Rev Dr Edgar Mayer – Living Grace Lutheran Church, Toowoomba – Date: 23 August 2015 / Bible Passage: Acts 16:6-40.

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Crazy Moves

 

This morning, we will look at the fascinating account of Paul’s mission to Macedonia, which is a region in the country of Greece. At first, Paul had no attention to go there. His had planned to go to the province of Asia, the western part of Turkey. But, according to the Bible, he hadbeen kept by the Holy Spirit from preaching the word in the province of Asia” (Acts 16:6). Plan B was to go north into Bithynia, another part of Turkey. But there Paul met the same resistance. “The Spirit of Jesus would not allow them to [enter the district]” (Acts 16:7). How did the Holy Spirit manage to stop Paul in his tracks – change his plans? The Bible does not say but maybe circumstances were against them – with no suitable means of transport – or the Holy Spirit just made them uneasy about their journey. Plan C was to go to the city of Troas. Since the Spirit of God had blocked off the north-east (Mysia, Bithynia) and the west (province of Asia), there were not too many more options except to go through the middle, avoiding both of these regions, and head north-west towards Troas on the coast. Yet, even Troas was not where God wanted them to go.

I find this fascinating. Paul struggled with hearing from God. He did not quite know where to go. Yet – and isn’t this comforting for people that can be a little impatient – Paul took off anyway. He knew that he was meant to be on a mission trip and he rather kept moving than twiddle his thumbs in a church meeting somewhere (waiting for clearer instructions). Yes, I know. Sometimes – most times – all of the time – we are meant to spend the time required listening to God for instructions before venturing out. However, I have sympathies for Paul’s action driven approach and God did manage to steer him in the right direction in the end. And I find this fascinating because the rest of the story absolutely depends on Paul hearing clearly from God and getting it right the first time. In the rest of the story – with the pace increasing and the situation becoming tense (abusive even) – there was no more time for a trial and error approach. There was no margin for error. Instead Paul – in key situations – made crazy moves that would have been in crackpot territory if they had not been inspired by God. Hearing from God wasn’t always the same for him (and it is not always the same for us). Sometimes he wasn’t quite clear where he was meant to go. But, at other times, he was crystal clear about what to do next. It’s not always the same with God (and therefore we are careful about making rules).

This is what happened in Troas:

 

Acts 16:8-10: 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.

 

Paul had a vision and he saw a lost man from Macedonia begging him to come and help them, “Preach Jesus to us. We need to be saved. We need to get right with God. Help us!” Have you seen the man of Macedonia or anyone crying out to you in a vision that they need help for salvation? From the outside, Macedonia may have had great tourist attractions but her people were being lost. When we do the Jesus Tent in Pittsworth at the end of next month, what is driving us? Can you see the man of Pittsworth in a vision begging us to come? Is it a vision of the lost that makes us go and pray on the site of the tent week after week until the tent goes up? There is no salvation outside of faith in Jesus Christ.

A few years back, I found out that William Booth, the founder of the Salvation Army (a great mission movement), had his calling confirmed by a vision which he had riding on a train:

 

I saw a dark and stormy ocean … In that ocean I thought I saw myriads of poor human beings plunging and floating, shouting and shrieking, cursing and struggling and drowning; and as they cursed and screamed they rose and shrieked again, and then some sank to rise no more.

And I saw out of this dark angry ocean, a mighty rock that rose up with its summit towering high above the black clouds that overhung the stormy sea. And all around the base of this great rock I saw a vast platform. Onto this platform, I saw with delight a number of the poor struggling, drowning wretches continually climbing out of the angry ocean. And I saw that a few of those who were already safe on the platform were helping the poor creatures still in the angry waters to reach the place of safety …

But what puzzled me most was the fact that though all of them had been rescued at one time or another from the ocean, nearly everyone seemed to have forgotten all about it. Anyway, it seemed the memory of its darkness and danger no longer troubled them at all. And what seemed equally strange and perplexing to me was that these people did not even seem to have any care – that is any agonizing care – about the poor perishing ones who were struggling and drowning right before their very eyes... many of whom were their own husbands and wives, brothers and sisters and even their own children …

I have always said that the occupants of this platform were engaged in different pursuits and pastimes. Some of them were absorbed day and night in trading and business in order to make gain, storing up their savings in boxes, safes and the like.

Many spent their time in amusing themselves with growing flowers on the side of the rock, others in painting pieces of cloth or in playing music, or in dressing themselves up in different styles and walking about to be admired. Some occupied themselves chiefly in eating and drinking, others were taken up with arguing about the poor drowning creatures that had already been rescued.

But the thing to me that seemed the most amazing was that those on the platform to whom He called, who heard His voice and felt that they ought to obey it – at least they said they did – those who confessed to love Him much were in full sympathy with Him in the task He had undertaken – who worshipped Him or who professed to do so – were so taken up with their trades and professions, their money saving and pleasures, their families and circles, their religions and arguments about it, and their preparation for going to the mainland, that they did not listen to the cry that came to them from this Wonderful Being who had Himself gone down into the sea. Anyway, if they heard it they did not heed it. They did not care. And so the multitude went on right before them struggling and shrieking and drowning in the darkness.

And then I saw something that seemed to me even more strange than anything that had gone on before in this strange vision. I saw that some of these people on the platform whom this Wonderful Being had called to, wanting them to come and help Him in His difficult task of saving these perishing creatures, were always praying and crying out to Him to come to them!

Some wanted Him to come and stay with them, and spend His time and strength in making them happier. Others wanted Him to come and take away various doubts and misgivings they had concerning the truth of some letters He had written them. Some wanted Him to come and make them feel more secure on the rock – so secure that they would be quite sure that they should never slip off again into the ocean. Numbers of others wanted Him to make them feel quite certain that they would really get off the rock and onto the mainland someday: because as a matter of fact, it was well known that some had walked so carelessly as to lose their footing, and had fallen back again into the stormy waters.

So these people used to meet and get up as high on the rock as they could, and looking towards the mainland (where they thought the Great Being was) they would cry out, “Come to us! Come and help us!” And all the while He was down (by His Spirit) among the poor struggling, drowning creatures in the angry deep, with His arms around them trying to drag them out, and looking up – oh! so longingly but all in vain – to those on the rock, crying to them with His voice all hoarse from calling, “Come to Me! Come, and help Me!”

 

He had some other visions. In one, he died and made it to heaven but realized how much his life had been wasted and not helped anyone to reach heaven with him.

 

[Cf. Paul Hattaway & Enoch Wang & Peter Xu Yongze & Brother Yun: Back to Jerusalem, Intervarsity Press 2012, p29: Ho En Cheng (Grace Ho) had been dedicated to God by her mother when she was a newborn baby … After graduating from Bible School in Tianjin in 1937, the seventeen-year-old Ho En Cheng received a clear call from the Lord to take the Gospel into Xinjiang, and ultimately all the way back to Jerusalem:

 

She was attending an evangelistic meeting, and as the congregation rose to pray, she received a vision from the Lord. Her immediate surroundings faded from her vision, and she seemed to be standing alone in a vast, bright wilderness plain. In the distance she heard a voice - a voice full of sorrow, painfully crying for help. She looked but saw no one, only the horror of great darkness, from whence the sound of great anguish came. Then, as she gazed, another voice spoke, a Voice from heaven, deep with mercy and compassion. ‘The people in the darkness have no one to preach the Good News to them.’ Greatly moved at the sound of that Voice, the tears springing to her eyes, she replied, ‘O Lord, here am I.’]

 

At the moment, I am researching John Sung (1901-1944), one of the most impacting evangelists in China, and he also had a vision that propelled him into his calling:

 

Our evangelistic band was invited to the home of a friend at Smithville, Ohio on Thanksgiving in 1922. We stayed over at the home of a Christian and there, I saw a vision. I was walking towards the hilltop of the Dongyan Ridge in Xinghua (Hinghwa) where I often prayed, when I heard cries of distress. Someone was drowning! Without regard for my safety, I tore down the hill towards the drowning person. But large rocks and thick bushes got in my way. I mustered courage and ran on. When I reached the foot of the hill, I was covered with blood. The little stream began to swell and soon turned into an ocean. People of various races were drowning in this immense ocean and calling for help. In great anxiety, I cried out, “O God, I am ready to take up your mission and rescue the drowning millions with your help!”

In an instant, I was transformed into a young lad. At the same time, I was like a convict heavily fettered by golden cords and iron chains. I tried to move forward but something was holding me back. As I was about to give up, a huge eagle approached from the skies. As it flew closer, I saw that it was actually a cross. It was blood-red, and on it were inscribed the words, “Look at the Cross and run forward.” In a flash, the Cross Evangelistic Band flew past my head and my chains fell onto the ground. I was free. I moved on to help the drowning thousands. I slipped and was swept into the waves. Death was within sight and I called on God to receive my soul.

After I prayed I found myself standing on the flying Cross. The Cross reached the middle of the ocean, and began to attract the drowning people like a huge magnet. All those who drifted close to the Cross had their chains snapped into pieces. More and more people were saved as the Cross grew larger. I soon lost count of the numbers that were being saved.

Before long, the Cross covered the entire ocean and the scene changed. It was now a beautiful garden with fragrant flowers and chirping birds. I was about to jump for joy when a bugle pierced the air. A multitude of people rushed forward and shook my hands. To my great surprise, they were my loved ones and fellow countrymen! I danced in jubilation and nearly kicked my sleeping mate off the bed we were sharing that night.

The next morning I shared this vision and it touched many people. In years to come, whenever I shared this testimony, in America or China, many people would also be touched. Each time, I would gain a deeper appreciation of its spiritual allegory, and it was a great help to myself and my audience.

 

John Sung still struggled with his faith some time later (as he entered the Union Theological Seminary in New York, a liberal Bible College). But he had seen the lost – thousands of them – millions even – crying in distress – drowning before his eyes – lost without Jesus. And he had seen the means of salvation – the cross of Jesus Christ.

Have you seen the truth of this vision – the truth of the Bible: “Whoever believes in him [Jesus Christ] is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son” (John 3:18). When you go into a shopping centre, do you see people in danger of being condemned by God and drowning? Paul went to Macedonia because he had a vision of a man crying out to him for help. William Booth and John Sung had their own visions of people needing help. This morning, can God open your eyes also and you see the truth? Can you allow God to touch your emotions? People need salvation and you can save them. God wants to use you to go and help them to have faith in Jesus.

Paul went to Macedonia, straight to Philippi, the leading city of a particular district. And almost immediately God gave him the first converts and they planted a church, consisting of all the members of one household:

 

Acts 16:13-15: 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 from the city of Thyatira named Lydia, a dealer in purple cloth. She was a worshiper of God. The Lord opened her heart to respond to Paul’s message. When she and the members of her household were baptized, 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.

 

It happened when Paul and his companion were looking for a place to pray. And this is important. Much prayer and worship were the heart of this mission endeavour, as we know from Paul’s history (cf. Romans 1:9; 2 Corinthians 6:4-6; 2 Timothy 1:3) and as is also confirmed later in the story. Before long, Paul and Silas would end up in prison in Philippi – stripped and beaten and with their feet in stocks – but nevertheless – about midnight – “Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening” (Acts 16:25). Paul and Silas lived in close communion with God and it was God – through the Holy Spirit – that made their work fruitful. “Prayed up” – they kept the message simple (cf. 1 Corinthians 2:1-5) and then – I quote – “The Lord opened the heart of Lydia to Paul’s message” (Acts 16:14). [Notice how Lydia’s entire household was baptized as a result of her conversion. Lydia believed – exercised faith in Jesus – and then baptism washed her clean from sin and initiated her into the life of a child of God.]

What then were Paul’s crazy moves – crazy responses – to what happened next in Philippi? The first incident involved a fortune teller that provided free advertisement for Paul, shouting out to everyone: “These men are servants of the Most High God, who are telling you the way to be saved” (Acts 16:17). One marketing coach writes: “There’s an old saying that goes something like this:  ‘All publicity is good publicity, as long as they spell your name right.’  Frankly, as a marketing professional, I would pretty much agree with that” (http://www.veronikanoize.com/is_all_publicity_good_). Therefore, maybe Paul should have simply put up with the fortune telling girl but he didn’t:

 

Acts 16:16-18: Once when we were going to the place of prayer, we were met by a female slave who had a spirit by which she predicted the future. She earned a great deal of money for her owners by fortune-telling. She followed Paul and the rest of us, shouting, “These men are servants of the Most High God, who are telling you the way to be saved.” This went on day after day until Paul got so exasperated that he turned and said to the demon within her, “I command you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her.” And instantly it left her.

 

Paul was patient for many days but finally – exasperated and being worked up (by the Spirit) – he made a move and expelled the fortune telling demon. This move was still reasonable, not as some of the others later on. Jesus was the same in that he silenced the demons who revealed his identity by shouting out that he was the Son of God – Luke 4:41: “Many were possessed by demons; and the demons came out at his command, shouting, ‘You are the Son of God!’ But because they knew he was the Messiah, he rebuked them and refused to let them speak.”

Driving out a demon – especially the demon of a well-known fortune teller – is a demonstration of power (a great victory) and should have attracted its own spiritual publicity. Who gave Paul the power to do this? But the action backfired – people were more concerned about making money from the spirits (what they can get out of them) rather than reflect on their relationship with them – and now the story accelerates.

The fortune teller was a slave girl who had made a lot of money for her owners but, without the demon, she was out of business and the owners were out of profit which made them drag Paul and Silas to the authorities who in turn stripped them and severely flogged them:

 

Acts 16:19-24: When her owners realized that their hope of making money was gone, they seized Paul and Silas and dragged them into the marketplace to face the authorities. They brought them before the magistrates and said, “These men are Jews, and are throwing our city into an uproar by advocating customs unlawful for us Romans to accept or practice.”

The crowd joined in the attack against Paul and Silas, and the magistrates ordered them to be stripped and beaten with rods. After they had been severely flogged, they were thrown into prison, and the jailer was commanded to guard them carefully. When he received these orders, he put them in the inner cell and fastened their feet in the stocks.

 

However – and this is what seems to make no sense – why didn’t Paul yell out that he was a Roman citizen who – by Roman law – could not be stripped and beaten by anyone? Why did Paul and Silas submit to a severe flogging needlessly and only held the authorities to account the next day when they were about to be released? Would you volunteer to stand naked before a crowd and be clobbered with rods when you only have to say the word and everything would stop? Crazybut Paul and Silas took the beating and – with bruised bodies – were locked up with their feet fastened in the stocks which does not make for a comfortable sleeping position.

Why did they submit to the treatment? Because (I think that) Paul was not confused in this moment but knew that God wanted them in prison to witness to all the other prisoners:

 

Acts 16:25: About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening to them.

 

I am no longer sure where I read the testimony – maybe in “Back to Jerusalem” by Paul Hattaway et al – but a Chinese man or woman turned up at the prison gates and encouraged her arrest because she had heard the call to evangelize the prison population which she did. Crazy but God and – by the Spirit of God – we also make unexpected moves. Did you ever think that you would end up in a Lutheran church?

As Paul and Silas were praying and praising God at about midnight, God sent an earthquake which shook the foundations of the prison and freed them and all of the other prisoners from their chains. The Bible says thatthe prison doors flew open” (Acts 16:26) but Paul did not seem to take the hint of divine deliverance and stayed put. Why did he not escape? Did he need a bigger invitation from God? Would you not conclude that the Spirit acted in your favour and set you free and now it is time to go home?

Yet, this is where the investment in prayer and communion with God pays off because Paul had heard correctly what God wanted him to do and the result was the salvation of the prison warden and all of his family:

 

Acts 16:26-34: Suddenly there was such a violent earthquake that the foundations of the prison were shaken. At once all the prison doors flew open, and everyone’s chains came loose. The jailer woke up, and when he saw the prison doors open, he drew his sword and was about to kill himself because he thought the prisoners had escaped. But Paul shouted, “Don’t harm yourself! We are all here!”

The jailer called for lights, rushed in and fell trembling before Paul and Silas. He then brought them out and asked, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?”

They replied, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved—you and your household.” Then they spoke 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 household were baptized. The jailer brought them into his house and set a meal before them; he was filled with joy because he had come to believe in God—he and his whole household.

 

[If you do not know about salvation, notice the importance of faith in Jesus Christ and baptism.]

 

Paul and Silas had bruised bodies but a happy night. First, they were praising God with their feet in stocks and then they were celebrating with the prison warden and his entire family as they experienced for the first time the joy of salvation – the experience of having peace with God and the burden of all sins removed. As a missionary, once you have tasted this kind of outcome, you want more of it. Nothing compares to God and his love and his joy and seeing lives changed by his goodness.

I may expand on this. How can you have a happy night despite a severe flogging – with your body aching – and then having to stay put in prison when freedom is dangled in front of you? How can you endure mission work with joy? The secret is love. Paul writes in one of his letters – 2 Corinthians 5:14: “For Christ’s love compels us ...” Love is the kind of motivation that does not count the costs – that would do anything – to bring glory to Jesus and see people saved. We love the Bible verses at weddings – when everyone smiles at his wonderful beginning – but these verses are most true when the going gets tough, when people are not always wonderful, when love divine (from God) must carry us through – 1 Corinthians 13:4-8: “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonour others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.”

 

Rolland & Heidi Baker: Reckless Devotion: 365 Days of Inspiration, Day 186: People often ask how the Church can reach their city. Many books have been dedicated to discussing strategies for doing this. I only believe in one method.
  It begins with a holy hunger among Gods people to be filled with Him, to be filled with His Spirit to overflowing. To be filled with His loving-kindness. To be filled with Him and yet want more and more and more of Him.
  Where Gods people are filled to overflowing with His presence, it will spill out everywhere.
  Acts of loving-kindness break out all over a city, and people are touched by the love of God. Acts of unwarranted generosity begin to happen everywhere, and people begin to take notice. Radical love is demonstrated practically, and people are amazed and humbled by it. In this way, we begin to reach a city.
  As I have said many times, revival has a face and a name.
  It is great to bring together the Body of Christ from right across a particular city and meet together to worship God in a big hall or stadium. That is wonderful, but it’s often not the solution to reaching a city.
  Countless acts of repeated kindness and love can change the atmosphere of a city, and that takes patience, endurance and commitment.
  Therefore, as Gods chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience… Over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity” (Colossians 3:12–14).
  Cities are reached when every single believer is so fully filled with Holy Spirit that He is manifested all over the city, all the time. Cities are reached when we are so full of Jesus’ joy that people everywhere are astounded by Him and attracted to Him. Keep on being filled!
  Follow Gods example, therefore, as dearly loved children and walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.” (Ephesians 5:1–2)

 

Back to Paul in Philippi. He continued to becrazybecause news came that the authorities released them but he refused to go. When he was being beaten, he did not point out his rights but now – not even 24 hours later – he confronted the authorities and held them to account – publicly:

 

Acts 16:35-40: When it was daylight, the magistrates sent their officers to the jailer with the order: “Release those men.” The jailer told Paul, “The magistrates have ordered that you and Silas be released. Now you can leave. Go in peace.”

But Paul said to the officers: “They beat us publicly without a trial, even though we are Roman citizens, and threw us into prison. And now do they want to get rid of us quietly? No! Let them come themselves and escort us out.”

The officers reported this to the magistrates, and when they heard that Paul and Silas were Roman citizens, they were alarmed. They came to appease them and escorted them from the prison, requesting them to leave the city. After Paul and Silas came out of the prison, they went to Lydia’s house, where they met with the brothers and sisters and encouraged them. Then they left.

 

It’s so hard to make rules about God. His instructions vary from case to case. Sometimes you endure passively (as Paul did when he was flogged) but, at other times, you stand up for your rights – the truth – (as Paul did the next day). Why did Paul and Silas not leave prison quietly? Because the Christian cause was better served by a public vindication – demonstrating to the city of Philippi that these Christians were no criminals or coming with an unlawful religion or customs. A good name would help the Christians to reach others with the good news of Jesus Christ – 2 Corinthians 6:4: As servants of God we commend ourselves in every way.” [Cf. personal situation in the LCA.]

How do you feel now about being or becoming a missionary? It may look a little daunting – considering the opposition from fortune telling spirits and authorities – but at least it is not boring. On the contrary, what a roller-coaster ride Paul and Silas were on: Up when Lydia and her family became Christians, down when the fortune telling girl kept shouting after them, up when the unclean spirit left her, down when they were arrested and flogged, up when the earthquake set them free, “down” when the Spirit told them to stay put, up when the prison warden and his family became Christians, “down” when the Spirit told them not to leave the prison quietly, up when they were vindicated by the authorities. Welcome to church life J

God knows what he is doing. Mission work is an adventure, taking us where we had not planned to go and setting upcrazymoves by the Holy Spirit which will bring in the lost. God is going to be successful and what can go wrong when the Spirit makes you sing praises in prison at midnight?

In closing, I encourage you again to see the man of Macedonia that Paul saw in a vision – 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.’” See the man of Toowoomba. See the man of Australia. See the lost and hear their cries and let them touch you in your emotions. This morning, do not look away. Go and be part of the mission that God has given here in this church. Do something. Amen.