Sent2 (Sent Squared)

Acts 15:36-16:10

Dick Jones was one of those guys who rushed around, always busy, never stopping – convinced that everyone depended on him. But one day, he got sick – so sick he went to the doctor (which most of you wives know means he was REALLY sick). The doctor diagnosed a severe viral infection and told him he had to go home and go to bed for several days. Dick complained, “Doctor, I can’t stay in bed – I’ve got too much to do! I’ve got meetings and appointments and committees I chair and places I have to be and people I have to see. I’m too busy to stay in bed.
At that very moment, as the story goes, Dick suddenly fell into a trance and he saw himself looking in on heaven. The angels were gathered around the throne of God, but everything seemed to be in disarray; papers were being passed around and some were whispering off in the corner – when one of the angels came and handed God an important looking paper. God read it and threw up his hands and moaned, “Oh no! What am I going to do? Dick Jones is sick!”

Now I’m not saying that Paul was hyperactive, but he could never sit still in one place very long before he was ready to get up and go. After the council in Jerusalem and their return to Antioch, Paul and Barnabas remained in Antioch teaching and preaching the Word. But always in the back of his mind, Paul is concerned about the new Christians they had converted and the young churches they had established on their missionary trip through Pamphylia and Pisidia. And one day, he couldn’t wait any longer. He said to Barnabas “Let’s go back and visit the brothers in all the towns where we preached the word of the Lord and see how they are doing.” Barnabas thought that was a great idea, but when they started selecting the team of men who would accompany them, Barnabas said, “let’s take my cousin, John-Mark.” But Paul said, “He deserted us once, he’ll desert us again. He can’t be trusted. I vote no.” But Barnabas stuck to his guns – “He’s going!” Paul – “No, he’s not.” They continued to argue about it until Barnabas said, “Fine! I’ll take John-Mark and go myself.” And Paul said, “Fine! You do that. I’ll pick my own team and go.”

And you’re thinking – Wait a minute! What happened to all that talk about unity and conflict resolution last week? Well, conflict isn’t always bad. Conflict means that two people feel strongly about an issue, but with different opinions. Conflict is the raw material of either new ideas and stronger relationships or rigid inflexibility and destroyed friendships. It’s what you do with the conflict that determines its value or its destructiveness. What is the result of this conflict? Two mission trips rather than one (sent squared). Twice as many cities evangelized and churches established than if they had gone together. The good news spreading twice as far and twice as fast. And we also know that this conflict didn’t result in personal animosity and a destroyed relationship. Later in his letters, Paul will refer to Barnabas as a fellow worker in the Lord, and even John-Mark will be a valued and beloved companion whom Paul begs Timothy to bring to him in prison before his death.

So, the stage is set and preparations are made for two journeys. From Antioch, Luke tells us that Barnabas and Mark head west for Cyprus, while Paul and Silas head north through Syria and Cilicia, strengthening churches as they go.

Their first destination is Derbe – the last city on their first missionary trip when they came from the other direction. This time they come over land and arrive here first, but then move quickly on to Lystra, a few miles west. And it is in Lystra that we first meet Timothy. Luke tells us something about Timothy – “his mother was a Jewess and a believer, but his father was a Greek. The brothers at Lystra and Iconium spoke well of him.”

We also see Paul do something that takes us completely by surprise. Remember the discussion back in Jerusalem about not having to circumcise believers to become Christians? Read vs. 3 – “Paul wanted to take Timothy along on the journey, so he circumcised him because of the Jews who lived in that area, for they all knew that his father was a Greek.” We already know that Timothy was raised in the Jewish faith, but because of his family history, he was never circumcised. He is already a Christian, either converted by Paul on his first missionary journey through Lystra, or because of the influence of his mother and grandmother. Why now go back and circumcise him? Politics – keeping the peace. We always detest doing things because someone expects it, but even Paul knows you have to pick your battles (and later on, when a similar situation arises with Titus, he will refuse to circumcise him.) But there are times you do things that are not necessary in order to accomplish things that are. And even Paul was willing to yield his right to be right, when a greater good could be accomplished.

So Timothy joins the team and a great relationship is established, and Paul begins to mentor a young man who will do great things for the Lord in the years to come.

As they continue to travel, they deliver the letter from the council in Jerusalem and the decisions reached by the apostles and elders there. And they also strengthen the churches and those churches continue to grow daily in numbers. And I know that Paul must have really been reassured as he saw these churches strong and growing – that his work was not in vain – that his efforts were making a difference.

I enjoy reading the bulletins from churches where I have served and reading about young people I baptized starting families of their own, or men I have brought to the Lord becoming deacons or elders in the church. Or programs that I started years ago still thriving and blessing people’s lives. I think of what Paul wrote to the Corinthian church about his suffering and then, “Besides everything else, I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches.” Every church was his child - he nurtured them and prayed for them and worried about them. So, when he traveled, seeing those churches healthy and alive I know he experienced an incredible joy.

One thing I’ve tried to keep at the forefront of our study in Acts is the role of the Holy Spirit. Luke’s chronicle is not the Acts of the Apostles or the Acts of the Church, it is the Acts of the Holy Spirit. It is God who is in control and active in the life of the church. And these next five verses demonstrate that in a powerful way – Acts 16:6-10 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.
Paul is not randomly wandering about – the Holy Spirit is pointedly guiding his direction. He both hinders Paul from entering Asia and Bithynia, and he directs him by way of a vision to go to Macedonia.

I’ve always enjoyed seeing Luke’s little autobiographical notations here in Acts. Much of what Luke writes is the result of research and interviews as he compiles his historical accounts – but he is also a participant and an eyewitness. Back in ch. 15, we read about the significant addition of Timothy to the missionary team. When we come to Troas in 16:8, we see the joining of Luke himself to the team – did you see it? Read vss. 7-8 – “they came…they tried to enter…they passed by.” But read on – vss. 9-10 – “we got ready to leave…concluding that God had called us to preach…” vs. 11 – “we put out to sea” / vs. 12 “we traveled to Philippi…we stayed there several days.” Luke is now a part of this mission team. He writes as an eyewitness to Paul’s work. He himself is a part of what God is doing, not just reporting it from the sidelines.

This second missionary journey will last another five years and they will travel over 2600 miles by foot and sea. It is on this missionary journey that the churches in Philippi and Thessalonica and Athens and Corinth and Ephesus will be established. We’ll be introduced to some significant figures in the life of the early church – Priscilla and Aquila and Apollos. And I want you to have this overview of the second missionary journey, because we’re going to spend some time in some of the major destinations along the way, and we’ll lose sight of the journey aspect of it over the next 3 weeks that we spend on it.

There is a word that comes to mind as I read this section of Acts – “orchestration.” What might look like random events and unfortunate disagreements and the coming and going of unrelated individuals – and even when we get to Philippi and see Paul and Silas thrown into prison – everything has a purpose and a place in God’s plan. God is orchestrating people and opportunities to bring about the fulfillment of his plan. It is God who is, in Paul’s words in Romans 8, “working all things for the good of those who love him.” He is not reacting to situations, he is proactively creating these opportunities. He is bringing people into the life of Paul who will have a profound impact on the work of the kingdom.

And let me tell you, God is no less at work today in our lives than he was then in Paul’s life.

A couple of weeks ago, I talked about you and I being “sent,” just as surely as Paul and Barnabas were sent. I want you to ask yourself – do you wake up every morning and give the day to God? Do you ask for his guidance, his direction – for him to open doors and create opportunities for you to make an impact for his kingdom on the people you are around and the situations you find yourself in? Do you purposefully, intentionally see yourself as an ambassador of God’s kingdom? Is God at work through you?

I’m sure there were times that even Paul could only see that divine activity in hindsight. In fact, I’m sure there were times when he really struggled with seeing how God could possibly be at work in the middle of some of the things he experienced. It’s tough to be going through suffering and experiencing pain and understand how God could possibly use that for any good purpose, but by faith we trust that God is at work.

And thank God I’m not the one in control of my life. Some of the painful things that I would have edited out of my life, I look back on and see how God was most at work in those experiences. And some of things I desperately prayed that God would grant would have been terrible things if he had allowed them.

We might be tempted to twist that and say, “Well then, it’s God who is to blame for all the bad things that have happened to me.” And I don’t mean to imply that God is going around working mischief to make you suffer. Instead of seeing God as to blame, I thank God that he is in control. I would rather go through the worst suffering and painful experiences confidently knowing that God is in control, than to live a life free of pain and suffering thinking that my life was just a random throw of the dice. Because I know that ultimately God will work for my good, but even more importantly for his glory. And that good might not be completed by my living or in my lifetime.

Sometimes God uses us in ways that are beyond our ability to find sense and reason, and our pain and suffering and sometimes even our death are a part of something that extends beyond our little sphere of comprehension and affects people and touches lives in ways that we will never see. And my job is not to understand or explain, but to demonstrate the power of faith in a God who is in control.

I’m sure every dad has played the game with their kids – Jump, I’ll catch you. I built bunk beds when our kids were little, and I’m sure from the top bunk it looked like a long way down to the floor. And they would stand on the top and I’d hold out my hands and say “Jump, I’ll catch you.” And they’d start and stop and finally lunge off the bunk into my arms, squealing with delight. And then, we’d do it again and again, until I wouldn’t even have to tell them – they knew I would catch them. Part of our problem with not trusting God is that we haven’t jumped often enough to figure out that he will always be there to catch us.
One father made the same plea to his young son who was trapped in their burning house. The two-story structure was engulfed in flames, and the family was on its way out, when the youngest boy panicked and ran back upstairs. At the bedroom window the boy appeared, with smoke billowing out around him, and the father shouted, “Jump, I’ll catch you.” The boy cried out, “But daddy, I can’t see you.” “I know,” his father called out to him, “but I can see you.” Even though the son couldn’t see his father, his father could see him – and that’s all that mattered.