Lecture 5: The Journeys of Paul
Course: A Short Course On Evangelism
Lecture: The Journeys of Paul
Welcome to session five. We started off in the garden, as you recall, where God wants to make himself known. He takes the initiative in the drama of rescue. He is the first evangelist. Then we went to session two to the covenant with Abraham, talking about the fact that even though Hinduism had been in place for a thousand years, Abraham had evolved to the place where he could understand the concept of one God. Then we talked about the significance of the new covenant. The old covenant was cut with Abraham, which was a precursor of that which was to come. And then Jeremiah 31:31-34. All of salvation history pivots on those four verses, announces the coming of a new covenant. Then we talked about Jesus Christ, born just at the right time to fulfill the nature of that new covenant. Because sin came into the world by humankind, sin can be taken out of the world only by humankind. The blood of bulls and goats won’t do it anymore. There had to be a tabernacle not made with hands, eternal in the heavens, so that sin could be rooted out, expiated. Then we talked about Peter, Peter and his flint knife. God bless him. He wanted Gentiles to become Jews before they became Christians; and how he was delivered from that as he showed up in Samaria, where the Holy Spirit was poured out on a bunch of half breeds and Caesarea where the Holy Spirit was poured out on full blown pagans.
Then we kind of introduced Paul at Antioch. Of course, you know the story of Paul, at least most of you do. When was Paul converted? 35 or so I think probably. Why was he converted? Many of us think he was converted on the road to Damascus. I think not, unless stumbling around blind, wandering what just ran over you is what it means to be saved. I know some folks in my denomination that would probably qualify. I think he was converted when Ananias laid hands on him and the scales fell off from his eyes. That is where he was converted and I think baptized with the Holy Spirit. He tried to preach, of course, in Damascus, but they didn’t trust him. So they ran him off and the Spirit of God drives him into the desert, probably the Arabian desert. He might have mixed with some of those magi, maybe some of those Zoroastrians, who knows? During those two or three years, some people think 14 years, I think more like two or three years, in the desert, the Spirit of God taught Paul how Jesus Christ fulfills all three hundred Old Testament prophecies about the coming of the Messiah. Amazing! The Spirit of God taught Paul during those two or three years in the desert how Jesus Christ fulfills all of those prophecies. He is so excited. He goes back to Damascus and wants to preach again, but they still don’t like him. Eventually they threaten him and Barnabas lets him out of a window in the wall and takes him to Jerusalem to introduce him to the Apostles. Only two Apostles want to look at him, James and Peter. The rest of them are very intimidated. So they actually send Paul from there to Caesarea and then to Tarsus, where he was born. Then he works his way back down to Antioch, where he joins the church, where they are now calling Christians “Christians.” And his name is changed from Saul to Paul.
It was during that time that Peter comes to Antioch and is intimidated by some Jews, as we mentioned during the last session, sent from Jerusalem. So he begins to back off from mixing with the Gentiles. So Paul, not once but twice, dresses him down in the open assembly. “You mix with the Gentiles, why don’t you live like them?” “You live like a Gentile, why don’t you mix with them?” Peter then leaves and goes back to Jerusalem and Paul and Barnabas go on their first missionary journey. This is really important. Listen to this. Everywhere that Paul and Barnabas go, they get people freed up from the law; and the moment they leave town, some Judaizers with flint knives come in and put the people right back into bondage. Paul and Barnabas get them free and someone comes in behind them, these old Judaizers with their flint knives, and put people right back into bondage. So finally, Paul says to Barnabas, “This is clearly not working. We’ve got to go to Jerusalem. We have to have a council with the bosses.”
So around 50, 51 AD Paul and Barnabas go to Jerusalem. He takes Titus with him. Imagine a Greek amongst all of those flint knives. They didn’t lay a hand on him, but you know he had to have some anxious moments, I’m telling you. They take Titus with them and they announce to the Apostles what the Spirit of God is doing amongst the Gentiles and how problematic it is when Judaizers come in behind them and try to put them back under the law. So the Apostles decide that Paul needs to continue to preach to Gentiles. They only have four stipulations. The first stipulation: “Don’t be immoral as Gentiles are prone to be.” Second stipulation: “Don’t eat meat that has been strangled because the blood is still in it and blood is the symbol of life.” It was the blood of Jesus, you see, that saves us. “Don’t eat meat that has been sacrificed to Idols.” It won’t hurt you, but somebody will misunderstand. Finally, “Remember the poor.” You have to go to Galatians 2:10 to find that stipulation. The first three are in Acts 15 to 16. The last one is in Galatians 2:10. So, don’t be immoral as Gentiles are prone to be. Don’t eat that has been strangled. Don’t eat meat that has been sacrificed to idols. Remember the poor. Eventually that fourth one would cost Paul his life, because Paul was awfully eager to go throughout the churches, collecting money for the poor in Jerusalem. Why? Because Jerusalem was a Jewish economy and if you were a Christian in a Jewish economy, you were out of work, and they were hungry. So Paul was always wanting to collect money for the Christians in Jerusalem, the Jerusalem Christians.
Let me read this to you. Acts 16 tells the story beautifully. “Paul and his companions” being Silas and Timothy, “and Barnabas had parted ways” over a misunderstanding with John Mark. By the way, that rift was eventually healed because John Mark was one of the few along with Luke, who was still with Paul at the point of his death. He mentions that in 2 Timothy. “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.” Apparently God not only opens doors, God what? God closes doors. Do you believe that? Most of you would live like it. I want to be the kind of Christian that rejoices just as much when God closes doors as when God open doors. Now, the Greek did not have exclamation points, so when it wants to emphasize something, it just says it all over again. Listen to this: “When they came to the border Mysia they tried to enter Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus would not allow them to.” So they passed by Mysia and went down to Troas. I have been there, it is a wonderful little archeological dig there. “During the night Paul had a vision of a man from Macedonia standing and begging him, ‘Come over to Macedonia and help us.’ After Paul had seen the vision, we” – meaning Luke was now on board, because he is writing these accounts - “we got ready at once to leave from Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to preach the Gospel to them.”
Let me give you the significance of that. There are not enough Jews in Macedonia to have a synagogue. All you have to have is 10 male Jews, you’ve got yourself a synagogue. Not enough Jews in Macedonia to have a synagogue. So Paul is saying to himself, “On all these first missionary journeys I went to these churches and the minute I got the people free, I went to the synagogue. The minute I got the people free, these Judaizers would come in behind with flint knives and put them back into bondage.” Eventually the Jews would show up in Macedonia, trust me on that. Paul is saying to himself, “Here is untilled ground. Here is a chance to establish the Gospel where no-one else has gone.” He is so excited. He goes over to Neapolis. Neapolis is by a little town called Kavala. It is a wonderful little town. It is kind of undiscovered by tourists and you get up in the morning and go up over the mountain and drop down into Philippi. When Paul gets to Philippi, there is no synagogue. So when Jews don’t have a synagogue, they like to pray by running water. There is water throughout the Bible, it is a symbol of life and salvation. So there is a river just outside, I have been to this river. I’ll take you there sometime. There is a river outside of Philippi and so Paul and his companions are going to this river to find a place to pray. En route they run across several women. One of women’s name is Lydia. You know what the Bible says? You won’t believe it. One translation says these words, listen carefully: “And the Spirit of God had prepared Lydia’s heart to receive Paul’s message.” What do you think of that? Take this verse. Even as we speak, even as you listen, the Spirit of God is already at work in your sphere of influence, preparing people. We’ll talk a lot more about this later on in one of the later sessions.
Even as we speak, the Spirit of God is preparing people in your sphere of influence for your ministry. The Spirit of God is walking the streets of every town where you live, every street where you live, preparing people for your ministry. Ninety percent of evangelism is showing up and paying attention. When Ananias got to Saul, all he had to do was show up and lay hands and the Spirit of God had already done the work. Right? When John and Peter got to the Samaritans, the Spirit of God had already done the work and all they had to do was show up and pay attention. When Peter got to Cornelius, all they had to do was show up and pay attention. The Spirit of God had already done the work. When Paul, to the ends of the earth for a Jew, Macedonia, can you imagine, the Spirit of God already at work in Macedonia preparing Lydia’s heart to receive Paul’s message. The Spirit of God, from Genesis, the Spirit of God takes the initiative in the drama of rescue. The Spirit of God woos us. We Wesleyans talk about prevenient grace. You Calvinists talk about common grace, then special grace. We don’t have time to talk about that now. But prevenient grace, we’ll talk about that next session and the theology of the Holy Spirit and the theology of evangelism, where the Spirit of God, from the moment of conception, is wooing us, courting us, preventing us from moving so far from the way, so we finally understand the claims of the Gospel upon our lives. The Holy Spirit guarantees our freedom to say “yes”. As I said before, if we cannot say “no”, “yes” is meaningless. The Holy Spirit is wooing us; not forcing us, but wooing us, courting us, drawing us; so that when we finally understand the claims of the Gospel upon our lives, the Holy Spirit guarantees our freedom to say “yes”.
Let me close with a story. I was preaching in a southern town here in the US in Columbus, Georgia. Once a month I go out and work in churches. Friday night I’ll go and preach and then have workshops on Saturday morning and Saturday afternoon and have a healing service Saturday night and then finish this out by preaching at the services on Sunday morning. Friday night I preach usually a basic evangelistic type sermon. I’ll give you some of the content of that in our next session. Then workshops on the work of the Holy Spirit or evangelism, I do a lot of workshops on evangelism. Usually the Biblical basis for evangelism in the morning and then overcoming barriers in the afternoon, which I will do in the next three sessions, seven, eight and nine. Then I finish out on Sunday morning by talking about the church as the body of Christ, when I encourage people. See if this makes sense to you. I like to challenges churches to adopt this attitude: Never should anyone in the church or anywhere, hear anything from you secondhand that is not positive. It doesn’t mean you agree with everyone. It means that if you have ought with someone, you go to the source. You work it out. You don’t talk behind someone’s back. That will destroy the church, every time. So when I finish up on Sunday morning, I finish up with an emphasis on the church as the body of Christ. I leave them, by the way, with the same covenant card I will be leaving you after the tenth session.
So, I was preaching at this church in the southern part of the US; worked hard; preached three times on Sunday morning. I had to preach at night in Detroit, which means I had to take a flight to Atlanta and then from Atlanta up to Detroit, in the northern part of the US. I got to the airport on Sunday morning, only to realize my flight had been cancelled. I’m so tired, I don’t even care. So I flopped around the airport for a couple of hours and finally got a standby to Atlanta. By the time I got to Atlanta, I had already missed my flight to Detroit; so the only way they can get me on the next flight is to put me in first class. On that flight in first class, I am just not accustomed to first class. I crawled across this man, it looked like he was plenty accustomed to first class. He had to have a $2,000 suit on. I was tired, I didn’t say “boo” to him, he didn’t say “boo” to me. After the plane takes off, they serve us our meal and finally at the end of the meal, I sense the Spirit of God saying to me – I don’t know how to explain this, but most of you know what I’m talking about – I sense the Spirit of God saying to me, “Tell this man, ‘If he will allow my Spirit to increase his vision for ministry, he won’t have to spend the next 20 years simply holding onto what he already has.’” I said, “Clearly God, I am not going to do that. I haven’t said ‘boo’ to him, he’ll think I’m crazy.” I go back to eating my meal finally and had the same insight, “Tell this man if he will allow my Spirit to increase his vision for ministry, he won’t have to spend the next 20 years simply holding on to what he already has.” So I kind of pouted and grumbled and said, “Okay, God, you’ll have to open the door.” Within five seconds the piece of meat I’m chewing gets so tough, I cannot swallow it; and the longer I chew, the tougher it gets. I realized finally, if I swallow that thing, I’m going to die. Back in coach, you could spit that thing out in a paper napkin and stick it in your pocket; but in first class, the napkins are as thick as cardboard. So I just turned to this man and said, “This meat is tough.” He kind of laughed at me, said, “I just gave up on that meat myself.” So I’m thinking, “He’s not so tough.” So I said, “Do you make an honest living?” He looked at me and said, “You know, I don’t.” I blushed. He wasn’t embarrassed, I was embarrassed. I wasn’t expecting him to be quite so candid. I said, “Do we need to talk about that?” He said, “I just saw you pray over your meal” which I don’t remember doing. I’m accustomed to doing that, I’m sure he would not have made it up. He said, “I just saw you pray over your meal. I think we need to talk about that.” And for the next 20 minutes we talked about a dishonest living. I mean to tell you, it did not sound dishonest to me. He owned a business, primary stock owner in a Fortune 500 company. You might know his name.
After 20 minutes, you know what I did? I told him the story of the eunuch I told you in the last session. After I told him the story of the eunuch, I gave him the words I believe God wanted him to hear. I said, “Sir, if you will allow the Spirit of God to increase your vision for ministry, you won’t have to spend the next 20 years simply holding onto what you already have.” The moment I spoke those words, the man broke down. I mean, he is sobbing. His body is wracked. People are staring at us in first class. I’m thinking, “I’ve weakened the springs to the whole machine.” His nose is running all over his $2,000 suit. Finally, after he got to the place where he could talk again, he said, “Well, I guess you’re wondering what is going on.” I said, “Truly, Sir, I’m wondering what’s going on.” He said, “Listen. Just before you spoke to me, I was about to make a decision that was better for profit than for people; and I asked God if God cared, to show me. And within five seconds you spoke to me.” I said, “What did I say? What did I say? I want to use that line again.” He said, “You told me your meat was tough.” I said, “I can’t use that again.” He said, “Listen up. Sir, I want you to know as God is my witness, I’m not going to be an oppressor of people anymore.”
By the time the plane lands, I’m late so I’m up, across the jetway, hit the door at the end of the jetway. He’s on my heels. He is following me like a puppy. I hit the door at the end of the jetway. This guy, briefcase and all, blows by me. There is a man standing there with a “Tuttle” sign, who is going to take me to the church, with one more hymn to sing. This businessman goes up to the man with the “Tuttle” sign, takes him by the lapels and says, “Sir, I just had the most incredible experience of my entire life. I promised God I would witness to the first people I saw when I got off the plane, and you’re it. I was about to make a decision that was better for profit than the people; and Sir, I want you and everyone else to know, as God is my witness, I’m not going to be an oppressor of people anymore.” Then with his thumb, he motions over his shoulder and points at me, standing there with my mouth open, and says these words: “I’m this man’s eunuch.” What do you think about that? You know the Bible. That could get you in trouble. What did he mean by that? The Spirit of God had prepared his heart to receive that message.
Lord, we’re grateful for your goodness, that your Spirit goes before us, preparing people’s hearts for our ministry. Lord, help us to show up and pay attention, to be sensitive to what you are doing already. Thank you, Lord, for your investment in us. We’re grateful, God, that our ministry is more important to you than it is to us. You are a good God. In Jesus’ name. Amen. Amen.