The Signs and Wonders of Easter Part 5: Opportunities and Open Hearts!
The Signs and Wonders of Easter Part 5: Opportunities and Open Hearts!
Text: Acts 16:9-15
6 Easter, C
“Is this where God wants me to be?” Paul certainly ended up at a place that he originally wasn’t planning to be. He, Silas and Timothy, were travelling in what is now Turkey. Their intention, was to go to the churches which Paul had planted in a previous journey, check on them, strengthen them, and share with them the decision of the Jerusalem council. But God redirects his plans. First they are forbidden by the Holy Spirit to speak the word in Asia. And then they are not allowed into Bithynia either. Was it a vision or prophetic voice, or simply by circumstantial barriers? We are never told. The point is that where God sent them is not where they expected to go; what God called them to do was not what they had planned. What they wanted was overridden by what God wanted. And so the Spirit sent them to a place which they had never expected to go to an opportunity they didn’t even know existed — to Macedonia, and a whole new continent!
We also often have our plans of what we think should happen to us. We have our designs on where we should go and where we should live, what our life should look like. Yet someone has observed: “Life is what happens while making other plans.” God’s plan and his designs upon our lives are often not what we want or hope for. Another sage has said: “Man proposes, but God disposes.” So what do we do when God takes us along another pathway upon which we had not planned to travel? We know what Paul did. He saw the opportunity and seized it.
9A vision appeared to Paul in the night: a man of Macedonia was standing there, urging him and saying, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.” 10And when Paul had seen the vision, immediately we sought to go on into Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to preach the gospel to them. With the cry Come and help God was making plain to Paul and his friends that opportunities abound! Opportunities are all around us, just waiting to be discovered. So what do we do when God takes us along another pathway upon which we had not planned to travel? Often we become resentful and bitter. We think: “How could this have happened? How could my hopes be so shattered?” We even become angry with and resentful of God. We resent that he hasn’t given us our heart’s desire, especially since we’ve given ourselves to do his ministry. Doesn’t the dedication of our lives to his service earn us some right to have our preferences met? Shouldn’t God comply with my design for my life?
Paul could have done all this and more. What he had planned was good and god-pleasing. It was important work for the church at large. But it wasn’t the opportunity that God had placed before him. He could have sulked, become resentful, bitter and angry. He could have pointed to all his work for God’s Church and understandably expected to be able to continue as he saw fit. But he doesn’t. He accepts that God’s plans for his life might be better than his own. He accepts that God might be doing something far bigger than he could ever have imagined. He trusts God to lead his life and open the right opportunities for his continued service to Christ.
11So, setting sail from Troas, we made a direct voyage to Samothrace, and the following day to Neapolis, 12and from there to Philippi, which is a leading city of the district of Macedonia and a Roman colony. We remained in this city some days. 13And on the Sabbath day we went outside the gate to the riverside, where we supposed there was a place of prayer, and we sat down and spoke to the women who had come together.
And so it was that Paul found himself in Philippi. And here we find ourselves in the Georgian Triangle. It may not have been the path we would have chosen on our own, but it is the result of the opportunities God has placed before us. Yes, here we are, recognizing the opportunities to be open to those whose hearts are ready.
God disposes his grace to bless us where he sends us, and also to use us to bring his blessing to others. Throughout the history of missions, God has been redirecting the paths of his people, sending them where they had not planned to go, and using them greatly in these unintended places. And so it may be with you today. Know this, dear friends ... The life you have, the friends you share, the family you call your own, this is all from God. This is what has called to you, to come and help. To come and share Christ. This is where God wants you to be! This is where God is sending you! This is God’s will for you! Remember that it is all a part of God’s good and gracious will for you and His grace will sustain you.
14One who heard us was a woman named Lydia, from the city of Thyatira, a seller of purple goods, who was a worshiper of God. The Lord opened her heart to pay attention to what was said by Paul. 15And after she was baptized, and her household as well, she urged us, saying, “If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come to my house and stay.” And she prevailed upon us. And so from the words come and help to the words Come and stay we are shown that where God’s opportunities abound so also do open hearts abound!
“Man proposes, but God disposes.” God disposes upon us his goodness. God disposes upon us his grace! That grace comes, first of all, as forgiveness to those who repent of their sinful idolatry. That grace comes to us because of the one who in the garden prayed, “Thy will, O God, not mine, be done.” That grace comes to us because of the Servant of the Lord who submitted to the will of the Lord to crush him. Indeed, he was crushed by the weight of the judgment upon our rebellious idolatry. He went to the place where we should go—to hell itself. Talk about an unlooked for opportunity! But there Christ also declared his victory over sin, a victory which he now shares with us in this Eastertide and forevermore!
Yet God disposes his grace upon us in another way. That is by blessing us wherever he sends us, even if it is to where we don’t wish to go. By opening hearts and minds to the Easter joy we have to share. That’s what happened to Paul and his companions as described in Acts 16. God closed doors in Asia and opened a door into Europe. Paul crossed the Hellespont and went to Philippi in Macedonia. There the Holy Spirit used Paul as a messenger to bring the Gospel to people who had never heard it before. First Lydia was converted, then her household, then a jailer in Philippi. And then, over centuries, much of the continent of Europe was converted! And from Europe the Gospel mission spread throughout the world. It all happened because Paul went not to where he wanted to go, but to where God sent him.
12Now many signs and wonders were regularly done among the people by the hands of the apostles. During this season of Easter as we spend time in the readings from Acts we have witnessed many Easter miracles. Healing and release for those who belong to the risen Christ. Eyes that are opened to the truth of the resurrection and tongues that are loosened to speak the truth that death has been overcome. These signs and wonders are not just limited to the apostolic age, but are still to be recognized wherever and whenever Christ’s Church exists. For where the Gospel of Jesus Christ is preached, there Easter continues to change this world and the people in it. There opportunities abound and Hearts are opened through the sharing of the Easter wonder that Christ is Risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia.