Do you ever have visions? Some people claim to have them regularly. Many people believe in their visions or the visions of others. Personally I'm very skeptical when someone claims to have a vision from God, because I've seen too many fake things in my life. Don't get me wrong; I'm not saying God doesn't give people visions - I'm just saying I take it with a grain of salt when I hear people talk about them.
But, in the days Paul lived in visions were not all that uncommon for God's people. Paul had many visions according to the Bible. Not only did Paul trust in his visions but others trusted them as well. You and I, if we believe the Bible, trust in Paul's visions as well; after all much Christian theology comes from the visions of the apostle Paul. He wrote many of his epistles based on what was revealed to him in his visions.
The vision we are going to look at here is the vision of the man of Macedonia. That is the area we call Greece today. The story is found in Acts 16. We will start our journey with Paul at verse 6.
6 Paul and his companions traveled throughout the region of Phrygia and Galatia, having been kept by the Holy Spirit from preaching the word in the province of Asia.
This was on Paul's second missionary journey. Travelling with him was Timothy, Silas and Luke. Paul and Silas ministered together often. They worked well as a team. Timothy was with them mostly as a student of Paul; he observed Paul, and learned from him as much as possible. Paul thought of him as a son. Luke was a physician and took care of their physical needs, and also served as a secretary and historian of the group. He wrote down facts and events. He was concerned with passing along information about what was happening to others. Thank God for Luke. The Lord used him in a big way. Thanks to Luke we have the gospel of Luke and the book of Acts. Does your church have a Luke? Every church or ministry needs someone to keep the records and preserve history.
The Holy Spirit did not allow them to preach in the province of Asia. The Bible does not tell us why this happened, nor do we know exactly how they were prevented from preaching in that area. It has been suggested by some Bible scholars that they simply did not have opportunities there; maybe no doors opened for them to go to the province of Asia. The Holy Spirit can open or close doors for us, and if we are smart we will be paying close attention to what He is doing, and follow His lead.
It is not uncommon for ministers to get so wrapped up in spreading the gospel that they just indiscriminately try to evangelize anywhere and everywhere, but this is not God's way. We must be ever mindful of what God wants, always seeking His will and the power to carry that out. We must be in constant prayer so we can know where the Holy Spirit is leading.
7 When they came to the border of Mysia, they tried to enter Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus would not allow them to. 8 So they passed by Mysia and went down to Troas.
Here is a specific case where the Spirit would not allow them to enter into Mysia and Bithnynia. Perhaps the people on the border of Mysia told them they were not welcome; we do not know, but God would not have them to preach there for whatever reason, so they moved on.
9 During the night Paul had a vision of a man of Macedonia standing and begging him, "Come over to Macedonia and help us."
10 After Paul had seen the vision, we got ready at once to leave for Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to preach the gospel to them.
Note that after Paul had the vision they got ready AT ONCE to leave for Macedonia. They did not form a committee to see if it was feasible.
They did not take a month or two to pray about it and think it over. They concluded that God had called them to preach the gospel to the people there so they did not delay, but got ready to leave AT ONCE.
What should we do once we become convinced that God wants us to do something? Should we delay? Should we make excuses? Should we ask the opinions of all our friends or family members? No, once we are convinced of what God wants we should do it AT ONCE.
Does this mean we are to avoid praying about things, and thinking them over? No, we should pray about things and think them over. Does this mean we can't seek advice and counsel from others? No, it does not mean that. In fact we should seek advice and counsel from our Christian brothers and sisters, but once we are convinced God wants us to do something we should do it AT ONCE. The only exception would be if He makes it clear we should wait.
If we obey God he will lead us and guide us in the right direction.
Once we see what God did as a result of Paul's obedience we can understand why God wanted him and his friends to go to Macedonia. So let's take a look at what happened after Paul heard and responded to "The Macedonian Call."
11 From Troas we put out to sea and sailed straight for Samothrace, and the next day on to Neapolis.
So Paul and his crew set sail toward Somothrace - an island approximately 75 miles from Troas. After arriving in Somothrace they spent the night there and then sailed for Neapolis the next day. Neapolis was a few miles southeast of Philippi.
12 From there we traveled to Philippi, a Roman colony and the leading city of that district of Macedonia. And we stayed there several days.
Now we see Paul and his men arriving in Philippi, a city known as little Rome. Philippi was named after King Philip II, father of Alexander the Great. It was modeled after Rome itself, and it was a popular retirement community for retired Roman soldiers. They were actually given land there to settle down and enjoy their latter years. It was a gift from the Roman government for all their years of service.
Paul and his friends stayed in Philipi several days. Those days were not spent in idle leisure, however, for their mind was on ministry, and ministry they did.
13 On the Sabbath we went outside the city gate to the river, where we expected to find a place of prayer. We sat down and began to speak to the women who had gathered there.
They went to the river because it was customary for Jewish believers to gather there and worship. In cities where there was no synagogue Jews would often gather either by the river or by the sea - depending on which was closer. So since they wanted to share the gospel to the Jewish people they went out looking for them. Sure enough, they found a group of women by the river and shared the gospel with them.
14 One of those listening was a woman named Lydia, a dealer in purple cloth from the city of Thyatira, who was a worshiper of God. The Lord opened her heart to respond to Paul's message.
I believe Lydia was a prominent woman, because purple cloth was for those of royalty class. No commoner would have access to it due to its high price. It is obvious from the above scripture that she already believed in God, and worshipped Him. Even though we do not know what her faith was, it was probably Jewish since she was down by the river per Jewish customs for prayer services. Notice that the Lord opened her heart. Just because someone hears the gospel message doesn't mean they will respond by accepting it. Unless one receives an inner call from God the outer gospel message will not be sufficient to bring them to salvation. Those who God chooses he also calls. Rev. 3:20 says "Behold I stand at the door and knock." It's important to point out that if it wasn't for Paul's obedience to God's call to go to Macedonia Lydia would not have been saved.
Aren't you glad those before you obeyed God and spread the gospel message so you could hear it and be saved? Aren't you glad the gospel message is being spread around the world? Aren't you glad for apostles, prophets, pastors, evangelists and teachers who care for our souls and teach us how to walk closer with our Heavenly Father. Praise God for those who are willing to obey God and share the gospel message.
Getting back to Lydia, she was from Thyatira - a city approximately 400 miles east of Philippi. It was a pagan city who had many trade guilds. In order to belong to one of the trade guilds you had to be a member of the temple where they worshipped Apollo, the son of Zeus. Perhaps Lydia left Thyatira because she did not worship Apollo. She may have been forced to leave Thyatira for that reason.
15 When she and the members of her household were baptized, she invited us to her home. "If you consider me a believer in the Lord," she said, "come and stay at my house." And she persuaded us.
Lydia was so grateful for what had happened she invited Paul and his friends to come to her home. She knew this was no ordinary occasion.
She knew these were no ordinary men, but men who had brought something that would change her life. She no doubt wanted to learn more about Jesus, and living for Him. Also, she wanted confirmation on whether or not she had truly been saved because she said, "If you consider me a believer in the Lord come and stay at my house." Oh how important it is that we be sure of our salvation.
Are you sure of your salvation? Have you put your faith in the death, burial and resurrection of Christ to be forgiven? There is no other way to be saved. Jesus said, "I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me." (John 14:6) You may gamble on other things in your life if you choose but do not gamble on your salvation.
Isn't it interesting that we are told that Lydia believed, but others were baptized along with her. Why is that?
Water baptism was an expected thing for people who were converted to Judaism, and at that time many thought of Christianity as a sect of Judaism, so water baptism was simply done as a tradition, just as many in those days still practiced circumcision. It was also a symbol of spiritual cleansing. It was customary to have the whole household baptized if the head of the house was baptized. This was to imply that the head of the house would raise up the children in the right way. It did not mean that all those water baptized were converted to Christianity. Nor did water baptism itself save them from their sins.
As far as we know Lydia was the first Christian in Europe. Since then millions have been saved on that continent. Suppose Paul had not obeyed God and decided not to go to Philippi - the whole continent would be different now - much worse than it is. Who knows how many souls would have wound up in Hell because they had not received the grace of God?!
Obeying God is always the correct course of action for the Christian, in fact the world can ultimately be changed as a result.