First United Methodist Church
May 15, 2022
Rev. Dr. Byron Kaiser
Paul: Driven by Vision, Called to Suffer
Have you been called to suffer?
Suffering just comes with living. We know that just living one encounters suffering. We don’t think of small life-pains as suffering. It’s the big life-pains that rise to the level of suffering.
Helen Keller quoted in: Barbara Rowes, The book of Quotes, Dutton, "Although the world is full of suffering, it is also full of the overcoming of it.”
Someone asked C.S. Lewis, "Why do the righteous suffer?" "Why not?" he replied. "They're the only ones who can take it."
“Suffering is the heritage of the bad, of the penitent, and of the Son of God. Each one ends in the cross. The bad thief is crucified, the penitent thief is crucified, and the Son of God is crucified. By these signs we know the widespread heritage of suffering.” Oswald Chambers in Christian Discipline.
Suffering with purpose, there’s the difference.
“A clay pot sitting in the sun will always be a clay pot. It must go through the white heat of the furnace to become porcelain.” Mildred Witte Struven, in Bits and Pieces, September 19, 1991, p. 6.
At the Nicene Council, an important church meeting in the 4th century A.D., of the 318 delegates attending, fewer than 12 had not lost an eye or lost a hand or did not limp on a leg lamed by torture for their Christian faith. (Vance Havner.)
William Stangster, The Secret of Radiant Life: 'Men and women were made for God; all parts of our personality are drawn to health when he is resident within'.
Sets the stage for us to contemplate the coming tests for the Apostle Paul.
Between a “Rock” and a Hard Place
In the “tween” time, between Paul’s first and second missionary journey’s, Paul found himself between a rock and hard place.
The “rock” was Peter, and the hard place was Jerusalem.
Paul fought for the welcoming of non-Jews into the Way of Jesus Christ. The conservative faction of Christianity, headquartered in Jerusalem, wanted to limit the message of Jesus to those in the Jewish community. They advocated before one can be a Christian one had to convert to Judaism. Peter was the leader of the conservative faction. Paul advocated for receiving non-Jewish converts without prejudice. Peter dreamed a dream from God giving direction to open the Gospel to all people, clean and unclean. To phrase it another way, Peter received direction from God to open the Gospel of Jesus Christ to all without prejudice. God resolved the conflict. After which, the Holy Spirit drove Paul onto a second missionary journey.
The Second Journey Begins
A second test confronts Paul over who will be his traveling companions. Barnabas wants John Mark to join them on this second missionary journey. However, Paul will not accept him because of the conflict from the first journey resulting in John Mark leaving the team in Cyprus. Barnabas and Paul part company over the inclusion of John Mark in the company of travelers.
Paul and Silas team up choosing Timothy to accompany them. Perhaps like an apprentice. Later, Luke, writer of the Gospel According to Luke and the Book of Acts, joins the companions from Troas to Philippi.
The companions set out for the churches that Paul and Barnabas established on the first missionary Journey. This time they traveled the Roman Imperial, highway from Syrian Antioch to Tarsus to Derbe then to Troas. This 400-mile hike was through the mountains. Peaks rise 8,000 feet high. Curiously, as Paul and Silas prayed for direction, God refused to let them enter new territory. Having visited the communities of faith along the route, they pushed east to Troas.
Having arrived in Troas, during the night, Paul had vision of a man saying, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.” Some scholars believe that the man in the vision was Luke. Luke, perhaps a citizen of Philippi, met Paul and companions in Troas and accompanied them. The evidence for this is that in Acts, Luke writes in the first person when recording Paul’s activities from Troas to Philippi. After Philippi, Luke returns to writing in the third person.
The companions travel by boat to the Island Samothrace then on to Neapolis. Once on shore, they walk the ten miles inland to Philippi. Philippi is the city established as a memorial to Octavius and Mark Antony who in a location just outside its walls, defeated Brutus and Cassius, the killers of Julius Caesar. This Roman colony of 10-15,000 residents was popular for retired Roman soldiers, active soldiers, and few Jews. Paul and company have arrived in what we know as modern Europe.
In Philippi, Paul baptizes Lydia. When no building is built for Jews to worship, they gather by the river of the city. So, on the Sabbath, Paul and company went to the shores of the Gangites River to preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ. There they found a collection of Jewish and God-fearing women. Luke records, “The Lord opened her heart to listen eagerly to what was said by Paul. When she and her household were baptized, she urged us, saying, ‘If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord come and stay at my home.’” Lydia became the first European convert to Christianity. You and I know her as the woman who made purple cloth. Lydia became a leader in the churches of Philippi.
The Slave Girl of Philippi
Paul healed an annoyance. The companions had a great harvest of believers in Philippi. Crowds grew as they preached and as they taught about Jesus. In Jesus’ itinerant ministry, commonly when a demon was present, the demon could not stop from shouting Jesus’ identity as the Son of God. When no one else seemed to get it, the demons could not keep silent. Here in the streets of Philippi, similarly a young slave-girl, who seems to have been the first-century equivalent of a psychic or fortune-teller, followed them saying, “These people are servants of the Most High God! They are proclaiming a way of salvation to you!” Continuing for many days, Paul became annoyed. Finally, Paul turned to the girl and said to the unclean spirit in her, “In the name of Jesus Christ, I command you to leave her!” The spirit did.
Facing a Fasces
The companions faced the fasces. Now, the owners of the slave girl were profiting from the payments people made to them so that she would tell their fortunes. Without the demon in her, she was no good to them. They went to the magistrate of the city and brought charges against Paul and Silas for damaging the business and causing a public nuisance. With the crowds now whipped in anger against Paul and Silas, the magistrate acted swiftly. He ordered them to be beaten with fasces, and placed in jail, in locks causing them to sit up all night. The fasces was a club made from narrow branches bound together until the bundle was about 6 inches in diameter. Sometimes an ax blade would be embedded. Paul and Silas would have been horribly bruised with probable broken ribs. Yet, in their suffering, they sang hymns and praise to God through the night.
Paul and Silas in Prison
The companions experienced the joy of the jailer. It just so happened, that night an earthquake hit Philippi. The quake loosened the locks and opened the doors. Now, if a prisoner escaped from jail, the jailer would be held accountable by torture and execution. Paul and Silas not only did not leave the jail, but they also prevented the other prisoners from escaping. As the jailer prepared to commit suicide because of the thought of his doom, Paul and Silas assured him that all were accounted for. They also shared the grace and peace of Jesus. The jailer took Paul and Silas to his home to have their wounds cleaned. Paul continued to share about Jesus. The jailer and all his household came to faith and were baptized immediately. In his joy, though in the middle of the night, the jailer made a great meal for them.
The rest of the story: In the morning, Paul revealed to the jailer that he and Silas were Roman citizens. No citizen of Rome can be punished without a trial, to do so brought severe consequences on the magistrate. The jailer sent word to the magistrate that ordered their beating and imprisonment. Though the magistrate gave the order for their immediate release, Paul would not leave the jail until the magistrate came to the jail and apologized for his hasty behavior, which the magistrate did. He also invited Paul to leave the city quickly and asked if he would be so kind not to inform the Roman officials of his error.
Paul: Called to Suffer
Are you keeping count of Paul’s sufferings: Conflict with Peter in Antioch and Jerusalem; Illness in Pisidian Antioch; Stoning in Derbe; Beating with fasces, locked in locks, and jailed in Philippi?
The loss of some vision due to illness, the breaking of bones in his hands and ribs from stoning and beatings, the raw skin from the locks on his ankles, Paul absorbed the brutality of his adversaries and prevailed.
What drives Paul through his suffering? Vision drives Paul. The Holy Spirit drives Paul. God called Paul to follow, to go and to suffer. Suffering came to Paul because of his obedience to follow and to go.
Do you have a vision for your life that you follow? Do you have a vision so compelling that you would leave your life as you know it and go? Do you have vision so deep and so radical that you would suffer being beaten or being jailed? If you do not, let me introduce to you another.
You see, “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him won't perish but will have eternal life. God didn't send his Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through him.”
This vision of God’s meant that he would suffer and die on the cross, that you and I might believe through the faith of Jesus Christ.
Christ has come among us.
Christ has died.
Christ has risen.
Christ abides with us.
Christ will come again.
Paul writes, “We were buried with Christ through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.”—Romans 6:4.