6/3/2019 9:43:22 AM
What We Have In Common With Missionary Paul
Pastor Joel Leyrer - The Seventh Sunday of Easter - June 2, 2019
Dear Friends in Christ, At one time in his life he was an arch enemy of the Christian faith. He considered Christians to be dangerous heretics, and like a spiritual exterminator he spent his time and energy trying to rid the world of them. He was smart. He was zealous. And he was committed to his cause. But everything changed one day as he was traveling to the city of Damascus on one of his seek-and-destroy campaigns.
Maybe you recall the story. In a blinding light, the Risen Lord Jesus Christ confronted him and turned his heart. The result could not have been more dramatic. He who once passionately hated Jesus Christ now became an even more passionate follower of Jesus Christ. And eventually this man, whom we know as the Apostle Paul, became, hands down, the greatest Christian missionary the world has ever known.
He made three extensive missionary journeys throughout the then known world, as well as a journey from Jerusalem to Rome for other reasons during which he certainly carried out mission activity. In today’s terms, one Bible resource calculated that Paul would have covered a minimum of 13,400 airline miles. Paul, of course, covered those miles on foot. Wonder how many pairs of sandals he went through.
Through these three great missionary journeys Paul never knew what he was going to find or where he would be heading next. He was comfortable letting the Holy Spirit give him directions, undoubtedly confident that he wasn’t just wandering aimlessly. He trusted that God had chosen not only his vocation, but also his every location.
Our text for today is an indication of this. It is a snippet of Paul’s second missionary journey. It gives us an idea of how such journeys played themselves out and reads almost like a travelogue. It ends with an event that is far more significant and personal to us than we might at first think – an event we call Paul’s Macedonian call.
We’d like to talk about that, and in the process superimpose this event onto each of our lives. Specifically, what we’d like to focus on this morning is
WHAT WE HAVE IN COMMON WITH MISSIONARY PAUL
1. We each have a mission field
2. We each have a mission call
If you are a detail person planning a trip, or if you don’t do well with sudden changes in plans, you probably wouldn’t have liked traveling with the Apostle Paul on any of his missionary journeys. Listen again to our text:
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. 7 When they came to the border of Mysia, they tried to enter Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus would not allow them to. 8 So they passed by Mysia and went down to Troas. 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.
Paul’s second missionary journey lasted approximately three years. The original intent was to revisit and strengthen the Christian churches he had started on his first journey, but after doing that, he followed God’s leading to new and different places.
It is interesting to note that Paul had certain specific locations in mind where he thought it would be good to do mission work, but obviously the Lord had other ideas. He is denied access to certain areas and eventually finds himself in a harbor town named Troas (in present day Turkey). There the Lord spoke to him through a vision. Paul saw a man from Macedonia asking him to come and help the people over there.
The help those people needed was not monetary or physical. It was spiritual. These people – like all people – needed to hear the Gospel. They needed to hear the message of sin and grace and God’s solution to mankind’s damnable dilemma in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. It’s not that they weren’t religious. They had plenty of gods over there, but they knew something was missing. That “something” was Jesus.
So just like Abraham had done centuries before, Paul and his traveling companions made plans to follow the Lord’s leading. The verses which follow our text tell us that they boarded a ship and headed for the general region called Macedonia.
After a couple of travel stops, Paul and his companions ended up in the large and influential city of Philippi. The work there would be both spiritually productive and personally challenging. Paul was thrown into jail (perhaps you remember the Bible story of “the jailer of Philippi”), but before he left the Lord used him to establish a vibrant and caring Christian congregation. Paul would later write a letter to this congregation which we know as the New Testament book of “Philippians.”
However, this is far more than just a lesson in Bible history. Here’s where it gets personal. Macedonia back then was in the country of Greece today, and Greece is part of Europe. What we have here, then, is the Gospel being preached on European soil for the first time. The point: Anyone with a European background (and that’s most of us) must praise God for his mission-mindedness, because such mission-mindedness years ago has had a direct impact upon us today. As we reflect on this text, let us first thank God for using Paul to proclaim the Gospel to our forefathers, and through them, to us.
Then we need to take this information to the next step: Through us, to others.
To this end, as we retrace Paul’s steps, his willingness to be used by God, and his confidence that God had him exactly where he wanted him, there are some important lessons we can learn and apply to our lives as God’s people today. In a sense, we could say that each of us has a Macedonian call. What’s that supposed to mean?
It doesn’t mean we should expect God to appear to us in a vision as he did to Paul. Rather it means as God’s people – God’s salt and God’s light – we can go forward in life with the confidence that he has placed us in specific times and circumstances to do his bidding, just as he did Paul. We don’t have to ever feel we are not being given the opportunity to serve, because we are. We are to “bloom where we a planted.”
What it boils down to is this: while the Macedonia of our text was a geographical location, in a broad, symbolic sense it represents anywhere people are in spiritual distress and need to hear the Gospel. In that sense, each one of us lives in our own personal Macedonia. We’re each located in our own personal mission field. It’s important to simply recognize this as a fact.
What’s also important is that we recognize our responsibility within that field.
Every day or in the course of the week each of us rubs shoulders with any number of people. Some we’ll know by name, others we won’t. Some are fellow Christians, others are not. Whether these acquaintances are casual or formal, fleeting or long-standing, we serve as Christ’s witnesses before those he has put in the path of our lives.
Which means we have the privilege of representing Jesus Christ before a watching world. We may not have the specific calling or capabilities of the Apostle Paul, but we are no less God’s missionaries. Again, it’s just important that we remember that.
The question we want to be asking of ourselves, then, is this: given the high privilege of representing Christ in our own personal Macedonia, how can we be the best we can be to the glory of God?
The answer is not complicated. The key to representing Christ well is not so much a case of doing as it is first a case of being. While it is important that we are always learning and educating ourselves, truly effective witnessing for Christ comes not by mastering certain truths, but by letting certain truths master us. And this happens naturally as we personally drink deeply from the well of God’s Word and sacrament.
As the Apostle Paul encouraged the Colossian Christians, so he encourages us: “Let the word of God dwell in you richly.” As we do, and as those in our mission field see the comforting, steadying effect God’s Word has on those who call themselves his children, it just may be that they will be drawn to ask what it is that makes us who and what we are. And then we may have the opportunity to tell others about Jesus – who he is, what he has done, how he has saved us from our sins before a holy God, and his desire for every person to live with him forever in heaven.
Can I give you an example of this from church history?
Church historians generally agree that the most influential Christian in the early centuries after the Apostle Paul was a man by the name of Augustine. Like Paul, Augustine was not always a Christian. He grew up with a Christian mother, but as a young man he abandoned her influence and ran away from Christ. He sowed some wild oats, had a mistress, fathered a child and dabbled in a non-Christian religion. He tried everything.
Augustine was brilliant and eventually took a prestigious job as a professor in Milan, Italy. There he visited and gradually came to know the pastor (bishop) of the local church, a man named Ambrose. In his autobiography, much of which is written as a prayer/conversation with God, Augustine describes the impact Ambrose had upon him:
“I began to like him, at first indeed not as a teacher of the truth, for I had absolutely no confidence in your Church, but as a human being who was kind to me… Nevertheless, gradually, though I did not realize it, I was drawing closer.”
Ambrose may have worked in Milan, but in a sense, he was living in Macedonia.
All of which is to say, as we consider our lives as Christians, perhaps the greatest lesson we can derive from this text is to view ourselves a little differently. Like Paul, we have a mission field and a mission call.
We don’t have one in our church, but some churches you’ve visited have a sign or a plaque visible as you leave the sanctuary that says: “You are now entering your mission field.” Or to put it as we did earlier: We all have our personal Macedonian call.
May God empower us to be in Christ so that through our example – which may then lead to the opportunity to speak the Gospel – we can share Christ with a world that desperately needs to know him. Amen.