Today, as we begin to think about the present-day element of what God is doing in his global harvest field, I want to speak from a text that powerfully relates to one of the most important dynamics shaping our approach to present-day missions. That is, as we have heard many times—the current unreached people groups are, almost without exception, the most difficult to penetrate with the gospel. Remote locations, high language and cultural barriers and religious fundamentalism are only a few reasons why the remaining unreached people groups are the most resistant to the gospel. That is a great challenge to present day missions and so this morning we want to explore Biblical truth that show us what is required to pray for, send missionaries and perhaps go as missionaries to fields that are very hard. Or to say it another way, this morning we want to see from the Scripture how God’s grace is manifest among those who he uses to reach peoples that are very hostile to the gospel. Or, if you are here and are not a missionary or not at present actively involved in missions, you can hear this through this lens—how is God’s grace manifest to me to enable me to do very hard things for Jesus?
To do that, we go to the book of Acts where we see the apostle Paul preparing
to leave for what was arguably his toughest assignment.
He was headed to a place where he knew beyond all doubt that he would confront
hostile opposition, certain imprisonment and affliction.
This city was the home of his most committed and politically powerful opposition—a
place where 40 men once took a vow not to eat or drink before they had killed him.
Paul is nearing the end of his third missionary journey and along the way;
he has been taking up a collection from the Gentile churches for the saints in
On his way back to
Paul says to these Ephesian elders beginning with Acts 20:22, “And now, behold, I am going to Jerusalem, constrained by the Spirit, not knowing what will happen to me there, 23except that the Holy Spirit testifies to me in every city that imprisonment and afflictions await me. 24But I do not account my life of any value nor as precious to myself, if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God. 25And now, behold, I know that none of you among whom I have gone about proclaiming the kingdom will see my face again.”
From these verses, we see the first manifestation of the grace of God required
of those who would venture into hostile territory.
intimate and overriding influence of the Holy Spirit.
this chapter, we see Paul live out two expressions of the Spirit’s influence on Paul.
First, in verse 22 where Paul says, “…I
am going to
The Spirit sets very narrow boundaries within which Paul could proceed.
The truth is illustrated in those iron-gated lanes you must stand in as you
wait to go on one of the rides at Disney World.
You feel a bit like a cow in a long confinement stall as you are herded to
your destination. The
Spirit has given Paul a narrow “tunnel” of sorts through which he must walk—there is no alternate course or destination. He is hemmed in by
the Spirit, constrained to go and minister in
Why? Why does the Spirit constrain Paul like this toward
We read in Acts 23 that on the next day his imprisonment enabled him to preach the Sanhedrin,
the leaders of the Jews. His
The Holy Spirit certainly doesn’t always or even consistently relate to us in this constraining way. Sometimes he opens and closes doors—he did that for Paul as well. The point for us today is that if we are to move into areas where there is both great danger and great opportunity as we carry out the Great Commission, we must be people who experience this grace of God seen in this constraining ministry of the Spirit. It may not feel like grace when God has you constrained like this—it may feel like a straightjacket, but one day you’ll see it as grace and thank God for it.
We see a second element of the Spirit’s ministry to Paul in verse 23. He says, “not knowing what will happen to me there, except that the Holy Spirit testifies to me in every city that imprisonment and afflictions await me.” Not only does the Spirit constrain Paul, he also braces Paul for what it to come. In this verse we see that the Spirit regularly braced Paul for the suffering that would come his way. This is perhaps why it was said of Paul that when he came to a new town the first inquiry he made of the believers there was to ask about the condition of the local jail because he knew he would end up there. Not only did the Spirit give Paul this general warning of the imprisonments and afflictions in verse 23, in chapter 21 we read this unusual account of Agabus the prophet who had come from Judea. Luke tells us this about this encounter with the Holy Spirit. He says, “And coming to us, he (Agabus) took Paul’s belt and bound his own feet and hands and said, “Thus says the Holy Spirit, “This is how the Jews at Jerusalem will bind the man who owns this belt and deliver him into the hands of the Gentiles.’”
When Luke and all those with Paul heard this, out of their love for Paul, they begged
him not to proceed any further. There is a lot of discussion surrounding this text, but the meaning seems clear. That is—the Spirit
of God clearly spoke through the prophet to tell Paul with specificity what was awaiting him.
This warning was perfectly consistent with what he had heard from the Spirit
on a general level on many occasions. This time however, it was acted out prophetically as the Old Testament prophets sometimes
did. However, in this case, Paul’s friends wrongly interpreted the prophecy as a prohibition for Paul to go to
How many missionaries who have had family and friends and loved ones begging them not
to venture onto various missionary minefields has this text encouraged?
For those who have that experience, it is doubtless gut-wrenching, but it
also provides a powerful opportunity for God’s glory.
When this happens to Paul or any missionary, Christ is glorified first, because
of the grace he gives missionaries to decide to go into harm’s way for the kingdom.
But in these cases, Christ is doubly glorified because of the additional
grace he gives the missionary go over the pleas of those they love most on this earth.
When missionaries go out in those circumstances, they are showing that Christ
is worthy not only of their life, but of the heartbreak of their loved ones and the anguish they experience at
seeing their heartbreak. It’s
not ultimately about what your family and friends say, it’s about how the Spirit of God is telling you to glorify
reason this text is difficult for some people in
May I suggest that at least some of the fog laying over this text for many is the lie embedded in our comfort bound culture that says, “If something is hard, especially life-threatening, it must not come from God.” How many times do you hear people in our culture say in the middle of a difficult undertaking, “It’s just not supposed to be this hard…” That may be true in some cases, but God doesn’t regulate his call on our lives based on how easy or how hard it is. He is in the business or raising up an army who will testify to his supreme worth by charging head-long into the hardened, fortified strongholds of the enemy—an enemy who, from those fortifications is sniping at them and all who support them. The testimony of Acts 20 is that in the midst of all of that, the Spirit of God will be there constraining us to move to the proper battle line and mercifully brace us for the suffering that will be ours.
A second manifestation of the grace of God in Paul seen in this text is in 20:24. Paul says, “But I do not account my life of any value nor as precious to myself, if only I may finish
my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God.” That was Paul’s response
to the general warning of the Holy Spirit that “imprisonment and afflictions
We see a similar response to the Holy Spirit’s specific warning about what awaited him in
The reason Paul had little concern for his own comfort or survival is simple. The reason he had
no concern about being bound in
One of the better known accounts in this regard is the story of John G. Paton, missionary to the New Hebredes in the second half of the 19th century. When told of Paton’s plans to go to this hostile place that had already seen two English missionaries killed and eaten by cannibals, “A Mr. Dickson exploded, "The cannibals! You will be eaten by cannibals!" The memory of [these two former missionaries] was only 19 years old. But to this Paton responded: Mr. Dickson, you are advanced in years now, and your own prospect is soon to be laid in the grave, there to be eaten by worms; I confess to you, that if I can but live and die serving and honoring the Lord Jesus, it will make no difference to me whether I am eaten by Cannibals or by worms; and in the Great Day my Resurrection body will rise as fair as yours in the likeness of our risen Redeemer.”
Countless stories like that could be told and they all ring the same tone because the same grace of God seen in Paul has been present with all those who have swum among the sharks in order to get out the gospel to the unreached. Paul’s dual objective was to “finish my course and the ministry I received from the Lord Jesus” and to “testify to the gospel of the grace of God.” There is that Christ-centered, gospel-driven eternal perspective that comes only by the grace of God. Whether you are a go-er or a sender, cry out for this—don’t let go of God until you get it. When he points out those idols that keep you from that, surrender them to Jesus—die and trust him to bring life for you and others out of your dying. He’s worth it and you’ll know joy because of it.
Page last modified on 1/18/2009
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