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Going--To All Nations
08/08/2004
Scripture: Acts 16:6-40; 17; 18; 19:1-41
Track 11 of 14 in the Being with Him Compels Us to Go for Him series


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Sermon for Sunday, August 8, 2004
"Going--To All Nations"
"Being With Him Compels Us to Go for Him"
(Acts 16:6 -19:41)
C. Sackett

I grew up on the poor side of town, but never felt like I was not fully cared for. I grew up as an adopted child aware of the fact that by birth mother had given me away but I always knew that I was a loved person. I grew up often alone because I'm an only child and my parents both worked, owned their own business. But I never felt like I was an abandoned child. And yet, in reflecting over those kinds of early experiences, one of the things that I did learn in the midst of that is that I was not always thankful for what I had.

It was in the fall. I think, if I remember right, 1967, when I became a Christian. That's one thing for which I have always been thankful. I may have forgotten to thank God on many occasions for a lot of things that I took for granted in my life, but forgiveness was one of those things that was so far out of reach and so foreign to my own way of thinking that it has been impossible not to be grateful for what God did for me.

I remember as a young college student sitting in Acts class and coming to the text that we're about to look at this morning. In Acts 16, at least that's where we're going to begin where Paul is attempting to make a particular move in his journey when he gets this vision from Macedonia to come across the Aegean Sea and to begin to spread the gospel further west into what we know as Europe.

I remember sitting in church history class and recognizing for the first time, and you have to understand that I grew up completely outside the church and so all this information to me was brand new. And coming to this striking realization, that if it were not for the fact that European Christians sent missionaries to the United States, that we would just be a whole. . . .well, we just wouldn't be here first of all. Secondly, we wouldn't be Christian. And all of that begin to converge for me and I remember having this moment when I realized that the story of Paul crossing the sea to go into Philippi to preach the gospel while it was a two thousand year old story in the dusty pages of a book, was my story. That was me. Because if Paul had not heard that call and had not obeyed that call and brought the gospel to Europe chances are the Europeans would have never brought the gospel to the United States, in which case, I'm lost.

This text took on something of a personal feel for me because of that. When I read it I can't help but think about the core value of Madison Park Christian Church, that we believe that no one is beyond God's reach.

Acts is a huge book and we have not tried to take every little piece, one at a time. We've been walking through rather large pieces. We're going to do that today. We're going to take a chunk that's three chapters long. I've had the privilege of kind of wandering around in this book now for several months. And certainly this week I've had the chance to wander around in this text. Something that you may or may not have had the opportunity to do. And it just, it's so full of these rather interesting things. Just look at the first part of Acts 16. We're going to pick it up with the paragraph at Acts 16:6 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. When they came to the border of Mysia, they tried to enter Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus would not allow them to. So they passed by Mysia and went down to Troas. During the night Paul had a vision of a man of Macedonia standing and begging him, "Come over to Macedonia and help us." 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.

It's so reminiscent of the way this book opens back in Chapter 1. You will be my witnesses first in Jerusalem, then in Judea, then in Samaria, then to the outer most parts of the world and it's as if God is somehow trying to force Paul to recognize that he meant what he said. The whole world. . . . . . Now it was amazing enough when it opened up into Samaria and God poured out his spirit there. And then there was the story of Cornelius and God opened up the door to Gentiles. And then there was this intentional movement from there to try to get out beyond even that. So that they had that first missionary journey up into Asia Minor and Paul is making his way back into those Asia Minor territories and it's as if God says, Paul you still don't get it do you? I mean the whole world and so the Spirit stops him from going here and it stops him from going there and he won't let him go someplace else. The only option he has is to cross the ocean or the sea and take the gospel elsewhere. It's as if God's intention for the world to hear is just gonna have to be forced on his people.

You come to Acts 18 over toward the other end of the material we're looking at and again you hear this. When Paul has made his way through a variety of places and we'll come back and look at just a handful of them. He's in Corinth, this city in southern Greece known for its immorality and it's discouraging. . . .it's. . . .and here's what God said.

Acts 18:9 One night the Lord spoke to Paul in a vision: "Do not be afraid; keep on speaking, do not be silent. For I am with you, and no one is going to attack and harm you, because I have many people in this city." So Paul stayed for a year and a half, teaching them the word of God.

Do you hear? Is as if God said, Paul just take the gospel where I tell ya to take it. Just do what I'm asking you to do.

See, the amazing thing to me is that God already knows who's going to respond. That vast idea of God's foreknowledge is overwhelming. He knows who's going to be receiving the gospel and yet he has chosen in his wisdom. I say that from his perspective, not from mine. He's chosen to use us to get that job done. I'm gonna ask him about that, by the way. I don't want you to be offended by this, but I think that's one of the dumbest things God ever did and I don't usually call into question things that God does. But to put salvation into the hands of people like you and me. When I get there I'm just gonna ask him if he was really thinking that day. If somehow he just wasn't quite on top of things. Cause if Paul says, I don't want to go to Macedonia. . . . . if Ananias says, I don't want to go to Paul. . . . . if Philip says, I don't want to talk to the eunuch. . . . . if my friend Dan says, I don't want to talk to Chuck--what happens? I'm gonna ask him. I'm sure he'll have an answer and he probably won't bother to give it to me cause he probably doesn't think I need to know. But here Paul is being challenged to go here, in fact, it's so interesting when this story unfolds. Paul ends up in a riot. He ends up getting beaten . He ends up in the inner prison in Philippi. All of that so he can be where God wants him . . . . . you can't read Acts and not understand God's intention to get the gospel to the world. It's enough to make you wonder what he's gonna do with us to get us where we need to be.

Well, I wander around in this text. One of the things I notice about this text is the enormous diversity that's involved in the world and what God is trying to do. ah Come back over to Acts 16. Look at the very first thing that happens when we get over in to Greece. Acts 16:11 says From Troas we put out to sea. . . .sailed over to Neapolis. . . traveled through Philippi, a Roman colony. . . . .stayed there several days. . . .

Acts 16:13 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. One of those listening was a woman named Lydia, a dealer in purple cloth from the city of Thyatira, who was a worshiper of God. The Lord opened her heart.

The very first person who hears the gospel in Europe is a wealthy business woman. Now that's an oddity for you. Paul goes out to the riverbank thinking he's going to find a gathering of Jewish men and he finds a business woman and he teaches her the gospel and she responds.

The very next story can't go much further to the other end of the spectrum. We come to the next story in Acts 16 and Paul has been arrested. He's been thrown in jail. He dealing with the Philippian jailer. The jailer is a Roman, a polytheist (has multiple gods) probably because of his lower class citizenship. Never does much other than live in the prison. His whole life is contingent on being able to keep prisoners from escaping. In fact, when the earthquake comes, he thinks he's in trouble because if the prisoners escape, he has to kill himself or be killed by the Romans, either one.

You got a wealthy business woman. You've got a low class jailer. You've got Jews in synagogues in Acts 17:2 and Acts 17:10 and Acts 17:17. In fact, every city that Paul goes into, the very first place he goes is to the Jewish synagogue, because as a Rabbi he knows he's gonna have an opportunity to speak. He goes to the ready made audience that's right there in front of him.

In Acts 17 when you come over to Athens and you find yourself there in the middle of this great city, it says in Acts 17:17 So he reasoned in the synagogue with the Jews and the God-fearing Greeks, as well as in the marketplace day by day with those who happened to be there. A group of Epicurean and Stoic philosophers began to dispute with him. And they end up on the Areopagus. Here he is working from wealthy business women to low class jailers to Jewish men in the synagogue, now to the philosophers standing up on the hill. By the way, the Areopagus is nothing more than a big crop of rocks that about this many people could get on if we were really careful and tried not to fall off the edges. But it sits right in the shadow of the Acropolis in Athens.

When you watch the Olympics in the next couple of weeks and they show you those views of the Acropolis, just down below that, depending on the angle, you'll begin to see the marketplace and halfway between the marketplace and the Acropolis is the Areopagus, this crop of rock where Paul talked to philosophers.

There is this diversity that goes on in the gospel that is absolutely incredible. In fact one of the things that happens in Acts 17:4. Just look at this little mini report of Acts 17:4 He's come to Thessalonica. Some of the Jews were persuaded and joined Paul and Silas, as did a large number of God-fearing Greeks and not a few prominent women.

Acts 17:12 Many of the Jews believed, as did also a number of prominent Greek women and many Greek men.

Do you hear the diversity of this thing? You've got lower class and upper class and prominent men and prominent women and the gospel was intended for everyone. And Acts just keeps driving that point home. No one is outside the reach of the gospel. And then you begin to look at the various ways that they did this. Let me just rehearse for you.

In Acts 18 it says at that point he began to preach. In Acts 17:18 he debated or argued. In Acts 17:2 & 17 he reasoned with them. In Acts 17:3 he explains to them.

In Acts 18:4 he persuades them. In Acts 18:11 he teaches them. In Acts 17:28 he quotes from their own poets in order to get into their system. Didn't seem to matter how he had to do it. If he had to argue it, debate it, preach it, teach it, rely on their own poets, he was going to get the message out one way or the other.

It's a lesson the church must always come to grips with. The way we do things on a Sunday morning is not necessarily the only way the gospel gets out. There are lots of ways for God to use us to engage the world about Christ and lots of different ways of getting the message out there. The amazing thing is the diversity of response. If you look at Acts 17:4 which we just looked at, you see that some listened and they obeyed. They believed. That report comes up again in Acts 17:12. It shows up again in Acts 17:34. A few men became followers. . . . . Among them Dionysius, a member of the Areopagus, also a woman named Damaris, and a number of others.

And you walk through these chapters, Acts 18:7 & 8 Then Paul left the synagogue and went next door to the house of Titius Justus, a worshiper of God. Crispus, the synagogue ruler, and his entire household believed in the Lord; and many of the Corinthians who heard him believed and were baptized.

Sometimes when the gospel is preached, you just have to go into it knowing people are going to hear it and are going to respond. That's why we preach. But you know, sometimes that's not what happens. If you go back and look at this very carefully, they listen and they come on the attack. Paul ends up getting beat up and thrown into prison over this thing. Sometimes they just dismiss you.

Look at Acts 17:32. This rather interesting response from these philosophers.

When they heard about the resurrection of the dead, some of them sneered, but others said, "We want to hear you again on this subject."Sometimes they just dismiss you because the message is so foreign to their way of thinking. It's just like, okay, well, that was nice of you. I'm glad that you came. Appreciate what you had to say, but you can move on now. While other people will say, hey I want to hear more. I want to come back. Some of them debated him. Some of them opposed him. That's what you expect.

As a preacher you become almost schizophrenic when you stand up to talk because you know on any given Sunday morning that your going to have those kinds of responses to the message. Somebody's going to walk out the back door and say, THANKS, boy that really met my need and other people are gonna look at you like, were you talking in Latin today?

I look at this text and one of the things that I notice is not just diversity, but there are some things that are held in common here. For example, there is the submissive spirit of the disciples to do whatever it is that they have to do to get the gospel out.

You notice that Paul didn't argue with God. He doesn't say I don't want to go there. Sorry! I want to preach over here. I don't care what the spirit says, I'm not gonna do this. He just does whatever God tells him to do. He allows God to push him wherever God decides to push him, including into really unwelcome circumstances. But he's open to God's activity in his life.

I'm also intrigued by the message. Look at Acts 17:2 Paul shows up in Thessalonica.

As his custom was, Paul went into the synagogue, and on three Sabbath days he reasoned with them from the Scriptures, explaining and proving that the Christ had to suffer and rise from the dead. "This Jesus I am proclaiming to you is the Christ."

Look at Acts 17:18 A group of Epicurean and Stoic philosophers began to dispute with him. Some of them asked, "What is this babbler trying to say?" Others remarked, "He seems to be advocating foreign gods."

They said this because Paul was preaching the good news about Jesus and the resurrection.

Look at Acts 18:5 When Silas and Timothy came from Macedonia, Paul devoted himself exclusively to preaching, testifying to the Jews that Jesus was the Christ.

The heart of the gospel is the message that is preached. That we need to remember. Everything else is up for grabs but the message has to stay the same.

Friends, this isn't about what time we come to church. It is not about what style of music we use at our worship. This is not about competition about which church has the best programming or which church meets at the most convenient time. The only thing that we can concern ourselves ultimately about is the gospel of Jesus. Preaching Christ and him resurrected. That can never change. Anything else can change. That must remain the same and you can count on the fact that some people will sneer at the resurrection and some people will rejoice at it. And there will be people everywhere in between, but it doesn't matter. We have to preach Christ and him crucified and raised.

The other thing that is common about this is the nature of their response. It is so interesting to me to see how often the same basic response occurs. You hear the gospel. You believe in Jesus. You identify with Christ in Christian baptism and you move on to be obedient. The pattern that walks its way all the way through this. We saw it with the lady selling purple, Lydia. She and her household were baptized.

We come to the Philippian jailer in Acts 16 It's such an interesting story because it strikes at the heart of people who do not know anything about Jesus. You just have to assume. You have to understand that this jailer is in Europe. The gospel has never been in Europe before. The chances of him ever having heard the gospel are next to nil. Its been there long enough to be spoken of down by the riverside among some Jewish women. It's obviously, probably, not made it into the prison. okay? And yet, Paul gets himself in trouble because he casts out a demon out of a little girl. He takes the livelihood away from some soothsayers and he gets thrown into jail and he and Silas are there in the inner prison where it's dark and dank and their bloody and locked in stocks and it's midnight and their singing songs. That's a Christian for ya! And they're more than likely singing songs about Yahwe (God) and Latin meaning (Jesus Christ) and I can just imagine that the people are thinking, who's gods are those. This is a polytheistic world. They don't care whose god it is, but if it's a new god, it's a new god. And then all of a sudden, what happens? There's an earthquake and the whole place falls apart. And you know what the jailer does. The jailer jumps up, realizes that the earthquake has opened the prison doors, chances are all of his criminals have escaped. He's ready to kill himself. Paul cries out--DON'T. We're still here. You know, your gut response is, WHAT ARE YOU HERE FOR? Why didn't you leave? So he runs in.

Look at what the text does in Acts 16:25 About midnight their praying and singing.

Acts 16:26 there's an earthquake. Acts 16:27 he realizes the doors are open. Acts 16:28 "Don't harm yourself!" Acts 16:29 the jailer calls for lights. He runs in and he says, "Sirs, what must I do to be saved?" Saved from what? I don't think he's talking about how do I get my sins forgiven. He's talking about, how do I get saved from a God who has the ability to listen to two foreigners sing and then send an earthquake. This is a powerful God in a pantheistic system. How do I get saved from this God? And look what happens. You believe in Jesus he says and you will be saved--you and your house. And so they go in (Acts 16:32) and they speak the word of the Lord to him and to all the others in his house. At that hour of the night the jailer took them and washed their wounds; then immediately he and all his family were baptized.

And then they had supper together.

By the way, just in case you ever wondered why we have very few baptisms on Sunday morning and yet we have lots of them at other times, this is why. Because it was the same hour of the night that the man responded to Jesus, that he was baptized.

Why hang around until Sunday just to get something done that needs to be done right now. So last Monday afternoon at 5:30 we had a baptism here. It happens like that all the time.

If you look at the story of Apollos for example. Over here in Acts 18, Apollos is this interesting fella. Acts 18:24 . . .a Jew named Apollos, a native of Alexandria, came to Ephesus. He was a learned man, with a thorough knowledge of the Scriptures. He had been instructed in the way of the Lord, and he spoke with great fervor and taught about Jesus accurately, though he knew only the baptism of John. He began to speak boldly in the synagogue. When Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they invited him to their home and explained to him the way of God more adequately.

It is why in this church we do not engage in competition with people who believe differently than we do, but we do try to teach more perfectly the way of the Lord. And when people come with a misunderstanding of some element of the Scripture, we're gonna want to sit down and talk and just let the text itself explain itself. So the people like Apollos, in this world have a great knowledge of God and Scripture but don't understand everything there is to know about Jesus can at least move forward in their journey to understand more about him.

And he clearly misunderstood the place of baptism into Jesus. It's why we encourage adult believer baptism, informed baptism here. Obviously Apollos was mistaken. If you come to Acts 19 which is just on the other side of our text when Paul gets in to Ephesus there's this rather unusual experience. Apollos is at Corinth, Paul takes the road through the interior and arrives at Ephesus. He found some disciples and he said, "Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?" They answered, "No, we have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit." So Paul asked, "Then what baptism did you receive?" "John's baptism," they replied. Paul said, "John's baptism was a baptism of repentance. He told the people to believe in the one coming after him, that is, in Jesus." On hearing this, they were baptized into the name of the Lord Jesus.

It's why we would practice around here baptism in Jesus name, that we would ask you to rethink whatever it is that you have been through in your experience of coming to faith in Jesus and ask yourself, have I done things Scripturally, the way the Bible teaches them? And we would encourage you to study Scripture to know that. Because the common response in the book of Acts in every major conversion experience is this.

You believe it. You respond to Jesus in faith and that faith includes repenting of your sins and being baptized into the name of Jesus so that you can identify with him and receive the forgiveness of your sins. That common experience runs through this book.

What we're about is trying to get the gospel to the world. It is a simple message.

Jesus came. He lived. He died. He rose again. That's the message and it goes to the whole world from prominent business women to lowly jailers, to slaves, to philosophers, to kings. It's for everybody and we'll use whatever method we have to. We'll shout it. We'll sing it. We'll write it. We'll argue it. We'll debate it. We'll teach it. We'll persuade it and we will assume all kinds of responses. Rejection? Sure! Argument? Sure! Violence? I hope not! Acceptance? We hope so!

When you read Acts it's a simple story. The gospel gets preached. People respond and the church grows. People come to faith. We believe that's for everybody. We believe that's for the neighbor across the street and for the people of Haiti and Africa and everywhere else. But it starts right here, in you and whether or not you have allowed Jesus into your own life. Whether you have let him guide you and call you.

I don't know where you are in your journey. I don't know what step you need to take. Of this I am confident, God is calling you to him. If that's a simple re-commitment of your existing faith, then that's what you're called to. If it's a word to a neighbor or a friend, that's what you're called to. If it's an obedient response of repentance because of sin in your life, then that's what you're called to. If it's to identify with the death of Jesus in baptism, then that's what you're called to. Now we don't want to do anything more this morning than to simply echo his call to you and to give you a chance to respond.