Come Over To Macedonia And Help Us
Key Verse 10: 10
“After Paul had seen the vision, we got ready at once to leave for Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to preach the gospel to them.”
In the previous passage, we learned that Paul and Barnabas had such a sharp disagreement with each other that caused them to go their separate ways. This was certainly not an easy decision for either of them. They deeply loved one another as brothers. It was largely because of Barnabas that many of the other believers came to also accept Paul as a brother. And they both journeyed hundreds of miles by ship and by foot together, sharing their lives and carrying the load of the gospel ministry together. Both Paul and Barnabas were beloved shepherds, Bible teachers and pillars of example for the first Gentile church in Antioch. And yet, even these two giants of faith reached an impasse that they could not overcome. Paul and Barnabas argued and parted company over Mark, the cousin of Barnabas. This was a heartbreaking moment for them as well as the Lord who desires unity among the fellowship of believers. But as difficult as this moment was among the Lord’s people, we still see how God, in wisdom and compassion salvaged even this difficult event; and how he strengthened and encouraged the believers as well. While Barnabas encouraged Mark and helped to restore him once again to be a faithful gospel worker, Paul together with Silas travelled from town to town giving them good news from the elders to the believers: You do not need to be a Jew to be saved. Indeed, it is only through the grace of our Lord Jesus that we are saved.
In this passage, we see how God uses Paul to pioneer Europe for the very first time. Together with Silas, Timothy and Luke, they set out on this harrowing missionary journey throughout the region of Galatia and Phrygia sharing the gospel and planting a ministry along the way. But ultimately, Paul’s goal was to reach the province of Asia. Let’s read verse 6 together: “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.” The author Luke tells us that while they were traveling, they were hindered from entering Asia. Although we may not understand how it happened, we see they understood that it was God who kept them from entering that area. And there is something very important for us to learn from this! How easy it is for us to forget that God is Lord over our lives. It is his gospel work and it is he who invites us to participate in it. Often times, even as Christians we forget this, and fall into the trap of calculating and making our own plans and setting our hearts our own dreams and vision for our lives and ministry work. But the truth is often that our vision is not God’s vision and our plans are not His plans! God is the one who began the gospel work. He set it into motion through his Son, and in Christ Jesus he has also invited us to participate in this grand plan of worldwide redemption. May the Lord help us to remain prayerful, as we hold on to His world mission vision for the gospel to be preached, and diligent in following his own leading. Paul and those with him learned this the hard way. Let’s see.
Let’s look at verses 7-8, “When they came to the border of 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.” Paul and his brothers really tried their hardest to enter into Asia. They couldn’t enter through Mysia. They even attempted to enter through the neighboring area called Bithynia, but the Lord stopped them. Then they sailed all the way around Mysia, down to the city of Troas hoping they could enter through there. Yet again, they were stopped. We can see that they really had their hearts set on entering the province of Asia, even though they knew that the Lord was hindering them from entering. After going through Galatia, they probably had it in mind to plant a church in Asia also. Paul was an ambitious man. He wanted to cover the whole region we now know as Turkey. Perhaps it was because the people of that area seemed to be more open to the gospel. On the other hand, the western world towards the Capital City of Rome was famously decadent. It was the hub of depraved living. The people worshipped foreign gods and idols and lived any kind of lifestyle they saw fit. Nobody feared God and they openly lived in sin. Maybe Paul wasn’t thinking of pioneering the city of Rome at all at the time. With a reputation of Las Vegas, Amsterdam and New Orleans during Mardi-Gras all wrapped in one. Paul may have wanted nothing to do with Rome and the western world at the time. But whatever might have been on Paul’s heart at the time, we see that it was clearly not what was on God’s heart.
So then, what was on God’s heart? Let’s look at verse 9: “During the night Paul had a vision of a man of Macedonia standing and begging him, ‘Come over to Macedonia and help us.’” So what happened that night in Troas? Simply put, God gave Paul a vision— His gospel vision for penetrating the decadent western world. While others would look at Rome and the surrounding regions, and turn their heads away, God looked at all of them, seeing the darkness and all the people there suffering in sin. And God looked on them with great compassion. The Lord showed Paul a vision of a man begging because He knew that these people, of all peoples in the surrounding regions, needed to hear the gospel the most. More so, the time had come and they were finally ready to hear and to receive the gospel. For this reason, God didn’t want Paul to spend even one more day away from them. He didn’t want Paul to waste even one more day trying to enter Asia. He wanted them to go there in haste and give them the good news. Yet God could’ve easily commanded Paul to go up to Macedonia and preach there in the first place. So why didn’t he? Well this really shows us the gentle heart of our Lord. He understands his servants’ heart very intimately and never forces himself on them. Paul was a man who truly knew the grace of Jesus, and loved him, and fully devoted himself to serve him. In his zeal to serve Christ, he followed his own vision to evangelize Asia and possibly all [modern day] Turkey. But the Lord had to help him by letting him experience some disappointments. It was disappointment after disappointment that eventually led Paul just across the sea into Macedonia— into modern day Europe. It was disappointments in his second missionary journey that set them up to be right where they needed to be in order to open up to where God wanted them to go.
But Paul also needed a vision from the Lord before beginning his new journey, let’s look at verse 10: “After Paul had seen the vision, we got ready at once to leave for Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to preach the gospel to them.” Paul could have just gone to Macedonia simply out of obedience, but the Lord gave him a vision so that Paul could share in the Lord’s heart for those lost sinners in that region. When God calls us, he’s never looking for our service or sacrifice. When God calls us, he wants us to share his heart which is broken for the lost and those suffering in this sin-filled world. As the writer in Psalms 51 puts it, “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and a contrite heart, O God, You will not despise.” (51:17). Genuine mission cannot truly begin until we accept God’s heart. It does not happen out of blind obedience. Until our hearts are truly broken like his, we will find ourselves only serving our own desires rather than God’s. The pioneering of Europe could not occur until Paul and his companions were able to share God’s broken heart for the people of Macedonia and the region suffering in sin. And when God gave them this vision, they were able to pray about it and come to a decision based on a deep, unified heart’s conviction. They were now ready to give up their own plans and to follow God’s plans.
Let’s read verses 11: “From Troas we put out to sea and sailed straight for Samothrace, and the next day we went on to Neapolis.” Tracking their journey, we see that Paul and the disciples fully accepted God’s calling. They immediately set sail to a small Island half way through called Samothrace, rested, and put out to sail the very next day without wasting anytime. They had a sense of urgency that could only come from God. Macedonia was inland, in northern Greece. So the first port they arrived at was Neapolis before making their way on land. Read verses 12-13 “12 From there we traveled to Philippi, a Roman colony and the leading city of that district of Macedonia. And we stayed there several days. 13 On the Sabbath we went outside the city gate to the river, where we expected to find a place of prayer. We sat down and began to speak to the women who had gathered there.” Philippi was an independently governed Roman colony. Many generals and retired Roman officers lived in that small region. There were so few Jews, that a synagogue had not even been built in the area. When Paul and the disciples arrived, they must’ve really felt like fish out of water because there didn’t seem to be any godly influence in that colony. Undeterred, they even went outside the city gates to find a quiet place to pray and worship on the Sabbath. And it was outside the city gates that God led them to their first Bible students— a small group of women who had gathered there by the river to pray.
Let’s read verse 14 together, “One of those listening was a woman from the city of Thyatira named Lydia, a dealer in purple cloth. She was a worshiper of God. The Lord opened her heart to respond to Paul’s message.” The Bible highlights this one woman who was particularly touched by the gospel message and whose faith really became a source of blessing for so many. Lydia was a business woman. She had her own house and was self-sufficient. In a society that was predominately patriarchal, an accomplished woman like Lydia was something that was very rare and special. Despite her worldly accomplishments, the one description the Bible gives about her was that she was a “worshipper of God.” This really shows her great humility before God. Lydia was a woman who could’ve easily put her faith in material things or her abilities as a seller of beautiful purple clothing. She had all the reasons in the world, as a business woman, to remain busy and to make sure that her business stays ahead of the competition. Rather she acknowledges her need for God’s mercy in her life and humbled herself in reverence to worship God on the Sabbath. Truly she was ready to hear the gospel also. So God opened her heart to receive and accept the gospel message from Paul. What a great woman she is. Because of this one humble woman’s faith, that day her entire household accepted the gospel of Jesus Christ and were all baptized.
Here we cannot ignore Paul’s amazing and humble faith either. He came from a Pharisee background where women were ignored and relegated to a corner of the synagogue, never to speak out of turn. But in Christ, he had come to respect and honor them as vital members of the Christian community and the heartbeat of the kingdom’s work. As he set foot in Europe and sees a community of worshippers by the riverside, he could have easily ignored them for they looked small and insignificant. But Paul saw them as the seed of the gospel work in this new region. So with all humility, he taught them the Bible, and served this woman and her household as if they were the most important people in the world until the gospel was firmly planted in their hearts. Finally we see how this mustard seed faith of his grew to bear the fruit of life.
Let’s read verse 15: “when she and the members of her household were baptized, she invited us to her home. ‘If you consider me a believer in the Lord,’ she said, ‘come and stay at my house.’ And she persuaded us.” This is how the first ever church was planted in Europe. From a worshipper, Lydia became a follower of Christ who also shared in the Lord’s heart and mission for the lost. The Lord really blessed Lydia’s faith and abilities and multiplied it. Lydia used her influence and abilities as a business woman to help the disciples share the gospel all over Europe. Lydia’s home became the first house-church established in Philippi. They really supported Paul and his ministry throughout the rest of his journey. They supplied his needs and supported the ministry in every way they could. In his letter to the Philippians, Paul would highly commend this ministry as the example of generosity in the highest form. Even when it seemed that everyone else abandoned him, Paul would later praise this ministry for always caring for him and staying by his side.
In this passage, we see how mission begins with God’s vision and sharing in God’s heart. We learn that our own vision and plan may not be God’s vision and plan, and so we must pray to find out God’s heart. Paul and his companions had to learn how to truly share God’s heart for even the most wretched of peoples. Through their humble acceptance, they were then ready to join in the salvation work of God. When Paul embraced God’s heart for the suffering people of Macedonia he was able to look at these ordinary people gathered to pray and envision the entrance of the gospel into Europe. It would have been easy to overlook these women and ignore them or despise them as irrelevant. How often Christians do so in life! Yet, God shows us that he works through such small seemingly insignificant things. While some may be drawn to big and flashy things in life, God often displays his power through the small things in life. How easy it is even for us sometimes to ignore unimportant people and places because of our own preconceived ideas. For a long time we have abandoned Triton campus because it seemed barren and unproductive. But if we share God’s heart, and have his mission vision for the small things, we won’t miss the great work he is about to do. May God help us as a ministry to share his heart for the lost, and hold on to his world mission vision for the gospel.