Homeward Bound

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ow To Fi Encouragement


'When the Darkness Will Not Lift' as a free PDF 'When the Darkness Will Not Lift' to buy from Amazon.co.uk Video of the Kimyal Tribe of Papua, Indonesia celebrating the arrival of the New Testament Bible in the Kimyal language


Well let me start with some good news: if you missed the Westlife concert at the Metro Arena on Monday there's going to be another one! Yes indeed on they'll be back on June 15. However  that will be their last, which may be even better news, as they will be on their Greatest Hits farewell tour. Yes indeed, there will be no more raising up, or flying without wings.

Well we begin our own farewell tour of sorts this evening of, dare I suggest, greater importance than four Irish boys, as the Apostle Paul begins his journey back to Jerusalem. Over the last 15 years Paul has been travelling around the Middle East and parts of South Eastern Europe telling people about Jesus, starting churches and helping churches.

What we see in this evening's passage is by no means unique within the book of Acts – but there does seem to be particular emphasis on Paul's mission to encourage other Christians.

Now the word of 'encourage' is an absolutely classic bit of Christian jargon isn't it? We absolutely love it – got to be in the top ten most used words in a prayer. So it's worth pausing for a moment just to carefully define it in a biblical sense.

We tend to use 'encourage' in a very similar way to the phrase 'to feel upbeat', or 'to feel positive' – that someone might see the good and positive things in whatever situation they're in. It's not necessarily a million miles off but it's missing something very crucial.

The word in the original language that is sometimes translated 'encourage' is more frequently translated 'urge' or 'beg'. That's important because it makes clear that encouragement is not an end in itself. To encourage is to encourage to a particular end. A bit like the point of football is not to shoot, it's to score goals. You 'shoot' in order that a goal might be scored. Encouragement is not an end in itself.

That end goal is to bring glory to God. That means loving Him and those around us. It means obeying his laws and living holy, distinct lives. And it means proclaiming the good news about Jesus with words and actions.

We are encouraged in order that we might bring glory to God. Encouragement is less of a hug and more of a friendly kick up the backside.

So the big idea of tonight's sermon as we look at the first half of Acts 20, is 'How To Find Encouragement'. This is something that we all need to hear – at no point does the Bible suggest that encouragement is just for those feeling particularly sad or in particularly difficult situations. We all need encouragement.

I'm aware, however, that you'll all be coming at this from different places. Some of you will be feeling particularly chipper about life whereas others may have had pretty bad week. Others of you may have been diagnosed with depression recently, or at some point in the past.

For those of you who would describe yourself as, at times, depressed I don't want to patronise you. Or pretend that overcoming those kind of struggles is easy and straightforward. I also don't want to pretend that there aren't sometimes physical causes to depression. However, I do believe that there is always a spiritual dimension to depression that you are unlikely to find treatment for from non-Christian doctors.

So while this is not a sermon on depression, I do hope you will find some help in this passage and from tonight's sermon.

We're going to break our thoughts down into four ways which we should find encouragement. They are: Encourage Others (1-3) Enjoy Fellowship (3-6) Hear God's Word (7) Look to Christ (8-12)

1. Encourage Others

Read with me from verse 1:

1 When the uproar had ended, Paul sent for the disciples and, after encouraging them, said good-by and set out for Macedonia. 2 He travelled through that area, speaking many words of encouragement to the people, and finally arrived in Greece, 3 where he stayed three months.

So after the commotion of the Ephesian riot has calmed down, Paul says his goodbyes and heads off towards Macedonia. As I mentioned earlier this is basically the start of the last leg of Paul's missionary journeys, before he's taken as a prisoner to Rome.

This is the last time he will see these churches and Christians this side of Heaven. Churches which he planted, pastored, taught and care for. It's probably hard for most of us to relate to how he feels about the believers he's seeing for the last time. But I don't think it's pushing it to say that would have felt about many of these Christians as we would about our own family.

Anyway, what is deceptive about these verses is how much time and distance they cover. From verse two through to verse six, and Paul arriving in Troas, represents around 1,000 miles of travelling across anything up to a two and half year period in time. So what we have here is a lot of travelling squashed into a few verses. And not just travelling, a lot of action too.

For example, at the end of verse two which talks about Paul in Greece that was probably Corinth. And it's during that three month stay that Paul writes his Epistle to the Romans. The same book that Martin Luther described as the 'chief part of the New Testament', such is the importance of what it says.

Paul would have also seen many, many churches on this journey. Churches doing well, and churches not doing so well (may be like Corinth). I reckon he probably served up a few rockets on this journey too for people who needed it. But notice that for all this action, all this time, Luke's description is very concise so he must have chosen his words very carefully. And how does he summarise Paul's actions? Verse 2:

speaking many words of encouragement to the people

Of all that Paul must have said and done Luke's summary is that he encouraged them. Paul, knowing this was the last time he would see them, above all else, makes a priority of encouraging other Christians.

Elsewhere Paul refers to the church as being like a body:

parts should have equal concern for each other. If one part suffers, every part suffers with it[1]

The analogy works doesn't it? When you stub your toe you don't just think 'oh it's only my toe that's in pain'. No, you scream in agony like you've just been shot. In some strange way, everything hurts.

That is how the church should function and so the need for us to encourage one another is paramount. Paul was not so pre-occupied with his own problems (which weren't insignificant) to overlook the needs of others.

The point of application for us is simple. Paul put a high value on encouraging others, he made it a high priority, he sacrificed his own comforts for the sake of other Christians – we must do the same.

But how? That leads us to our next three points, the first of which is 'enjoy fellowship'.

2. Enjoy Fellowship

Let's continue reading from verse 3:

3 Because the Jews made a plot against him just as he was about to sail for Syria, he decided to go back through Macedonia.

We don't know quite what the plot was to try and kill Paul that stopped him returning to Palestine. It may have been that the ship he'd planned to board would have been overloaded with Jews returning to Jerusalem for the Passover. And it would have been quite easy on a busy ship to quietly throw Paul overboard. Alternatively, there may have just been dynamite in the hold, we don't know…

4 He was accompanied by Sopater son of Pyrrhus from Berea, Aristarchus and Secundus from Thessalonica, Gaius from Derbe, Timothy also, and Tychicus and Trophimus from the province of Asia. 5 These men went on ahead and waited for us at Troas. 6 But we sailed from Philippi after the Feast of Unleavened Bread, and five days later joined the others at Troas, where we stayed seven days.

What we have here, to our ears, is a long list of strange sounding names from strange sounding places. So lets take a minute to break it down: Sopater is from Berea. You'll remember Paul visited the Bereans in Acts 17 and they received the famous accolade that they "examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true"[2]. Aristarchus and Secondus are from Thessolonica. Paul was there just before his visit to Berea. And of course the Thessalonians also received two letters from Paul. Gauis is from Derbe. Paul visited there on his first missionary journey talked about in Acts 14. Timothy we know a fair bit about as Paul's young co-worker in kind of an trainee role – he would go on to pastor his own church. Timothy, at least originally, came from the church at Lystra. Tychicus and Trophimus we are told are from the province of Asia. That means somewhere east of Galatia, north of Palestine. It's hard to know when precisely they might have previously encountered Paul, but there's every chance they did. Luke. Notice that the start of verse six starts "But we…". So the Luke, the author of the book of Acts, is also part of this travelling party. And he's from Syrian Antioch. So what we have here is at least nine men, quite possibly all church leaders, accompanying Paul on this leg of his journey. They come of a different cities, different cultural backgrounds and many of them would have pretty young in their Christian faith.

What's the point? Paul is not a one-man band or a sole worker. He is most certainly a leader, but he leads as part of a team. Not only does he work alongside people when he arrives in a city, he even takes them with him on his travels.

Think of the blessing he must have been to this hotchpotch bunch of Christians as they got to live and travel with him along roads and over seas. Day in, day out, sharing life together. They would have learnt more, in some respects, from this experience than sitting through hundreds of sermons. They had enjoyed fellowship together.

We sometimes have a tendency to think of our Christian lives like a round of golf. In golf, it's just you, the ball and the course. No one else really matters. The best golf players are those who can win the battle inside their own heads. It is a solitary game.

And sometimes that's just how we view our Christian life. "It's just me, my Bible and the Holy Spirit." Like we're some kind of Christian version of Arnold Schwarzenegger. A one-man army against the world.

The kind of church the New Testament teaches us to be is much closer to a rugby team. Every player has their position and they must work together. A scrum that doesn't push together is shambolic. If the forwards don't win the ball, the backs can't run the ball. Every position is different and every position is needed, working together for a common purpose.

That is fellowship – working together for a common purpose, the glory of God.

So the obvious question to ask yourself is are you playing golf or rugby?

Well let me suggest five ways to find encouragement through fellowship: Come to church as often as you can. This is where we meet together to formally worship God and when done with a humble heart will always be a source of immense encouragement. Commit to a small group. Regularly attend and be a part of a small group, such as home group. With a church our size this is absolutely essential. Have honest Christian friendships. When was the last time a Christian friend criticised you in a godly loving way? Would you let them? Cultivate deep, honest and open friendships that are Christ-centred. Serve with others. If you feel like you're little bit on the fringes of HTG can I suggest you get more involved in serving. Just like Paul and his party, it's a great way to get to know others, but it's also how God has called us to work. Attract opposites. The one thing which unites us is our love for Jesus, not our jobs, age, social standing or culture. So make a particular effort to befriend, get to know and show hospitality towards those you would normally be hanging out with. We find encouragement when we enjoy fellowship.

So to find encouragement we firstly encourage others, secondly enjoy fellowship and now, thirdly, hear God's Word.

3. Hear God's Word

Let's keep reading from verse 7:

On the first day of the week we came together to break bread. Paul spoke to the people and, because he intended to leave the next day, kept on talking until midnight.

So Paul, and those with him, are now in the city of Troas. And what we have here is the earliest record of Christians meeting together on a Sunday. It's significant because it illustrates the early Christian church moving away from Judaism – the Jewish Sabbath was a Saturday.

So this is a Sunday evening service – but not, you may have noticed, following our own 6.30pm schedule – because it's still going at midnight! The church at Troas would have contained a significant number of slaves who wouldn't be able to get away from their duties until fairly late into the evening. And this is probably the reason for the late service.

So even though Paul is leaving the next day for another fairly arduous bit of sea-travel, he stays up, what turns out to be all night, in order teach this church of believers. This reveals to us something of the import Paul put on teaching within the church – that he was willing to sacrifice a much needed nights sleep.

Obviously there was no complete Bible he could point them to and so Paul would tell them what he knew of Jesus. Right at the end of the book of Acts, in the very last verse, this is how Luke summaries Paul's ministry:

Boldly and without hindrance he preached the kingdom of God and taught about the Lord Jesus Christ.[3]

And that is what he is doing here in Troas: 'boldly and without hindrance preaching the kingdom of God and teaching about the Lord Jesus Christ.' Paul preached Christ. He didn't give personal self-motivating pep-talks, he didn't write a book of ecclesiastical law and wasn't concerned with self-promotion and fame. He preached Christ. Jesus was everything.

For us today, to keep Jesus as everything must mean keeping our Bible's as absolutely central. We don't have Paul, or the other Apostles to visit our church and tell us about Jesus in person. But we do have the Bible that tells us not only how He lived but why he came, why he died, why he rose again and why one day he will return.

There's an amazing video on YouTube[4] of a remote tribe in Indonesia, only accessible by plane, receiving Bibles in their own language for the first time. (I'll stick a link to it on the HTG website with this sermon.) Before this point there were Christians and a church but they had small portions of scripture some of them had even memorised whole books.

Anyway, this small plane with these Bibles lands on a little airstrip and at the end of the airstrip there are hundreds people from this tribe waiting there – singing and dancing.

They unload the first box of Bibles and local pastor takes hold of the box and tells everyone to be quiet and then shouts out this prayer of thanks.

"O my Father. The promise that you gave Simeon that he would see Jesus Christ and hold him in his arms before he died. I have been waiting under that same promise, O God… today you have placed your Word into my hands, just like you promised."

This tribe, however primitive we might think of them, has seen something of just how precious God's Word is, that we have missed. We have become so complacent. Every week we open God's Word together, to hear about Jesus, and we can barely keep our attention on it. Would we still have been there at midnight in Troas, hanging off every word of Paul's? Or would you prefer to be in bed? And does that bare any relation to where you are on a Sunday morning?

No where in the Bible does it say you have to come to church on a Sunday and for some people it just isn't possible. However, the question we must still ask ourselves is why would I not want to enjoying fellowship and hear from God's Word?

This precious, precious book is full of truth, of goodness, of grace, of history, of life, of Jesus.

If you find yourself in a state of discouragement, I hope you find yourself driven to God's Word. Sometimes, sadly, it's the last place we go having exhausted the other options. Here we find great, great courage.

The Lord Jesus said:

Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.[5]

4. Look to Christ

Fourthly, and finally, find encouragement by looking to God's power. Let's read the last part of our passage from verse 7:

On the first day of the week we came together to break bread. Paul spoke to the people and, because he intended to leave the next day, kept on talking until midnight. 8 There were many lamps in the upstairs room where we were meeting. 9 Seated in a window was a young man named Eutychus, who was sinking into a deep sleep as Paul talked on and on. When he was sound asleep, he fell to the ground from the third story and was picked up dead.

And here we come to the perils of falling asleep in a sermon. And while Eutychus is the only person recorded in scripture achieving this feat he is most certainly not the only person in history or even, I might add, this church.

However, the result of Eutychus' ill-timed nap was a whole lot worse than the usual: (1) embarrassing post-sermon chat with the preacher where you desperately hope he didn't notice you were in Snoresville, (2) the loud snore which wakes you up and sets every around you giggling or (3) finding yourself in the closing prayer snuggling up to the bloke next to you. No, Eutychus avoids these pitfalls and instead topples straight out of the third story window.

We should probably be a little gentle on poor Euty . He's probably worked a long day, it is rather late, it's dark, the room is full of smoky lamps and may be it was his mates elbow (intended to wake him up) that sent he hurtling to the ground below.

In any case, and we'll do well to remember that Luke's profession is a doctor, Eutychus has well and truly paid the price for a bit of shut eye – he's dead.

Let's keep reading – verse 10:

Paul went down, threw himself on the young man and put his arms around him. "Don't be alarmed," he said. "He's alive!" 11 Then he went upstairs again and broke bread and ate. After talking until daylight, he left. 12 The people took the young man home alive and were greatly comforted.

It's worth being absolutely clear here that Paul isn't disagreeing with Luke's diagnosis of Eutychus being dead. What instead happens is a miraculous resurrection – Eutychus is brought back to life. What is almost as astonishing is that Paul and his listeners head back upstairs and Paul keeps going as if preaching one person to death isn't enough for a night.

What we have here is small, brief glimpse into the power of God at work in the church. And what I find utterly inconceivable, is that as Paul and this church in Troas continue their time together into the early hours is that Paul didn't go on to talk about the resurrection of Christ. And consequently of the power that is at work in those who follow Christ.

Jesus died on the cross in order to take the punishment for our sin and he rose from the dead to show he not only took our sin but was victorious over it. He took our sin and we got His righteousness and we have a certain hope of heaven because of His resurrection. And notice there how little of this involved us. It was all Jesus – all His work.

And this, surely, is our ultimate source of encouragement. Don't look to yourself, whether that is your short-fallings or your desires, instead look to the power of God at work in you. May be you feel on top of the world and perfectly happy – if so, great, look to Christ. May be you are in particularly dark place right now and you might have been for some time – if so, I'm sorry, but implore you look to Christ and not yourself.

If feelings of discouragement and feeling down is something that you find yourself regularly struggling with I want to tell you to do one thing and suggest you do a second thing. I'm going to tell you to talk to someone about it, may be your spouse, home group leader, or a good Christian friend.

Secondly, can I suggest that you read this very short book by John Piper called 'When the Darkness Will Not Lift'. It's a brief but very helpful and treatment of this whole area that I've not really done justice to this evening. I'll also put a link online to where you can order it from and also where you can get it for free as a PDF.

Well this passage ends as it begun speaking of encouragement. The Greek word translated 'comforted' in verse 12 is exactly the same word translated 'encouraged' in verse 1. You see, those who there that night in Troas had opportunity to encourage one another, to enjoy fellowship, to hear God's Word and found themselves, in the miraculous raising of Eutychus, looking to Christ. My sincere prayer is that we would experience these same blessings as meet together and share our lives together.

[1] 1 Corinthians 12:25b-26a

[2] Acts 17:11b

[3] Acts 28:31

[4] http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w9dpmp_-TY0

[5] Matthew 4:4b

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