by Roger McCay
31 May 2020
Scripture Passage: Acts 15:36-16:12
Link to Audio Version
Pastor and author Tim Keller has said that “Americans are becoming both more secular and more religious at the same time because the ‘mushy middle’ is disappearing and the country is becoming more polarized.” What he means by the “mushy middle” is that those who traditionally have attended church, because it is expected, are now not filling the pews. They are people who have gone their own way.
In our country, there is increasing pressure upon us Christians to shut up and keep our religious beliefs to ourselves. Moral decay has set in as the secularist agenda is advanced. Having done away with the living and true God, any evil can be rationalized as being good. Often, reading the news, seeing the various agendas of evil being pushed upon us in our nation, Isaiah 5:20 comes to mind:
20 Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter!
In many ways, it makes perfect sense that the mushy middle is fleeing the house. The hard things the Bible says that come with being a Christian are becoming a more evident reality right here and now in our country. There is a lot of hostility being sent our way. Following Jesus comes at a cost. As such, those not fully committed to Christ have no reason to stay when the going gets hard.
It is enough to make those of us who are Christ’s disciples, and who continue to strive to push forward, according to God’s will, wonder what on earth we should do next. How do we follow the Lord’s will in a world that seems increasingly dark and hostile to us?
Consider that, in the first century, the Christians had a lot more difficult circumstances to deal with than we do today. We can learn from their example, and we can be encouraged. We have the testimony of the Scriptures to help show us the way, which is that we must always keep our eyes upon the Master – the Lord Jesus – who leads us.
I think the book of Acts is a great encouragement to us in our times. As we read it, we see the impossible made possible and the gospel of Jesus Christ explode throughout the known world. This happens despite the moral degradations of the people and their leaders, the resistance and outright violent opposition of other religions, Kings, and authorities at every level. They were up against an Army opposed to the gospel of Jesus Christ and his followers. Yet they overcame it all – sometimes at the cost of their lives.
How did they do it? It’s a simple formula, really. The Lord led; his disciples followed; and the world was changed forever.
But, as we look inwardly at ourselves, we, perhaps, see with a critical eye how weak we are. And, when we look outwardly at the church, we see how imperfect the other disciples of Christ are. But, faithful to the Lord, we keep trying. We keep trying because we really believe in Jesus; we really are his disciples; and we really want to do his will.
So, we make a plan and follow it. We take upon ourselves an agenda and work towards it. We determinedly follow Jesus in one direction certain that is the direction we must go.
In themselves, these things are generally not a problem. But, there can come a point where it is not Christ we are following. It is our own path and our own agenda. Sometimes, with what may seem to us good intentions, we willfully insist on sticking to our own plan, closing ourselves off from the leading of the Lord.
Our passage today helps us to stand back a little bit and see from a bird’s eye view, so to speak, how God can work to change the world despite our failings and trouble and strife. It gives us a picture of how to follow the Lord’s leading and avoid getting stuck upon a path that is not the one he would lead us down.
So, with your Bible and the map included in your bulletin, let us take a look at the journey described in our passage today.
After Paul and Barnabas had been preaching the word in Antioch for a while, Paul got an idea that they should go and visit all the places where they had before “proclaimed the word of the Lord.” It would be a good opportunity to see good friends, and encourage the church in their faith.