Have you been frustrated or afraid to share your faith in Christ? Perhaps you view it as a burden or a duty that you really don’t want to carry. But when we begin to pray for God to prepare the heart of our “one,” He not only hears our prayers for them, He begins to do a work in us too. We begin to feel God’s heart for the “one” to whom He has called us. Then, when we begin to look for God’s presence already at work in this “one’s” life, we begin to feel the adventure of being on mission with God. Witnessing becomes life’s greatest adventure!
In Dr. Luke’s record of the early church called the Acts of the Apostles, he recorded how the apostle Paul and his missionary team continually followed after God’s presence so they might join the Father where He was already at work. As a result, the Lord called them to carry the gospel to Macedonia where the Lord had prepared the heart of a woman named Lydia to hear the gospel and so become the first European to believe.
Below is an automated transcript of this message:Good to see all of you here this morning. Are you ready to dig in? We’re going to dig in again today with part three of our series of “Who’s Your One?” We are thankful to Pastor J.D. Greer, a good friend of mine at a Church in Raleigh, called the Summit Church. He has challenged churches in America to ask this question, “Who’s your one?” We’re interested in getting a red hot passion for sharing the gospel with the people around us. This idea of asking, “Who’s your one,” is just a way of focusing your mind. There are many people that are around us every day that need to hear the gospel. By asking the question, “Who’s your one?” it’s causing you to engage in really focusing on that person this particular time in my life that God wants to lead me to share the gospel with and to pray for.
This is what we’ve been talking about for the last couple of weeks, and today we’re going to continue that conversation. Our theme passage is found in the parable in Luke, chapter 15 where Jesus told the story about the good shepherd, who left the 99 sheep in order to go looking for the one that had gone astray. And he concludes that parable with this verse in Luke 15:7 by saying, “…there is more joy in heaven over one lost sinner who repents and returns to God than over ninety-nine others who are righteous and haven’t strayed away!” So God cares about the world. He loves the world. But the way we reach the world is one life at a time. God cares about the individual, and so should we.
We’ve been asking everyone to make a commitment during this series; to make a “Who’s your One?” commitment. The first question I would ask is, “Do you have one of these prayer journals, one of these 30-day prayer journals?” If you don’t, lift your hand, we want to give you one. We still have a few left. We have someone over here who doesn’t have one. The ushers , are moving now; leave your hand up until you get one. Anybody else? We’ve got hands popping up everywhere, so the ushers are rushing to get one to you. It’s not too late to start your journal today. I’m on day 15. I started the Monday after the series started, but don’t worry about what day it is. The journals are not really chronological or anything. It’s just a matter of saying I want to pray for this person. You get a bookmark in the 30 day prayer journal.
So right now, you know the name of the person that God’s put on your heart. It’s between you and God. You ask God and He will show you who it is He wants to reach through you. I think you’ll find this prayer journal is way more meaningful than you suspect. I know it has been for me and only takes a few minutes every day to spend some time in prayer for the person that God’s put on your heart.
So we’re asking people to make the commitment to attend all five of the sermons. If you’re here for the first time, you can go back and watch the ones that are online and catch up. Also, do the 30-day devotional, write down the name of the one on your bookmark. Pray this prayer “Lord, prepare the heart of the one I am praying for to hear and believe the Gospel. Give me the opportunity to share it.” And then “unpack” it every week in a small group, a community group. And so that’s the commitment.
Now here’s what we’ve observed as we’ve been in this series: God really has a plan for how to share the gospel. That makes it more of the adventure that it should be for us. I’ve assigned four “P” words because I’m trying to help us remember them. We talked about the which one last week, which is Prayer. Prayer is not a footnote to evangelism; it’s a priority. You begin to share the Gospel by praying for the person so that the Lord prepares them.
Today we’ll talk about the second P word, which is Presence. We’re looking for God’s presence; where he’s already at work in that person’s life. In the coming weeks, we’ll talk about sharing our faith, by God’s power, and then knowing what to proclaim, knowing what the story is that we’re supposed to be sharing with people. That is in the coming weeks.
Today we’re going to focus on looking for God’s presence. Here’s the thing we’re convinced of; that God is already at work in this world. He continually works, and he’s already at work in the life of the person that he’s called you to share with, the one He’s called you to lift up in prayer. He’s already at work there.
Here’s the question today that we want to work on, “How can we join God where he’s already at work so that we’re not trying to plow our own way, but that we go and plant the seed in the place where God is already been plowing, where He’s already been working?” This is what makes it such an adventure, because I know some of you as we’re going through this series, perhaps you’re thinking man, this is the one area that just really bums me out. I just don’t feel like I’m very good at sharing my faith. I feel like sharing my faith feels like a duty or a burden. I know I’m supposed to; I know I’m commanded to, but I just I don’t feel like I’m very good at it. Or like Randy mentioned during our time of worship, where he said he had asked his small group to give feedback on why they’re not sharing their faith. He said, several of them said, “Well, I’m afraid somebody will ask me a question that I don’t know the answer to.” Well, listen, here’s what I want to say; they definitely will ask you a question you don’t know the answer to, and may I just confess something to you? I’ve got many questions that I don’t know the answer to. Okay? Some of you will line up after the service and ask me questions I may not know the answer to. And so it’s not about whether or not all of our questions have been answered. It’s about knowing a person named Jesus Christ and following Him.
Pastor Stephen, when he was preaching the series about putting your yes on the table, was talking about not seeking the plan, but seeking the person. And so this is the thing we’re going to keep talking about today. We’re not looking for a plan; we’re looking for the person of Jesus. We’re not gonna get all of our questions answered this side of glory, so don’t let that scare you. I have a lot of questions, too, but this I know; I once was blind, but now I see. I once was lost, but now I’m found. There’s some things you do know ,so declare those things and don’t worry about things you don’t know yet. Someday, maybe you’ll know it, but for now, declare what you do know.
Today, we’re talking about God’s presence. Here’s the thing I’ve noticed; it takes the burden and the duty off when it starts feeling like an adventure looking for where God’s already working. So you’re praising God; show me where you’re already at work in this person’s life. You begin to listen for the Holy Spirit; you begin to see God in the small things and where he’s already working. But we rarely pause to do this because we’re always following our own plans. We’re always saying this is my agenda; God, come join me in my agenda. This is our tendency rather than asking God, “Where are You at work today? Where can I join you?” This takes the duty away, the burden away, and turns it into an adventure. Elizabeth Barrett Browning wrote in her poem, Aurora Leigh, “Earth is crammed with heaven and every common bush afire with God, But only he who sees takes off his shoes.” Oh, Lord, help us to see, help us to hear, help us to take off our shoes and recognize when we’re on holy ground because earth is crammed with heaven.
Remember how the Lord taught his disciples to pray? “Our Father, which art in heaven, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” He wants to do a work here and he’s already at work. How can we find it? That’s what we’re talking about today. How can we look for God’s presence already at work ?
We’re gonna be in the book of Acts today. Dr Luke wrote this book as a record of the first century church and how it got started, the great impact of the first century disciples. He especially focuses on two people, Peter and Paul, in the first part of Acts. Mostly about how God using Peter. And then he shifts to focusing on the Apostle Paul. And that’s where we’ll be today because in Luke’s book of Acts, the Apostle Paul had learned to look and listen for where the Holy Spirit was already at work and to choose to join Him there. And I believe this morning that we can do that. We can look for where God is present where He’s present at work and especially that one He’s calling us to.
How can we do that? Let’s look at the text today. I think we’ll see three ways that we can look for God’s presence in the one that He’s already at work in. Let’s look at the Book of Acts, Chapter 16. This is a wonderful story, a beautiful story; in it, we’ll see that Paul carries the gospel to Europe for the first time and we’ll see the first convert to Christianity on the European continent recorded in this story. It’s a profound story, and we’re going to learn so much by listening. Let’s dial it in now, starting at verse six, Chapter 16 of Acts (ESV), “6 And they went through the region of Phrygia and Galatia, having been forbidden by the Holy Spirit to speak the word in Asia. 7 And when they had come up to Mysia, they attempted to go into Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus did not allow them. 8 So, passing by Mysia, they went down to Troas. 9 And a vision appeared to Paul in the night: a man of Macedonia was standing there, urging him and saying, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.” 10 And when Paul had seen the vision, immediately we sought to go on into Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to preach the gospel to them. 11 So, setting sail from Troas, we made a direct voyage to Samothrace, and the following day to Neapolis, 12 and from there to Philippi, which is a leading city of the district of Macedonia and a Roman colony. We remained in this city some days. 13 And on the Sabbath day we went outside the gate to the riverside, where we supposed there was a place of prayer, and we sat down and spoke to the women who had come together. 14 One who heard us was a woman named Lydia, from the city of Thyatira, a seller of purple goods, who was a worshiper of God. The Lord opened her heart to pay attention to what was said by Paul. 15 And after she was baptized, and her household as well, she urged us, saying, “If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come to my house and stay.” And she prevailed upon us.” This is God’s word.
We’re looking for three ways on how we can look for God’s presence already at work in the one that he’s called us to share the Gospel. And so let’s focus, first of all, on the first few verses. And Here’s the first way (1) Be sensitive to the Lord’s leading. The Holy Spirit wants to lead us in the way we should go, and we’ll see this so actively in this story, perhaps as actively as any story ever recorded in the Bible. As we look, we’ll see it says they were going through the region of Phrygia and Galatia. Circle this in your text, “having been forbidden by the Holy Spirit to speak the word in Asia.” Can you imagine the Holy Spirit forbidding you to preach the gospel? That just seems odd that he would tell you to zip it. That seems opposite of what Jesus said. You know, “Go to all nations.”
Here’s Paul and his missionary party. They’re heading into new lands, and the Holy Spirit forbids them to speak. What’s going on here? Let’s look at a map because you all know something about me. What do you know? I love maps. That’s right. So let’s look at this map , and this will help us, because here’s what we tend to do. You have to admit it when you’re reading the Bible, you skip over all the place names because you don’t know how to pronounce them, and you don’t know what they’re talking about anyway. So we’re trying to help you with that because it matters. It matters because it’s in the Bible.
Here’s what’s going on in Chapter 15. In the earlier part, Paul and Barnabas are down in Jerusalem, and it’s called the Jerusalem Council. What they were studying was this question that Paul and Barnabas had brought to them. “Do the Gentiles have to follow the Mosaic law?” And the conclusion was, “No. They are saved by grace by faith alone, and they do not have to be circumcised. And they do not have to follow the Mosaic laws.” This is a very critical council.
Now Paul and Barnabas head out from Jerusalem up to the biggest church that now has the largest amount of Gentile believers in it. This is the church at Antioch in Syria. And so they go up and they make their report and the apostles sent Silas and some other men to go and verify that Paul and Barnabas had the credentials to carry this Word from the jurors on council. So that’s what they did. While they were in Antioch, the Holy Spirit called them to go out to share the gospel again. But then Paul and Barnabas had a disagreement about who to take on their team because on their first missionary journey they went through the areas of Galatia. And they’ve taken a young man named John Mark with them, who tubed out on the journey and went back home early.
Now, if you read anything and have learned a little bit about the personality of Paul, you know that Paul was hard driven. He was not taking that kid again. He tube out; Paul was not taking him again. But then, if you know something about Barnabus whose name means ‘son of encouragement,’ Barnabas encourages Paul to give him a second chance. They had a disagreement. And so Barnabus and John Mark headed over to Cypress, which was a place that Paul and Barnabas had preached before they were going to go do some follow up there. Paul picks Silas and they head out on their second missionary journey up through Galatia and Phrygia. Paul is feeling like they need to go follow up on those churches they had planted a few years ago; he wants to check on them and see how they’re doing. Paul is following a good plan. It just makes sense that you’d follow up on the flocks that you’ve planted. So that’s what they’re doing.
Paul heads up through Tarsus, a place that he grew up…(showing map of Paul’s travels here) And he stops off in Lystra because he wants to check on a young man that he had met before when they were going through there by the name of Timothy. And he decides to take Timothy with them because he will be a great addition to their team. And so they take Timothy. So now we have a three man team that we’re aware of: Paul, Silas and Timothy.
And I think Paul at that point has his eye on the great population of people in Asia Minor. Then when we think of Asia, we think of Asia over here, (pointing to map) don’t we? But during the time of the Roman Empire, when it talked about Asia it was talking about this province right here, (pointing to map), which is modern day Turkey. So when the Holy Spirit forbade Paul to go to Asia, he wasn’t talking about over here (pointing to map) . He was talking about this area which the leading city would have been Ephesus.
So at this time, it just makes sense, to go to the next area. And so as they start heading that way, (pointing to the map) the Holy Spirit forbids them to go there. Forbids; it’s kind of a strong word. How did he do it? That’s my question. How did the Holy Spirit forbid? Scripture doesn’t say. And that gives some of us a real heart attack. ‘Yeah, but I want to know how God leads, so I’ll know when he’s leading me.’ How does God do it? Well, here’s the thing. He rarely tells you in the scripture “how.” He just says “Who,” because he doesn’t want you looking for the “how.” He wants you looking for the one “Who,” which is the Lord Jesus. He wants you to listen for His spirit, the Holy Spirit. And he doesn’t do on course. He’s doing a new thing every day , and he doesn’t do the same thing that he did for the person next to you.
When he speaks to you, he speaks in a unique way that you can understand. But you have to learn to be sensitive. Listen to him; be sensitive to the Holy Spirit’s voice in your life. But how does he do it? It doesn’t say. It just says “having been forbidden by the Holy Spirit to speak the word in Asia.” And so Paul had a sense; it’s just logical to go to Asia next. It’s the’s huge cities; but the Holy Spirit does not want you to preach there.
They head toward Bithynia, right? We’re reading, and they went through the region of Phrygia and Galatia, having been forbidden by the Holy Spirit to speak the word in Asia. And when they had come to Mysia right in this area, (pointing to map) then they attempted to go into Bithynia, which is north. Let’s go up there and then what happens? The spirit of Jesus did not allow them. . Another door closes. Paul’s plans have have fallen apart. I guarantee you, he had this all sketched out. I know I would have. He’s had it all figured out. I’m going to go from here to there, and that just makes sense. I’m gonna do this. Now, if Paul’s anything like me, I would be pretty irritated by this point, and I don’t know why.
He uses a different description here that, as Luke is inspired by the Holy Spirit to write the first time, he says the Holy Spirit forbade them to go and share the word in Asia. And even as they try to go to Bithynia, it says that the spirit of Jesus would not allow them to go, which is different verbiage. It’s really the same Who, because we serve one god who is truly one god, yet three distinct persons the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. So we see the Trinity in view here. And maybe there’s something distinctive here that is trying to help us understand that maybe the Lord Jesus actually appeared to Paul. Something was different about it. Troubled as I am at this point, we still don’t know how; we just know who the spirit of God, the spirit of Christ. I get the sense he probably told Paul, but he might have told somebody else on the team.
So they kind of skirt along until they bump into the ocean and they still don’t know where they’re going. So they end up in Troas and they can’t go any farther because now they’ve run into the Aegean Sea. They went west. Here’s the thing: following the Holy Spirit is about being sensitive to the Holy Spirit.
First of all, you can’t follow him if you don’t have him. Only those who believe in Jesus have him. How do you get the Holy Spirit in your life? How do you get him? Do you have to do something special? No; the only thing you have to do is believe in Jesus. And when you believe in Jesus, he seals you with the Holy Spirit, he gives you the Holy Spirit.
Look at this verse from Ephesians 1:13 (GNT) “And you also became God’s people when you heard the true message, the Good News that brought you salvation. You believed in Christ, and God put his stamp of ownership on you by giving you the Holy Spirit he had promised.” So if you believe in Jesus, you have the Holy Spirit .
Here’s the problem for so many of us, we have him, but we don’t depend on him. And we’re not allowing ourselves to be led by him. We are still being led by the old nature or by the course of the world, which we talked about last week or by our plans, instead of being sensitive to the Holy Spirit. When we’re sensitive to him, life becomes an adventure.
Now the Holy Spirit is not against plans, but he does seem to enjoy messing them up because he has his own plans. Being led by the Holy Spirit is a mark of being a child of God. Romans 8:14 (NLT) “For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God.” It’s a mark of a child of God that they are spirit led. And when we’re spirit led, we’re not law led. In other words, we’re not following some map or method. We’re following God ; we’re not following a plan. We’re following a person. We’re not law led we are spirit led. Galatians 5:18 (ESV) But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.
I grew up using maps. I’m a map lover. I mentioned that to you before. I even taught my kids how to read maps. I taught them so well that they could even fold it back the way they found it. Have you ever tried to fold a map back? I’m asking you if you can fold back one of those old fashioned maps. If you can accordion that thing back the way you found it, you’re a genius. Some of you in my age group you know how to read maps and you probably love maps, too. But nobody reads maps today because we have something called a GPS, a global positioning system. It was invented by the US military, and it was a military app, if you will, until President Reagan in the 1980’s, after the crash of a certain civilian aircraft, ordered that it be re released to the civilian population. In 1999, the first cell phone had a GPS system actually inside of it. That’s almost 20 years ago; we’ve had GPS available to us; a lot of the Garmans and Tom Toms and a lot of things back in the day. But now we all carry one in our pocket inside our telephone.
When I’m in Uganda, my GPS works on my phone. It’s crazy. It tells me where I’m at, you know; the photo is amazing. So it’s hard to get lost with a GPS. You don’t have to read a map. You have somebody telling you, “Turn left in 50 yards….” or whatever.
But here’s the thing I want to say to you. We’ve had a God positioning system for 2000 years. We’ve had GPS for 20 but we’ve had a God positioning system for 2000 years called the Holy Spirit. He doesn’t want you following a map. He wants you to follow Him. And you have to be sensitive because he speaks with a quiet voice.
Someone after the first service came up and she said to me, “You know, I have had a bad feeling about a decision my husband was making.” I said, “ Did you tell him?” She tells me, “No, because I knew what he would say. He would say, that’s just your feelings, woman.” But she said that later her husband made a decision, and I told him about it because the right thing happened. I said, “When are you gonna learn to tell him that you feel like it’s a prompting of the Holy Spirit?” I said, “That will be a next step in the maturity of your marriage when you learn to say that something’s not right and he learns to say, “Well, let’s pray about it and let’s listen. Let’s lean in and see if that’s the Holy Spirit.”
Here’s the thing about Gary’s “noggin.” Every time I get a prompting from the Holy Spirit, I always ask “Is that me or you, Lord?” Is that me talking or is that you talking? And the first thing I’ll do is I’ll go to the scripture and make sure it’s consistent with the scripture, because the Holy Spirit never leads you contrary to His word. ‘Well, I feel like the spirit is tell me to move in and live together without getting married.’ That is not the Holy Spirit, that might be the spirit of this world. That might be your old spirit. But it isn’t the Holy Spirit because he won’t go contrary to His word. Secondly on my check list is I talk to my wife or talk to other people. Are you led by the Holy Spirit?
Here’s number two. I spent a lot of time there. I gotta go faster. I get excited. (2) Obey when you perceive the Lord’s calling. Obey when you perceive the Lord’s calling. So we need to be sensitive to the Lord’s leading. And then when we get clarity about it, when we understand where He is calling us, we need to obey. We need to do it. Let’s look at versus nine through 12 and see what’s happened. Now, if you’ll catch up with me on the map, you recognize that Paul is now bumped up against the Aegean Sea and he’s been told to zip, so he can’t preach. So I guarantee to you, he is praying.
Paul gets a vision during the night; a vision is not a dream. He’s not asleep. He has a waking vision during the night. This is our first “How” up until now. Now we got a “How,” a vision. Okay, now God doesn’t always do visions. They’re rare in the New Testament. I would admit to you I have had them too; I’m not gonna tell you about them because they’re personal. But they so shook me up that I had to talk to several people to verify that it was from God. It turns out it was from God. I’m not asking you to leave here today and look for one of these because that’s not how it works. God doesn’t do encores; visions have to be confirmed.
Paul’s at a dead end. He’s had two spiritual doors slam shut; he couldn’t go south and he couldn’t go north. He’s gone West and he’s hit the Aegean Sea. Now what, Lord? Okay, that’s where he’s at. And he gets this vision of a man of Macedonia, probably an angelic being. He appears to Paul and says, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.”
Well, what does Paul pray? Lord, where am I supposed to go? You won’t let me go south. You won’t let me give north. I’ve bumped up against the Aegean Sea. I’ve never been over here. I don’t even know anybody who’s been over here. We’re getting ready to leave the land of the Middle East . I don’t know anybody over here. God gives him a vision. What happens?
Let’s notice a couple of things that happened after he has this vision. It says in verse 10 “immediately we sought to go on into Macedonia…” We sought to go immediately. We sought to go . Let’s notice two things. First of all, immediately. Look at that word immediately. How do you obey God? Immediately. Slow obedience is no obedience. You should teach your children that. So when they grow up, they know how to follow God. They learn how to follow you; teach them to learn how to follow God. Slow obedience is no obedience. Why? Because there’s a window open. There’s a door opened for an opportunity to share the gospel. And if you don’t jump through it right now, the door closes. There’s an urgency. And when you’re following the Holy Spirit, he knows when he’s prompting someone. He knows when it’s the right moment, and he wants you to enter that door at that moment, so be obedient immediately.
Here’s the other thing you should notice. It’s a smaller item, but it’s an important detail. Notice that he’s speaking here. As Luke writes for the first time in 16 chapters, he uses the first person plural pronoun “we.” Up until now it’s always been third person, but now he includes himself in the story. So now we know we have at least a four man team. We have Paul, we have Silas. We picked up Timothy in Lystra and we don’t know when we picked up Luke, but he’s there. So Luke’s writing in the first person fashion, and he’s chosen to use the word ‘we’ here to signal to us to know he was on this trip. He can verify what happened. “We” immediately sought to go. Do you see it? Do you see what I’m talking about? In verse 10, Paul had seen the vision and “immediately we sought to go on into Macedonia.”
Then notice the next word “concluding.” “Concluding” is a thinking word here in the Greek. It’s a significant word because it it literally means “to think together on a thing.” So, in other words, Paul probably woke them up in the middle of the night. Or maybe it was before everybody went to bed. He tells them he just saw a man telling us to go to Macedonia. And then maybe Luke said, ‘I didn’t see it, but the Hoy Spirit is confirming that it’s true. ’ We’re supposed to go to Macedonia. And Timothy, he’s the young guy may have said, ‘I don’t know what you’re talking about, but I’m I’m on board. You guys are awesome. I’m glad to be with you. I am just gonna follow you guys.’ I don’t know what happened exactly. I’m just trying to get myself in the story, but they immediately conclude together. It sounds right. Sounds like God.
Here’s the thing that I’ve noticed, and I try to utilize this as much as I can . I want you to know that I don’t lead the church alone, that there’s a team of people around me that confirmed the things that God puts in my heart. So when I get a vision for something and I feel like God’s leading me, I’ll never bring it to you until I have brought it to that team and then we pray it out together. The first person I usually talk to is my wife and then I’ll go to my lead team. That’s what Paul did here.
This is how you’re confirming that the spirit is leading you, you’re doing it in community. If you’re trying to be a lone ranger Christian, you’re never going to get this, and that’s why you keep fouling up so much. You keep making so many bad decisions because you keep making them in an isolated, singular fashion without living in community with other people. But if you want to follow the calling of God and you say, “I feel like God’s calling me to Macedonia,” and then somebody next to you says, “You know what? I’ve been meaning to tell you that I’ve been thinking how God’s particularly shaped you for Macedonia, and I didn’t know how to tell you. But now that you mention it…”
Living in community is so important as you follow God’s calling on your life and listen to each other because we have the mind of Christ. 1 Corinthians 2:16 For, “Who can know the Lord’s thoughts? Who knows enough to teach him? But we understand these things, for we have the mind of Christ.” Who has the mind of Christ? Whoever has the Holy Spirit, whoever has the Holy Spirit, whoever believes in the Lord Jesus as Lord and Savior, you have a renewed mind, a transformed mind. In Romans, chapter 12, you can think the thoughts of Christ. You can know the will of God , his perfect will. You can know it and he’s not hiding it from you. He wants to reveal it to you. But you have to be sensitive to his leadership and you have to obediently move when he calls, because if you don’t, he won’t say anything else to you until you do.
Some of you are still stuck where he called you maybe years ago. And if you’d just admit it, things have been pretty dry spiritually because he’s still waiting for you to obey the last thing you told you. And so it’s time for a map.
So what do they do? They conclude together and they buy passage on a boat headed to Macedonia. This one happens to stop off in on a little island called Samothrace. So they have a little one day stay here and then it boards right here in Neapolis, which is really kind of a little seaport town for the city of Philippi, which is one of the most significant cities. Philippi was the most prominent city in the Roman colony of Macedonia. Philippi was named after Philip of Macedon, the father of Alexander the Great, who conquered it from the Thracians and named it after himself.
Philippi was a very famous city because it was the place where Antony and Octavius, who became Augustus Caesar, went and beat up Brutus and Cassius for killing Julius and had the big battle there in Philippi, so many Roman soldiers retired. There is a very influential Roman city, not Jewish at all. Very significant. This is a new kind of place for Paul and his gang. They’re not seeing a lot of Judaism here. People are starting to speak Latin and it just looks completely different from anything he’s ever seen.
My wife and I in 2013 had the wonderful privilege of visiting the ruins of Philipii. (showing a pic) This is the residual part of the road called the Via Egnatia, , which was an 800 mile long Roman road that to this day you can still walk on . And these are the ruins of Philippi along that road. It was a 10 mile walk on the Via Egnatia from Neapolis to Philipii. Pauln,Silas, Timothy and Luke no doubt walked on those very stones into the city of Philippii.
Next photo is a photo I took of the ruins from up on the Acropolis so you could get kind of a bird’s eye view of the ruins. This is the place where Paul and Silas were publicly flogged and beaten. This is the place where he carried the Gospel to Europe for the first time. This is the ancient ruins of Philipii. The places in the Bible are real. The events in the Bible are true.
In verse 12 it says, “We remained in this city some days.” So they’re there getting their bearings. It’s a foreign kind of place. They’ve never been to a city like this before. A purely Greek Roman city. And what’s Paul looking for? He’s looking for a synagogue. Guess what? He didn’t find one. He didn’t find a synagogue. You have to have at least 10 Jewish men to form a synagogue. There apparently weren’t even 10 there. And so they spent some days there in Philippi looking around, possibly wondering, ‘Okay. God, you got us here. We’re in Macedonia. Where is the man? We came here. We’re looking for him. We can’t find him.’
Ironically enough, you’ll see in just a moment that he didn’t find a man. In fact, he found a woman. Notice this in second Thessalonians. When God calls us, he makes us worthy of his call. 2 Thessalonians 1:11-12 (ESV) 11 To this end we always pray for you, that our God may make you worthy of his calling and may fulfill every resolve for good and every work of faith by his power, 12 so that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and you in him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ. See, when we get called, we often struggle and think, ‘well , how am I going to pay for the fare on the ship to get over there? How am I going to the Baltimore mission? How much does that cost? And how much time do I have to take off work? Well, how am I going do that? I am going on the New York mission with the youth; how am I gonna pay for that?’ These are the questions we ask. I hope you’ll come to understand that when God calls you, He also makes you worthy for whom he calls. He also supplies for whom he calls also enables. The reason we don’t say yes to the calling is because we think we don’t know this or we don’t know enough or we don’t have enough for, we can or we can’t.
Here is what Paul is praying for you; he is praying that God will make you understand that he’s making you worthy and that he will fulfill every resolve for good and every work of faith by his power. He’s going to do all this so that the name of the Lord Jesus may be glorified in you. That’s why he’s doing it. He’s not just doing it for you. He loves you. Sure he loves you. But the reason he’s calling you id do that Jesus will be glorified. So we want to answer this call.
Here’s number three. Here’s number three. (3) Seek to join where the Lord’s already working. Seek to join where the Lord’s already working. Remember when we were in Philippi? We’ve been spending some days. They’re getting their bearings like, ‘Why are we here? Lord? I thought, you know, you gave us a vision. You told us we can’t go there. You can’t go here. We’ve spent money. Here we are. Who are we here to talk to; isn’t that why are we here?’ They spent some days, you know.
Look in verse 13; it’s the Sabbath day. They have decided to go outside the city to the riverside. They’ve looked over the whole city, and it says they went out to the riverside where they supposed there might be a place of prayer. Now there’s another thinking word. Here’s the thing. The reason I keep underlining the thinking words is that following the Holy Spirit does not mean you negate your thinking life. You have the mind of Christ. He’s given you the word of God. He’s transforming your thinking so that you can know His will and sofollowing The Holy Spirit is a cooperation between your thinking and your following. It’s not to the exclusion of either one. It’s a both and not an either. I’m teaching you how to follow the Holy Spirit. I’m teaching about how to follow the adventure that he wants to invite you on so that you’re no longer leading that boring, meaningless life that we tend to lead when we follow our own plans.
He wants you to have a passion for lost people, and he wants you to engage it by seeing how he’s already at work. And there’s nothing like joining him where he’s already at work. It is the Sabbath day; normally they would look for a synagogue, but there isn’t one. Let’s go down by the river because sometimes Jewish people in a city like this they’ll go where they can at least do ritual cleansing and maybe get somewhere off to themselves where it won’t offend anybody. And maybe they would build themselves a little place of prayer. In the Greek, it is a proseucha (“place of prayer”). They’re not just “hanging out” by the river. It’s a place of prayer which means they would build a little something that wouldn’t have walls or a roof; it would be like a little amphitheatre next to a stream. They would build some seating and have a little space. And so they were looking for a place a prayer
When they get there, they find one, and there’s only women attending. It’s an all women’s service down by the river, outside the city of Philippi. Where is the man of Macedonia? Well, it turns out, the man of Macedonia is a woman named Lydia. Maybe Paul turned to the other guys and said, ‘The only thing I see is those women sitting down there praying.’ Maybe Timothy said, ‘Well, maybe the Holy Spirit didn’t mean it literally.’ I don’t know how they’re talking about it. I think it was an angel of Macedonia that was the man of Macedonia who was giving the message. ‘Come and help us,’ which is plural, which is men and women and everybody who need to hear the gospel in Macedonia. So, they’re over there and they see these women down there.
What doesPaul do? Well, let’s look at verse 13, “We (there’s Luke , including himself in the story) sat down and spoke to the women who had come together.” We finally get to talk. We’ve been traveling a long time, but now is the time. This is why you’re here. The window is open; talk. That’s your part. That’s your part. Don’t miss it. It’s time for you to talk about what? Sit down and talk about Jesus. Sitting down means he’s joined the group. He didn’t stand over them and you sit down with them. They were probably blown away that this very highly educated man joined them. Perhaps Lydia had been praying and praying and praying that God would send somebody. They go out there and they find Lydia. The record here is pretty specific. We find out a lot about this woman, this first convert in Europe. Her name is Lydia. Luke recorded many details about her. She was from the city of Thyatira which just so happened to be from Asia Minor. It’s one of the seven cities that Jesus had letters sent to in the Book of Revelation. It was known for the fact that the people there would go out to sea and gather this little animal from the sea that they could extract a purple dye from, and it was very expensive to acquire and very expensive to have purple colored clothes and so this is usually equated with the wealthy, and it came to be equated with royalty. That purple was a royal color because it was so expensive. And here’s this woman named Lydia, who is a seller of this to the city of Philipii n the area of Masadon. This is a woman of means, something you wouldn’t bump into in the Middle East, but in Greek society it was allowed. She’s an influential woman, the head of her house. How do we know that? Because her whole household was saved and baptized. She’s a wealthy woman because she invited the whole missionary team to come and live with her and she would provide room and board for them. Probably a widow, perhaps, but we’re uncertain. Probably the first church in Europe was at her house in the city of Philipii.
This woman, so many details mentioned about her and one important detail was she was a worshipper of God. This means she wasn’t Jewish. She was like Cornelius, the Roman centurion. She was a Ggod fearing woman who had no doubt been praying, ‘God, I want to know you. I want to know you and God shut this door, that door.’ God called the Apostle Paul and pulled him all the way to the city of Macedonia. Is he gonna let Paul preach to an atheist later? You better believe it. He’s going to spend three years over there in Asia Minor later.
But he doesn’t want him there now. Right now, he wants him at this little place of prayer on this little river outside of Philipii, at that very moment, at that very time and on that very day. That’s what God wanted and Paul obeyed.
And Lydia, here’s the most important detail about her. God opened her heart when Paul was teaching. Do you see it? Do you see it down there? Let me see in verse 14. The Lord opened her heart to pay attention. Are you paying attention? She didn’t just hear it, but she was listening. God opened her heart. What was Paul’s part? To be sensitive to the Holy Spirit, to obey is His calling and to share where he saw God at work. Where do you see God at work?
Outside the city of Philippii, it’s nothing like in the Middle East where you’d see these big gatherings in these big synagogues. There wasn’t even one synagogue in this town. But he finds these women here and he starts talking to him and they believe and every one of them gets baptized. That’s what the adventure of following Jesus is like if we were to start being sensitive to the Holy Spirit and answer his call immediately when he gives it to us and then start looking. Start looking for where he’s already at work.
Whenever I was in the ruins of Philipii, I wanted to find this little river. (pic shown) I wanted to see it with my own eyes because I knew this story. And so I found this little amphitheater that’s been built in the last 50 years where there’s a little church over here, and they’ve built this amphitheater around the river where Lydia and her household were baptized. And maybe it’s kind of a way of thinking about what that place may have looked like. That Lydia had paid to have built that little place of prayer; it wouldn’t have walls or a roof, because that would have drawn too much attention to it and gotten them in trouble, perhaps especially because there were no male leaders. So they just kind of kept it simple and off the radar down next to the river. And so they kind of followed that method here, (pic shown) and you can see here where they’ve built a baptistry in the ancient Greek fashion.
Go to the next slide; they built it in the shape of a cross. You have steps going down from either side, and this is the way you’ll see baptistries all over Greece if you go and visit there today. My little wife stuck her foot in the photo right there, didn’t she? Go to the next slide and you can see stones. Ancient stones laid there by the Romans. That’s where the Via Egnatia is. You crossed over the little river here where Lydia was baptized. I can still remember standing here and putting my hands on these stones and touching them and thinking about Paul sitting here in silence with Timothy, Luke and Lydia.
And as you look at this next slide, I want you to picture just the sound of the water bubbling by and just thinking about Lydia, the first convert in Europe. I’m glad that God told Paul to go to Europe and to share the Gospel. And so the gospel exploded. It crossed the European continent, starting with a woman named Lydia who said, “If you believe I’m faithful, come to my house and stay.” And so she apparently made a big deal about it. And they did. They went and stayed there.
Later, they delivered a demon from a girl who could tell the future; this got him in trouble with some local Romans who brought him before the magistrate and got him publicly flogged and beaten. He got thrown in jail and God sent an earthquake to set him free. And they ended up leading the Philippian jailer and his whole household to Christ. He got saved, and then they got out and they said, ‘We’re not gonna leave here until you come and apologize because I’m a Roman citizen.’ So the magistrate was fearful and scared, they said they were sorry and shouldn’t have done it . And guess where he goes.
If you look at the conclusion of this chapter, it gets us back to Lydia’s house. In other words, Lydia, even though she’d seen them publicly flogged, these were the people who brought Jesus to them. She didn’t balk. She didn’t. She didn’t turn him away. They came and stayed there and got their wounds cleansed and nd they met with the Brethren there because a church was already forming. Why? Because they were sensitive to the Holy Spirit; because they obeyed immediately when He called. And then when they got there, that kept looking for many days until they found where God was already at work. And then they sat down and did their small part. What was their small part? Telling about Jesus. God did the rest.
When was the last time you sat down and spoke with someone far from God? Sometimes I go out. I sat down every Thursday night at the coffee shop with a young man that was attending our church , who claimed to be an agnostic. And I said, That’s great. I love agnostics. Let’s talk. And every week I would sit down with him and try to answer some of his questions. I usually couldn’t answer all of them because they were too hard. Nobody knows the answers to all those questions. I would just tell him, “You know, I just see the Kingdom in your eyes. I think someday all your questions are going to come to nothing and you’re gonna believe in Jesus.” Instead of sitting there telling them what a bad person he was, I kept telling him how much God loved him. And you know what happened? He came to Christ and later joined our church, Later I married him and his wife. They live up north now and have two beautiful children. You know, it’s just a matter sometimes of just sitting down.
Some years ago, I was at a Whirligig festival, and we had next to our tent a Hispanic group that was that was selling chicharones there. This elderly man in his sixties was talking with them. He’s arguing about something. And I came over. I said, “Is there a problem?” He said “No, I’m just telling them these aren’t real chicharones.” And I said, “Well, my name’s Gary, you know, I’m the pastor at the church. Glad to have you here.” He said, “Well, you know, I’m just being hard to get along with. I’m from New Jersey, you know.” I said, “So tell me your story.” He said, “You don’t want to hear my story. I’m an agnostic.” I said, “I love agnostics.” And I just told him, I said, “Let’s just start hanging out.” We hung out for about three months and he just ran out of questions. I think I just wore him out. I just kept meeting with him, telling him this, “Jesus loves you. He brought you here. I know this.” I just whaat tell him what I know. I don’t tell him what I didn’t know. Because how are you gonna tell somebody what you don’t know? Just tell them what you do know. And then God opens their heart, and he’s a believer. We baptized him and his wife.
I don’t know when you’re going to sit down and speak with that “One” or where you are going to do it. It’s so, so awesome. So wonderful. Do it when the spirit prompts you. Obey when he calls, Look for where he is already at work. Join the adventure. Look for God’s presence in your life.
Let’s pray. God, First of all, I pray for the one that’s here this morning that you’re at work in. We know every Sunday you bring people here that are seekers like Lydia was before she heard the gospel. Is it you? Are you that person today? You’ve been seeking for something, something more, something better? Something higher. Is that you? Would you pray right now to receive Jesus as your savior? That’s who you’ve been looking for. You’re the one that he’s looking for. Pray like this, “Dear Lord Jesus, I am a sinner. I need a savior. I believe you died on the cross for my sins, that you were raised from the grave, that you live today. Come and live in me. Make me the person you want me to be. I want you to be my lord and savior. Make me a child of God. If you’re praying that prayer right now believing the Lord will save you That’s what he wants. He wants you. Others are here today and you know the Lord is your savior. But you want to repent today. Say “Lord, forgive me for following my own plans, doing my own thing. And I know you saved me for a purpose and I just get so caught up in the busyness of life. Lord, help me to be sensitive to your spirit. Help me to abide and be led by your spirit. Lord, I know that you’re constantly seeking those who are lost. Help me to start seeing those who have gone astray; give me eyes for that. Give me a heart for that Lord, I want to be sensitive to your spirit. I want to be led by your spirit today. Today, starting today, I want that to be me. We pray all this in Christ’s name. Amen.