In this passage we find the apostle Paul far from his home in Israel, having traveled overland way up into what is now Turkey. Paul was eager to spread the word about Jesus and to encourage those in far off places who had begun to follow the Lord. Despite Paul’s eagerness and plans, we are told here that the Spirit actually blocked his travel to some inland locations so that Paul came instead to the bustling port city of Troas on the northwest shores of the Aegean. Receiving a vision that urgently beckoned him across the northern Aegean to Macedonia, Paul was able to respond promptly. He set sail to what today is northern Greece, where he traveled and preached. The passage closes with the story of the conversion of Lydia, a wealthy and influential woman who believed in Jesus as a result of Paul’s message and then made her home a base for ministry. Next time you read Paul’s letter to the Philippians in the New Testament, remember that the church there may well have grown out of the ministry at the home of Lydia!
The verses in this little passage in Acts read a little like someone’s travel diary. But under the surface there is the dramatic tale of a man very aware of God’s direction and inspiration for his mission in distant locations, seemingly without a homeward glance. The writer of Acts does not tell us how or why the Spirit blocked Paul’s ministry in Bithynia and the province of Asia. We only know that as a result, Paul was available to cross the Aegean to minister in places like Philippi. And once he was called there, he did not hesitate to go.
Do I look for the Spirit to lead me as I go about my life? Do I expect and seek opportunities to let what I know about Jesus spill out of me for the good of others? When I regret that my faith is not as firm as Paul’s, I do well to remember that his answer to Jesus was “yes” while mine is usually “maybe,” at best. Paul’s faith was fired and strengthened in obedient service. Despite many adverse circumstances, joy and confidence fill Paul’s various New Testament letters. Aha! Paul discovered that Jesus was not kidding when he promised “abundant” life to those who would follow him without reserve! How can we, how can I, be poised to recognize the Spirit’s lead and follow it whole-heartedly for love of Jesus and love of others? Let us pray for those from Saint Matthew’s who are leaving next Sunday for the Crow Reservation in Montana. They have said “yes” to this opportunity to serve. May many they touch know Jesus’ love through their obedience. And may those who serve also be blessed.