Once Every 365, 250 Days

Once Every 365,250 Days

Acts 16:6-15

Dr. Jim Denison

Days like yesterday don’t come along very often. In fact, it has been 365,250 days since the world last stepped into a new millennium. And a few things have changed since then.

Restaurants now have entire dining rooms for cell-phone users. The military has developed miniature robots, and will be modifying them for commercial use soon. A car connected to the Internet will be available this year, as will wristwatches which check e-mail verbally and work as cell phones. Soon cars will be able to guide themselves with radar-aided satellite cruise controls.

And in the next few years everything we own will be connected through the Internet. Clothes will monitor our health and report problems to our doctor electronically; appliances will monitor themselves and report repair problems before they occur; refrigerators will order food to be delivered; scanners will measure our bodies and order our clothing; we will touch the television screen and order the clothing the actor is wearing. Entire college degrees will be earned from our homes.

But while the future fascinates us, it frightens us as well.

Seattle cancelled its Millennium celebration due to terrorist threats. Security has been heightened the world over.

Millions of people stockpiled food and money for the Y2K problem.

A new word has been coined: “atmosfear.” This is the fear and uncertainty of everything around us—the air we breathe, the water we drink, the food we eat, fear of hospitals and viruses, fear of banks, the government, everything.

What about the future most worries you this morning? Your children? The society they’re growing up in? Your finances and job? Health? Marriage? Significance and purpose for your life?

How does God want us to face such an uncertain future? His word will help us, no matter what our fears might be.

A trip into the future

Paul’s future was in Macedonia. And he had no clue. Here’s how he found his future.

He is traveling through Phrygia and Galatia, because the Spirit would not let him preach in Asia. On a map of modern-day Turkey, this region would be in the center, where the capital city Ankara is today. I’ve been through the area, and was fascinated by it. A very ancient culture, dating back for thousands of years—in fact, I picked up a piece of clay pot which was dated at 3,000 BC. Ruins today, everywhere you look, waiting to be excavated.

This is where Paul had built churches during his first missionary journey. But now, for reasons completely unclear to him at the time, the Spirit will not allow him to continue his ministry here.

So they travel to Mysia, to the northwest, and try to go to Bithynia, further to the north, but “the Spirit of Jesus” (the only time this phrase is found in the New Testament) would not allow them to. Later, other Christians would plant churches in these areas. But not Paul.

Thus they arrive at Troas, a port city on the western coast of ancient Asia, modern-day Turkey. And here the future became the present.

For here, Paul heard the seven words which literally changed the world: “Come over to Macedonia and help us.” This was modern-day Greece, Europe, the West. Paul had never been here. So far as we know, no Christian had. He had no contacts, no place to start, and no plans to make this his future.

If he had turned back to the East, perhaps the gospel would never have come to Europe and the Chinese would be evangelizing us instead of the other way around. Some historians believe that the whole course of Western civilization and culture turned on this vision, this extraordinary and breathtakingly courageous decision by Paul to go to Macedonia.

Now Paul and Luke (note the “we” passages here), with the rest of their group, sail to the island of Samothrace, and on to the port of Neapolis (the modern city of Kavalla).

Then they hike ten miles along one of the most famous roads in history, the Via Ignatia, arriving at Philippi, “the leading city of Macedonia.” This road still exists today—I’ve seen the ruts in the marble made by Roman chariots.

Philippi had been so named by Philip of Macedon, for himself. It was a strategic military outpost, and the site of one of the most famous battles in history. Here Octavius and Marc Antony defeated Brutus and Cassius and Octavius became Augustus, the Roman Emperor.

The city was a “colony,” meaning that it was a little Rome. The people spoke the Roman language, ate Roman food, wore Roman clothes; most were retired Roman soldiers and their families.

Paul could not have chosen a more strategic first place for the gospel in Europe.

But their church begins in a most unusual and memorable way.

They go outside of town to the Zygaktis river, where they meet some women gathered to pray. Not at a synagogue, or with the leading men of the city, as in other places—this church begins by a river, with the women.

I’ve been to the river, and can tell you it’s a beautiful place to begin the first church in the West. Perhaps five to ten feet across, two or three feet deep at this spot, shaded by trees and foliage. The Greek Orthodox church maintains a concrete baptistry and church there today.

Here Lydia becomes the first European convert to Jesus.

She was apparently a Macedonia agent for a Thyatira clothing manufacturer, specializing in purple clothing. This was the most expensive clothing of the day, made from the glands of the murex shellfish (8,000 made one gram of dye) or the roots of the madder plant. Only kings and the wealthiest people wore this. So Lydia would know the chief influencers in the entire city. Small wonder that God led Paul to her, by this river, in this way.

She had already been worshipping God, seeking him. Never underestimate what God is already doing in the people you know—fully three-fourths of unchurched Americans say they would go to church if brought by a friend.