The Sixth Sunday of Easter
May 8-9, 2010
Text: Acts 16:9-15
Dear Friends in Christ,
In the book of Acts, these verses are a crucial hinge point. For the first time, we see the first person plural pronoun. For those who don’t remember ninth grade English grammar, that’s the word “we”. Suddenly, without warning or explanation, the narrative shifts from they did this or that to we did this or that. The implication is rather obvious. Luke himself has now joined St. Paul’s entourage.
We are in the middle St. Paul’s second missionary journey. Paul had intended to go into the northwest corner of Asia Minor. Luke tells us that God prevented him from going there. They waited in the port city of Troas. Here St. Paul now receives a vision from God, instructing him to travel to Macedonia.
This account is instructive for us today. They waited on the Lord. They didn’t force their way in where God was not sending them. The church of today applies this in what could be termed the called and sent principle. No one claims word and sacrament ministry unto themselves. No one goes out as an evangelistic minister unless they are sent. From the earliest days of the Missouri Synod men were called by the synod to do mission work. The church called them and sent them. Men were not sent out to do whatever. They were sent to specific places to do their work. So one of the early missionaries was sent to central Tennessee. His work resulted in the formation of a congregation in Murfreesburo, Tennessee. This practice reflects what we see in Acts. It also reflects what Christ says of the Shepherd. The Shepherd enters through the gate. The false shepherd crawls in over the wall. Those men who would appoint themselves to the office of the ministry are false shepherds crawling over the wall. Those who are properly called are the true shepherds.
Paul immediately goes to a major city in the region of Macedonia. We are told that Philippi was a Roman colony. What does that mean? Roman citizens were required to serve in the army. Jews were one of the few groups that were exempted from this. When they retired from the army, as part or their severance, they received a plot of land. The problem was that there was little land left in Italy. So they would set up Roman cities in other parts of the empire. In this case, they probably took an existing village, and turned it into a major city. So most of the residents of Philippi were not Macedonians or Greeks. Rather they were mostly Romans.
There was no synagogue in Philippi. It was the custom of Jews in such places to gather outside the city for Sabbath prayers. So they went to a place where Jews might gather. Sure enough a few Jewish women gathered in that place. Where were the Jewish men? There were no Jewish men. These women would have been wives of Romans. This was not unusual. Jewish women, particularly, diaspora Jews, often married non-Jews. Diaspora Jews are Jews not living in the Holy Land. Here they meet Lydia. It says that she was trader in fine cloth. From this we can deduce a great deal. She was probably a widow with a young son. She had the management of her husbands estate until her son came age. Thus she is the head of her household. She insists that they stay at her house.
The congregation at Philippi would flourish. It would be one of the more sound congregations in the ancient church. When Paul writes to them, he commends their faithfulness and does not address any specific problem. This would be very different from Corinth or Thessalonika which would be troubled with many conflicts and false teachings. Why did God want Paul to preach there? Was it because God knew that the ground was prepared for the Gospel? That was certainly true. But it would seem that God had something else in mind. These were Romans. They would have friends and relative scattered throughout the Roman world, particularly in Italy. If the people of Philippi came to Christ, word of it would quickly spread to the city of Rome and from their to the whole Roman empire. This would continue as Paul traveled down into Greece, in particular, the city of Corinth. Corinth was a port city. Ideas that reached Corinth were quickly spread through the Roman world.
All to often, in our world today, we think we have the answers. We can tell God how to do things. Fuller Seminary in California is one of the homes of such thinking. A professor there by the name of Donald McGaveran, started something he called the church growth movement. McGaveran believed that we can make the church grow by our own machinations. Before he died, he admitted that his ideas had not worked. His chief disciple, C. Peter Wagner, concluded that what was missing was the Holy Spirit. Thus Wagner latched onto the charismatic movement, staking one heresy on top of another. Yet, from the late 1960's until the present, the Fullerite infection has grown in the Missouri Synod.
The root of the problem is that we don’t grow the Church. God does. He may use us. He may use someone or something else. Japan was one of the most resistant cultures to the Gospel in the whole world. But they love the music of J.S. Bach. J. S. Bach, two hundred and fifty years after he died, has become the apostle to Japan. Bach has won more people for Christ in Japan than all the would be evangelists over the last few centuries, put together. When we think to do it, it fails. When God does it, it cannot fail. God brings people to faith when and where He wills - not where we will.
St. Paul had a plan for his missionary journey. God had a different plan. Unlike so many of our leaders today, St. Paul listened to God. When God had a Macedonian man appear to Paul and beckon him to come to them, Paul listened. Paul, Luke, and the rest of his group went to Macedonia, and their work was blessed. The Gospel spread like fire throughout that crucial region. And from their it spread to all people groups in the entire Roman Empire. We need to repent of those times when we try to do it ourselves. We need to stop and listen to God’s word and be conformed to that word. And we need to think about what that word is saying to us. We are sinners. We cannot save ourselves. We cannot do anything for God. We might be privileged to be used as God’s instrument. For that we must listen to God and His word. We must repent for those times we don’t listen to that word. For before we can tell others of the forgiveness of their sins, we must have our sins forgiven. The forgiveness of our sins of self righteousness and pride are where evangelism starts.