This is the sermon for the Seventh Sunday of Easter. The sermon text is Acts 16:6-10. The sermon theme is: Holy Spirit, Lead Us. Here is the Written Sermon
Holy Spirit, Lead Us.
It’s scary to be lost. I remember when I was a tiny child. And my mom and I were in the grocery store together. I had this habit of running off. And I didn’t think it was that big of a concern at the time. Because, after all, mommy is always right there, right? That’s her job. She is supposed to be wherever I am. Well, I wandered off a little. And when I looked up, she was gone. Even though I was a tiny little boy, still to this day I remember the panic I had at losing mommy. Of course, all that had happened was that she just went around the corner. But it was scary.
Even as grown-ups we are still scared when we get lost. When we first moved here I printed out a massive map of Pittsburgh. And when I went to a hospital I got lost coming back. And, I admit, it was scary. But, maybe even more scary than that is not being lost on a road, but instead feeling lost in your life. Keep that thought in mind as we read the first verse in our section this morning. In the book of Acts, chapter 16, Luke tells us, “They went through the region of Phrygia and Galatia and were prevented by the Holy Spirit from speaking the message in Asia” (Acts 16:6 HCSB)
If you look at the front of your bulletin, you’ll find a map. And you’ll see what Luke is speaking about. Paul and his companions were travelling through the middle of Asia Minor. And they knew why they were travelling through Asia Minor. It was Paul’s call to share God’s word to the gentiles.
And we are told that they went through the regions of Phrygia and Galatia. And you can see where those are on your map. Notice what Luke does not say. He does not say that they went off the road to the towns and villages. He does not say that they went to the big cities and preached there. No, instead they went through the middle of these regions.
Then Luke answers a question for us. If we ask the question, “Paul, why didn’t you stop and share the gospel with the people in that area?”, notice what the answer is. They were prevented by the Holy Spirit from speaking the message.
This is a very important detail that we shouldn’t glide over quickly. Notice what this shows us. First, it shows us that Paul couldn’t be everywhere and do everything. Second, it shows us that the Holy Spirit didn’t need Paul to get his work done. The Holy Spirit could send out other people just fine on his own to share God’s word. At the end of the book of Acts we see another example of this. Paul goes to Rome. But there’s already a Christian church there.
What was true for Paul is also true for us as a church. First, as a church we can’t be everywhere and do everything. Second, the Holy Spirit can get his work done just fine without us.
This is important for us to focus on today. For, in my time here as a pastor I have heard people inside of this church and outside of it speak as if they hadn’t heard or thought about this passage. One false statement I’ve heard is that we don’t need to do evangelism, because, after all, the doors are always open here at 10:30 on Sunday mornings. Notice that those sorts of statements are just the opposite of what we see here in the book of Acts. Jesus said “Go and make disciples. GO.” And we sin when we forget to plan, work and carry out this command of Jesus.
But the other false statement I’ve heard is really just the opposite. It’s the voice that says, “We’ve tried that. And we’ve tried so many other ways of reaching out with the gospel. But our church isn’t growing.” So what do you do when you are planning the work of evangelism and then working the plan, but it doesn’t pan out? What do you do when, despite the hard work, your church doesn’t grow?
The answer is here in these words. The Holy Spirit kept them from preaching in these provinces. And it is true today that there are times when we toil in evangelism, but the Holy Spirit just doesn’t let us go into some places with the gospel. And so, it’s a sin to be lazy in doing evangelism. And it’s also a sin to be despairing when we have done evangelism.
And just what is it exactly that the Holy Spirit does with us when we think these thoughts? He tells us that we are expendable. And, my brothers and sisters in Christ, that’s good news. Imagine if you were the one God needed to save you. Imagine that Jesus didn’t do all the work, but instead said that you had to help a little in taking away your sins. You would never know if you had done enough. You would never know if your sins of laziness and despair were forgiven. But because Jesus was faithful in your place, you know that they are forgiven. Imagine that you were the one who had to do the work in turning yourself from unbelief to belief. You know what that would look like. You’d still be an unbeliever.
So it is good news that we are expendable. Our Triune God is the one who does the work. He is the one who does the work in our salvation. He is the one who does the work in our conversion. And he is the one who brings others to faith as well.
And with this realization there is a prayer that we can say. We say “Lead us, Holy Spirit. Lead us to see that we are expendable. Lead us to see that you don’t need us. Lead us to see that your work is silent and your church grows without our power or permission.”
And so, with this opening verse we pray that the Holy Spirit would lead us to realize that we are expendable. But there is more to learn from these words. For Luke tells us: “7 When they came to Mysia, they tried to go into Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus did not allow them. 8 So, bypassing Mysia, they came down to Troas. 9 During the night a vision appeared to Paul: A Macedonian man was standing and pleading with him, “Cross over to Macedonia and help us!” 10 After he had seen the vision, we immediately made efforts to set out for Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to evangelize them.” (Acts 16:7–10 HCSB)
The Holy Spirit kept saying “no.” He kept telling them they couldn’t go here and preach the gospel there. And that makes us ask another question: Why did Paul keep going? Paul kept going because he had received a promise. As we saw several weeks ago, Jesus came to Paul on the road to Damascus and told him that he would be his chosen instrument to the Gentiles. Paul knew this promise and held on tight to it. And his patience and persistence was rewarded. He received a vision in the night to go over to Macedonia. And they all came to the obvious conclusion that they should go across the water to Macedonia.
Here too we pray that the Holy Spirit would not leave us lost, but instead would lead us in the right direction. We pray not only that he would lead us to realize that we are expendable, but that also he would lead us to rejoice that he is dependable.
If it were up to us to make the people here in the valley Christians, how lost we would be! We know this is true. For if we can’t even make ourselves Christians, then how in the world we be able to make other people Christians.
So, my brothers and sisters in Christ, just as Paul held onto the promise given to him, so also, you, hold onto the promises that the Holy Spirit has spoken to you through his word. And let me conclude today with just one of them: Where God’s word is, there the Holy Spirit gets his work done.
This is true when it comes to what happens in our church. If you want our church to grow here on the inside, then there is one way, and only one way for that to happen. Be in God’s word. Through his word the Holy Spirit brings to you Jesus’ forgiveness. Through his word he tells you that your sins of laziness are forgiven. Through his word he tells you that your sins of needless despair are forgiven.
And this is also true when it comes to what happens to those on the outside of our church. Would you like others to be Christians and grow in their faith? Where God’s word is there growth is. Simply share God’s word with them. Show them their sin. Tell them of their Savior’s love for them too. Tell them that their Savior Jesus forgives their sins of laziness and despair too. There is where that growth starts and grows.
We say these two prayers to the Holy Spirit knowing that he will hear them. We pray that the Holy Spirit would lead us to realize that we are expendable. And we pray that the Holy Spirit would lead us to rejoice that he is dependable. Amen.