Acts 16:1-15


Pastor Donna Olsen

August 12, 2018

Acts 16:1-15

In the name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen Jesus said, “Come.” His disciples followed him – to Caesarea Philippi in northern Israel: a pagan worship site if there ever was one. At that place, Jesus asked his disciples, “Who do people say that I am?”  One of them answered, “Elijah.”  That’s an amazing answer. To Christians, Elijah is a Hebrew Scriptures prophet who was faithful to God. And that’s true. But to a Jew, Elijah is more than that. Elijah’s intense, passionate commitment to God – was what the Jews would think about as they remembered Elijah. He gave everything he had for God. So, if people were confusing Jesus for Elijah, they must have seen Jesus as a man of intense devotion to the Lord. Just as Elijah’s disciples had that same intense passion for God that their teacher had, so, too, did Jesus’ first disciples. So, too, did Paul and Barnabas.  So, how do Jesus’ disciples translate that commitment, that total devotion – to a Greek culture? Remember last week it was important to know – that the word ‘gentile’, rather than meaning “Christian,” meant non-Jew. And usually that meant “pagan.” In the New Testament, we sometimes hear the words gentile and Greek used interch

angeably. The Greek culture was, for the most part, a culture that worshipped idols; many gods. And it was a culture that also worshipped the human being – the human body – especially the body in motion (think: Greek Olympic games). The Greek and the Roman cultures – were not cultures that worshipped the One, true God. And the Greek and Roman cultures extended far beyond their borders – to much of the New Testament world. How, then, does the early Church translate the passion for our Lord – into Greek and Roman cultures – cultures where leisure and pleasure and the self – were the order of the day? The apostle Paul was a great leader of the Christian Church. He was a great writer,preacher, teacher, and church planter. When we think of Paul, we think of cities: Corinth. Antioch. Thessalonica; and at the end of Paul’s life, Rome itself. But God sent Paul first – to Galatia, a Roman province in what is now Turkey. It was here that Paul preached that Messiah had come. It was here that Paul found an unlikely disciple. Let’s walk in Paul’s footsteps on his first mission trip through the Galatian countryside. (Got on your comfortable shoes?). Good, let’s go.As we walk with Paul, we wonder: Why would Paul come here? Well, remember that Paul had been in Antioch (last week?). And initially they loved Paul there. Then there was opposition from some Jews, and some gentiles. So, Paul left – and went to Iconium. The story was the same there. The people listened – some loved it. But folks came to Paul from Antioch (so far away!), to cause trouble for Paul in Iconium. There was a plot to stone Paul. So Paul and Barnabas fled to Lyconia – walking a couple hundred miles across the beautiful countryside of Galatia, passing small villages where Paul may have taught.  It’s time for us to ask: Who was this Paul? He was a Jewish rabbi, trained by the most famous rabbi of all time.  One day Paul met Jesus on the road to Damascus, when Paul was on his way to persecute Christians there. And his encounter with Jesus was life-changing for Paul. So life-changing, that now Paul needed a rabbi. And that rabbi – was Barnabas. Paul needed Barnabas to interpret the Bible for him – in a new way, according to Messiah Jesus. Paul needed to be a disciple – a student – all over again. They went into the desert so Paul could learn about God’s salvation message through Jesus Christ. Paul needed to be a disciple first – if he was going to teach about Jesus the Savior. And the Holy Spirit certainly seemed to be moving Paul to do just that. After his discipleship with rabbi Barnabas, they set out on their first mission trip – with a fire in their hearts.On their first mission trip. Paul goes from city to city – and every time – there’s trouble. Paul hurries to the next city. He’s on fire with the message of God’s salvation through Jesus Christ. And there’s no stopping him – no stopping him. On this first mission trip, a very important event is about to happen – in the middle of nowhere – the countryside of Galatia. Let’s look. Paul, Barnabas and other disciples walked and walked. Their destination was well off the main road. Their destination was – a hill. About 2,000 people lived on this hill, about 4 – 5 acres in size. Lysta. This was Lystra. Paul walked hundreds of miles through Lyconia – to get to Lystra. This city was rural and small. Today there’s an occasional shepherd or small village. But the city of Lystra from Bible times – is gone.   Why did Paul go to such an out-of-the-way place – to tell the story of Jesus? What drove him to Lystra? Was it the Holy Spirit? Maybe Paul didn’t even know! But an event was about to happen in Lystra that would have a great impact on the early Christian Church. We need to find out.

In Acts 14, we learn that in Lystra, Paul healed a crippled man. The crowd saw this – and said, “The gods have come down, in human form.” The people believed that Paul and Barnabas were gods of Greek mythology.But Paul and Barnabas tore their clothes, and said, “We are only men – bringing good news.”    What happened next? Some troublemakers from Antioch, hundreds of miles in Paul’s past – had followed Paul – to Lystra! That’s how intent they were on putting an end to Paul’s message –and ending Paul!  These troublemakers from Antioch won over the crowd. The crowd dragged Paul, and stoned him outside of town, and left him for dead. Paul was stoned at Lystra.After the disciples gathered around the battered Paul, Paul got up – and went back to Lystra. That to me is one of the most amazing passages in Scripture! Stoned and left for dead, Paul gets up and goes back to Lystra – to tell the people more! Talk about having the fire of Elijah!

In Lystra, there’s another story. We can’t be sure of all the details, but it seems to have happened this way:There is a Jewish woman, who had a child with a pagan man – a Greek, we’re told: the father is a non-Jew. The Jewish mother may have very well brought the baby boy to the rabbi – when the baby was 8 days old, which was the tradition. The rabbi probably said, “Sorry, but you know the Torah – the religious law. This baby is a half-breed. I cannot circumcise him. It’s forbidden. Your union with a non-Jew is not legal. And this boy cannot enter the synagogue community. He is an outsider from the Jewish community.”    I can just hear the mother, if she had the courage, saying to the rabbi, “But, my boy did nothing wrong.” And the rabbi may have answered, “But you did.”One day, in Lystra, this boy, Timothy, saw Paul. And Timothy listened to Paul. Did Timothy see Paul get stoned? I wonder. Did Timothy see Paul come back to Lystra? I wonder. Did Timothy want to follow Paul? I wonder.Well, Paul left Lystra –and came back – 4 times! Maybe even Paul was wondering, “Why do I keep coming back here? What is the Holy Spirit doing with me?”Paul was looking for disciples. One day he walked over to Timothy. “I’m Paul,” he may have said. “Are you Timothy? I want you to follow me.”What did Timothy say? Maybe: “I’m a half-breed. I don’t belong in synagogue life.”Can’t you just hear Paul say: “Half-breed? Not to Jesus! In Christ there is no longer Jew or Greek, rich or poor, man or woman. Timothy, I think you could be like me. I can use you. Come.”  That kid, Timothy, left with Paul, and for many years did not leave Paul’s side. Remind you of any other disciples? How about those fishermen from Bethsaida – who left their vocation and city to follow Jesus? They didn’t leave his side for 3 years. They had a fire in their bellies for Jesus. Timothy had the fire, too. On this first mission trip, in Troas, Luke joins the party for the first time. And Paul receives his call to cross to Europe. It is tempting to think that LUKE may have been the Macedonian man in Paul’s dream. Luke’s hometown may have been Phillipi. (We can ask Luke in heaven – if it still matters to us then!) In each place Paul visited, he usually went to the synagogue. But in Phillipi, there was simply a group of women meeting for prayer. The church at Phillipi would bring to Paul’s ministry loving and faithful support – and unfailing concern. It was the source of much joy for Paul. And the church at Phillipi all began – with Lydia’s response to Paul and his disciples. Lydia – a businesswoman who was brought to faith in Phillipi. (I can’t wait to meet her in heaven, also!) Paul made many churches and many disciples in his ministry in the gentile world. Paul wanted, in every way, to be like the rabbi Jesus. Look at how far he went – to Lystra – 4 times – to find that kid – and make that kid a disciple. Think of what that meant to Timothy.    Timothy is no different from us – we are all outsiders. We are all nobodies. And God came a long way – to the +cross and back – to find us and bring us home.

Our call as Jesus’ disciples is no different from that of the first disciples:

+ give everything you’ve got to follow Jesus.

+ Look for the outsiders. Find one. Be his or her mentor. + Show them what they are looking for.

+ Nurture them in their faith and love of Jesus.

Paul could not have found a more powerful disciple than Timothy. He learned from Paul that no one is an outsider; that whoever is in Jesus – must walk as Jesus walked – wherever it leads. Amen!