OUR GOD GUIDES/GIVES GOSPEL GROWTH
May 28, 2006 - EASTER 7 - Acts 16:6-10
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Dear Fellow-Redeemed and Saints in the Lord:
Today we continue with Paul on another missionary journey. We have looked at the fact that the gospel message brings great joy and rejoicing for believers. We have also looked at the fact in the past few weeks, that God’s gospel was meant not just for the Jews but also the Gentiles. Today, we add to those great truths the fact that God’s word is powerful. This is underlying in every sermon. This fact is the underlying power in our Christian faith that our faith and our Christian living are founded on the power of God’s word. That power is there, because God says it is there.
Our first Bible quotation is from Isaiah 55:11; but in verse 10 says: "As the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return to it without watering the earth and making in bud and flourish, so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater." That is a mystery, isn’t it? Even scientists today really cannot fully explain the fact that a seed is put into the ground; it dies; and yet produces crops--more seeds abundantly. Oh, they have some technical terms for certain processes that take place. This is a mystery, and we know that as we plant a garden or our crops. How amazing it is year after year from much is produced from just one seed that is put into the ground. That is power, the power not of nature, the power of not a mystery; but it is the power of God as he provides for us in this world. Then he carries over that comparison of a seed to the power of his word. Isaiah 55:11: "So is my word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it" (Isaiah 55:11). We will see once again that this morning God’s word and its power achieves the purpose for which he sent it. We are going to study that fact with the theme:
OUR GOD GUIDES GOSPEL GROWTH/OUR GOD GIVES GOSPEL GROWTH
I. From one place
II. Into many places
I. FROM ONE PLACE
Now where is that one place when God’s gospel began to grow? We are on the Sunday after Ascension. In between this Sunday after Ascension and the Sundays before, we have the Sundays of Easter. During that time we get to hear over and over again the preciousness of the fact that Christ lived, died and was buried, and rose again. As we hear that message and read the accounts of Scripture, we see really that gospel began to grow from Jerusalem. When Jesus ascended into heaven, the disciples stood there looking and wondering. The angel had to come and say, "Your Savior has gone to heaven, but will return in the same way. Go back to Jerusalem and wait for the gift that he has promised you." Of course, that gift was the Holy Spirit. (We are going to talk about that next Sunday on Pentecost.)
Jesus also told his disciples, "Wait for that gift in Jerusalem where the gospel will begin and then be spread to the ends of the earth. God guided the growth of the gospel, and God gave growth to the gospel. It began in this time of history with Jesus who came here to preach the message of salvation. Jesus was put to death. His enemies, the scribes and Pharisees, the leaders of the church, thought that was the end of that rebellious radical; but Jesus came back to life.
God gave growth to the gospel. That one man Jesus came back to life and appeared to his disciples in the upper room, and God gave growth to the gospel among his twelve disciples. God gave growth to the gospel as it spread from Jerusalem to the ends of the earth. God gave growth to the gospel in this one man Paul who on his way to Damascus found out that God wanted him to proclaim Christ and not persecute Christ. God gave growth to the gospel. God guides that growth of the gospel with the power of his word, nothing more, nothing less. They put Jesus to death, but this didn’t stop the gospel. During Paul’s first missionary journey, which we talked about the last few weeks, he was expelled him from the cities. The early disciples were driven out. Enemies of the cross of Christ stoned Paul but could not extinguish the gospel.
The reality is the Gospel begins in that one place that is most important of all--the heart of a human being. It is the Lord God Almighty. As Ezekiel says, "God changes our hearts of stones into hearts of flesh by the power of his word." It is in that one place that the gospel of God and Christ is planted. Then it takes root and springs up and bears abundant fruit. Peter writes in his letter: "For you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God" (1 Peter 1:23). There is the one place that the gospel is planted, and there is the one place that the gospel then comes forward.
When we look at the apostle Paul we realize what a great blessing he was for the spread of Christianity. But there were also others instrumental is spreading God’s gospel. With Paul on this journey were Timothy and Silas. Barnabas and Mark were making another journey at this same time. In the journeys of life, you and I today are the Paul’s and the Barnabas’s, the Silas’s, the Mark’s, the people who have been given God’s gospel. This gospel has started in one place – our hearts. From the book of Romans he tells how it begins in that one place. It can’t just stay there; but as the word is planted in our hearts and as that power is there through the word and sacraments, then it comes out. In Romans 10: "That if you confess with your mouth, ’Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved" (Romans 10:9,10). So God made his Gospel grow by planting his gospel in our heart. It takes a lot of nourishing, a lot of studying God’s word and reading and hearing it that it would grow. It can be easy for us to keep God’s seed and plant hidden away. God says as his gospel grows in our hearts we cannot help ourselves. It grows and we then know that Christ Jesus died for our sins. That becomes so important and so precious that we confess it with our mouths. We know and believe (as our second Scripture lesson told us) that God is love. He lives in us. Because he lives in us, we love one another. That love for one another is seen as we share the gospel.
Miracle of miracles is this fact of a seed that dies and grows into plants producing many seeds. God uses that imagery and picture for our understanding of the power of the gospel. It is a miracle that any of us would know Christ is our Savior. We are born as enemies of God with a sinful nature. But God guides his Gospel growth. God gives his gospel growth and tells us how in the familiar words of Ephesians: "For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith--and this from not yourselves, it is the gift of God--not by works, so that no one can boast" (Ephesians 2:8,9). It could be easy for us to boast and say, "I know the Savior" or "I am not as bad as those who don’t know." It is purely by God’s divine, free and undeserved grace that we are saved. We soon realize that those who aren’t saved need to see salvation spring from our hearts and our lips and our lives.
God gives gospel growth from one place--from our hearts, from our lives into many places.
II. INTO MANY PLACES
Paul made that first missionary journey. The map shows the towns that were there--Lystra, Iconium, and Derbe. On Paul went on his second missionary journey to encourage them. It started at Antioch in Syria as Paul began by taking the trip across land. On Paul’s first missionary journey, Derbe was the town where he was stoned and left for dead. Instead of going home to Tarsus where he grew up which was about 70 miles, he went back to Lystra, Iconium and Antioch to encourage the believers. In verse before our text today: "So the churches were strengthened in the faith and grew daily in numbers." This was because God was going to guide the gospel growth. Paul is going back. He went to Derbe, Lystra, Iconium and Antioch.
Now our text says: "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." The Lord is not going to let them get into Asia. We don’t know why, or we don’t know how Paul knows; but he knows. Verse 7: "When they came to the border of Mysia, they tried to enter Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus would not allow them to." They sort of are traveling between the borders of these countries. They can’t get into either place. So what are they going to do? Verse 8: "So they passed by Mysia and went down to Troas." Troas is located on the edge of the Aegean Sea.
CHECK A MAP OF PAUL’S SECOND MISSIONARY JOURNEY
What do you suppose Paul is thinking? He couldn’t get into Asia or Bithynia or Mysia; so he goes to the coast. He already knows that he wants to go west. He wanted to go into Europe. Greece is on the edge of Europe. Paul wants to broaden his missionary journey, but the Lord does not allow him until a vision: "During the night Paul had a vision of a man of Macedonia standing and begging him, ’Come over to Macedonia and help us.’" We would say that it is in northern Greece today. They were not just asking, but begging. Maybe Paul even had that same dream a couple of times during the night. Verse 10: "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." The original says that they (Paul, Silas and Timothy) agreed together to go to Macedonia to preach the Gospel to them. (It helps to see all these places on the map. Some are regions, some countries, and some are cities.) God gave the growth of the gospel, and God guided the growth of the Gospel. Paul listened.
Today, God guides the growth of the gospel. We are at a little disadvantage in the fact that God doesn’t speak so direct to us with visions, where he says we need to go to: Japan or Africa or Russia. But we are able to go as we prayerfully consider people who need to hear the Gospel. We are blessed in our Synod as we send in our mission commitments. In these past two weeks congregations and schools called graduating men and women to teach and preach in the United States and but throughout the world. On the bottom of the teachers’ list, there are ten people going to teach English in China. Five more are going to other foreign fields because people are saying, "Come help us." God has given us that opportunity. In Luke 24: "And repentance and forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things" (Luke 24:47,48). We are witnesses of God’s great power. We are witnesses of the power of God’s word that changed men’s lives. He has changed our lives. The simple message is that repentance and forgiveness of sins needs to be heard, not only here, but also to the ends of the earth.
We are the witnesses. We are the ones called to go in to the ends of the earth. "And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come" (Matthew 24:14). The message is no longer reserved for just a few chosen people, not just for the children of Israel, but for the Gentiles over the face of the entire world. Then the end will come. We see some of the signs of the end times. God’s word is getting to the ends of the world. We try to understand this: who is calling to come and help them? As some have noted, we don’t necessarily have to go to the ends of the earth. The ends of the earth are coming to the United States. We are one of the last few countries in the world that many people really want to come to and live.
God has blessed us with many opportunities. People still cry, "Come over and help us." Where might that be? We try. We have people at the Senior Citizen’s Center with whom we sing, the group homes and the nursing home. We have our prison where I believe there is the most need, people who need help. "Come help us." They know nothing about Christ or forgiveness. Our nation is changing; people don’t speak our language; and they would say, "Come help us." We don’t always have a vision like Paul to see who needs the most help or whom we can help. The greatest opportunities are within our own communities wherever we might be. There are opportunities we take as a congregation, as a Synod, and as a body of believers throughout the world when people say, "Come help us."
We have the comparison of the seed and the plant that grows. When the people asked what the kingdom of God was like, Jesus told them: "It is like a mustard seed, which is the smallest seed you plant in the ground. Yet when planted, it grows and becomes the largest of all garden plants, with such big branches that the birds of the air can perch in its shade" (Mark 4:31,32). During the time of Jesus this was the smallest seed they used. When planted, it grows and becomes the largest of all garden plants with such big branches that the birds of the air can perch in its shade. So God’s kingdom has spread. It is not just in Jerusalem anymore. There are not just twelve disciples anymore. It is more than just 120 followers. There are millions upon millions, because this mustard plant has shaded them which Christ calls the kingdom, his church. The mustard plant in Jesus’ time grew ten feet tall and was a big plant. You can see where a ten-foot-tall plant would provide shade where people would gather for protection from the heat of the day. God’s kingdom has grown because of the power of God’s word.
God gives gospel growth. We may not always see that at first, because it begins at the one spot in the believers’ heart. It may take a time before God’s gospel springs out. But it is there. Then, once planted, God gives gospel growth, and God guides gospel growth. It goes from that one place--a believer’s heart into many places into other believer’s hearts and then places throughout the world unto the ends of the earth.
At times we try to figure out where God wants to give the growth, and sometimes we are disappointed. We don’t need to be. Paul also wanted to go to Bithynia, Mysia and Asia and could not go there. These were a lot of places, but God called him to Macedonia. God knows; and he reminds us that as we are given that power of the gospel, what a blessed opportunity and privilege to share that gospel as we let people know about the forgiveness of sins. Paul, we might say in the midst of all the discouragements, was always joyful and always encouraging. Paul says in Corinthians: "Therefore, my dear brothers, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain" (1 Corinthians 15:58). He is right. It was not in vain. Paul ended up in prison, ended up dying for the sake of the Gospel; but it was not in vain. Paul gave up his successful career to live in poverty and to be persecuted and stoned and shipwrecked and beaten. It was not in vain. Paul simply gave himself fully to the work of the Lord. God gave Gospel growth from one place into many places. He still does so today by using us. Amen.
Pastor Timm O. Meyer
Sunday radio broadcast @ 9:05am on KQNK 106.7FM or 1530AM + www.kqnk.com
Easter 7 readings: ACTS 1:15-26; 1 JOHN 4:13-21; JOHN 17:11-19