Special thanks to Mark Swazye for inspiring the core of this lesson.
The last time we were together, I showed a video of Angela Beise speaking on the hope that she found in the midst of having and then raising a severely disabled child. I want to continue that theme of hope this morning.
Hope lives in that space and time between aspiration and attainment; between request and realization; between calling and completion.
And if we look, we will find that God lives in this space and time as well. As the song I used this morning says, “He’s in the waiting/Hold on to your hope, watch your triumph unfold/He’s never failing.” 1. God is in the waiting
Of all the characters in the Bible, few prove that truer than the Apostle, Paul.
INTRO TO PAUL
We are first introduced to Paul in Acts 7:58. The occasion was the stoning of Stephen. You probably remember Stephen. He was one of the seven men chosen to relieve the apostles in the daily waiting on tables to allow them more time for preaching and prayer. Later we find Stephen defending the faith to a group of Jewish leaders. These Jews became enraged, so much so, that they took Stephen outside the city and stoned him. And they laid their coats at the feet of Paul, who was at the time was called Saul. And in Acts 8:1 we are told, “And Saul approved of his execution”.
Here are a few quick facts about Paul:
- Born in Tarsus of Cilicia (which is in modern-day Turkey)
- He was a tentmaker (probably worked with leather)
- Moved to Jerusalem to further his studies
- He received a great education and religious training even studying under famed Rabbi Gamaliel
- He grew to become a religious zealot and felt his calling was to keep the Jewish teaching pure
- He was the surgeon and he was to excise the cancer that was growing in his faith. That cancer was The Way of Jesus. In today’s terms, he was a Jewish Jihadist.
This is how Paul described himself in Galatians 1: 13-14, “For you have heard of my former life in Judaism, how I persecuted the church of God violently and tried to destroy it. And I was advancing in Judaism beyond many of my own age among my people, so extremely zealous was I for the traditions of my fathers.”
So, from the stoning of Stephen until his conversion, Paul went on a tear in defense of Judaism.
Acts 8:1 goes on to say, “And there arose on that day a great persecution against the church in Jerusalem, and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles.”
Just as an aside, one of the great ironies in the Bible is that as Paul and his cohorts were trying to quash the Jesus movement they were actually spreading the gospel far beyond Jerusalem.
PAUL’S DAMASCUS ROAD EXPERIENCE
So Paul, continuing his jihad, against proponents of The Way, what we now call Christianity, finds himself on the road from Jerusalem to Damascus.
- a light appeared from heaven shone around him and Paul falls to the ground
- He hears a voice, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” and he said, “Who are you, Lord?”
- The Voice responds “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting.
- Paul gets up and finds he can’t see
- Those with him lead him by the hand to Damascus
- Paul was there for three days without sight, and neither ate nor drank.
- Ananias is told by the Lord to go lay hands on Paul so he will receive his sight
- Ananias is reluctant for he has heard of Paul but the Lord confirms Paul’s calling and he goes
- Ananias lays hands on Paul and his sight is restored
- Paul got up, was baptized, and then got something to eat.
PAUL’S 3 YEARS OF WAITING
If you read this section in the book of Acts you get the impression that Paul immediately begins to preach because there is no break between the 18th and 19th verses of Acts 9.
However, it is important to remember that Scripture interprets itself. And Paul himself sheds light on what happened immediately following his baptism.
In Galatians 1:15-18 Paul says, “But when he who had set me apart before I was born, and who called me by his grace, was pleased to reveal his Son to me, in order that I might preach him among the Gentiles, I did not immediately consult with anyone; nor did I go up to Jerusalem to those who were apostles before me, but I went away into Arabia, and returned again to Damascus. Then after three years, I went up to Jerusalem to visit Cephas and remained with him fifteen days.”
So Paul goes to Arabia (not Saudi Arabia) for 3 years and during that time he receives one-on-one instruction from the Holy Spirit concerning the Messiah, the gospel, and his calling. No doubt he preached some during this time but it was like getting appointed to a 4-point charge in the Methodist Church.
Here we have one example, in Paul, of someone who has had that WOW encounter with Jesus, has impeccable knowledge and leadership qualities, and who is primed and ready to go, and then is told not yet. . …wait. And this brings me to the 2nd point I want to make, 2. God does not waste time…as long as you are living into hope, He does not waste a minute, or a day, not even years.
From the minute you step into your destiny in Christ, God is at work in your life to bring that to which he has called you to fruition.
PAUL’S MISSIONARY JOURNEYS
So Paul, after visiting Peter, kicks off his ministry for real.
- Paul takes Barnabas and they sail from Antioch’s seaport Selucia to Cyprus and work throughout the island (Acts 13:4-12).
- Next, they go to Pamphylia and the other Antioch in Pisidia (Acts 13:13-52).
- They went down to Lycaonia, working in Iconium, Lystra, and Derbe (Acts 14:1-23).
- Passing through Pisidia and Pamphylia again, they then worked in Perga (Acts 14:24).
- They went down to Attalia and caught a ship back to Syrian Antioch (Acts 14:25-27).
Between the 1st and 2nd missionary journeys, Paul attended the Jerusalem Council which addressed how the Gentile believers would be treated with respect to Jewish tradition (Acts 15:1-29).
- Paul chose Silas and embarked on a journey that began by revisiting the places Paul had worked on his 1st journey (Acts 15:36-41).
- They worked in Derbe, Lystra, Iconium. Timothy joined Paul and Silas (Acts 16:3).
- Paul, with Silas and Timothy, went through the regions of Phrygia and Galatia, then on to Troas (Acts 16:1-8).
- Paul received a vision calling him to Macedonia (Acts 16:9-40, 17:1-14).
- Paul went down to Achaia and worked in Athens (Acts 17:15-34).
- After Athens, he went to work in Corinth where he met Aquila and Priscilla (Acts 18:1-17).
- From Corinth, Paul went to Ephesus (Acts 18:18-21).
- He took a ship to Caesarea, visiting the church there, then went back to Syrian Antioch (Acts 18:21-22).
- After a time in Antioch, Paul set off again and visited with the churches again in Galatia and Phrygia (Acts 18:23).
- Paul next returned to Ephesus where his work caused an uproar (Acts 19:1-41).
- Paul then revisited Macedonia and Greece and came to Troas and after that to Miletus (Acts 20:1-38).
- From Miletus, Paul sailed to Caesarea (Acts 21:1-8).
So, in these three missionary journeys, Paul was living the ministry to which he had been called. He was seeing his hope of being God’s messenger to the Gentiles coming to fruition. There were challenges, difficulties, personal pain but Paul was right where he felt he should be.
THINGS TAKE A TURN (Strongly recommend reading Acts 21-28 on their own)
Let me set it up by reading Acts 21:8-15, “On the next day we departed and came to Caesarea, and we entered the house of Philip the evangelist, who was one of the seven, and stayed with him. He had four unmarried daughters, who prophesied. While we were staying for many days, a prophet named Agabus came down from Judea. And coming to us, he took Paul’s belt and bound his own feet and hands and said, “Thus says the Holy Spirit, ‘This is how the Jews at Jerusalem will bind the man who owns this belt and deliver him into the hands of the Gentiles.’” When we heard this, we and the people there urged him not to go up to Jerusalem. Then Paul answered, “What are you doing, weeping and breaking my heart? For I am ready not only to be imprisoned but even to die in Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus.” And since he would not be persuaded, we ceased and said, “Let the will of the Lord be done.” After these days we got ready and went up to Jerusalem.
- So Paul goes to Jerusalem and meets with James and the elders (Acts 21:18-26).
- But then some Jews falsely accused Paul of defiling the temple by bringing Gentiles into the holy place. They grabbed Paul and began to beat him but were stopped by Roman soldiers. (Acts 21:27-40).
- Paul then told his story publicly and the Jews became enraged and cried out, “Rid the earth of him. He is not fit to live.” and later nearly got flogged by the soldiers but avoided that by claiming Roman citizenship. (Acts 22:25-29).
- Three points: 1.) This reaction by the Jews was exactly Paul’s reaction prior to his conversion, and, 2.) Paul is now going to be under the protection of the Romans for a long time…but he will be a prisoner in chains. 3.) Living in hope ≠ Living without hardship
- So, Paul under guard of the Romans, who wanted to get to the bottom of the dispute, is taken before the Sanhedrin and in a short time things got so heated the commander thought Paul would be torn to shreds and he took him away to the barracks.
- At this point the Bible says in Acts 23:11, “The following night the Lord stood by him and said, “Take courage, for as you have testified to the facts about me in Jerusalem, so you must testify also in Rome.”
Now Paul has a new calling and a new hope and it will be years in the making. But what did we say?…. God does not waste time.
- Romans get wind of a plot against Paul and they whisked him away to Caesarea (Acts 23:23-35).
- He was imprisoned in Caesarea and goes before Felix (the Roman procurator of the province), Paul tells his story, Felix who after the trial keeps Paul imprisoned for two years but allows him to have visitors (Acts 24).
- Festus replaces Felix, so Paul tells his story to Festus (do you get the picture… Paul, while in chains, is sharing the Gospel over and over again). When he appeared before Festus, Festus wants him to go back to Jerusalem for trial but Paul appeals to Caesar and Festus says to Caesar you will go (Acts 25).
- But before he was sent, Festus seeking to be on good terms with King Agrippa (Herod Agrippa II, the 8th and last king in the Herodian line) had Paul appear before him. Paul tells his story before King Agrippa and his wife Bernice and was so convincing they would have let him go…….if Paul had not appealed to Caesar (Acts 26).
- So, Paul sails for Rome under Roman guard. On the way, he is shipwrecked on the tiny little island of Malta just below Sicily but all 276 on board are saved. They build a fire and out of the wood, a highly venomous viper bites Paul. Immediately the islander who had come to their aid thought this was a judgment against Paul and he would die. But Paul just threw the snake into the fire. Scripture says, “They were waiting for him to swell up or suddenly fall down dead. But when they had waited a long time and saw no misfortune come to him, they changed their minds and said that he was a god.” (Acts 28:6). The islanders were so impressed they took Paul to the chief official’s house and Paul prayed for his sick father and he was healed. Then the rest of the sick on the island came to Paul and was healed.
PAUL’S FINAL WAIT (Everything up to this point has been prelude. Here is the message I want to leave.)
So Paul Finally arrives in Rome, still in chains. Paul was allowed to stay by himself in his own house with the soldier who guarded him. Now notice what the last two verses of Acts 28 says, “He lived there two whole years at his own expense, and welcomed all who came to him, proclaiming the kingdom of God and teaching about the Lord Jesus Christ with all boldness and without hindrance.”
And that’s how Paul’s story in the book of Acts ends because there is no Chapter 29. But…notice these four things about Paul’s imprisonment in Rome.
- He met with brothers and sisters in the faith – We know from Scripture (Colossians 4:7-14) that many in the faith visited with Paul to receive encouragement and instruction, including Epaphras, Mark, Aristarchus, Demas, Tychicus, Luke, and Timothy. So Paul who was sent with a message is now, though in chains, sending others out with that same message.
- Jewish leaders came to him – What a turnaround. Instead of Paul going to the Synagogue, now leaders of the Synagogues are coming to him. Paul said to them in Acts 28:20-22, “I have asked to see you and speak with you, since it is because of the hope of Israel that I am wearing this chain.”And they said to him, “We have received no letters from Judea about you, and none of the brothers coming here has reported or spoken any evil about you. But we desire to hear from you what your views are, for with regard to this sect we know that everywhere it is spoken against.” The message Jewish leaders were trying to kill Paul for saying in Jerusalem; leaders visiting him in Rome are now willingly coming to hear.
- Of the 13 letters attributed to Paul, 4 were written while chained in Rome: Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, Philemon – No doubt the churches all the way back to Jerusalem were praying fervently for Paul’s release and rightly so. Yet, God had him right where he wanted him and he was reaching thousands and eventually billions with his pen.
- The Gospel cannot be chained – You can chain a person, but you cannot chain the good news of Jesus. When Paul was chained, Bible scholars tell us he was literally chained to a Roman guard. They worked in shifts of six hours round the clock. Think about living two years like that. Now listen to what Paul says in Philippians 1:12-14, “I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel, so that it has become known throughout the whole imperial guard and to all the rest that my imprisonment is for Christ.”
Every prayer Paul prayed, every word Paul writes, every instruction given, every testimony shared was seen and heard by the Roman guards that rotated in and out of Paul’s house. They were never more than 4 feet away because of the chain.
Isn’t that great? But it gets better. Later on in Philippians 4:21-22 he says, “Greet every saint in Christ Jesus. The brothers who are with me greet you. All the saints greet you, especially those of Caesar’s household.” There are now believers in Nero’s household because of Paul’s imprisonment.
I don’t know what hopes you have, but I do know that if you are trusting Jesus, as you wait for the manifestation of that hope, God is in the waiting. And you can rest assured that God is not wasting a second of that time. While you are waiting, you may experience doubts and difficulties because Living in hope ≠ Living without hardship. You may also feel you are in chains, not like Paul, but chained by health issues, advancing age, hurts of the past, feelings of inadequacy, and the list could go on. But remember, that even in your chains The gospel cannot be chained.
TOM HORNE’S STORY
In 1991, the Soviet Union broke up into 15 Confederated Independent States (CIS). Mission organizations and church denominations all around the world scrambled to take advantage of this open door into these formerly Iron Curtain countries. Three complementary ministries emerged:
- The Alliance provided long-term foreign missionary support to help established evangelical churches plant new congregations.
- The Russia 250 Project, through short-term training and financial assistance from the West, equipped and supported indigenous evangelists engaged in church-planting.
- The CoMission taught basic Christian truths in the public schools through an ethics curriculum and Bible studies. The ultimate, five-year goal was to start a Bible study in each of the 120,000 public schools in the CIS. More than 70 organizations were involved, including The Mission Society.
The CoMission accepted candidates who were 20 years of age or older who would serve a one-year term between 1992 and 1997. Dick McClain headed up the recruitment for The Mission Society and Janice Colvin assisted him. They had put out an appeal for people to serve in Khabarovsk, Russia.
Khabarovsk is often referred to as a place that is not the end of the world, but you can see it from there. It is in Far East Russia, even beyond Siberia and is some 500 miles north of North Korea. In January the average high is 3 degrees and the low is -12 degrees.
One of the applicants was Tom Horne. When his application came in, Janice discovered Tom was 81 years old. After much discussion, they reluctantly decided to allow him to come to the initial orientation in Atlanta figuring when he heard about Khabarovsk he would withdraw his application.
At the orientation, they went around the room, had the applicants introduce themselves, tell a little bit about themselves, then tell why they felt led to apply. Most there were between 20 and 26, they were taking a gap year from college or between college and work and thought it would be a good experience.
When it was Tom’s turn he said he was born in 1912 in Pound, Virginia, he attended Wise High School, got a BS from Virginia Polytechnic Institute (1934), earned his Masters from Ohio State University (1939), he then served as an officer in the US Army from 1941-1946, attaining the rank of Lt. Colonel before retiring from the reserves, and then received a Ph.D. from Penn State (1949). He taught Vocational Agriculture at local high schools in VA. Then for 20 years, he served as Professor of Agricultural Education and Associate Dean for Instruction, College of Agriculture at Virginia Tech. He then moved to Atlanta, GA to serve as Project Director, Higher Education in Agricultural Sciences, Southern Regional Education Board. He then retired to Waynesboro, GA.
When asked why he applied, tears welled up in his eyes and trickled down his face, and he said, “When I read that I might have the opportunity to tell little Russian boys and girls living in darkness about my Lord and Savior Jesus, I finally knew why I had been born.”
In 1992, Tom went and proved to be the most effective team member TMS had. After a year, Tom signed up for another term and returned to Khabarovsk in 1994 at the age 83 and was even more effective.
God is in the waiting and He does not waste time. Hold on to your hope!