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King Jesus

For the last several weeks we have been looking at Paul’s second missionary journey. So far on this journey, Paul (along with Silas & Timothy) had revisited all of the churches that Paul had planted during his first missionary journey. Then after that, being joined by Dr. Luke in Troas, they went on to Macedonia to preach the Gospel to those who had never heard the Good News about Jesus!

Their first stop was in Philippi – and the first person who accepted their message was a woman named Lydia. After hearing the Gospel, she and her whole household believe in Christ and were baptized. From that point on, she invited Paul & his team to stay at her home – and it appears that her home become the central meeting place for the newly planted church in that city.

However, not all was smooth sailing for this missionary team. Before long a slave girl – who was a fortune teller empowered by a demon – began following them around the city, shouting after them. This went on for some time until finally, in the name of Jesus, Paul commanded the demon to leave the slave girl – and the demon immediately obeyed. This was wonderful news for this girl – who was now freed from the grip of this demon – but it was terrible news for the slave girl’s owners who had made a lot of money from her fortune telling!

Well, these slave owners stirred up the whole city against Paul & Silas – and the city officials had them beaten and thrown into prison. 

And we didn’t talk about this last week, but you might have noticed that we’re only told that Paul & Silas were beaten and thrown into prison – there was no mention of Timothy or Luke being taken as well. This is probably because Paul & Silas were Jews, but Timothy and Luke were Greek. As we noted last week, the city of Philippi was a Roman colony and as such, their Roman’ loyalties were very strong. Of course, this also meant that they reflected Rome’s unfavourable view of Jews at this time. The emperor Claudius had just expelled all the jews from the city of Rome because he saw them as rebellious, trouble-makers. And so it’s easy to see how the city of Philippi (as a Roman Colony) could quickly be convinced that Paul & Silas were some of those rebellious trouble-makers as well!

But of course, being beaten up and thrown into prison was no hinderance to the ministry of Paul & Silas. It didn’t matter their circumstances, they were able to joyfully praise the Lord and share the Gospel message to anyone who listened – even the belly of a dark prison!

What’s more, God had carefully arranged all of this to happen so that the jailer and his entire household could come to faith in Christ! As we read last week, as Paul and Silas were praying and singing in the middle of the night, a tremendous earthquake struck the prison, and all the prison doors flew open and the prisoner’s chains fell off! Well, of course, the jailer woke up and saw all the doors open and assumed the prisoners had all escaped! 

Now of course, the penalty for allowing a prisoner to escape was death! And so the jailer concluded that if the prisoners were all gone, he might as well kill himself as quickly and as painlessness as he could – since the Roman authorities would not likely be as kind!

But Paul quickly called out to the man “Stop! Don’t kill yourself! We are all here.”

And this is when the jailer realized that something was very different about these men. They had something that he wanted. And so as he brought them out, he fell before them and asked “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?”

Well, Paul & Silas were able to tell the jailer exactly what He must to do to be saved – He had to believe in the Lord Jesus! And He did! Even in the middle of the night, the jailer brought them to his house, washed their wounds, gave them a meal, and He and his entire household were all baptized because they had all put their faith in Jesus Christ.

And so that brings us to our passage today! At this point, Paul & Silas are still in jail – or at least, under the guard of the jailer! Since they’ve been hanging out at the jailers house, I’d guess they probably didn’t return to get locked up in the actual prison cell after that – they had clearly proven to the jailer that they weren’t going to escape!

But regardless, their situation with the city officials was not yet resolved. So we’ll see what happens as we read on today.

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Sovereign Good

Once again this morning we find ourselves in Acts chapter 16! We’ve been working through the book of Acts over the last several months – typically working through about one chapter per Sunday, but despite my best intentions, chapter 16 is just taking us a bit longer to get through! For the last two Sundays we’ve only managed to cover a grand total of 10 verses.

But I guess that’s not a bad thing! There have been some great lessons for us to learn in these first few verses of Paul’s second missionary journey.

Now just to give you a quick recap of what we’ve talked about so far, Paul & Silas began this second missionary journey primarily to check up on the churches that Paul had planted on his first missionary journey. He wanted to make sure that they were growing in their faith and becoming Godly, mature followers of Jesus Christ. He wanted to make sure that they were the kind of disciples who would go on to make more disciples!

And that’s just what he found. When he arrived back in Lystra – the town where, in his first missionary journey, he had been stoned and left for dead – he found a young disciple named Timothy who had indeed been greatly growing in his faith and in fact, was the kind of companion that Paul wanted to bring along on his journeys. And so Paul invited Timothy to come along, and from that point on, Timothy (who would eventually become a key leader in the early church) traveled with Paul and Silas, and together they strengthen and encouraged all the churches in that area.

Well, after all the churches were visited and that phase of their missionary journey was done, they determined to go to some new cities and preach the Word of God where they had never been before – places that had never heard the Gospel!

And so they headed first towards the province of Asia – however, we’re told in Acts 16:6, that God stopped them from preaching there. So they headed north to the province of Bithynia – but once again, God stopped them from going there!

And I suppose this must have been a bit confusing for Paul & Silas and Timothy – after all, why would God stop them from preaching the Gospel to these people who had never heard the Good News?

Well, of course, God had a purpose and plan (as He always does) and he made that clear to Paul in a vision. In this vision, Paul saw a man from Macedonia in Northern Greece calling out to him, “Come over to Macedonia and help us!”

And so, they concluded that God was calling them to preach to the people of Macedonia!

Now just as a little bit of a side note: one thing that I didn’t mention last week is that right at verse 10 – we see that Luke, the author of the book of Acts, joins Paul, Silas, and Timothy and  travels with them to the city of Philippi. 

It’s not specifically stated in these verses, so it’s fairly easy to miss. But you might have noticed that the pronouns change after verse 8. In verse 8 Luke writes:

8 So instead, they went on through Mysia to the seaport of Troas.

Acts 16:8

…referring to Paul, Silas, and Timothy – “they” went on through…. But then in verse 10, he writes: 

So we decided to leave for Macedonia at once, having concluded that God was calling us to preach the Good News there. Acts 16:10

“They” has now become “we” & “us” –  and that will continue throughout this chapter, until “they” leave the city of Philippi at the beginning of chapter 17.

So it seems that Luke had joined this missionary team in Troas and will continue with them until they leave Philippi. Some people speculate that when Paul & Silas and Timothy left Philippi,  Luke stayed behind to be the pastor of the new planted church – at least for a while – until he again rejoins Paul near the end of Paul’s third missionary journey some years later.

However, at this point in the story, Philippi doesn’t even have a church yet, so before we get too far ahead of ourselves, let’s take a look at our passage this morning.

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The Right Direction

This morning we are going to continue working our way through the book of Acts. After taking a break for Christmas, last week we picked up where we had left off in November – which was in Acts chapter 16.

This chapter in Acts kicks off Paul’s second missionary journey – a journey that he took primarily because he wanted to revisit the churches that he had planted on his first missionary journey. He wanted to make sure that the believers in each of those cities were actually growing in their faith and becoming the kind of disciples of Jesus that go on to make more disciples of Jesus – which is really God’s call for all of us!

As Jesus stated in Mathew 28:18, one of our primary tasks in this life is to…

…Go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you.”  Matthew 18b-19a

This command is for every generation of believers since the time of Christ. We are to make disciples who will then go on to obey His commands and make more disciples. 

And this is precisely what Paul was doing throughout his missionary journeys. In fact, one of the disciples that he had made on his first missionary journey was a young man named Timothy. Timothy had accepted Christ as his Savior and had since grown and matured in his faith – so much so that Paul wanted to take Timothy along on this second missionary journey. And of course, as we talked about last week, Timothy agreed – and together, Paul and Silas and Timothy revisited all those churches that Paul had earlier planted, and encouraged them to continue growing in the Lord.

We concluded last week with this verse: 

“So the churches were strengthened in their faith and grew larger every day.” Acts 16:5

In other words, the believers in those cities were encouraged and spurred on to trust God more and more – and they continued to tell others about Christ – and more and more people came to know and follow Him.

So with that phase of the journey complete, Paul, Silas, and Timothy then went on to visit some brand new cities – cities that had never heard the Good News about Jesus. And that’s what we’re going to read about today.

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Intentional for the Sake of the Gospel

Before we took a break for Christmas, we had been working our way through the book of Acts – and today we want to pick it up where we left off. However, since it’s been almost two months since we were looking at Acts, I suspect that we all probably need a bit of a refresher to remind us where we were and what we were talking about!

I won’t recap the entire book thus far – that would take up pretty much the entire sermon – but I’ll give you just a quick refresher of what the book is all about and then just a few brief reminders of what’s happened in the story most recently.

The book is traditionally called “The Acts of the Apostles” but we’ve repeatedly seen that it may be more accurate to call it “The Continued Acts of Jesus” or “The Acts of the Holy Spirit”. Of course, there are many different apostles and other key figures in throughout the book (such as Peter, James, Paul, & Barnabas), but the author Luke only includes them as secondary characters to the central storyline – and that storyline is the spread of the Gospel and the growth of Christ’s church.

The book begins primarily following the growth of the church among the Jewish communities in and around Jerusalem, but as the book has progressed, we’ve seen the Gospel spread out to include the Gentiles – both near and far! In fact, in these last few chapters of Acts, we’ve seen Paul complete the first missionary journey with Barnabas – starting churches throughout south Asia Minor.

And of course, this was exactly what Jesus had commanded the disciples to do. As we read in Acts 1:8, Jesus said…

8 “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you. And you will be my witnesses, telling people about me everywhere—in Jerusalem, throughout Judea, in Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” Acts 1:8

This is exactly what we are seeing by this point in the story. The Good News of Jesus is being taken all over the world – and both Jews and Gentiles are becoming believers.

Mind you, the fact that the gentiles were becoming believers had become quite a point of contention among the Jews. For the longest time, the Jews had believed that salvation is for the Jews and for the Jews alone! And if a gentile wanted to come to God, then they had to become like a Jew first.

This became a major controversy in the church as more and more Gentiles became believers! The big question was: Did the gentiles have to become like the Jews and follow all the Jews laws like circumcision and Sabbaths and kosher foods? Or could they be saved by faith in Jesus Christ alone?

In the end, it was recognized that God had provided salvation for everyone the same way – and that is by faith in Jesus alone! Following the Jewish laws had no bearing whatsoever on Salvation! And so with that issue settled, the message of Jesus Christ continued to spread throughout the Gentile world.

Now when we last left off, Paul & Barnabas had just split up following their first missionary journey together. They had a significant disagreement over whether or not to take John Mark with them on a second journey – because John Mark had previously bailed on them halfway through their first mission’s trip!

Of course, as the Son of encouragement, Barnabas wanted to give John Mark another chance, but Paul wasn’t willing to risk the  success of the mission to do that! And so the two men parted ways – Barnabas took John Mark and went to Cyprus, while Paul took Silas and traveled to Syria and Cilicia.

And so this is where we pick up the story today in Acts chapter 16 – as Paul & Silas begin Paul’s second missionary journey.

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The Source of Joy

Well as you know, we are smack-dab in the middle of the Advent season— and for these past few weeks, we have been lighting these Advent candles – which kinda act like a countdown for Christmas. Not only do these Advent candles build a sense of anticipation for Christmas, but each one also reminds us of a different aspect of the Christmas story – Hope, Faith, Joy, Peace, and Love.

We started two weeks ago with Hope – and we saw that throughout the Scriptures God has continually offered his people Promises of Hope – a hope that is found in His Son, Jesus Christ, who died and rose again from the grave. Because of what Jesus has done for us, we can have the hope of eternal life with our Creator.

And this hope isn’t just wishful thinking. We were reminded by the second candle – the candle of faith – that our hope is assured and guaranteed by God himself. As we read from Hebrews 11:1… 

“Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” Hebrews 11:1 ESV

God’s track record of keeping promises is 100%! We can rest assured that the Word of God will never fail! And so, our hope in Christ is guaranteed through our faith in the all-powerful, all-knowing, all-loving God of the Universe!

And because of that, we can experience true and lasting joy – which of course, brings us now to the third candle.

 As Jesse & Mikayla have just told us, today’s candle is the Shepherd’s Candle – or the Candle of Joy.

This candle reminds us, not only of the joy of the shepherds when the angels announced to them that the Saviour had been born in Bethlehem, but it also reminds us of the joy we can have every day of the year – no matter what our circumstances – because of that little baby born and laid in a manger some 2000 years ago.

Now today, I’m actually not going to be preaching from that passage in Luke chapter 2 that talks about the angels and the shepherds, but I do want to read through that before we begin because it does set the stage for what we’re going to talk about. So if you have your Bibles, you can turn with me to Luke chapter 2 – starting at verse 8.

8 That night there were shepherds staying in the fields nearby, guarding their flocks of sheep. 9 Suddenly, an angel of the Lord appeared among them, and the radiance of the Lord’s glory surrounded them. They were terrified, 10 but the angel reassured them. “Don’t be afraid!” he said. “I bring you good news that will bring great joy to all people.11 The Savior—yes, the Messiah, the Lord—has been born today in Bethlehem, the city of David! 12 And you will recognize him by this sign: You will find a baby wrapped snugly in strips of cloth, lying in a manger.”  

13 Suddenly, the angel was joined by a vast host of others—the armies of heaven—praising God and saying,

14 “Glory to God in highest heaven,
and peace on earth to those with whom God is pleased.”

15 When the angels had returned to heaven, the shepherds said to each other, “Let’s go to Bethlehem! Let’s see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”Luke 2:8-15

This is a very familiar passage for all of us. We probably read it multiple times every Christmas! According to the angels, this little baby boy, born in the Bethlehem some 2000 years ago would be the source of great joy to all the world – even for us here in Penhold in 2022.

And so I want to spend some time today looking a little more in depth at the nature of that joy. What kind of joy are we talking about here? Is this the warm fuzzy feeling that we get as we sit around the Christmas tree, enjoying family and friends? Is this joy an emotion that wells up within us and spills out in joyful song – or is it more of a personal choice that we each have to make? Like mom always told you, “You can choose to be happy.” Or perhaps it’s neither of those things? Maybe joy is something different all together.

But how do we understand joy? What exactly did the angels mean when they said that this good news would bring great joy to all people? And further more, how does the angel’s good news help you and I experience joy today?

And maybe that’s really the bottom line here – being filled with joy certainly sounds like a good thing – but what does that actually look like in our lives today?

Well, that’s what I want us to figure out this morning – and I think we might be surprise at the answer. When I started writing this message, I kinda expected this message on joy to go in a certain direction – primarily focusing on the Christmas message, but it really ended up in a different place all together. But it was a good place – so I really just want to share my journey of exploring joy with you this morning.

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Unity in Christ

Last Sunday we learned some valuable lessons from the church in Antioch in how to deal with controversies and conflicts within the church. As you recall, there was one group of believers who believed and taught that Gentile Christians must be circumcised and follow the law of Moses like the Jews in order to be truly saved. But there was another group of believers – which included Paul & Barnabas – who believed and taught that faith in Jesus Christ was the only requirement for salvation – for both the gentiles and the Jews.

Because this issue was of such great importance – having eternal ramifications – the church in Antioch took this issue to the church in Jerusalem to seek the wisdom and guidance of the Apostles and elders there. To make a long story short, after much debate and at the leading of the Holy Spirit and following the counsel of Scripture, the decision was made that the Gentile believers did not have to become like the Jews to be saved. But rather, they affirmed that we are all saved the same way – by the undeserved grace of God. Jesus Christ did all that was necessary for our salvation – we simply need to believe and accept!

So with that issue settled, you might expect the church in Antioch to enjoy a long period of peace and unity. But unfortunately that was not the case. Even after seeing such a great example of conflict resolution within the church, Paul & Barnabas of all people – have a bit of a falling out. They have – what the Bible describes as a “sharp disagreement” and in the end, they wind up going separate ways. It seems to be a very different outcome compared to last week’s conflict which ended with everyone being in complete agreement.

Which makes us wonder – if the whole church can come together and arrive at a unified decision on such a terribly controversial issue – then why can’t these two key leaders of the church – missionary partners who had served God side by side for years – why can’t they seem to arrived at a unified decision concerning their issues?

Well, that’s what we’re going to look at today. We’ll start at verse 32 – which is still part of the story from last week as Judas & Silas (who are representatives from the church in Jerusalem) spend time encouraging the church in Antioch.

It reads like this:

32 Then Judas and Silas, both being prophets, spoke at length to the believers, encouraging and strengthening their faith. 33 They stayed for a while, and then the believers sent them back to the church in Jerusalem with a blessing of peace. 35 Paul and Barnabas stayed in Antioch. They and many others taught and preached the word of the Lord there.

36 After some time Paul said to Barnabas, “Let’s go back and visit each city where we previously preached the word of the Lord, to see how the new believers are doing.” 37 Barnabas agreed and wanted to take along John Mark. 38 But Paul disagreed strongly, since John Mark had deserted them in Pamphylia and had not continued with them in their work. 39 Their disagreement was so sharp that they separated. Barnabas took John Mark with him and sailed for Cyprus. 40 Paul chose Silas, and as he left, the believers entrusted him to the Lord’s gracious care. 41 Then he traveled throughout Syria and Cilicia, strengthening the churches there.

Acts 15:32-41

So let’s begin first of all, by noticing that verse 34 seems to be missing from this passage. Verse 33 says that Judas and Silas were sent back to Jerusalem. And then it jumps right to verse 35 which says that Paul & Barnabas stayed in Antioch. So what does verse 34 say and why is it missing?

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