Life & Message of the Apostle Paul: Called to GO
Rev. Sandy Johnson
May 22, 2016
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From the day a player gets drafted, it’s their dream to make it to the Major Leagues, otherwise known as “The Show.” Years of hard work to finally receive the call, that phone call that changes lives forever. Most players respond with racing minds, excitement and nervousness which quickly turns to straight out fear as they realize that now is the time to show the owners and managers what they’re made of. All the training comes down to this one moment: it’s time to move up, to answer the call and go to the big leagues.
Derek Jeter was on the road with the Triple-A team when he was called at the crack of dawn by his manager. Certain that something bad had happened, Jeter jumped out of bed, splashed water on his face and opened the door to his manager, prepared for the worst. What he didn’t expect was hearing these words, “Congratulations, you’re going to the big leagues.” He got on a plane immediately to Seattle, after he called his parents with the great news. He related that he was happy, nervous and uncomfortable, but overjoyed to be playing at the Kingdome, his first time indoors.
Being called up to the big leagues reminds me of the Apostle Paul. We continue our series this morning on Paul’s life and message. Last week we heard about his dramatic conversion on the road to Damascus and the 180 degree turn his life took. This morning we pick up the story after Paul was converted and spent the next twelve years in relative obscurity. Scripture doesn’t specifically say what he was doing, but we do know that in A.D. 47 Paul was at Tarsus and his future mission partner, Barnabas was in Syrian Antioch. The following year Paul and Barnabas went to Jerusalem and in A.D. 49 they set out together on their first missionary journey. Their first foray into the big leagues. Paul had been called up.
The story that follows is one of extreme perseverance, against all odds; it’s a journey fraught with great physical danger and many unknowns. The heroes in our story this morning were called to go. They were not called to think about it, not called to ponder their future, not called to decline or delay, they were called to go. And go they did.
The story begins at the church in Antioch where a group of prophets and teachers, scripture says, were gathered, worshipping the Lord and fasting. This group of men had gathered from varied backgrounds; several were Jews, there was an aristocrat, and even a rabbi. They came together with the common bond; their love for Jesus Christ. These “men from many lands and many backgrounds had discovered the secret of “togetherness” because they had discovered the secret of Christ.”
So here they were, worshipping with one another and the Holy Spirit spoke and called both Barnabas and Saul to leave the group and go on the road. They were being called up. Those who were with them responded appropriately by laying hands on them and sending them off with prayer. It is interesting to note what they were doing when the call came. They were worshipping when the Holy Spirit spoke to the believers. Worship holds a vital role in opening up the conduit to the Spirit, giving them and us, the opportunity to hear from God in sometimes dramatic ways.
As followers of Jesus Christ we must be prepared to hear the call, it is not only Paul who hears the call of the Holy Spirit. We must also be open to hearing God’s whispering voice, it is something that can be achieved here, now, in worship together. Being prepared is a first step, being prepared to hear the call and then, like Paul being willing to move to action.
After more than a decade, Paul heard his call and followed without hesitation. I appreciate knowing that there was a period of time between Paul’s conversion on the Damascus road and his being sent out on his first mission journey. Not that God didn’t use him during his “in-between years.” This was a huge call and it had required years of preparation, study and local missionary work before he was deemed by God to be ready to take the message of Christ Jesus to the rest of the world. It reminds me of the years of preparation I went through from when I first heard a call to ministry in 1999 and when that was finally realized in 2012 when I was appointed here. Sometimes there are seasons of training and learning that must take place, sometimes though, God takes us right where we are and puts us into “the show.”
During Paul’s “in between years,” he “made multiple journeys in mission for Christ before the so-called first missionary journey. He had proclaimed Christ in Damascus, in his home town of Tarsus and around Cilicia and Syria, and he had traveled to Jerusalem on a mission to deliver aid to the believers there. But the journey he and Barnabas were about to embark upon was different. Up to this point Paul had taken the gospel to familiar territory. He had grown up in Cilicia. It’s probable he had traveled often in and through Syria. He had lived and studied in Judea. But now Paul would offer the good news wherever the Spirit led, including places where he had never been before.”
It is probably a good thing that Paul was clueless what the true scope of his call was. I suspect if he had had any real inkling what lay ahead, he would have hesitated in answering the call. Instead, Paul seems to embrace his mission eagerly and sets out with Barnabas without a clear idea of exactly where they were going. Answering a call from God doesn’t require crystal clear vision. It isn’t necessary to have all of the plans made and a complete itinerary prepared from start to finish. The vital key to answering the call from God is to answer. To say, “Yes;” to say, “Here I am.” God can be trusted to provide the means and the details.
Our building plans fall into this category. We can’t see where all of the funds are going to come from, we don’t know exactly what the timing will be – will it take two years or four? Will we have enough new people in our church to be able to afford the upkeep on a building? What will it look like? How big will it be? These are all unknowns. But we do know that if God wants us to have a building on our property the details will work out, they will fall into place as we respond to the call God has placed on our community. Our call is to be a permanent presence in Boulder City, bringing the love of Christ to those who are hurting and in need. We are also answering a call to bring Christ to the children of our community. We have answered the call to offer a Vacation Bible Camp to the children of Boulder City this summer. We only have a few children so we are stepping out in faith that God is calling us forward, to offer the love of Jesus Christ to the children who live here.
This is also true of most seminary students. Many of my colleagues felt a strong call to ministry and even to seminary, but many weren’t sure what was “next.” They each held firm to the call and trusted God to show them the next step was, when the time came. And God did.
Zig Ziggler says “Go as far as you can see; when you get there you will see farther.” The point is to embark on the journey, trusting in God for not only the call but also for the provisions along the way, needed to answer the call.
Our missionaries, Barnabas, Paul and John Mark, Barnabas’ kinsman, all set out together, boarding a boat and sailing to Cyprus. It’s estimated their journey took them over 1500 miles and was somewhere between six and twelve months. While in Cyprus they preached and converted the Cyprian governor.
It was during this time that Saul changes his name from the Hebrew name Saul, to the Roman name of Paul. It is also interesting to note that prior to this point the scripture lists Barnabas first, and Paul second. When Paul was face to face with the governor he was filled with the Holy Spirit and confronted the Jewish false prophet named Bar-Jesus. He took authority over him and struck him blind for a time. This dramatic confrontation was what the governor needed to recognize the authority and divinity of the Lord Jesus. The governor became a believer in that moment. This was Paul’s defining moment when he took the lead, when he stopped following Barnabas and emerged as the great missionary evangelist that we know him to be today.
With his new-found leadership in place, the mission trip continued to Perga on the south-central coast of what is now Turkey. It appears that the crew only stopped for a night, resting before continuing on. Perga is surrounded by mountains and is a hot and humid place. We suspect that Paul felt the weather to be unbearable and so continued on. There is also evidence that Paul was sick. In Galatians 4:13 he wrote, “You know that it was because of a physical infirmity that I first announced the gospel to you”. Some believe he had malaria, others suggested trachoma. Galatians 4:15 and 6:11 both give us possible clues. Paul says, “I testify that, had it been possible, you would have torn out your eyes and given them to me.” Then he says, “See what large letters I make when I am writing in my own hand.” This may suggest that he was having difficulty with his eyesight.
We will never know for sure what ailment Paul was suffering, only that he was. John Mark left the duo at this point and returned to Jerusalem. Paul and Barnabas traveled on to Pisidian Antioch which likely took two weeks of travel to arrive. The two went to the synagogue on the Sabbath and were then asked to share a word. What followed was the longest recorded sermon we have attributed to Paul. (see Acts 13:16b-41)
In his sermon he recounted “Israel’s story, a story that each person in the synagogue would have known by heart. Then he proclaimed that Jesus was the long-awaited Savior from God, but he added that the leadership in Jerusalem had not recognized this and instead condemned him to die. Their actions, Paul noted, fulfilled the words of the prophets. Paul proclaimed that Jesus was crucified, dead, and buried, “But God raised him from the dead!” (Acts 13:30). Paul concluded his sermon with these (and other) words:
Let it be known to you therefore, my brothers (and sisters), that through this man forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you; by this Jesus everyone who believes is set free from all those sins from which you could not be freed by the law of Moses.” (Acts 13:38-39).
“Jesus, Paul proclaimed, came to save us. He came to deliver us from sin, to win forgiveness for us, to call us to a new way of life, to change our hearts and minds and then deliver us from death to eternal life. He came to call humanity to be a part of God’s empire, which Jesus called the Kingdom of God.”
“Stepping back from all the details and metaphors, I think Paul’s teaching about salvation can be summarized in a few big ideas. The fundamental idea is that Jesus, by his life, teachings, death, and resurrection, saves us from the fundamental existential problems we have as human beings: sin, alienation, hopelessness, fear, and death.
“Another important idea, clearly recognized by Paul, is that the teaching of Jesus would have profound implications for Judaism. He understood that Jesus was initiating a new covenant, or binding agreement, between God and humanity. In Scripture we read of several previous covenants God had made with his people. In the most sweeping of these covenants, God gave the Israelites 623 laws, and if the laws were kept, God would be Israel’s God and Israel would be God’s covenant people. Recognizing that it was unlikely Israel could keep all the laws, God made provision for atoning for sin through a system of sacrifices. In contrast, Paul proclaims that Jesus initiated a new covenant, not only with Israel but also with the whole human race. Our task, using this metaphor of atonement, is to accept Jesus’ sacrifice for us and on our behalf.”
Paul said that day in Antioch, “Everyone who believes in this raised-up Jesus is declared good and right and whole before God.” “Do you feel the power of this message? Think of it – as you put your trust in the crucified and resurrected King, you are declared acceptable, good, right, and whole! It doesn’t matter what anyone else has said about you. It doesn’t matter that you’ve done things in the past that leave you feeling bad or unclean or ashamed before God. For Jesus, by his death and resurrection, has declared that you are good, right, and whole before God! It is Jesus, the Savior, the King, the Lord, the High Priest, who offers this salvation. The salvation came at a great cost to Jesus, but we can access it freely, simply by trusting in him and seeking to become his followers.”
Paul’s preaching was new, daring and stirred up many in the towns and villages he visited. Opposition was growing and would threaten the success of his mission. Paul traveled, preached, shared the news of the saving grace of Jesus Christ and set up Christian communities where the teaching could continue when he was away. Paul was the spark needed to bring Christ to the world.
“When Paul had left on his first missionary journey, he had heard a call to “Go!” but may not have known much more about his mission. Now, months later, he had traveled to new places, embraced believers, preached about sin and salvation, met opposition, suffered violence, and trained leaders. With each new experience his mission became clearer, shaping him into the inspired and inspiring evangelist we know today.
“More travels were coming for Paul, and more trouble but Paul, called and claimed by Christ, was ready.” Are you?
Let us pray: Gracious God, we thank you for Paul’s example of how we are to approach our call to you. Inspire us to be ready for the call and when it is received, we ask that we joyfully and expeditiously answer. Remind us that we don’t have to have all the answers before we say, “Yes” only the willingness to be your follower, to be your missionary here on this earth and to make the world a better place. We ask this all in Jesus holy and precious name. Amen.
 Barclay, William. The Daily Study Bible Series: The Acts of the Apostles, Revised Edition. The Westminster Press, Philadelphia. 1976. Page 98.
 Hamilton, Adam. The Call: The Life and Message of the Apostle Paul. Abingdon Press, Nashville, TN. 2015. Page 59
 Hamilton, Adam. The Call: The Life and Message of the Apostle Paul. Abingdon Press, Nashville, TN. 2015. Page 71
 Ibid. Page 72-73
 Ibid. Page 73-74
 Ibid. Page 74
 Ibid. Page 84