JULY 29th, 2018 PASTOR DON PIEPER
In Paul's Footprints ACTS 21:1-6; 7-20a
"THE LAST LEG"
Our readings this morning from Acts 21 feature the last leg of Paul's third missionary trip. As with his second trip, this one has taken him across one country after another. I remember how the last leg of my cross-country meets generally ended with a lot of panting and wheezing. But not Paul — his last leg sees him finishing strong, with folks gathering around him in city after city.
After his tearful farewell to the Ephesian elders we read about last week, Luke reports, that "we sailed straight to the island of Cos." (Acts 21:1) Why? I don't know —just 'cause! (Sorry...!)
After a night in Cos, they pressed on to Rhodes, home of Colossus, the largest statue of the ancient world and one of the seven wonders of the world, but they were on a mission so they pressed on to Patara. "There we boarded a ship sailing for Phoenicia" (Acts 21:2) and sailing past Cypress, where Paul's first missionary trip began, they arrived in the Port of Tyre, tired, yes; but bored, no..!
As in Miletus, they where greeted warmly by the believers in Tyre. After a week of sharing and praying together, the church, including women and children escorted Paul and his team back to the port where they boarded another boat to take them down the coast a bit to Ptolemais, where the local church once again greeted them and put them up for the night. The following day they went to Caesarea, where they stayed a week with Phillip and his family. That's Phillip the evangelist not the apostle...
After another tearful departure Paul and company concluded their mission trip with their return to the mother church in Jerusalem. The believers there threw them a welcome home party at the home of man named, Mnason, a native of Cypress and one of the first Gentiles there to come to faith. His presence and that of other Gentile-believers such as Silas and Luke underscore Paul's testimony: "Paul gave a detailed account of the things God has accomplished among the Gentiles through his ministry (and), after hearing this, they all praised God!" (Acts 21:19-20)
Two things stand out in this text. The first is this: in the span of six verses the spiritual gift of prophecy is mentioned three times. The matter of fact manner in which Luke refers to the use of the gift and those so gifted reveals how not only the natural spiritual gifts, like hospitality, generosity, teaching and preaching were utilized but how common place was the practice of applying the more supernatural gifts like speaking and interpreting tongues, words of knowledge...and, prophecy.
Prophecy is one of the least understood of the spiritual gifts. It is some times equated as being akin to fortunetelling, but if that's all it is than it would present a terrible danger for being used for self-serving gain. It would be like the future can manipulated... Calvin illustrates...
Calvin: Hop in the time machine, Hobbes! We're going a few hours into the future! I'll have finished my story by then. So we'll just pick it up and brting it back to the present! That way, I won't have to write it!
Hobbes: Something doesn't make sense here, and I think it's me sitting in this box.
Calvin: Relax! We'll be back as soon as we go.
Something doesn't make sense there alright...! However, from Luke's references in Acts 21 and Paul's teaching in 1 Corinthians, which he wrote in route during this (r) mission trip, we gain some much needed insight, regarding both the practice and purpose of this spiritual gift.
One practical insight is that the gift wasn't only for the leaders, but was exercised fully within the Body of Christ. For instance, in Tyre, Luke notes that "the believers prophesied through the Holy Spirit." (Acts 21:4) They weren't the leaders. Paul doesn't even specify gender or age. The suggestion being that members of the church, had the gift to prophesy. This is confirmed by Luke a few verses later: "(Phillip...) had four unmarried daughters who (all) had the gift of prophecy." (Acts 21:9)
Luke's mention of their gender and that they were unmarried reveals that in the early church neither gender nor age was a prerequisite for being filled with the Holy Spirit or being involved in the Lord's ministry. As he later writes to his young protege', Timothy: "Don't let anyone think less of you because you are young. Be an example to all believers in what you say and in the way you live..."
(1 Timothy 4:12)
Women also were entrusted as partners in this ministry. As God promised thru the prophet Joel: "In the last days I will pour out my Spirit upon all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy!"
(Acts 2:17/Joel 2:28)
Further, in his teaching on the gift, Paul emphasized how important this gift is to the church: "You should desire the special abilities the Spirit gives — especially the ability to prophesy."
(1 Corinthians 14:1)
So the gift of prophesy is to be released thru the young and old, men and women, individually or collectively. It can be uttered over a person or a church, though Paul taught its primary purpose was to edify the church as a whole: "One who prophesies strengthens others... A person who speaks in tongues is strengthened personally, but one who prophesies strengthens the entire church"
(1 Corinthians 14:4)
So a person who speculates about what the future might bring in a kind of generic way may have insights to share but what they share should not be confused with the gift of prophecy!
Calvin: In the future, everything will be effortless! Computers will take care of every task. We'll just point to what we want done and click We'll never need to leave the climate-controlled comfort of our homes! No nuisance. No wasted time. No annoying human interaction....
Hobbes: ...No life.
Calvin: Life is too inconvenient.
Nope — that's not it! So what's the purpose of New Testament prophecy? Why does Jesus, by way of the Holy Spirit, entrust this particular spiritual gift to his followers? Paul speaks to this in his letter to Corinth: "The one who prophesies strengthens others, encourages them, comforts them. The one who prophesies strengthens the entire church." (1 Corinthians 14:3-4)
Not long after Jesus' birth, a woman by the name of Anna exercised her prophetic gift in this way. Luke records: "Anna, a prophet..., began praising God and talked about the child (Jesus) to everyone who had been waiting expecting for God to rescue Jerusalem." (Luke 2:38)
Her prophetic gift encouraged others not to give up hope...and to recognize the messiah in their midst. When I was at Holy Trinity Brompton some years back, a member of the church asked the pastor if he could share a word, and then quoting scripture pointed to the reality of God doing a new thing in their midst, that new songs were being inspired by the Spirit, for example, in their midst!
So mostly, the gift of prophesy is meant to strengthen and encourage the local church. Our reading from Acts 21 also reveals the gift being used to offer a warning. So it was with the believers in Tyre who "prophesied through the Holy Spirit that Paul should not go on to Jerusalem." (21:4)
Agabus also prophetically points to trouble ahead but offers no advice. Paul receives the prophetic word as confirmation of what the Holy Spirit has already shown him... He recognizes that God is not trying to discourage him but prepare him for what lies ahead. When it does he'll know it's all part of God's master plan. As he told those in Caesarea: "The Lord's will be done!" (Acts 21:14)
About ten years ago one of you had a prophetic image or word during worship. You saw a hand putting together the ingredients for ice tea and then slowly stirring it. You had the sense that we were the tea. Something was going to stir us up! Within two years we found ourselves in turmoil when the decisions made at the national level compromised the authority of scripture.In the months that followed we got truly stirred up. The prophetic vision helped me know God was not surprised. It was comforting
(Before that was Linda's prophetic vision of sparks flying out of Chimacum... !}
Finally,a prophetic word may be uttered to convict sin. "If you're prophesying, unbelievers be convicted of their sin... As they listen, their secret thoughts will be exposed, and they will fall to their knees and worship God, declaring, 'God is truly here among you!'"
(1 Corinthians 14:24-25)
All this to say, that prophesy, like the gifts of knowledge, healing, miracles and tongues, is a gift from Christ to his church thru the Holy Spirit. It holds tremendous value and power to us who seek to do the Lord's will and work in this time and place. Paul is pretty clear in his teaching: "You should desire the special abilities the Spirit gives — especially the ability to prophesy." (1 Corinthians 14:1)
The second thing that struck me with our reading from Acts 21 is its parallel to our present circumstances. We too have a mission team sent out from the home church, to far distant lands, on the cusp of returning home. Like the churches in Tyre, Caesarea and Jerusalem we should be gearing up to give our returning missionaries a very warm welcome, and again when Ari returns next month.
As with Paul, next Sunday Tim, Crystal and Timmy, will stand before you, prepared to "give a detailed account of the things God has accomplished" during their mission trip. (Acts 21:19)
Three specific actions seem to be central to Paul's homecoming. First they prayed. We see this repeatedly in the final leg of Paul's third missionary trip. Its what they did back in Miletus: "When Paul finished speaking, he knelt down and prayed with them." (Acts 20:36)
And again, a few days later in Tyre, Luke informs us: "The entire congregation, including women and children, left the city and came down to the shore with us. There we knelt and prayed.."
(How cool is that that the kids were a part of the action?!) (Acts 21:5)
A second facet was Paul's praise report, giving a detailed account of the things God did during the trip. After each day I served in Ukraine and then Slovkia we gathered as a team and shared God moments! We celebrated not only the big stuff but how God was in the details! Next Sunday there'll be some sharing from this week's VBS God moments! I wonder if we shouldn't do this more often...!
Third, the response to what was shared, was a pouring out of praise. "After hearing what Paul had to share, they all praised God!" (Acts 21:20) How fitting! Its not about how great Tim & Crytal or any of us are, but how great God is! It's Jesus' ministry and if any hearts are moved that's a clear sign that His Spirit, the Holy Spirit, is on the move! Jesus gets the praise! Pray — report — praise!
Does anyone have a praise report? Succinctly share it and let's give God our praise over it...!