What an absolutely wonderful theme for a preacher to be given as a subject ... Keep on Speaking.
It comes from our continuing journey through the Acts of the Apostles, which I said last time should better be called The Acts of God through the Apostles. Today we find ourselves at Acts 18:1-17 where in verse 9 the LORD speaks to Paul and says:‘Do not be afraid; keep on speaking, do not be silent. For I am with you, and no one is going to attack and harm you, because I have many people in this city.’
Paul is on his second missionary journey, which has resulted in the Gospel reaching Europe for the first time. When I last preached, Paul was in Berea, then Peter Lilystone took us to Athens with Paul, last week we took a quick trip to Afghanistan with Becky, this evening we are in Corinth. In the context of missionary journeys ... what missionary journey is Meadow Way on? As we see through Acts, there's a missionary journey followed by a period of consolidation (when discipling takes place), followed by another missionary outreach followed by a period of consolidation, followed by another missionary outreach followed by a period of consolidation, followed by another missionary outreach followed by a period of consolidation, ... all in the space of Paul's 23 years of ministry. What missionary journey is MW on? (Of course this is a personal question to answer as well: our missionary journey to our family, then to our friends, then to our workplace, then to our sportsfield or pub and so on.) Be that all as it may,
After this, Paul left Athens and went to Corinth. 2 There he met a Jew named Aquila, a native of Pontus, who had recently come from Italy with his wife Priscilla, because Claudius had ordered all Jews to leave Rome.
This decree had been issued by Claudius in 49AD. The Roman historian Suetonius records that: "Since the Jews were continually making disturbances at the instigation of Chrestus, he [Claudius] expelled them from Rome"; and it is assumed that the pagan Suetonius was speaking not of some otherwise unknown Chrestos, but of Christos, Christ, and misspelled the word. If so, Suetonius is the first writer outside the New Testament to mention Jesus the Messiah and his expression at the instigation of Christos would refer to disputes between Messianic Jews and those who did not believe Jesus was the Messiah, disputes which could get very violent, as we've seen when Paul has taken the gospel to the synagogues. As a church and as individuals, when last were we persecuted because of our faith?
Paul went to see them, 3 and because he was a tent-maker as they were, he stayed and worked with them.
Paul earned his own living, even though he taught that those who proclaim the Good News are entitled to be supported by their fellow believers (1 Cor 9:14 In the same way, the Lord has commanded that those who preach the gospel should receive their living from the gospel.) Paul would have been aware of a saying of the rabbi's "Do not make the Torah a spade with which to dig" which means don't use your knowledge of spiritual things as a means of getting rich. In observing that tradition Paul went beyond the call of duty.
4 Every Sabbath he reasoned in the synagogue, trying to persuade Jews and Greeks.
We are reminded again that Paul always began with the Jews and God fearing Greeks who were allowed to attend synagogue; remember also that Paul used different methods of bringing the gospel to different people, and we should to. Pagans in Hellesdon need a different approach to the agnostics of Hellesdon; the atheists of Hellesdon need a different approach to the children, young and old, of backslidden Christians in Hellesdon. And of course a unique approach for the Jews of Hellesdon and Norwich. How are we doing in these areas?
5 When Silas and Timothy came from Macedonia, Paul devoted himself exclusively to preaching, testifying to the Jews that Jesus was the Messiah.
Notice he devoted himself exclusively to preaching. Paul uses different words for what it is that comes out of his mouth: sometimes he preaches, sometimes he teaches and sometimes he speaks. What is the difference between a preacher, a teacher and a speaker? What does Paul mean when he says: "Now I'm going to exclusively preach"?
The answer rests in the meanings of the words themselves. A kerux (the usual word for “preacher” in the New Testament) in the ancient world was simply a herald or proclaimer: a guy who rode into town to deliver significant news. A didaskalos (the usual word for “teacher”) was an instructor: someone who explained or taught something to someone else. There, it seems to me, is the difference. Preaching is proclaiming, heralding and announcing news to people – the gospel – especially (but not exclusively) to those who haven’t heard it before. Teaching is explaining things about the gospel that people don’t understand, and instructing them on how to live in light of it.
The most helpful illustration of this comes from John Piper. He pictures a herald riding into town, shouting from high atop his horse, “Hear ye! Hear ye! The Emperor has declared an amnesty to all slaves!” That, Piper says, is preaching: proclaiming good news, announcing something that has happened, that completely changes the situation of the listeners. But he then imagines people approaching the herald with questions. What does amnesty mean? When does this announcement take effect? Does that mean I can leave my slavemaster now? Will compensation be paid to masters? And so on. At that point, Piper says, you have to start teaching: explaining the implications of the news, helping people with concepts and ideas they don’t understand, and telling people what they need to do in response, given their various situations.
In other words, the difference between preaching and teaching is the difference between heralding and explaining. How are we doing at preaching and teaching? Churches often emphasise one at the expense of the other.
6 But when they opposed Paul and became abusive, he shook out his clothes in protest and said to them, ‘Your blood be on your own heads! I am innocent of it. From now on I will go to the Gentiles.’
At Ezekiel 18:16-19 God tells the prophet he will be blameworthy if he fails to warn the wicked person to leave his wicked ways but if he does warn him, he will be guiltless. Paul is in affect applying the passage to himself and saying: "I have done what I could to bring you the message of salvation; you choose to reject it at your peril, but I have discharged my responsibility. I would not leave you if you were responsive, but you leave me no other choice. The gospel is for you especially but it will also save the gentiles." Can we say to the different folk of Hellesdon, to the pagans, the agnostics, the Jews, the Muslims, the atheists, the lapsed Christians ... "We have done what we can to bring you the message of salvation"?
7 Then Paul left the synagogue and went next door to the house of Titius Justus, a worshipper of God.
This is a very confrontational tactic. Paul had no intention of being intimidated or dropping out of sight. He still intended his and the gospel's presence to be very visible in the Jewish community and the community in general. We should learn from Paul and make the saving message of the gospel evident to all people. How successfully do we do that as individuals ... and as a church? What can we do to be more visible?
8 Crispus, the synagogue leader, and his entire household believed in the Lord; and many of the Corinthians who heard Paul believed and were baptised.
What I am about to say is crude, but I believe it is true: The church is in the "business" of baptism. I know that's crude, but baptism is a measure of the church's commitment to Christ's commission (Mt 28:16-20 ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.’)… so a measure of our commitment to that commission is: "How many baptisms?" This follows from all that's gone before: Last week I said that the church exists for mission:
What flames are to the fire, mission is to the church. No flames, no fire. No mission, no church. Our mission is to go out and proclaim the good news ... ie preach the gospel. What should follow preaching……,well, what always followed preaching/proclamation in the early church? ... baptism ... followed by teaching/equipping/discipling so that: we can go out on our missionary journeys back to our homes, schools, workplaces, clubs, pubs, communities, Hellesdon, Norwich, the world and proclaim ... followed by baptism .. and along the way you will pick up opposition, from friends, family, schoolmates, your neighbors, ... . And all of that can be quite scary for individual disciples of Christ and, believe it or not, for the church. Perhaps Paul was beginning to feel that way, so:
9 One night the Lord spoke to Paul in a vision: ‘Do not be afraid; keep on speaking, do not be silent. 10 For I am with you, and no one is going to attack and harm you, because I have many people in this city.’ 11 So Paul stayed in Corinth for a year and a half, teaching them the word of God.
What strikes me most in these few verses is this, (now I move from teaching to preaching): hear the word of the LORD to us tonight; what is the LORD saying to you as you hear these words:
I have many people in this city.
I have many people in this city.
I have many people in this city.I have many people in this city.
I have many people in this city.
I have many people in this city.
Corinth needed Paul to preach and teach the gospel. Hellesdon needs you and me to preach and teach the gospel.
You, I, Meadow Way, are needed where we are to preach and teach the gospel.
I have many people in this city.
and that might scare you and me, so our LORD says to us, as he did to Paul:
Do not be afraid;
This is a command that occurs 365 times in Scripture; one time for each day of the year. I want to speak prophetically into your life this evening and proclaim the good news that in the Kingdom of God there is no need for fear and we can ask God, even now, to send His Spirit of love and peace and joy to replace our fear ... whatever you are afraid of, we are going to ask the perfect love of God to drive out that fear this evening;
keep on speaking, do not be silent.
This word was for Paul, but is for you and me as well, in the context of the unsaved people around us, perhaps even in the face of opposition, keep on speaking. And remember our language is love, a language which sometimes uses words, sometimes uses actions, but keep on speaking the language of love into the broken world around us, don't stop, don't be silent. And if you need courage, or encouragement to keep on speaking, we are going to ask our LORD for more of His love to flow into us so that more can flow out of us as we seek to speak love into the world around us.
And finally, more proclamation, more good news, eungelion, gospel:
For I am with you
This is good news but my experience is that we often forget that if you have surrendered yourself by faith to Christ, then Christ, God the Son, is in you and with you. You might have forgotten that, so you might want to say to Jesus this evening: I know you're in me, but I say again to you Jesus, I am in you.
Now, if perhaps you’ve never made that commitment to Christ I encourage you to do that in a few moments as we sing: If you do, then as we sing, where you are, just say: Here I am LORD … I’m sorry it’s taken so long … in fact I’m sorry about a whole lot of things in my life that are wrong. I look with faith to the Cross of Christ and amazingly see in that event, Your forgiveness for me this evening. And I ask you to come into me this evening as I say to you “I want to come into You.”
Words to that effect, where you are. Or, if you’re a person of few words, just: “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner.” And if you do this for the first time tonight, please speak to someone you know afterwards, or me, so that we can just encourage you and pray for you in the time ahead.
The Spirit of God is hovering over this place, as He is over this city, longing to bring rebirth.
But the Spirit of God is also hovering over you and me, each one of us … longing to minister to your fear, longing to pour more of Himself and His love into us so that our cups run over and we can speak love into the world around us, longing also to remind us that: “I am with you.” If any of these are your needs, God wants to minister His grace to you and He can do that where you are … but for this I would encourage you to come forward so that I can add the Biblical injunction of the laying on of hands, while we sing and I will pray for you as the Spirit leads … you might not hear or understand because we’ll be singing, but God will.
God is calling us to step out onto the water as a church and as individuals … let’s commit ourselves to the journey as we sing together.