- deliver the decision of the Jerusalem Council that “grace meant grace” to neighboring churches.
- share the Gospel in brand new mission fields.
There were plenty of mission fields to choose from! The Gospel had its origins in Judea, a smaller country with a land area of a couple hundred square miles. Since the rest of the world was untouched by the Gospel, there was a lot more of the world that needed to hear about the Savior.
As a result, you might expect the mission team to head out to some largely populated area as quickly as possible to share the Gospel with the most amount of people.
That would make the most sense because it would be the easiest way for Paul to “pad his stats.”
Have you ever heard that phrase? It’s a sports term. Sometimes you need to “pad your stats” in sports, because stats (or statistics) are key. They have been around since baseball cards started including them on the back of a player’s card. (Think about it: You don’t want to be that one guy with the .067% batting average. They can flip the card, look at your face and forever associate you with “not being that good at baseball.”)
Good stats, on the other hand, might increase the value of your card. It could improve your legacy. You might even get a reward. Stats are the reason that players sometimes stay in a game – even when their team is winning by a lot – to get a couple more hits and “pad their stats.”
If there was an apostolic version of baseball cards, you might expect Paul to “pad his stats.” He had a good run in his first season as missionary. In his second? It’d be an opportunity to bring his total number of people evangelized to the tens of thousands, to double the number of churches he started, and to better his average of “conversions” to “sermons preached.”
In today’s lesson God does the opposite. He guides the missionary team far away from the logical next steps in mission work, far away from what made them comfortable, and far away from what would have “padded Paul’s stats.”
Why? We’ll investigate God’s Word for the answer. Before we do, a prayer: O Lord, strengthen us by the truth, your Word is truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see, our ears to hear what you want us to hear and our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. The Story
Acts 16 says this: “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.” (Acts 16:6-8)
A little bit of geography:
Phrygia and Galatia are to the north of Judea. They region starts to curve around the Mediterranean Sea to the east. This is essentially the route of the first missionary journey. In fact, Galatia is the name for the whole region of churches from that first missionary journey. It’s also the reason that Paul’s letter to these churches is called “Galatians.”
Paul and his missionary team went there to deliver the message from the Jerusalem council that “Grace meant grace.”
But then, they tried to head to the west to the province of Asia. There’s a lot of people in Asia. Some of the largest populations in the world are in Asia: China, India, Russia, even Bangladesh. While these countries wouldn’t have been as populated back then, there were still plenty of people in Asia who needed to hear about Jesus.
This seems like a logical next choice for mission work.
But they were kept by the Holy Spirit from preaching the word in the province of Asia. (v.6)
Now, Scripture doesn’t tell us how this happened.
An invisible force field?
Roads that were shut down?
A donkey that got sick?
Scripture doesn’t say.
But somehow, they concluded that they couldn’t go to Asia at this time.
So, they tried to go north. They came to the border of Mysia and tried to enter Bithynia… (v.7a) Bithynia is modern-day Turkey, a gateway into the northern kingdoms of modern-day Ukraine, Romania, and Bulgaria. Again, there were plenty of people who need to hear about Jesus up there and it was a logical next step: just head north and BAM – you’re there!
But The spirit of Jesus would not allow them to… (v.7b)
And again, there’s no indication of how this happened:
A sinkhole in the road?
Timothy got the flu?
Soldiers force them to turn around?
Or maybe the Holy Spirit simply says: “Nope.”
They can’t go west.
They can’t go north.
They came from the south.
They go east and went down to Troas. (v.8)
I imagine Paul was a bit confused:
Isn’t the Gospel for all people?
Aren’t there thousands of people to the West?
Aren’t there thousands of people to the North?
O Lord, why do you keep blocking our route?
As they settled down that evening, God gives them an answer:
…Paul had a vision of a man of Macedonia standing and begging him, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.” (v.9)
I don’t know how Paul knew he was Macedonian. (I’m unsure that I’m that familiar with genealogical and racial features enough to pinpoint someone from Macedonia just by viewing them)
Maybe he was waving a Macedonian flag.
Or eating Macedonian food.
Or maybe he had on one of those t-shirts with the outline of Macedonia on it and the phrase: “Home.”
However, it happens, Paul immediately shared the news with his friends: “Guys, I know what God wants us to do! I saw a man…a Macedonian man. He asked us to come to Macedonia. He pleaded with us. So…get up! Pack up. He needs our help. They need the Gospel of Jesus now!”
The next morning, they do just that.
They head to the local harbor.
They obtain a ride on the boat across the Mediterranean.
It’s a couple days journey until they get to Neapolis.
From there they head to a leading city of Macedonia, Philippi.
And Paul might have been thinking:
This is great. God must have big plans.
If he had us travel 500 miles from our last stop in Phrygia, there must be a large amount of people he wants us to preach to.
If he had us jump on a ship, risk a shipwreck, and possibly get seasick, there must be crowds awaiting us.
If he is having us enter a Roman colony, with the danger of Roman soldiers and racism against Jews like us, there must be a second Pentecost awaiting us!
When they get there…
There’s no Jewish synagogue to go preach at.
There’s barely any Jews in the city at all.
The whole atmosphere is foreign, confusing, and difficult.
The missionaries are there for a few days without the Bible recording anything of substance.
Finally, they go outside the city gate to the river. (v.13)
Away from the population.
Away from the confusion.
As they are praying, a group of women comes to the river.
Most likely, they’re bringing their laundry to the river to do some wash.
And as they are washing their clothes…
…Paul can’t help himself.
Nice water, huh? Water…It’s important. But I know of something called “Living Water.”
I see you’re cleaning your clothing. But what have you done lately to cleanse your soul?
Look out that you don’t trip on a rock. Speaking of rocks – Jesus is my Rock. Is he yours?
And most of the women?
They don’t listen.
Just an annoyed smirk and a “Just let me do my laundry, weird religious dude.”
One of those listening was a woman named Lydia….
The Lord opened her heart to respond to Paul’s message. (v.14)
The Bible doesn’t tell us a lot about Lydia.
The Greek text of the Bible literally says that she was a purple dealer. A purple dealer wasn’t someone who passed out Crayola crayons. Her job was to dye clothing the color purple. It was a fine business to be in, because purple clothing was quite expensive. In fact, wearing purple was a sign of being rich. It was a status symbol (like wearing a Gucci dress with a Coach handbag or dressing in an Armani Suit with a pair of Air Jordan’s on your feet).
We don’t know much else about Lydia.
She was a person.
A sinful person.
And just like any sinful person, she had reason for a Savior.
Maybe she’d gotten a good portion of her wealth in less than upright ways.
Maybe she’d spent so much time pursuing riches that her life felt void and empty.
Maybe she’d gone through a recent divorce with her husband; kept the money…and a lot of shame.
Maybe her visit to Philippi left her on the fringes of society, a refugee, alone.
Maybe she knew that the purple clothing she sold was only a façade; that could not cover the guilt upon her soul.
But when she heard about Jesus.
She heard about forgiveness for all her less than upright ways.
She heard about how Jesus brings eternal riches that will never leave you void or empty.
She heard about how Jesus’ death repaired her relationship with God and removed all her guilt and shame.
She heard about how Jesus rose from the dead and promised to be with his disciples so that they are never alone.
She heard about how Jesus’ gives us a robe, even more gorgeous than a robe of purple.
About how Jesus gave a robe of righteousness to completely cover her sins!
Lydia heard all of this.
II. Notes about the Eternal Importance of One
That’s the point of this whole story.
It’s the point of the 500-some mile journey.
It’s the point of the trip on the ship.
It’s the point of the foreign Roman colony.
It’s the point of the trip to the river.
The point was getting the Gospel message to Lydia.
And this wasn’t Paul’s plan.
It was God’s.
Think about how God goes out of his way to save Lydia:
He came out of heaven…for Lydia.
He lived on earth…for Lydia
He died on the cross…for Lydia.
He rose from the dead…for Lydia.
Then, God guided Paul.
Blocked some paths.
Got him to Philippi.
Got her to Philippi.
So that there is a seemingly chance encounter at the river which leads to the eternal salvation of her soul.
God did this because God placed eternal importance on one person, Lydia.
And…God has also placed eternal importance on YOU.
(1) See the Eternal Importance of You
Have you ever received a canned email from a company about how special you are?
I got one of those from Netflix recently.
I quit the subscription and they sent me a message that said they “loved having me as a customer” and they “hated to see me, Philip Kiecker, go.”
So…I signed up again.
Because they cared about me so deeply.
A while later, I was having trouble connecting, so I used the help app for Netflix to try and connect with a customer service representative and the representative texted me:
“Hi! How can I help?”
“I can’t get my Netflix connection to work.”
“Happy to help. Please provide your full name.”
I thought: “That’s odd. I thought they loved me as a customer and hated to see me go, but…”
I gave them my name.
Then, they said: “I’m sorry. There’s an outage. There’s nothing we can do to help, Fred.”
I thought they cared!
Maybe you feel that way about God.
Maybe you’ve been tempted to believe that God doesn’t care.
That you aren’t important.
That you are forgotten.
God went out of his way to save YOU.
He came out of heaven…for YOU.
He lived on earth…for YOU
He died on the cross…for YOU.
He rose from the dead…for YOU.
And God arranged events in your life to bring you to saving faith.
Maybe he had your mom bring you along, kicking and screaming to church, since you’ve been 4 years old.
Maybe he had a friend invite you to worship, invite you again, invite you, invite you, invite you and invite you some more.
Maybe you had a chance encounter with a stranger at our modern-day version of the Philippian River –the local laundromat.
Somehow God brought saving faith to you.
Because you were eternally important to him.
And if you aren’t a believer yet, understand this:
God has arranged events in your life to bring you to this message right here.
Jesus loves you.
Jesus died for you.
Jesus rose for you.
Jesus is your Savior.
(2) See the Eternal Importance of Others
Because Lydia didn’t stop with herself. Look at what happens next: She and the members of her household were baptized. (v.15a)
It isn’t likely that all her household was already down at that river doing laundry.
And yet – the baptism appears to have happened in the river, because it takes place before “She invited [the missionaries] to her home.” (v.15b)
That means Lydia must have went back home:
Told her family about Jesus.
Told her kids.
Any servants that might have been working at her purple factory!
Then, she led them all back to Paul.
Paul told them about Jesus.
And they were all baptized into his name.
Why did Lydia do this?
Because she saw the eternal value of her family.
She saw them as eternal souls in need of a Savior.
Just as God did.
Just as God wants us to do.
Mr. Rogers used to have a song that he sung on occasion: “Who are the people in your neighborhood?” The song goes on to identify common 1980s neighbors – the mailman, the police officer, and the fire fighter.
That was in the eighties. It might be fun to hear an update:
Who are the people in your 2019 neighborhood?
The Whole Foods clerk.
The Starbucks barista.
The Uber driver.
The Amazon Delivery woman.
Even…the Google fiber installation crew. (They’re in everybody’s neighborhood…all the time.)
But these are more than just people in your neighborhood.
They are eternal souls in need of their Savior.
The mailman? An eternal soul in need of the Savior.
The police officer? An eternal soul in need of the Savior.
The fire fighter? An eternal soul in need of the Savior.
The Whole Foods clerk? An eternal soul in need of the Savior.
The Starbucks barista? An eternal soul in need of the Savior.
The Uber drive, the Amazon Delivery woman and the Google fiber installation crew…. Eternal souls in need of the Savior.
That’s what they are.
And you, as a believer in Jesus, have what they need.
See the eternal importance of others.
(3) See the Eternal Importance of Your Part in Kingdom Work
After Lydia’s household is baptized into Christ’s family, she doesn’t just bid adieu to the missionaries and go back to who everyday life.
She invited the missionaries to her home. “If you consider me a believer in the Lord, come and stay at my house.” (v.16)
She realized that God’s work wasn’t done in Philippi.
She figured that they would need a place to stay as they shared the Gospel in Philippi.
She might not have been an eloquent speaker like them, but she wanted to partake in the ministry in whatever way she could.
She saw the eternal importance of her part in kingdom work and she served…
The same is true here.
We have a big mission: To Plant the Message of Jesus in the Heart of North Raleigh (and Beyond).
That’s a lot of people.
In the triangle, that’s close to 2 million people.
We can’t do it alone.
So, we do it together.
Together with Jesus.
Let me tell you the story of Priscilla.
Priscilla had a child in need of childcare.
Priscilla searched online for a Childcare Center.
Priscilla found an ad that some of you developed.
Priscilla found an ad that your offerings helped support.
Priscilla visited Precious Lambs where some of you spend all kinds of time planning for, decorating, and building.
Priscilla enrolled her child in Precious Lambs where some of you taught her child about Jesus.
Priscilla brought her child for worship where some of you greeted her, made friends with her, high fived her.
Priscilla now knows about her Savior.
Priscilla now knows about his love for her.
Priscilla now knows about his love for her – because God works through all of you to make that happen.
That’s the eternal importance of one.
May God guide us to see our eternal importance as we are motivated to see the eternal importance of others. Amen.