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May 28, 2017

Sermon Acts 20:1-6 . . . “People to meet in heaven:  Aristarchus”

“People to meet in heaven:  Aristarchus”

Acts 20:1-6

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus.

How many friends do you have?  Or if I could ask, how many true friends do you have?

Psychologists tell us that there are four levels of friendship—there’s cordial friendship, where you may know a person’s name, but nothing more.

There’s casual friendship, where you enjoy the same activities or interests.  You’re in the same class, the same company or the same club.

A third level is close friendship, personal friendship—someone you really know.  You like to be with them, even when you don’t “have to.”

And finally, there’s committed friendship.  You respect them.  You trust them. You can talk about anything with them.  They’ll stick with you through thick and thin, good times and bad.

How many “true friends” do you have?

The Bible has a lot to say about friends.  Solomon wrote in the book of Ecclesiastes:  “Two are better than one because they have a good return for the labor.  For if either of them falls, the one will lift up his companion.  But woe to the one who falls when there is not another to lift him up.”  Proverbs 17 says, “A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity.”  And Jesus said in John 15:  “This is My commandment, that you love one another, just as I have loved you.  Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.”

The apostle Paul had friends.  A physician named Luke was his friend, and so was a disciple named Barnabas, and a young pastor named Timothy.  Fellow tentmakers, Priscilla and her husband Aquila, were very dear friends too.

And in the words of Acts chapter 20, we meet yet one more.

Turn with me to page 1182, as I read the words of our text.  I’ll start at chapter 20, verse 1, where it says, “Paul in Macedonia and Greece.”

It begins with this:  “After the uproar ceased, Paul sent for the disciples, and after encouraging them, he said farewell and departed for Macedonia.  When he had gone through those regions and had given them much encouragement, he came to Greece.  There he spent three months, and when a plot was made against him by the Jews as he was about to set sail for Syria, he decided to return through Macedonia.  Sopater the Berean, son of Pyrrhus, accompanied him; and of the Thessalonians, Aristarchus and Secundus; and Gaius of Derbe, and Timothy; and the Asians, Tychicus and Trophimus.  These went on ahead and were waiting for us at Troas, but we sailed away from Philippi after the days of Unleavened Bread, and in five days we came to them at Troas, where we stayed for seven days.”

Look again at verse 1, where it says, “After the uproar ceased.”  What uproar?

Back in chapter 19, Paul had preached the gospel in the city of Ephesus.  And it didn’t take long before a man named Demetrius, a silversmith, caused quite a stir.  You see, he made quite a lot of money making silver shrines of the goddess Artemis.  And so he gathered together his fellow craftsmen and said, “Men, you know that from this business we have our wealth.  And you see and hear that not only in Ephesus but in almost all of Asia this Paul has persuaded and turned away a great many people, saying that gods made with hands are not gods.  And there is danger not only that this trade of ours may come into disrepute but also that the temple of the great goddess Artemis may be counted as nothing, and that she may even be deposed from her magnificence, she whom all Asia and the world worship.”

In other words, we’re making a lot of money off of this whole Artemis thing here, and some guy named Paul has come and messed it up!

And sure enough, just as soon as they heard his words, they all began to shout, “Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!”  And for the next two hours (!), they kept shouting, “Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!”  It was a riot!  The crowd was out of control.

And who was in the middle of it all, standing at the mercy of the crowd?  Actually two men—one named Gaius of Derbe, and the other, Aristarchus, friend of the apostle Paul.

That’s why chapter 20 begins with the words, “After the uproar ceased.”

Aristarchus.  So who was he, and what do we know about him?

Let’s start with his name—Aristarchus.  It’s a name that comes from two Greek words—“arist,” means “best of,” and “archus,” means “rule.”  Put them together, and you get, “best ruler.”  It’s how we got the words “aristocracy” and “aristocrat.”

So if his name means anything, and it well might, it means he was born into a noble family and was part of the ruling class.

Also, the first time the Bible mentioned him, it called him a Macedonian.  The second time, it called him a Thessalonian.  And the third time, it called him a Macedonian of Thessalonica.

And that’s important.  You see, Thessalonica was no small town.  It stood at the crossroads of two major Roman highways—one leading to the west to Italy, the other to the south to the Aegean Sea.

Even more, it was a port city and it was the capital city of Macedonia--the home of power and politics.  That’s why Paul chose to preach the gospel there.

And for three weeks, he reasoned with them and explained why Jesus had to suffer, die and rise from the dead.  He said:  “This Jesus, whom I proclaim to you, is the Christ.”

And when he was done, the Bible says, “Some of them were persuaded and joined Paul and Silas, as did a great many of the devout Greeks and not a few of the leading women.”

And among them was this man named Aristarchus.  And from that moment on, he became a friend and fellow-laborer with the apostle Paul.

Now, if you would, please turn with me to page 1190 to see what happened next.  I’ll start at chapter 27, verse 1, where it says, “Paul sails for Rome.”

“And when it was decided that we should sail for Italy, they delivered Paul and some other prisoners to a centurion of the Augustan Cohort named Julius.  And embarking in a ship of Adramyttium, which was about to sail to the ports along the coast of Asia, we put to sea, accompanied by Aristarchus, a Macedonian from Thessalonica.”

Prisoners?  Ship?  What’s going on?

You see, because Paul preached Christ, men accused him of trying to overthrow the empire.  They arrested him, bound him in chains, and sent him across the sea.

And who was with him?  Verse 2:  “Aristarchus, a Macedonian from Thessalonica.”

Paul warned the sailors not to go.  It was too dangerous, he said, too late in the season.  Besides, he had already survived three other shipwrecks.  He didn’t want to try it once more.

But as they set sail early that morning, the wind began to blow.  And sure enough, a dreaded nor’easter swept down from the island of Crete.  Waves crashed against them as wind forced them off course and blew them wherever it pleased.

For days, dark clouds closed in and pelting rain drenched their battered bodies.  The sky was so black, they couldn’t see the sun or the stars.  They were so desperate, they threw their cargo overboard.  Still nothing seemed to help.  The crew and passengers gathered below deck, silently awaiting their doom.

That’s when Paul stood up and said, in verse 21:  “Men, you should have listened to me and not have set sail from Crete and incurred this injury and loss.  Yet now I urge you to take heart, for there will be no loss of life among you, but only of the ship.  For this very night there stood before me an angel of God to whom I belong and whom I worship, and he said, ‘Do not be afraid, Paul; you must stand before Caesar.  And behold, God has granted you all those who sail with you.  So take heart, men, for I have faith in God that it will be exactly as I have been told.”

And, by the grace of God, all 276 souls were spared.

So what can we learn from this man named Aristarchus?

It’s likely that he was no great speaker, leader or teacher.  Hebrews chapter 11, the faith “Hall of Fame,” doesn’t mention his name.  But of all places, we do find him in Ephesus, in the middle of a riotous, out of control crowd, and on a shipwreck in the Mediterranean, side-by-side with the apostle Paul.  That is, by the way, what Paul called him in Colossians chapter 4:  “Aristarchus, my fellow prisoner.”

So what can we learn?  As one author wrote, “God has the remarkable ability to have the right man available at the right time.  His record is undeniable.”

He raised up Moses when Israel needed a man to lead the nation out of Egypt.  He raised up David when Israel needed a king who was a man after God’s own heart.  He raised up Elijah when Israel needed a prophet who would command the attention of the Jewish people.  He raised up John the Baptist when the world needed someone to prepare the way.  And He raised up Aristarchus when Paul desperately needed a partner and friend.

Back in the 1800s, Victoria served as the Empress of India and the Queen of the United Kingdom.  She began her reign when she was only eighteen, and would serve for the next sixty-three years, becoming the longest reigning monarch of the nineteenth century.  It’s how the “Victorian era,” got its name.

And of the many things she was known to say, one of the most remarkable was this:  “I thank God for the letter ‘M.’”

As a believer in the Lord Jesus, she knew the words of I Corinthians chapter 1 that says:  “For consider your calling, brothers:  not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth.”

You see, the Bible doesn’t say, “not any were of noble birth.”  It says, “not many.

And because of that little letter, “m,” Queen Victoria knew that God had called her too.

And God has called you too.  To do His will.  To fulfill His plan.  Just watch and see.

 

 

Lord, gather all Your children, wherever they may be, and lead them on to heaven to live eternally, with You, our loving Father, and Christ, our Brother dear, whose Spirit guards and gives us the joy to persevere.  This we ask in Jesus’ name.  Amen

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