Voyage of discovery
- 11 October 2021
- Stuart Robinson
October 17th, 2021
I heard this story during the week:
A fellow reports that his wife happily announced that as the lockdown was ending, they were going to take a great trip, 6 weeks; a ‘voyage of discovery’.
She said, “and I don’t care where”.
And with that the woman produced a large fold-out paper map of the world, cello-taped it to the kitchen wall, gave her husband a dart and said to him, “Righto! throw that dart, and wherever it lands, that is where we are headed”.
“Turns out”, said the embarrassed husband, “we are spending 6 weeks behind the refrigerator!!” ☹.
Well, this morning I want to speak about a great trip – ‘a voyage of discovery’, upon which the apostle Paul and his colleagues embark.
Paul is on a journey; he is nearing the end of his ministry on this earth, and he is making his way to Jerusalem from Ephesus – around two thousand kilometres overland, but Paul is slowly taking the more scenic Mediterranean Sea option via the islands and ports of Kos, Rhodes, Patara, Phoenicia, Cyprus, Syria, Tyre, Ptolemais, Caesarea and then to Jerusalem (with Rome as the ultimate destination).
I call it a ‘voyage of discovery’ because Paul encounters the church at its very best, and is blessed by five wonderful gifts:
First: The Gift of Shared Ministry.
When Paul first became a Christian (and it recorded in Acts 9) the Lord said that Paul would preach the gospel to Jews and Gentiles and that he would encounter much personal suffering (Acts 9:16).
Then, as recorded in Acts 20:23, Paul is called by the Holy Spirit to “testify to God’s grace” in Jerusalem – in the certain knowledge that he will encounter “prison and hardship”. He is and will continue to be no stranger to adversity and strife.
But he is not alone.
He is a recipient of the gift of shared ministry.
In Acts 20:4ff we learn that accompanying Paul on his journey are Silas, Timothy, Luke, Sopater, Aristarchus, Gaius, Tychicus, and Trophimus.
These are people from a wide range of cultures, traditions, language groups, educational backgrounds, trades, and skill sets, who have been called to follow Jesus, and to serve as Paul’s companions along the way.
They too will endure hardship and privation (16:22; 19:29) as together, they advance the glorious gospel.
In Romans 12, Paul develops this idea and says that shared ministry will enable us to function like a ‘body’ – where if one suffers, all suffer, if one part is honoured, all shall rejoice (Romans 12:26).
And like a body, we all have a role and a part to play.
Further, we are to celebrate our diversity and our uniqueness….”so that there should be no division and we should have concern, each for the other” – Romans 12:25.
The gift of shared ministry.
Second, the gift of fellowship and hospitality.
Clearly there was fellowship amongst Paul and his eight companions.
Well, they in turn experience the gift of fellowship and hospitality from the members of the body they meet on their way to Jerusalem.
Here’s the express version:
- Acts 21:4 – Paul’s entourage arrived in the port of Tyre, and they sought out other Christ followers – and they stayed with them – for 7 days; all nine of them.
- Acts 21:7 – they then arrived in Ptolemais, greeted the people of God, and stayed with them for a day.
- Acts 21:8 – arriving in Caesarea, they hot-footed it to Phillip the evangelist’s home.
Now that must have been cosy – Phillip, his wife, their four children, and 9 guests. And the text says they stayed there several days (verse 10).
- Acts 21:15 – on the outskirts of Jerusalem the weary travellers are then hosted by an older Christian man, Mnason – whom we are told was one of the early disciples (likely to be a reference to one of Jesus’ first followers).
Mnason may have been in his 50’s or 60’s or older as more than 25 years have elapsed since Jesus conducted his earthly ministry.
Mnason had not only stuck with the programme, but he continued to enthusiastically support the advance of God’s kingdom. Hospitality was one tangible expression of that support.
Yes, to be hospitable is to use your time, money, property, and relational resources, in the service of Jesus.
And we are all enjoined to do it: St. Paul himself said, “Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. And you are to practise hospitality”. Romans 12:13.
Third, the gift of corporate prayer.
These first century believers took prayer seriously and they modelled it to their children and neighbours.
I do love that snapshot that Luke gives us here in verse 5, when the entire congregation at Tyre – men, women boys, and girls – whole families, distressed at what lies ahead for Paul in Jerusalem, leave the city with him and head down to the coast and St. Luke writes, “there on the beach, we all knelt to pray”.
And Paul taught all the congregations that he served, to do just that.
Here is Ephesians 6:18, “Be alert and keep on praying for all the Lord’s people…and pray that I may fearlessly make known the gospel.”
Fourth, the gift of prophecy.
Our Heavenly Father has given a range of gifts to his church including speaking gifts; some of which are prophetic – they foretell or forthtell the mind of God.
Agabus is mentioned in this text in verse 10.
He is the preacher that foretold the great famine across the entire Roman world during the reign of Emperor Claudius (Acts 11:28) and now he graphically underscores what Paul already knew; that very difficult times were around the corner.
In both recorded instances of Agabus’ ministry, he alerts God’s people to the dangers ahead so that they might be adequately prepared; a mercy of God, I would opine.
And Luke reminds us that this preaching/foretelling ministry is not gender specific.
Phillip – himself a preacher and evangelist, has not one, but four daughters whom the Lord has gifted with a public speaking call and vocation – verse 9.
Last, the gift of love and empathy.
These believers loved one another, and they loved their apostle.
We saw that when they came down to the beach to pray with Paul (in Tyre); we see it in Caesarea when the congregation and Paul’s colleagues plead with him not to go Jerusalem lest he perish; we see it when that same group breaks down and weeps at the thought of Paul’s mistreatment by the authorities in Jerusalem…and Paul’s rejoinder – that his heart is breaking because of their distress; we see it when members of that congregation then provide an escort for Paul and his friends as they make the journey (more than 100 k’s) from the coast to Jerusalem…and this text that we are working through today starts with Paul and his friends “tearing themselves away” from the leaders of the church in Ephesus who had wept, as they embraced and kissed Paul farewell (20:37).
Now then, it seems to me that we as a church have been on a journey, as it were, these past few years. An amalgamation, yes, but I’m thinking especially of the adversity and strife that this pandemic has generated.
And through it all, we have seen the church, our church, at its very best – and that is because the gifts of shared ministry, fellowship and hospitality, corporate prayer, prophecy (though sermons, studies, and small groups), love and empathy, have been on view for all the world to see.
May that continue to be our modus operandi as we move into a new season, a new church year, and a new phase of ministry, pregnant with new opportunities.
Jesus put it so brilliantly and succinctly thus, “By this will all people everywhere know that you are my disciples, if you love one another”. John 13:35.
The Lord be with you.