Summary: Sometimes it’s difficult to see the worth of our work. But God is there to encourage.
“And the Lord said to Paul in the night by a vision, ‘Do not be afraid any longer, but go on speaking and do not be silent; for I am with you, and no man will attack you in order to harm you, for I have many people in this city’.” (vs 10)
When I preached from chapter 15 a few weeks ago, I asserted that the times God seems to be most directly active and working in His children’s lives coincides with times they are most active in service for Him, and most often when they are in some time of trouble because of that service.
Now let me be clear; I believe God is significantly active in all His children’s lives at all times. It is the times we need help and encouragement that we ourselves are most aware of His activity, for He makes Himself known then for exhortation or encouragement’s sake.
Think of the states of mind of some in the Bible who have had personal visits from Him and you’ll see what I mean. Hagar and Ishmael in the desert, Jacob about to be confronted by Esau, Jeremiah upon learning that even his own father and brothers were plotting against him, the two grieving disciples on the road to Emmaus, are some examples.
As I have said in the past, I don’t believe there are a great many instances of God appearing to people in visions simply because He is pleased by faith and sight does not require faith. But I also believe, because I see in scripture and have seen in my own experience, that He is faithful to meet His children’s needs when they arise.
I’ve repeated a story in the past told by Oral Roberts, who said he had a dream that he was at an altar rail praying with several other men whom he did not know. In his dream Jesus was walking down the line and as He came to each man He raised him to his feet and gave him a hug, but as He passed by Reverend Roberts He simply caught his eye and smiled.
Oral Roberts said he asked Jesus, ‘Lord, why did you hug those men but only smile at me?’ and the Lord replied, ‘Because you only needed the smile.’
Think what you will of Robert’s theology, I see no reason to doubt the occurrence of his dream and he had a point.
Jesus will meet us where we are and His benefits to us will be in perfect proportion to our need.
So, in our text today we see Jesus coming to His Apostle in the night by a vision to meet a need that we otherwise might never have been aware of. To get a sense of the burden that must have been on Paul’s heart and mind, let’s back up a step and get a sort of panoramic view of the events of his recent past.
COURAGEOUS MEN IN PERILOUS PLACES
Following the Jerusalem Council, recorded in chapter 15, Paul is raring to make the rounds to all the places he and Barnabas have been, to check on the brethren there and strengthen the churches. But there’s a glitch. Barnabas wants to take John Mark along and Paul doesn’t think he’s ready for it since he deserted them earlier in Pamphylia.
They have a strong disagreement over this. Not just a quiet debate. The language used in those final verses of chapter 15 indicates a red-faced, door-slamming sort of disagreement.
Paul, the hardened soldier, isn’t going to trust his back to someone who has failed him in the past. I can identify with that. As a police officer going into potentially dangerous situations, there were some officers that I wanted coming in behind me, and there were others I wanted in front of me so I could keep an eye on them. There were still others that I hoped would not show up at all.
Barnabas the encourager, on the other hand, wanted to give his cousin John Mark another chance.
Now commentators have their speculations about all the side issues that may have been involved, and I’ve heard preachers talk about what a hot-head Paul was, or how Barnabas should have submitted to the authority of a chosen Apostle.
I don’t want to get into all that here. I’d like to just point out that the perils we face in service to Christ are not always physical. In fact many times they are spiritual, and a rift with a brother or sister in the work can be as discouraging and spiritually exhausting as a beating with a rod.
So I will point out that out of this unpleasant moment God brought victory, in that now instead of one mission trip there were two going on. Furthermore, we know from Paul’s later epistles that there was eventual reconciliation with Barnabas (I Cor 9:6), and John Mark was later a great help to Paul in ministry (Col 4:10, II Tim 4:11).