Tales of the Unexpected
- 8 August 2021
- Stuart Robinson
You’ve heard the expression: ‘a closed door’, right?
It means that we were unable to pursue the plans we had made: a closed door.
I’ve entitled this homily, ‘Tales of the unexpected’, because of the unexpected ways in which doors were closed to St. Paul (and his colleagues, Silas, Timothy, and Luke) and the unexpected, and truly remarkable consequences that issued from those closed doors.
Let me give you the short version: Luke who is recording this travelogue (Acts 16:10) tells us that Paul and his entourage had planned to preach the gospel in certain ancient provinces that comprise modern-day Turkey.
And the door closed.
We do not know what happened – at all.
That said, St. Luke confidently attributes the closed doors to the will and purposes of God:
Acts 16:6 – Paul and his companions travelled throughout the region…having been kept by the Holy Spirit from preaching the wordin the province of Asia.
Acts 16:7 – They came to the border of Mysia – they tried to enter but the Spirit of Jesus would not allow them to.
I am most helped here because even though doors have closed (for whatever reason), Paul’s enthusiasm for the gospel is not dampened, nor is his openness to the unexpected leadings of his heavenly father, quelled.
That very night (Acts 16:9) – Paul has a vision of a man from Macedonia pleading for help – and so compelling is that vision that Paul and his colleagues conclude that God is calling them to Europe (Macedonia) to preach the gospel – so at once they ‘pivot’ – they set sail, and in due course arrive in Philippi.
It seems that God’s heart was beating so fast for a particular people group, that he closed what appeared to be doors of opportunity and he opened others – widely.
And Paul did not hesitate to obey.
So, let’s think about Philippi, for a moment.
Philippi was the first place in Europe where the gospel of Jesus was preached and where people were saved.
Philippi was, among other things, a Roman ‘retirement colony comprising old soldiers, bureaucrats, merchants, traders and the infrastructure to support the whole enterprise.
Philippi is in Northern Greece – around 20 km’s inland from the port of Kavalla (or Neapolis as it was known in N.T. times).
And so, a return to the unexpected: The very first person to respond to the gospel of Christ in Europe was a woman; a businesswoman!
Her name was named Lydia (Acts 16:14-15).
And as a seller of purple cloth (known to be worth its weight in silver) she would have been wealthy, well connected, and influential.
Interestingly, Lydia, came from the very province of Asia (480 k’s east of Philippi) that God had stopped Paul from entering.
Now then, ten men were required to form a synagogue and failing that, Jewish people could meet in the open air -and by a river, for ceremonial washing, was even better.
So, verse 13 tells us that a brave and pious group of women had publicly gathered about 2.5 kilometres outside Philippi by the Gangites River for prayer, as there was no synagogue and there were no men (it seems).
And if that is not unusual enough – Paul and his friends break with convention (as did Jesus in John 4:27) and they sit down with these women to explain the gospel!
Tales of the unexpected, indeed.
And it continues: for the God who closes doors, also open hearts.
St Luke reports in verse 14, ‘the Lord opened Lydia’s heart to respond to Paul’s message’.
Indeed, not only was Lydia converted, but her entire household also (comprising children, other extended family, and domestic staff) was won to faith, and then baptised into Christ (verse 15).
Lydia was clearly an influential character.
And in placing her life in Jesus’ hands, Lydia also lays her resources at the feet of her Saviour.
To Paul and his ministry team she declares, “if you consider me a believer in the Lord, come and stay at my house”.
Her argument must have been compelling for Luke gently adds, “and…she persuaded us” (Acts 16:15).
Lydia’s generosity and selflessness seems to have set the tone for the church in Philippi; hardly surprising as the believers most likely met – in the early days at least – in Lydia’s home (Acts 16:40).
So, that first European church, planted in around 51 or 52 AD – 18 years after Jesus had risen from dead, initially comprised…well I was about to say an unexpected group of people, but it seems the Lord is in the business of working out his purposes according to his agenda not ours…and so the church initially comprised – the strong and independent Lydia and her family and staff, a former demon-possessed fortune teller (16:18ff), and a Roman prison-commandant and his entire family and staff (16:25ff).
Tales of the unexpected.
Where doors closed, God opened hearts and minds to the truth of the gospel.
And that is exactly what we are seeing in the life of our church, dear people.
Tales of the unexpected: who would have predicted three years ago the closed doors associated with COVID 19; the fact that we cannot meet in person to worship, or to pray, or to personally console, or to comfort one-another?
Conversely, who would have predicted three years ago that our ‘gospel reach’ would grow so significantly; that hundreds of people would receive our weekly Community News; that Little Sheep families might watch our videos and talks over and over again; that people who have been prevented from attending services due to geography, or infirmity, or personal disposition now attend Zoom church each Sunday; that more people than ever are able to join in on-line prayer meetings and small groups; that dozens and dozens of people are intentionally connecting one with the other through emails, phone calls, hand written letters, food and care packages, and various forms of social media?
Tales of the unexpected indeed.
Doors close; hearts open; to God be the glory.
May we pray?
Lord, please enable us, like your servant St. Paul, to not have our enthusiasm for the gospel dampened when doors appear to close, and grant us a renewed openness to the unexpected leadings of your Holy Spirit – with a view to seeing hearts opened, and your purposes advanced.
In the name of Christ. Amen.