August 25, 2019
Pastor Ricky Smith
The end of Acts chapter 15 is where we will begin today, in verse 36 specifically. We’re easing into chapter 16 a little bit as we continue our journey through the book of Acts.
First, I’ll just tell you a little bit about me: I love basketball. I’ve loved basketball pretty much my whole life. I spent countless hours on the playground of South Atlanta playing basketball growing up. I played basketball in middle school; I played basketball in high school and coached basketball. I love basketball. So, you may love basketball, and maybe you can connect with this. If not, translate it to the thing you’re passionate about.
So now, when I watch basketball, I’m overly critical because I think my way is better. I think, I would have set that offense up better. I would have played it a little bit differently…, and therefore, I tend to get overly critical, especially of NBA basketball, because it’s not really played the team way most of the time, and it just frustrates me… unless the Golden State Warriors have been playing. It’s a totally different game then, because at least for the past several years, Golden State, while becoming a dynasty, has typified what team basketball looks like, and it’s amazing to watch.
However, there’s a lot of concern about what may be happening, because due to free agency and injuries, now this apparent multi-all-star team dynasty is now breaking up. So what are we going to do? In fact, I’d love for you to watch Klay Thompson, who is still on the team (although he’s going to miss this entire season due to injury); listen to what he has to say about his team (video shown about a continuing positive outlook, despite teammates going to different teams).
If you’ll notice Klay Thompson’s ending statement, he understands there is this foundation that the culture of his team is built around, and their mission is still the same, regardless of who’s on the team. So, because of his confidence in that, he’s not crying; he’s not sad. He’s not even showing any fracture of doubt because his team is no longer together.
Now, what in the world does that have to do with anything? It has everything to do with what we will see here in a moment when we unpack the end of Acts chapter 15 because, if you’ve been on this journey with us, we have seen this (forgive the play on words) “dynasty” of sorts in this team of Paul and Barnabas. They have been the tip of the spear in fulfilling Acts chapter one, verse eight, the command of Jesus to take the Gospel from Jerusalem to the ends of the earth. And they have just done it with confidence.
They’ve seen signs and wonders, and it’s been amazing to see what God has done. Now, we’ll see how people respond when crisis hits, and as we unpack this, I would just love for you, in the sense of self-awareness, to think, whenever crisis hits you, whenever conflict comes, whenever a break up happens, do you retreat, or do you engage? What’s your typical mode?
I. Continued Mission
The first thing I need us to see this morning is, there is a continued mission. Let’s read together in Acts chapter 15, verses 36 through 41. Let’s see what we can learn together.
36 After some time had passed, Paul said to Barnabas, “Let’s go back and visit the brothers in every town where we have preached the message of the Lord and see how they’re doing.” 37 Barnabas wanted to take along John Mark. 38 But Paul did not think it appropriate to take along this man who had deserted them in Pamphylia and had not gone on with them to the work. 39 There was such a sharp disagreement that they parted company, and Barnabas took Mark with him and sailed off to Cyprus. 40 Then Paul chose Silas and departed, after being commended to the grace of the Lord by the brothers. 41 He traveled through Syria and Cilicia, strengthening the churches.
Now, let’s see what’s going on. Paul and Barnabas finished what historically is known as this first missionary journey. They land back into Antioch, which had become the hub of the Gentile church, and we read for the last two weeks in chapter 15 where we saw them come back to Antioch and they had this big council where they met and processed through, ultimately deciding how they were going to engage the Gentile community with the Gospel.
They came together with this agreement to write this letter, and now this officially begins the second missionary journey of Paul. In fact, if you study those maps in the back of your Bible and follow that little arrow, this is where that’s going to begin. They’re both going to start in Antioch, but this one’s going to start a little bit differently because of this conflict that we just read about, this disagreement.
Think of it this way: How many of you keep in touch with all of your friends from high school? You remember what this is like. I have one high school friend that I’m still closely connected with. We had lunch last week. We stay connected; we stay involved in each other’s lives. One friend. And you remember in high school, whatever your group was, you remember how you were almost vowing to each other, “We’re going to be friends forever. There’s nothing that’s ever going to separate us. We’re going to walk through fire together, and our families are going to grow up together…”
And then this little thing called Life happens, and you start going different ways. This group that you thought would always be inseparable and impenetrable now loses touch. This happens, beyond just high school friends. In life, in deep relationships that are filled with purpose, this happens. Even in the church, this happens, and here we see Paul ever-committed to what he had been called to do.
But he and Barnabas, they butt heads over this guy named John Mark, and we can see in the past, they’ve served together, and here’s where we have some unknowns. Scripture doesn’t give us every detail into what really happened. In fact, we can only guess why John Mark left them during this first missionary journey, and whatever those reasons were, it was fresh enough on Paul’s mind that he didn’t want him back on the team.
We don’t fully know what all of the factors at play here were, but whatever it was, it was enough of an issue for Paul and Barnabas to separate and split ways. This is what I think is noteworthy, though: Even though they separated, even though they split ways, this missionary journey that Paul committed to, Barnabas with John Mark continued on the same mission. I think it’s noteworthy that this one mission becomes two, because even though they disagreed on how it should be done, they were both ever committed to what should be done. The mission was greater, and their eyes and focus were on the mission.
If you want to scribble these references down, you could read them later in Colossians 4:10 or Philemon 24 or 2 Timothy 4:11. When you read those verses, what we learn is that even later in Paul’s ministry, he affirms and celebrates the ministry and work of John Mark. So, even though whatever this issue was, was significant enough that he didn’t want him to be a part of the next missionary journey, he continued to affirm the faithfulness of John Mark to carry out the mission of God.
See, what I think is important is, we have to understand that their disagreement was more centered on how than on what. And what we have to recognize is that we live life with people, whether this is in the church or at work or wherever it may be, and there are times that we realize that we have to choose to walk arm in arm with people, even if we don’t see eye to eye.
Choose to walk arm in arm, even when you don’t see eye to eye
In fact, we say it this way as we walk through our new members class: In essential beliefs, we have unity; in non-essential beliefs, we have liberty. In all of our beliefs, we show love.
There are some essentials that we have to agree on in covenant with each other. We will celebrate about God that He is three in one and about Christ, that He was God made into flesh, and in the Holy Spirit that He is God at work in us and about the Bible, that it is inspired, perfect and without error. We celebrate about human beings that we were created in the image of God to bring Him glory, and about salvation, that it is only through faith in Christ, and about eternal security that our salvation is secure in the finished work of Jesus on the cross and about eternity, that all people will live forever in heaven or in hell.
Those things are essential, and those unify. We are covenanted together on those things. But there are other things that are somewhat open-handed. We’re going to believe wholeheartedly that the Bible is the infallible, inerrant, authoritative Word of God. But if you use the CSB, and I use the ESV and you use the King James, we can be open-handed on that. Do you see the difference?
So, in the essentials, we must have unity, and we must stand arm in arm on those things. There may be some nonessential things that we don’t see eye to eye on, and that’s okay. Here, Paul and Barnabas, in their mission, conflict arose when they began to focus on the how instead of the what. I think you and I can avoid this by remembering the secret sauce.
Do you remember the secret sauce? In case you forget, it’s this: It’s not about you. When we make our preferences primary to God’s mission, we lose sight of that. The people around us on their way to hell should motivate us to get over ourselves, should help us to keep our eyes on the mission.
Is there a cause greater than that mission? It has to be greater than me. So here, Paul and Barnabas, this disagreement causes them to separate. They have a difference of opinion on how the mission should be carried out, but it is extremely noteworthy that they both remain faithful to the mission. Paul (now with Silas), Barnabas (now with John Mark), continued to advance the Gospel, because they understood it was not about them.
II. Called Up
But what does Paul do? He continues the mission, and the second point is that someone is called up. Let’s begin to read in chapter 16, verses one through five.
1 Then he went on to Derbe and Lystra, where there was a disciple named Timothy, the son of a believing Jewish woman, but his father was a Greek. 2 The brothers at Lystra and Iconium spoke highly of him. 3 Paul wanted Timothy to go with him, so he took him and circumcised him because of the Jews who were in those places, since they all knew that his father was a Greek. 4 As they traveled through the towns, they delivered the decisions reached by the apostles and elders at Jerusalem for them to observe. 5 So the churches were strengthened in the faith and increased in number daily.
He’s referring back to that letter from the beginning of Acts chapter 15. What has Paul got going on here? There is a strategic leadership decision that Paul makes. It’s very purposeful. Let me give you a cultural example of what I see happening here, intentionally.
I love baseball, too. In my travels throughout the state of Georgia, when I had the opportunity, I loved to go to baseball games. This past year, I was at a Gwinnett Stripers game in Gwinnett County, the Triple-A affiliate to the Atlanta Braves. I believe it was April, and I’m there in the stands watching this game.
This young rising superstar steps up to the plate, and his name is Ronald Acuna, Jr. He’s playing for the Gwinnett Stripers, and this kid is electric. He’s an amazing athlete. Well, it was just two weeks later, after I saw him in Gwinnett, that the news hit that he had been called up to the big leagues, and anybody that follows the Braves, knows that he just set the league on fire. He just joined the 30-30 Club this week. -an incredible athlete. We see in this game of baseball this intentional, systematic and strategic plan. So, while one game is being played, there is this constant development of the next generation of athletes to come up.
What we see here is so much going on in Acts chapter 16. I see in Paul’s leadership this intentional, strategic decision to begin preparing the next generation of leaders. See, Paul had already been at this game for well over a decade. Paul is a seasoned veteran in ministry. He’d been spiritually shot at a few times. He had survived many miraculous escapes from prison and death threats. He’d been beaten. He had seen God work in miraculous ways.
Invest in the next generation of leadership
Now, as he begins to see that maybe he’s on the other side, maybe the downhill turn of his ministry, he sees the need to begin preparing the next generation of leadership, and he finds this young kid named Timothy. Here’s some interesting things that I think are safe assumptions to make about Timothy.
Back in Acts chapter 14, we see that Paul first arrived in the city of Lystra and Iconium, and Derbe, this region where Timothy lived. While Timothy’s name is not referenced in Acts chapter 14, we learn there that many, many people came to faith in Christ. And it is a somewhat safe assumption that either Timothy (or at least his mother) came to faith in Christ as a result of Paul’s ministry there several years back.
Now, we come into the scene when Paul returns to the city where he had established ministry years before. Not only does he find this woman faithfully following Jesus, he finds Timothy, and Timothy’s reputation is so strong that not only just the people in his town, but in the town next to him, the buzz is about this guy named Timothy. So much is going on about him, and I think it’s interesting that not only does Paul select him because of his reputation, I think he strategically chose Timothy because he was both a Jew and Greek, uniquely positioned to carry forward into this mission of taking the Gospel to both the Jews and the Greeks.
We’ve seen this repeated pattern of Paul going into a community. Where does he first go? -always into the synagogue first. So, he needs to make sure this kid who’s born from a Jewish woman has at least been circumcised, not because it’s required for salvation, but it was instead a strategic move to make sure that when he steps into the synagogue, they are positioned to openly share the Gospel.
So, I think there is a very deliberate and intentional move on the part of Paul by choosing Timothy, understanding that he was uniquely positioned to join the mission and also to make sure that he was looking ahead into the future. Now, what could we learn about this? I think all of us need to understand that we need to be ever more diligent in raising up the next generation of church leaders. And who are they? -the kids, the children, the middle school students, the high school students.
I would say they’re not the church of tomorrow; they are the church of today, which is why, if you were here a few weeks back, we had all of those students and educators in this room stand, and we commissioned them to be missionaries because they can take the Gospel to a place that you cannot take it. We need to see them that way, but at the same time, we need to be more disciplined than ever to help them grow, help them be mature to disciple and to take the Gospel where they go.
I would say, this is why it’s important that all of us, if we haven’t found a place to minister, that we consider what we can do to help serve the children’s ministry and the student ministry of our church. -because it matters. Giving time and serving and investing in the next generation of church leadership is something we have to think about today and we have to take more seriously than ever before.
I think it’s noteworthy, though, that just when Paul thought he had a plan, we’ve crossed this hurdle with Paul and Barnabas separating, and we figured out now Silas is on the team and Barnabas and John Mark are carrying the mission forward. Now I’ve got a strategic plan. I’m building my team with Silas, and I’ve got Timothy involved.
III. Cry for Help
He’s looking ahead into the future, and just when he thought he had things lined up, this cry for help comes, and it changes his direction. Let’s read Acts chapter 16, verses six through ten and see what we can learn together:
6 They went through the region of Phrygia and Galatia and were prevented by the Holy Spirit from speaking the message in Asia. 7 When they came to Mysia, they tried to go into Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus did not allow them. 8 So, bypassing Mysia, they came down to Troas. 9 During the night a vision appeared to Paul: A Macedonian man was standing and pleading with him, “Cross over to Macedonia and help us!” 10 After he had seen the vision, we immediately made efforts to set out for Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to evangelize them.
Okay, I sense the frustration in Paul here. I don’t know if you can sense it. This is reminiscent somewhat of St. Patrick. If you remember the story of St Patrick, he had been imprisoned in Ireland, and then after being set free, he recounts that God gave him this vision to go back and take the Gospel because he knew of their situation and their need for Christ.
He heard that cry, and he was willing to go. It’s kind of reminiscent of what we see here in Acts 16, which commonly is called the Macedonian call. But notice, Paul, if I could just step into his brain, we see in the previous verses the intentionality of its leadership in the strategic way that he thinks and aligning himself.
He’s building this team, and he’s ready to go. He’s advancing the Gospel to the nations, and the Spirit of God says, “No, don’t go there. The Spirit of Christ says, “No, don’t speak of Him there.” “What?! Why can’t I?” -because there was a greater purpose that God had planned. I think it’s interesting that in these four verses we see the triune God present.
Look at it, if you would. I think it’s interesting. In verse six, we see the prompting of the Holy Spirit. In verse seven, we see the Spirit of Christ intercepting. In verse 10, we see God affirming their mission. I don’t know what your brain does when you read those verses, when I read them and I saw the Spirit of Jesus, it was like, “What?!”
Here’s what’s interesting: That phrase to describe God is the Spirit of Christ or the Spirit of the Son or the Spirit of Jesus, it isn’t used often throughout Scripture to describe the work of Christ, but when it’s done, it’s for the purpose of helping us connect to our salvation through Him or our suffering on His behalf. In fact, some reference: Romans 8:9. “If anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Him.” So, it references our salvation. In Galatians 4:6. “God has sent the Spirit of the Son into our hearts, crying Abba, Father.” We get into Philippians 1:19, “For I know that through your prayers and help of the Spirit of Christ, this will turn out for my deliverance.”
So, in some moments we see it speaking to our salvation, and in other moments it speaks to our suffering. But for Paul, the important thing is, his mission was stopped dead in its tracks. Maybe you relate to this. Maybe you’re looking at your life and you’re seeing things planned. Maybe it’s at the moment that you graduate from college and you’ve got a degree, and the job lines up and things are moving ahead.
Or maybe it’s your family. You PCS into a new city and you’ve established yourself and you’re settled, and things are all falling into place. Or maybe there’s been a career change for you, and you’re set on the job and you can see things start falling into place. Then, all of a sudden, unexpectedly, God throws you a curveball. It’s like, “Lord, I had my plan. I had things lined up. What is this curveball you’re throwing in front of me?”
Those are moments for us to trust and obey. See, Paul thought he had a plan. He had a direction, and he had a course of action and a plan for where he was headed. But God stopped him. The Spirit of God intercepted. The Spirit of Christ, spoke and said, “No, I have a different plan for you.” And it’s in this vision from the Macedonian people that the Lord clarifies the direction that He is to go, calling him on this mission.
See, the servant of God believes that his steps are ordered by God, and it is the providence of God that orders them for his good. Therefore, I have to trust, even in times of doubt. “God, I don’t know what you’re doing around me right now, but I trust you, and I’m going to take a step and obey you.” And what we have to understand is that so often, understanding of what God is doing only comes after we take a step of obedience. It is after I choose to trust God and follow His direction that then I see what He is doing.
So many times, there may be moments that we have been faithfully grinding it out in discipline and faithfulness to God, and we’re not seeing the results that we think should come, but then we trust His timing that, “Lord, in your providence, this is for my good, and ultimately for your glory.” And here we see this in Paul’s life when he hears this Macedonian call.
I think it would be important for us to recognize that we are to go and allow God to work, and we could even learn some things from these Macedonian people. You can dive into this later if you would like, but if you’ve studied the ancient culture of Macedonia, which is going to lend us more toward Europe on the map, here’s what we know: There was a social failure of government (Rome at that time).
The government was corrupt. Liberty and freedom were being taken away. There were intellectual failures from Greece, with the contradictions of philosophy and the neglect of the poor and the ignorance and the follies of humanism and the worship of human nature itself. Spiritually destitute in that time. Their idea of God was polytheistic, that there are many gods and many ways. In their state of moral helplessness, we see this crying out to God for help.
See, when I read about Macedonia and I read this cry for help, it sounds an awful lot like America to me. It sounds very familiar to the world in which you and I live.
We have a generation for the first time in our history that is being raised in a post- Christian America. -in an America today where there’s a fractured government that fights for power, rather than working together; in a fractured America where there are continued threats for the loss of freedom in what’s called to be a free country, where there’s a failed educational system and there’s postmodern philosophy that prevails and screams and cries out tolerance and inclusion, rather than the exclusivity of one true, living God; when there’s moral helplessness that, instead of crying out to God, self-medicates through drugs and alcohol and gluttony.
We live in a world that’s crying out for help, and they don’t even know where to go. They’re crying out for help, and you and I stand ready and positioned to carry hope to those who are crying for help because in the hope of the Gospel and in the truth of God’s Word that we hold dear, we have hope to carry. We have the answer. Do we share it? We have the hope. Do we give it?
We must carry hope to those who are crying for help
There’s a connection from the last point to the first one. This last point, when we look at the Macedonian cry for help, it should break our hearts at the state of our world. We should have brokenness over the lostness of our city. It should break our hearts. But instead, not specifically a Calvary, but at least in the Church universally, going back to the first point, we can’t get over ourselves. We argue and gripe and complain over how, rather than keeping our eyes fixed on the what. -the mission of the Gospel.
So what do we do? We could wallow in self-pity, or we could do something about it. I am more of the vein of, let’s do something about it. See, my courage individually to speak the name of Christ and to express His love and hope through my actions and through His Word makes all the difference in my sphere of influence, and if you’re doing the same in your circle, imagine the difference it could make.
- I commit to make the mission of the Gospel greater than my preferences.
- I commit to invest in the next generation of leadership.
- I commit to carry hope to those who are crying for help.
- Disagreements are inevitable, and conflict is a reality of life. In those situations, how can we keep our eyes on Christ and remain focused on the mission? Colossians 4:10 and 2 Timothy 4:11 remind us that Paul and Mark maintained a mutual commitment to the Gospel. What can we learn from their example?
- Read Acts 16:1-5. Timothy was uniquely positioned to participate in the mission of taking the Gospel to the Gentiles. Reflect on how God has uniquely positioned and gifted you to take the Gospel to your areas of influence.