Seward United Methodist Church
Sunday, May 20, 2018
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Hearing From God

John 14:23-29 and Acts 16:6-15

 

 I guess this is quite the momentous event.  This is the first time in Scripture that we read about the gospel message crossing into the European continent from Asia.  It probably happened before this, since we know there were Jews from Europe in Jerusalem at Pentecost.  And we also know the gospel has already gone to the African continent.  But since Europe played such a large role in the history of Christianity, it seems significant.  Never mind that in my opinion, Europe and Asia are actually the same continent.  

 Paul, Silas, and Timothy leave the city of Lystra and travel through the interior of Asia Minor, Turkey today.  They travel through Phrygia and Galatia and come to Troas.  Troas, by the way, was named after the famous city of Troy, the one we read about in the Iliad and the Odyssey.  There Paul has a vision of a man of Macedonia, asking him to come over.  

 So they cross from Troas to the island of Samothrace, and from there to Neapolis.  Neapolis was the eastern end of the Egnatian Way, the great road from Rome to the east.  It was only 10 miles from there to Philippi.  Philippi, named for Philip, the father of Alexander the Great, was not the capital of Macedonia, but it was one of the most important cities.  It was a center of agriculture and gold mining.  Philip had fortified the city with walls to protect the eastern border of Macedonia from the Thracians, who were the people next door.  

 In the first century, Philippi was a Roman colony.  That meant that all the citizens of Philippi were also citizens of Rome, and the city was subject to all the laws and customs of Rome.  One of those laws was that it was closed off to foreign religions.  

 So the local Jewish community met outside the city walls, most likely at the banks of the Gangites River, just a mile away.  This meeting place was called a “place of prayer.”  That was the usual designation of a synagogue.  But there is no synagogue here.  By custom, there had to be 10 Jewish men to have a synagogue, and there may not have been enough.  In such cases, the Jewish community typically met near water, so that they could do their ritual purifications before worshipping.

 Among those gathered here was a woman named Lydia.  She was from Thyatira, a city in the region called Lydia.  She was a Gentile, one of those called a “God-fearer,” a Gentile who worshipped the God of the Jews without converting.  Some of the Romans

complained that too many of their women “dabbled in Eastern religions,” like Judaism.  Most likely she was a widow, since her husband is not mentioned.  She may have taken over the family business when her husband died, leaving her without an adult son, since it was unusual for women to be in business in the first century.  She was wealthy.  She was a dealer in purple fabrics.  The purple dye used in the ancient world was made from a sea snail that lived in the Mediterranean.  It required thousands of these snails to make just a fraction of an ounce of the dye.  The Phoenicians figured out to make the dye, and it was the color of the wealthy and royalty for centuries.  It was a luxury good, something only the wealthy could afford.  

 She hears the gospel and receives it.  She is the first named believer in Jesus in Europe.  And she and her household were baptized.  

 It occurs to me that this story might be a little bit frustrating for us.  Because it seems that at every step of the way, God was showing them where to go.  They were being guided along moment by moment.  And maybe, likely, we just don’t feel like we are being led by God in quite that way.  What should we do?  

 We might throw up our hands and say, “Well, God just doesn’t do that anymore.”  But that doesn’t seem to be the case.  Jesus told us in John 14 that we would not be left alone.  The Holy Spirit would come to us to continue to lead and guide us.  

 So maybe the answer is:  We’re not listening for God to speak to us.  One of the reasons I love going to the wilderness, like on the Algonquin canoe trip I lead, is that I hear from God better out there than I do here.  There are less noises, less distractions.  The modern world has just overwhelmed us with noise, and it’s hard to turn it all off.  

 How do we hear from God?  I think there are five ways we hear from God.

 First, we might just hear just God speak to us plainly.  A couple times in my life, I’ve had that experience.  That’s the most obvious way God can speak to us.

Second, we hear from God through dreams and visions.  I put those two together, because I think they are basically the same.  I think the difference is that a vision comes while we’re awake and a dream while we’re asleep.  Somebody might argue with me and say there’s more to it than that, but I think that’s basically the difference.  

 I do think God speaks to us through dreams.  Several times in my life, I have had dreams, and when I woke up, I knew what God wanted me to do.  And again, the

wilderness seems to help with that.  I don’t dream much at home, but I do dream in the wilderness.  And a few times, I’ve had dreams from God out there.

 Third, God can speak to us through prophecy, a word from another believer.  

 Fourth, God can speak to us through a deep inner conviction.  Deep down in our spirits, we just know what God wants us to do.  

 And finally, God can speak to us through circumstances.  God can “open and close doors.”  Some wonder if that might be the case here.  They wonder, “Did Paul and his companions have to change course because he fell ill?”  In verse 10, for the first time in Acts, we find the word “we,” meaning that Luke, the author, has joined Paul.  Paul spoke at times about a “thorn in the flesh,” which many think was a chronic illness, perhaps malaria.  Luke was a physician.  From this moment on, Luke becomes an almost constant companion to Paul.  Did Luke go with Paul because of some illness?  Perhaps.  

 But we should not fall into the fallacy of thinking that just because it’s God’s will, all the doors will be open, and everything will come up roses.  Paul was also arrested in Philippi, and he was run out of town twice in Macedonia.  

 The second question, after how do we hear from God, is how do we know that it is God speaking to us?  How do we authenticate the message?

 First, does it line up with what God has already revealed?  Does it align with Scripture?  God’s word does not change, so if what we think is God’s will does not fit with his revelation in Scripture, then we are not hearing correctly from God.

 Second, we should check our own motives.  We should be sure that we are not simply hearing from God what we want to hear.

 Third, we should check with others.  Paul may have had the vision in Troas, but he consulted with his partners to be sure that they were really hearing God’s will.

 And finally, we should look at the results.  When we follow God’s will, do we see God’s purposes accomplished?  Again, that doesn’t mean everything will come up roses.  Paul had plenty of opposition in Macedonia.  But God’s purpose was accomplished:  The gospel was heard and received, and new churches were started.

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