The Forbidden Cities, The Macedonian Vision and the Entrance of the Beloved Physician into the Fray

Acts 16:6-13

And they passed through the Phrygian and Galatian region, having been forbidden by the Holy Spirit to speak the word in Asia; and when they had come to Mysia, they were trying to go into Bithynia, and the Spirit of Jesus did not permit them; and passing by Mysia, they came down to Troas. And a vision appeared to Paul in the night: a certain man of Macedonia was standing and appealing to him, and saying, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.” And when he had seen the vision, immediately we sought to go into Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to preach the gospel to them. Therefore putting out to sea from Troas, we ran a straight course to Samothrace, and on the day following to Neapolis; and from there to Philippi, which is a leading city of the district of Macedonia, a Roman colony; and we were staying in this city for some days. And on the Sabbath day we went outside the gate to a riverside, where we were supposing that there would be a place of prayer; and we sat down and began speaking to the women who had assembled.

Our beloved Physician, Luke, begins today’s text referring to the Paul and his traveling companions in the third person, plural but ends by using the first person, plural, meaning that he had joined them–Luke goes from writing “they” to writing “we.” And we don’t know exactly what Luke’s contribution was but we know that he was a physician and that he is now an eyewitness to many of the things that happen from here on. But before Luke joined them, some interesting things take place.

“And they passed through the Phrygian and Galatian region, having been forbidden by the Holy Spirit to speak the word in Asia; and when they had come to Mysia, they were trying to go into Bithynia, and the Spirit of Jesus did not permit them; and passing by Mysia, they came down to Troas.” 

A short geography lesson: after the split with Barnabas, who went South-West with Mark, Paul and Silas went North. Presumably they intended to go East to check on the northern churches but then would speak to those in Asia. But according to the context the Spirit didn’t allow for this to happen, rather he had them pass on through. Why did God want them to get out of Asia so soon? Once again, they went East, and trying to turn North into Bithynia, “the Spirit of Jesus did not permit them.” Every 20 missives or so I have to write, “don’t lose your joy over this.” I sense that this is one of those times. We don’t know why God wouldn’t let them go North or West, only further East, and we don’t assume that God had anything against Asia or Bithynia. Every time that the Bible tells us something without giving us an explanation, we hang our heads and wonder, why? Often times the context is of no help and we have to take it on faith that God has good reason, in his sovereignty. But I don’t think this is one of those times–I think that the context does give us the answer, eventually.

In the book of Joshua we read; “Now it came about when Joshua was by Jericho, that he lifted up his eyes and looked, and behold, a man was standing opposite him with his sword drawn in his hand, and Joshua went to him and said to him, ‘Are you for us or for our adversaries?’ And he said, ‘No, rather I indeed come now as captain of the host of the LORD.’ And Joshua fell on his face to the earth, and bowed down, and said to him, ‘What has my lord to say to his servant?’ And the captain of the LORD’S host said to Joshua, ‘Remove your sandals from your feet, for the place where you are standing is holy.’ And Joshua did so. Now Jericho was tightly shut because of the sons of Israel; no one went out and no one came in. And the LORD said to Joshua, ‘See, I have given Jericho into your hand, with its king and the valiant warriors.'”

I believe that in the same way Jesus went before Joshua as the captain, he went before Paul to Macedonia. While many miracles and laws of physics are broken by the Lord, we still have to think practically with our physical limitations. That is Paul was not omnipresent, he couldn’t be everywhere at once. The Lord has no such limitations but we have to be realistic about ourselves. One reason that I took to blogging is that I can communicate with people across the globe. Ironically enough, the people to whom I truly want to write cannot receive my missives legally. I have been banned in a certain communist country in the Caribbean. Don’t feel bad for me, you are banned their as well, unless you have a cleverly disguised VPN making it look like you are writing from within the walls of a communist country. But Paul had no such luxury, hence all the letters and today’s text. Would it be fair to say that Paul had to go where God wanted him to go? Is this situation as simple as God was guiding their footsteps to a place that he had gone before them? Consider the context.

“And they passed through the Phrygian and Galatian region, having been forbidden by the Holy Spirit to speak the word in Asia; and when they had come to Mysia, they were trying to go into Bithynia, and the Spirit of Jesus did not permit them; and passing by Mysia, they came down to Troas. And a vision appeared to Paul in the night: a certain man of Macedonia was standing and appealing to him, and saying, ‘Come over to Macedonia and help us.’ And when he had seen the vision, immediately we sought to go into Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to preach the gospel to them.”

If they were convinced that God wanted them to go to Macedonia, we should as well. Nevertheless a cautionary exhortation: one cannot always trust a vision. Paul himself wrote; “Let no one keep defrauding you of your prize by delighting in self-abasement and the worship of the angels, taking his stand on visions he has seen, inflated without cause by his fleshly mind.” They lived in an overlap between the Old Covenant age and the New; visions were promised to those in that eon, Peter confirmed this at Pentacost. We don’t need visions because we have the completed Word of God. Except that we don’t follow it–which is why we hear of visions coming from closed-off countries. But that’s the anomaly not the norm. And I think it says a lot about us and our mega-church, name it and claim it philosophy in the West. But I digress, speaking of West, the Lord essentially said to Paul, “go West young man.”

“And when he had seen the vision, immediately we sought to go into Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to preach the gospel to them. Therefore putting out to sea from Troas, we ran a straight course to Samothrace, and on the day following to Neapolis; and from there to Philippi, which is a leading city of the district of Macedonia, a Roman colony; and we were staying in this city for some days.” For God’s own reasons, based on his own authority, he wanted Paul and Silas, Luke and Timothy and the other brothers in Macedonia, quickly, not even stopping to preach the gospel along the way, or turning North.

I should also point out that Asia was most likely, if not positively, Asia minor, not the continent. They were from the continent of Asia. But in those days, everything was under Roman rule in that region. We simply don’t know why they were not permitted to speak in Asia. Don’t lose your joy, they had a Divine date with destiny.

“And on the Sabbath day we went outside the gate to a riverside, where we were supposing that there would be a place of prayer; and we sat down and began speaking to the women who had assembled.”

While this concludes today’s text with a cliffhanger of sorts, it is necessary for us to take the time to see how God was directing their steps. We find it odd that the Spirit shut off speaking in the region of Galatia, yet we also find a church there. And not only a church but a church that was abandoning faith for following the Law. Paul wrote to them; “You foolish Galatians, who has bewitched you, before whose eyes Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified? This is the only thing I want to find out from you: did you receive the Spirit by the works of the Law, or by hearing with faith? Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh? Did you suffer so many things in vain—if indeed it was in vain? Does He then, who provides you with the Spirit and works miracles among you, do it by the works of the Law, or by hearing with faith? Even so Abraham BELIEVED GOD, AND IT WAS RECKONED TO HIM AS RIGHTEOUSNESS. Therefore, be sure that it is those who are of faith who are sons of Abraham. And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, ‘ALL THE NATIONS SHALL BE BLESSED IN YOU.’ So then those who are of faith are blessed with Abraham, the believer. For as many as are of the works of the Law are under a curse; for it is written, ‘CURSED IS EVERYONE WHO DOES NOT ABIDE BY ALL THINGS WRITTEN IN THE BOOK OF THE LAW, TO PERFORM THEM.'”

Like the church in Galatia, the land in which Paul passed through having been forbidden to speak the word, we are somewhat short-sighted. We expect Paul to preach everywhere yet we won’t even preach in our own backyards. Yet we do judge gospel growth by what is happening in our own backyards–it is utterly ironic.

Here, we take the long-view approach. We see that God is in it for the long haul. Rather than expect a rapture rescue, we will adopt a long view of Scripture and redemption, knowing that God can come in judgement against the “churches” in the West without physically coming in a rapture rescue. It is time to put aside our taught traditions, presuppositions and preconceived notions. We must study the Bible in its context and live lives of faith. Sometimes that means passing through Asia to get to Macedonia, metaphorically speaking–and I have no idea what that means but it sure sounded good. We are looking long over the book of Acts, letting the context unfold, letting the Bible interpret the Bible.

We will continue to use the CAGED method of Biblical hermeneutics where Context is King, Author’s Aspirations to his Audience are Apex, Genre is the General,Expositoryy Exegesis of Examples Enlightens and Dividing Rightly the Word of Truth either confirms or cancels our preconceived notions and presuppositions. We will not jump to conclusions without a solid sign in the context. We will see things through a lens that shows the long-view.

Jesus took the long view concerning his Kingdom; “He presented another parable to them, saying, ‘The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and sowed in his field; and this is smaller than all other seeds; but when it is full grown, it is larger than the garden plants, and becomes a tree, so that THE BIRDS OF THE AIR come and NEST IN ITS BRANCHES.'” I don’t know why we think that the Kingdom comes overnight. I don’t know why we question the Spirit forbidding the preaching of the word in certain places at certain times. The Bible is clear, the Kingdom comes slowly but comes nonetheless.

When we see that Paul and Silas pass through Galatia by order of the Holy Spirit, we question why, forgetting that there is actually a book of the Bible called, Galatians. In our minds we question the Holy Spirit, thinking, “why didn’t you let Paul preach in Asia (thinking Asia meant the entire continent)? I believe the Spirit would answer something like, consider the context, and have a long view. Therefore we will, Lord willing, keep considering the continuing context next time.

 

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