“This is the reason why I have so often been hindered from coming to you. But now, since I no longer have any room for work in these regions, and since I have longed for many years to come to you, I hope to see you in passing as I go to Spain, and to be helped on my journey there by you, once I have enjoyed your company for a while. At present, however, I am going to Jerusalem bringing aid to the saints. For Macedonia and Achaia have been pleased to make some contribution for the poor among the saints at Jerusalem. For they were pleased to do it, and indeed they owe it to them. For if the Gentiles have come to share in their spiritual blessings, they ought also to be of service to them in material blessings. When therefore I have completed this and have delivered to them what has been collected, I will leave for Spain by way of you” (Romans 15:22-28 ESV).
Learning from Paul’s Itinerary
See what Gospel courage looks like
We see in this the Apostle Paul’s holy ambition and gospel courage. It’s inspiring. I’m going to Jerusalem to meet needs of the church there. I’m going to Rome. Never been there, but can’t wait. Then I’m going to Spain. Edge of the world. Let’s see what God does!
I wonder what represents Spain in your life. That challenging place or person that only for Jesus would you consider seeking to evangelize. But for Jesus you will. That’s Paul. It was a dangerous journey; an uncertain journey. How will he make a go of it so far from the support structures of Jerusalem and even Rome? That’s the life of faith that propels God’s people into the uncomfortable and the uncertain.
What or who is your “Spain”? Who or what might God be calling you to go to, to reach out to, to do the uncomfortable, even the dangerous, in Jesus’ name? David Livingstone went to Africa with the gospel. For this reason, Jim Elliot and the other four missionaries went to the Waodoni in Ecuador only to be speared to death. There’s example after example. Here in our comfortable Midwest middle class American church, let this challenge each of us to something bigger, something risky. Where’s your Spain? Who’s your Spaniard?
Paul’s ambition challenges us from getting comfortable or settling into the status quo. Church family, are we content with what we’ve done thus far? Who have we reached? Where are we at? Or do our missional eyes see farther horizons and are we ready to go where we’ve never been? God, where’s our Spain? Who’s our Spaniard?
We make our plans, God directs our steps
So, what happened to Paul? Did his trip to Rome go as planned? He made it to Jerusalem with the gift. The book of Acts tells us that after arriving there, a mob scene ensued, and Paul was arrested by the Romans for his own safety. There was a plot to kill him, so a Roman cohort of soldiers escorted him to Caesarea on the Mediterranean. There he spent two years in prison and only got out because as a Romans citizen he could appeal to Caesar. So, off he went under arrest to Rome.
Only this didn’t go well either. They were caught on the sea in a terrible storm. They had no food for days. They gave up ever surviving. But then they shipwrecked on Malta. There Paul was bitten by a poisonous viper. He didn’t die. He didn’t even get sick. Eventually, they left and finally made it to Rome. Only there he remained under arrest for two more years and that’s how the book of Acts ends. Paul told the Romans, I’m coming to see you. Did it happen the way he expected? Not at all.
Isn’t that how things go in life? We make our plans. I’m going to Rome. Our Rome may be our vision of our ideal future or some achievement or healthy family and kids and whatever. We see a straight happy line ahead. What happens? Life happens. The unexpected. The undesired. Can you relate to this?
That was Paul. He writes Romans in 57 AD. He doesn’t get there for three years. Most of that time he was sitting in a prison! Did he make it to Spain? Scripture doesn’t tell us, and we don’t know for sure. One early church writer said he did. Here’s the kicker. He looks forward to going to Rome in 57 AD and as early as seven years later, he is martyred in Rome. That wasn’t on the itinerary.
Are you OCD about your plans? Your life? How everything is going to be? Then you get divorced. Then your child has a long-term health issue. Then you lose your job. Then you get cancer. Do any of us have death on our life itinerary?
We need to learn from the life itinerary of the Apostle Paul. Dream big. Make big plans for your life. Go big for God! Young people, I think many of you think too small. You think American dream: buy this, live there. But what would a God-sized vision for your life inspire you to do? I urge you, to dream big, ambitious gospel dreams.
But all of us must hold our plans with an open hand. We don’t know what lies around the corner. But we do know that all things work together for good, for those who love God. We know that he will never leave us nor forsake us. And we know Jesus is with us, even to the end of the age.
Our certainty in God’s presence and provision should propel us into the uncomfortable and the difficult. It assures us in the twists and contortions of life. How do we do it? How do we make it? By faith, knowing that our travel companion on the itinerary of life loves us, intercedes to the Father for us, and provides us with all we need on every stop along the way. His name is Jesus.
So, dream big, make your plans, pack your bags, and buckle up on this great gospel adventure of life.
Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.
© 2021 by Steve DeWitt. You are permitted and encouraged to reproduce and distribute this material in any format provided that: (1) you credit the author, (2) any modifications are clearly marked, (3) you do not charge a fee beyond the cost of reproduction, (4) you include Bethel’s website address (www.bethelweb.org) on the copied resource.
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