First of all, I am very sorry not to be here today. As you may know, my granny, Rose Worley, died on Tuesday. She was my last living grandparent and it was important for me to be with family to mourn and to say goodbye. Unfortunately, this has left me with little time to prepare anything for you for this Sunday morning. I regret this, but you all know as well as I do that life and death do not conform themselves to our schedules.
In the Sundays following Easter I have been speaking with you about what happened after Jesus ascended into heaven. What is the story of the early church? We have heard how the church began as a group of frightened disciples in a locked room. But these fearful disciples are given courage and ability by the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost, and they begin preaching out in the open. And though they were threatened and though they were beaten, they continued to preach that Jesus Christ died and was raised so that sinners who believe in him will be forgiven. In these early days you can already see the difference that Jesus has made: those who were fearful became courageous.
We have heard the more intense persecution that came when Stephen was stoned to death under the approving gaze of Saul. For those who endured it, this persecution certainly would have seemed like a terrible thing. But God is able to work through that which is bad in order to accomplish something good. And this time was no different. Those who fled the persecution in
Jerusalemestablished the church in different towns. The church grew!
Something else amazing happened too. God worked in the life of a man who was totally opposed to Jesus. Jesus came to Saul and chose to forgive him and love him. Saul the persecutor became Paul the great missionary of the church (though we haven’t told that part of the story yet.)
And we have heard about how Peter visited the new churches that had spread out from
Jerusalem because of the persecution. And as he was out visiting he kept having occasion to do exceptional things, like raising Tabitha from the dead. And going to the home of a Roman! And God showed Peter that the gospel of Jesus Christ was not just for Jews, but for other people too. And so he preached to the household of Cornelius the Roman, and they believed, and they were baptized.
And now we jump forward in the story. In our lesson today, the Apostle Paul and his traveling companions are out on a missionary journey. They are already far from
Jerusalem and far from the Jewish homeland. They have been preaching the Gospel to gentiles throughout the area that we know today as the country of Turkey. In other words, they are still on the continent of Asia. They may be far from home, but they are still connected.
Our lesson reads, “During the night Paul had a vision: there stood a man of Macedonia saying, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.” This might not seem significant to us. For most of us Bible geography is pretty confusing and
Macedonia just sounds like another place. What makes it different? It is different because to get to Macedonia you must cross the sea. Macedonia is in Europe, not in Asia.
What does it mean to cross the sea? What does it mean to leave one continent behind and move on to another? Crossing the sea and setting foot on a new continent represent another leap of the gospel. Just as the gospel was not just for the people of
Jerusalemand it wasn’t just for the Jews, so also it means this: The good news of Jesus Christ is not just for people who are nearby or convenient. The good news goes much, much further; it will not be limited.
Now we can regard all of this as history, if we like. We can say to ourselves, “The gospel did that back then, two thousand years ago.” But if that’s all we think, we’ll be missing the point. The point is this: just as the gospel could not be restrained back then, so it will not be restrained now.
- Persecution could not stop it then.
- Ethnic boundaries couldn’t stop it then.
- The end of land and the expanse of sea couldn’t stop it then.
The good news that God is reconciling us to himself in Jesus Christ could not be stopped.
These days, many of us worry about what is happening to the church and our country. Church attendance is down; our society is becoming more coarse; long-valued traditions and understandings are crumbling. As a nation, we feel less optimistic for the future and less satisfied in the present.
Do not be afraid. There may be obstacles. There may be tough times. But the gospel of Jesus Christ will not be stopped. And it will not be satisfied to be put up in the attic or set in the corner. God is determined that the world will know about his Son, and the forgiveness of sins that all who believe have through him. Nothing will stand in the way of this amazing gospel, not then, and certainly not now. Amen.