionary journey. Set out from Caesarea, up coast of Syria to Antioch, then round coast to home town of Tarsus.

Our reading from Acts 16 follows on from a description of Paul’s journey so far— through Derbe, Lystra and Iconium—visiting and encouraging fledgling Christian congregations and giving them the latest news from Jerusalem.

Paul seems to have been prevented from speaking in Asia or entering Bythinia as he had planned. He attributes the blockage to the “Spirit of Jesus” or the HS. Ends up in Troas—located on edge of Aegean Sea in Asia looking out towards Macedonia.

Nowadays the “Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia” is further north than it was in antiquity, and further north than the geographical region of Macedonia. Ancient M was in the SE part of Europe, in the Balkans, its S flank part of northern Greece.

One night, Paul has a dream. He sees a man from Macedonia, who says “Come over and help us”. With hardly a second thought, Paul gets ready and takes ship over to Samothrace, then on to Neapolis and overland to the Roman colony of Philippi, the capital of Macedonia.

On the Sabbath day, Paul left the city and went down to the river bank where there was a place of prayer run, it seems, by local women led by Lydia, a “worshipper of God.”

Lydia was a trader in purple cloth—for the rich and important. God opened her heart to Paul’s message, with the result that she and all her family were baptized and Paul went to stay with her in her house.

Could talk about women’s leadership in Church—supporters of Jesus providing money and resources—leaders of early church—and how it took 2,000 years and more of male dominance for us to get back to where we started… But appearance of Man from Macedonia speaks more of divine guidance in several forms, and whether or not we believe it still exists today. Partly, of course, the answer to this question will depend on our own experience of God leading us through our own past lives.

Paul evidently believed stumbling blocks in the way of his travel plans were put there by God to prevent him going astray, and directing him to where he was needed.

Today, we might call this ‘opening and closing doors’—being alive to the presence of God in our lives, and being prepared to go along with the direction in which we are led, regardless of our carefully laid prior plans.

Paul and his followers could have determinedly ignores the road blocks and struck out for Asia along the well laid Roman roads, but clearly he recognised something else was called for, and he was prepared to go along with it.

In saying this, I don’t mean to imply we should believe God micro-manages our lives—there are all sorts of theological objections to this position—nor do I mean to imply we should expect guidance for every detail of our lives, because I don’t think God works that way. But I do think we can be guided by Paul’s example, and perhaps be surprised at unintended outcomes which, after the event, seem clearly divinely led, as we recognise the doors that were open in the past, and the ones that were closed.

Paul’s change of heart came about after a ‘night vision’—possibly something more vivid than a dream. Dreams appear throughout Scripture. Some of the more well-known dreamers include:

  • · Joseph—dominance in his family; Pharaoh’s cup bearer; Pharaoh and the impending famine.
  • · Samuel and Eli
  • · Midianite and Amalekite armies
  • · Solomon—chose Wisdom
  • · Daniel—interpreted for Belshazzar

In NT:

  • · Zechariah
  • · Mary and Joseph
  • · Pilate’s wife
  • · Ananias
  • · Cornelius
  • · Peter
  • · Paul
  • · John the Divine

If you’re anything like me, most dreams however vivid you don’t recall for long. Some, like Samuel’s report to Eli are easily mistaken. But the mind works during our sleeping hours, and often provides an answer to a problem that seemed intractable the night before. Whether or not that is the hand of God pointing to a particular direction is for you to say, but Scripture is full of instances such as these, and we would do well to take note of them.

As Paul found, some were doors closed—the roadblocks steering us away from a course of action. Other were clear directions, like the Man from Macedonia.

This reminds me of a verse or two from Isaiah 30:

19 People of Zion, who live in Jerusalem, you will weep no more. How gracious he will be when you cry for help! As soon as he hears, he will answer you. 20 Although the Lord gives you the bread of adversity and the water of affliction, your teachers will be hidden no more; with your own eyes you will see them. 21 Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you, saying, ‘This is the way; walk in it.’



Camille de Fleurville said...

God's carefully laid plans for us - individually and/or as a Church (Christian)? and/or as whole mankind?

Agreed it is not for the minutiae of our individual lives. Although what seems non important for some might be very important for others. We never know which decisions might be important for our brethren.

Could it be related with "Thy will be done"? In this case, "Give us our daily bread" could be the strengh to go on the road that was not chosen by us at the beginning but which we are led to take.

Does it make sense?

Robert said...

Hi Camille. Lovely to hear from you again, with your usual perceptive thoughtful comments.

I agree God has plans for us as individuals, and added together those plans translate into God's intentions for all people. But freewill means we do not have to follow the path hoped for or expected of us, and here lies sin.

The Lord's Prayer is communal not personal. It starts "Our Father...." and not "My father..." so it has to be seen as a communional prayer.