Doctor My Eyes ~ September 29, 2019 ~ Acts 16:6-10
Our Scripture this morning is in Acts 16. Kind of a cute story? I titled my message “Doctor My Eyes,” and the reason it popped into my head was because of a song from Jackson Browne back in the 1970s. And I was really going to play off that. The problem was, I played it for a couple people from the second service, and they looked at me with this blank stare! None of them knew the song, “Doctor My Eyes!” And I said, “You know, it’s from Jackson Browne, the guy that did the song Running on Empty? You know, Running on Empty!” Never mind, I said. I like the title. I’m keeping it anyway; I’ll forget the reference to the song!
We are in Acts 16. Luke wrote the book of Acts, and what he tells us in this book is that after Paul is converted on the road to Damascus, he first goes to Arabia, then he returns to Damascus, where he stays for three years. Another disciple, by the name of Barnabas then joins him on his first missionary journey. They travel to Cyprus, to Iconium, to Lystra, to Derby; all of these places are in the territory of Anatolia, which is today known as modern-day Turkey. In fact, a good portion of Paul’s journeys all took place – all these biblical cities and towns that we read about are actually today in the country of Turkey, which sadly has become 90% plus Muslim.
But while they are in Antioch of Syria, which is today Antioch Orontes, in Turkey, some men arrive from Judea, and they begin to teach that unless you are circumcised as required by the law of Moses, you cannot be saved. This was a bone of – I don’t want to say contention – it was a little bit of confusion that was being discussed at the time. You see, Jesus was born a Jew. He lived as a Jew. He died as a Jew. He was a faithful Jew His entire life. In fact, He says in Matthew 15:24:
“I was sent only to help God’s lost sheep – the
people of Israel.”
It was only after that mission was rejected – when God’s chosen people rejected Him – does Jesus open up the offer to the Gentiles as well. So, you can understand the heavy Jewishness of the original followers of Christ, and they had this discussion – how Jewish do you have to be first, before you can be Christian? It was like a progression – you had to go to first grade, second grade, third grade, fourth grade, fifth grade, sixth grade before you can go to Junior High. You don’t just jump in at Junior High.
Well, Paul and Barnabas vehemently disagree with this idea that you have to be circumcised, that you have to follow the Kosher laws, you have to follow the feasts and all the traditions and festivals of the Jewish calendar. They believe you can access God directly, and you can receive the gift of the Holy Spirit directly – Jew, Gentile, it doesn’t matter. Well, the church decides to send them – the church in Antioch decides to send them back to Jerusalem to talk to the apostles and the elders about this question, how Jewish do you have to be first, before becoming a Christian?
James and the leaders in Jerusalem have a debate, discussion; they agree with Paul that you should be able to become a Christian directly through the gift of the Holy Spirit. They give Paul a letter he is to bring back and explain this to them. And after delivering the letter, Paul, now traveling with Silas and Luke, now head out on a second missionary journey. First, they return to Anatolia, to Turkey, and then we pick up our story. Would you please join me in the unison prayer as we prepare to study the Word of God? Let us pray.
Lord, upon the pages of this book is Your story. It is also our story. Open our eyes that we may see, our ears that we may hear, our minds that we may understand, and our hearts that they may be transformed. In Jesus’ name. Amen.
Today’s Scripture reading is from the book of Acts, chapter 16, verses 6-10.
Next Paul and Silas traveled through the area of Phrygia and Galatia, because the Holy Spirit had prevented them from preaching the word in the province of Asia at that time. Then coming to the borders of Mysia, they headed north for the province of Bithynia, but again the Spirit of Jesus did not allow them to go there. So instead, they went on through Mysia to the seaport of Troas.
That night Paul had a vision: A man from Macedonia
in northern Greece was standing there, pleading with him, “Come over to Macedonia
and help us!” So we decided to leave for Macedonia at once, having concluded
that God was calling us to preach the Good News there.
May God bless the reading of His Holy Word.
So, from what Lynda shared with us, we know Paul and Silas and Luke, obviously, who’s recording this story, were traveling back through Anatolia. But they were prevented from preaching or going into a couple of places that they had originally intended. We do not know how the Holy Spirit told Paul that he and his companions should not go into Asia. The Bible doesn’t say that. It could have been any number of ways. It could have been a prophet – someone they had met on the way. It could have been through a vision. It could have been just an inner conviction, a feeling. It could have been through a dream. It could have been through some other way that I haven’t thought of.
I find it ironic. We often say, and I have heard people say this, perhaps you have said this, “You know, God works in mysterious ways.” But then when God speaks to us mysteriously, we tend to dismiss it pretty quickly. Why wouldn’t a supernatural being (God) speak to us in a supernatural way, like visions and dreams. It seems to me to make the most sense. At the same time, when we are trying to discern God’s will, it does not mean that we have to hear His voice. Sometimes I feel like people believe if they do not have a mountaintop experience like Moses and the burning bush – “Moses, take off your sandals. You are standing on Holy ground!” – or Saul on the road to Damascus – “Saul! Saul! Why are you persecuting me!” Unless you hear the voice of God, you don’t think it’s real.
That’s not true. God will not always speak to us directly or appear to us in human form as He did to Abraham near the oak grove in Mamre when He told him that Sarah was going to have a son. I mean, God spoke to Joseph, right? He told him that Mary was going to have a son in a dream! And He spoke to Balaam through his stinky, dinky, lanky, honky tonky, winky, wonky donkey, if you remember. So, God can communicate with us in a variety of ways. The Holy Spirit has no limits.
Unfortunately, the limits all belong to us. We’re the ones that seem to accept some and reject others. It can be a challenge when God does not communicate in ways that we are comfortable with. Have you ever heard of a gentleman by the name of William J. Seymour? William J. Seymour was the son of freed slaves, and the interim pastor of a small church in Topeka, Kansas. In April of 1906 – today’s actually the anniversary of his death, he passed away in 1922 on this date – in April of 1906, Pastor Seymour was invited to spend a month at a church in Los Angeles. He arrived on February 22, 1906, another auspicious date for us – that was the exact date of our 236th birthday. So, as people were here, celebrating our 236th birthday, Pastor Seymour arrives in Los Angeles, California. In his first sermon, he preaches that speaking in tongues is evidence of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.
Now, I don’t know if you have ever spoken in tongues yourself or have been in a worship service where that does occur. The first time you experience it, I would say, it’s different. I’m not criticizing. But if you haven’t experienced it before, it’s something different. It’s unique. Well, preaching in his first sermon that speaking in tongues was evidence of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit was not something everyone – I mean, if you think it’s a little uncomfortable today, in 2019, think about how it was going over in 1906. It was relatively unheard of at that time. Not everyone agreed with Pastor Seymour, including that church’s elders. The following Sunday, when he came back to preach, he found the front doors locked. They wouldn’t let him in. No more of that stuff here!
Well, he eventually moved to a building at 312 Azusa Street, in an impoverished part of Los Angeles. The rent on this ramshackle place was $8 a month. Worship at Azusa Street was frequent and spontaneous, with services going almost around the clock. Denominations didn’t matter. There were members of the Holiest movement. There were Baptists. There were Mennonites. There were Quakers. There were even some Presbyterians. By mid-May, anywhere from 300-1500 people were trying to fit in this rundown old building in downtown Los Angeles. A wide diversity of people came to worship – men, women, children, blacks, whites, Asians, Native Americans, immigrants, rich, poor, the illiterate, and the educated. That was unusual in 1906 for sure, specifically the intermingling of the races, and the group encouraging the women to be in positions of leadership. It was remarkable for its day – 1906 was the height of the Jim Crow era racial segregation laws, and it was fourteen years prior to women getting the right to vote! So, this was unusual, and it was not readily accepted by everyone, as you might understand or expect. In fact, the Los Angeles Times, the newspaper of record of the day was far from kind. They wrote:
Meetings are held in a tumbled-down shack on Azusa Street, and the devotees practice the most fanatical rites; preaching the wildest theories and work themselves into a state of mad excitement and peculiar zeal. Colored people and a sprinkling of whites compose the congregation, and nighttime is made hideous in the neighborhood by the howling of the worshipers who spend hours swaying forth and back in a nerve-wracking attitude of prayer and supplication. They claim to have the gift of tongues and be able to understand the babble.
Nope, not everyone was on board; but it would not be stopped. It became known as the Azusa Street Revival, characterized by spiritual experience, accompanied by the testimonies of physical healing miracles. Prayer services and speaking in tongues continued from the first meeting on April 9, 1906, until roughly 1915. For nine years, this movement was unstoppable. Historians consider the Azusa Street Revival to be the primary catalyst for the spread of Pentecostalism in the 20th century. We would not have the Pentecostal Church that we know today, I believe, if not for William J. Seymour and the Azusa Street Revival.
Making my point that God can choose to communicate with us in a variety of ways. The Holy Spirit has no limits. The Holy Spirit stopped Paul and Silas from going into Asia and Bithynia; and then from a vision, calls them to go into Macedonia. Some might say, “Really? You’re going to listen to a feeling? A vision? A dream? A talking donkey?” I know there are those who would say, “Well, the majority of those people, the apostles, the early Christians who followed Jesus, they were just fishermen! Not very sophisticated people!” As if only simple people are influenced by such things.
Sadly, there are still people today who feel too smart to believe. It’s an absolute fact – a sad fact, but an absolute fact – that the more education one receives, on average, the more atheism abounds. The more letters after your name, the more likely you are to deny the truth of the existence of God. You’ll find them at every college and university in the land. Anywhere where professors like Richard Dawkins teach, “When one person suffers from a delusion, it is called insanity. When many people suffer from a delusion, it is called religion.” That’s what our kids hear in most colleges and universities around the globe. We’re too smart to believe in such nonsense.
That wasn’t the case at Azusa Street. As I said, the rich, the poor, the illiterate, the educated – they were all there. And among first hand accounts that you can read about were reports of the blind having their sight restored, of illnesses cured instantly; and how about this – immigrants who spoke German, Yiddish (a form of Hebrew), and Spanish – they were all being spoken to in their native tongues by uneducated black members who translated the languages into English by a supernatural ability. This is exactly what happened on the day of Pentecost – people who did not know a foreign language were suddenly speaking that foreign language. That was happening at Azusa Street.
God can speak in any way He chooses to His people, through anyone He chooses, whenever He feels like it. I mean, think about it. Who wrote the book of Acts? Luke! Luke himself was a physician, he was a very educated man. A man of means, and influence. And he left his patients, he left his medical practice, because he believe what Paul said about Jesus; and he compiled this account, the book of Acts, because people kept saying to him, “Doctor, my eyes have seen things I do not understand! I can’t explain! But I saw them!” That’s why Luke left to travel with Paul. However the Holy Spirit spoke to Luke, I don’t know; but he felt compelled to go. And at first it doesn’t always make sense; you can’t count on the Lord to always make sense. I mean, you know my story, when I after fifteen years in the Post Office – good solid job, with a good retirement and benefits – all of a sudden said, “Quit! Leave it all and go to school!” That made no sense! Believe me, my father-in-law told me repeatedly. But apparently God knew what He was doing. He took care of me and my family, and I stand before you this morning because I did something that made absolutely no sense.
God can choose to communicate with us in a variety of ways. The Holy Spirit has no limits. However – here’s the big however – Satan is not stupid. He knows as well that God can choose to communicate in any number of ways, so 2 Corinthians 11:14 warns us:
Even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light.
(2 Corinthians 11:14)
He will try to communicate with us and pretend it’s from the Lord. So, we need to be careful with our feelings, our dreams, and our visions.
See, in my experience – I don’t know how it goes with you, but in my experience – when people say to me, “Well, God is telling me to (fill in the blank)…” whatever it is, God always seems to agree with these people and support whatever position they’re taking. It’s amazing! “God is telling me to leave my marriage!” “God is telling me to quit my job and become an artist!” “God is telling me to buy this vehicle that I can’t afford, because I need it!” “God is telling me to go on this vacation because He does say to rest!” “God is telling me to leave my church.” God never seems to say anything to anyone that they don’t want to hear. Is that God?
So, how can we tell if the message were hearing is from God or not? Well, there are four steps, and I’m going to quickly go over them with you. Number one: If you’re trying to discern, “Is this message I’m getting from God?” Number one, make sure it is in harmony with God’s Word. God will never contradict Himself. He will not tell you something that this Book tells you something else. This is the Word of God. Jesus says, “Love your neighbor.” Jesus says, “Pray for those who persecute you” (Matthew 5:4). Jesus says, “If you forgive those who sin against you, your heavenly Father will forgive you; but if you refuse to forgive others, your Father will not forgive your sins” (Matthew 6:14-15). So, if your vision or dream or your feeling is telling you to hate your enemy, or not forgive someone who has wronged you, that’s not God. That goes against His Word. If your vision or your dream or your feeling is telling you to seek revenge, to look at someone with lust, it’s not God. I don’t care how badly you want it to be, or how many ways you can justify it. If it contradicts God’s Word, sorry! It’s not God’s will. Number one.
Number two: Seek advice from other mature Christians. Ask them what they think of your vision, your dream, or your feeling. See, most of the time we don’t want to do that, because we’re afraid of what they will say. We don’t want a neutral third party, not really. We only want to speak to people who will agree with us! Don’t do that. Seek the advice of other, solid, mature Christians to find out if your message truly is from God.
Number three: Check your own motives. Are you seeking to do what you want? Be honest! Or what God wants? If you’re not sure what it is that God wants, I refer you to rule number one. You can always check His Word. But here’s another scenario or thing you could try. If you are in the midst of something, some message you’re getting that is telling you to react to someone or some circumstance in a certain way, just pretend – stop, take a deep breath – pretend for a moment that Jesus is standing in front of you, and ask yourself, “How would Jesus respond to this person? What would Jesus do in this situation?” And be honest, and whatever He would do, that’s what you do! Check your own motives. I can’t imagine Jesus would say, “No, you’ve got to hate that person! No, you’ve got to seek revenge!” Check your motives.
And last, number four: Never forget to pray. Pray for God to open and close whichever doors or paths He desires; pray that He would soften any hardening of our hearts and renew His Spirit within us. We often forget. As Christians, one of the most basic things – just pray!
These four steps can help us tell if this vision, if this dream, if this word of the Lord that we’re getting actually comes from God. Because God still communicates with us in a variety of ways. The Holy Spirit has no limits.
But a conversation takes two – one person speaking, and the other listening! God can talk all day long; He can give us His Word; but if we refuse to listen and don’t read it, I don’t know what good that’s going to do. Often, we don’t do that because we feel we know what’s right! We have all the answers, and nobody is going to tell me any different! Really? Even God? I mean, if that’s the case, then whatever dream, vision, or thought you’re having, it’s all you, not God.
You know, one of the titles that Jesus has is the Great Physician. Well, doctor, my eyes have seen illness, have seen sorrow, have seen pain, have seen anger. Please do not let my heart become hard. Do not let me go blind to love, to mercy, to grace. Speak to me through Your Word. Give me a vision, a dream, but help me Lord, to see other people as You see them, through Your eyes. Speak to me, Lord. I am listening. That should be our prayer. Would you pray with me?