I want to ask a question this morning as we come to this passage: Can you be a hermit, or a monk off in the desert, and still enjoy God? Can’t we just be private Christians and live out our lives of discipleship without having to deal with other Christians with all of their problems? Let’s listen carefully for what God says about it. (Acts 28:11-16).
This morning, I want to borrow the expression of an ad that I have used in church planting and entitle this message: The Church: A Place to Belong.
I was in one school for most of my growing up years and was spared the childhood pain that comes from changing schools. My wife, the daughter of a Methodist clergyman, whose ordination vows caused him to have to move every two years or so, was not spared. I have listened to her and to others and have heard about the deep feelings that are associated with those childhood memories: the fear of being the “new kid,” the feelings of isolation that come from being “left out” when choosing up sides for a recess ball game, the emptiness that sometimes comes from just not having a place to belong. For some of you, it may not be a big deal, but for most of us, moving, and the process of adjusting, and finding a place to belong, is a major challenge in life. It is a universal experience of humankind. And it’s not relegated to only childhood moves. Each of us, all of us, every person needs a place to belong.
Now, I know some of you are hearing the theme song to “Cheers” running through your mind. I don’t deny that clubs and other associations – even bars, and more illicit sorts of gathering places – may be qualified as places to belong, a place where everyone knows your name. But by the end of this message from Acts 28:11-16, I would hope that maybe the theme song to “Cheers” would be replaced with the tune of “Blessed Be the Tie that Binds.” For in this part of God’s Word, we come to see that God has provided a solution for the pain of humankind by creating the Church as a Place to Belong.
It’s a place where, even if they may not know your name, everyone knows your condition, your need and your only salvation. That becomes a vital message to us in the early years of the twentieth century, when we find ourselves in a very mobile society.
I have little interest for those who spend all of their time criticizing the contemporary scene in this area. I too agree that relocation brings pain. It brought pain to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. It brought pain to our Pilgrim forefathers and mothers who left their home country to found this nation. It brought pain to Paul when he left his career, his home and his prestige to follow a risen Savior’s mandate. But relocation, displacement, moving, transferring is a part of life now and has always been a part of life. I have little tolerance for religious social critics, well meaning as they are, not only because they are too often historically myopic, but because the Scripture spends less time criticizing and more time solving, healing and helping us in the midst of our experiences in life.
So, I come to this passage, and find that the Church is the place to belong: a place that, when operating according to Plan, becomes a haven of hospitality, a place that meets us where we are, and a source of great strength.
Let’s open that up a bit as we look at this text. I want to show you what I mean when I say that …
The Church Should Be a Haven of Hospitality
In Acts 28:11-15, the narrator, Dr. Luke, tells us that their ship left Malta and sailed up to the Italian peninsula. It is interesting to me that they sailed on a ship that had a carved figure on the front of the ship that was called “Twin Brothers,” namely Castor and Pollux, the sons of the Greek god Zeus. God’s plans for salvation were literally being unwittingly advanced by idols, which goes to prove that nothing, even profane idolatry, can stop God’s plans for worldwide missions. So, the ship goes from Syracuse to Italy and then landed at Puteolia. It is there that Paul and Luke find some Christians. In their next landing, they will be met by Christians, but here we are told in Acts 28:14 that they “found” brethren, that is, followers of the risen Christ.
Upon learning of their common faith, the Christians of Puteoli take them in, and Paul and Luke are given not just lodging but a loving place to call home on their journey.
This is the great work of the Church. The Church is a place to belong as it becomes a haven of hospitality. It is a haven because, like Paul and Luke, the journey can get rough. The journey may include time spent with hard, salty old pagans. Some of you work with people like the idolaters that Paul and Luke sailed with. The journey may include skeptics and those who curse God. It is good that we are there to witness to these foreigners from the House of God, and we witness that they may come in and find salvation, but we all need a haven of Christian hospitality.
David sang, “Praise the Lord! I will give thanks to the Lord with my whole heart, in the company of the upright, in the congregation” (Psalms 111:1).
When times were the most difficult, God’s people of old, as now, sought haven – sanctuary – with others who have been redeemed.
The Church must be that place now and always: A place that welcomes us, takes us in, nourishes us and gives us a home. Don’t you want that to be the kind of Church that we are? I know you do. So, it requires each of us to be that sort of Christian: a hospitable Christian, a Christian who is on the lookout for tired travelers, and a Christian who seeks to show honor to those who fight the good fight.
Let me be direct for just a moment. I have noticed that our community, like every community, has some weak points in it. One of those happens to be a sort of rip or tear that separates those who have lived here all of their lives versus those who are transplants; north verses south; black verses white. I won’t bother to marshal forward evidence to prove what most of us read about in the papers every day. But Paul said of this sort of thing: “Now I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you be in agreement and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same purpose” (1 Corinthians 1:10).
Now, I am not saying that we have fallen into this sort of thing, but we live in a world filled with division. We need to be all the more alert about this. We need to be all the more intentional about becoming a center of hospitality and warmth for sojourners who are in need of the love of God. That is what the Church is to be: a safe haven of hospitality to fellow Christians on their way.
The last part of Acts 28:14 says that after Paul and Luke stayed with these hospitable Christians for several days they were refreshed. It reads, “So,” and that is a big word there, “So, we went to Rome.” In other words, the love and acceptance and attention of the Christians at Puteoli gave Paul and Luke what they needed to send them to where God wanted them to go. In an age like theirs, and a generation like ours, some who are with us today will be transferred tomorrow. Some will be called away. Some will move. Some are being sent here by God to be ministered to by this body, in order that they may serve God somewhere else.
How are you doing being a hospitable Christian? It is undoubtedly an area that requires a renewed commitment from each of us, because the Church is to be God’s haven of hospitality in this fast moving world.
I find also that …
The Church Should Be a Place that Meets Us Where We Are
In Acts 28:15, Paul and Luke are sent on by the hospitality of those believers and continue their journey towards Rome. As they make the journey by land to the capital of the Empire, they would journey to Neapolis and then turn Northwest on the Via Appia, “The oldest, straightest and most perfectly made of all the Roman roads.”1 There, the scriptures say that Roman Christians came to meet them. Some came forty-three miles to the Forum of Appius, a sort of ancient “rest stop.” Others came 33 miles to the Three Taverns rest stop. But, the thing to note is that Luke mentions it. The kindness of those Christians to welcome Paul and Luke, to meet them where they were, is something Luke, and the Holy Spirit, want us to know.
The Church is, when it is being the Church of the Scriptures, the representatives of Jesus, who leave their comfort zones and take long journeys to meet people where they are, at their place in life, at their point of need. The Church meets others where they are on their journey, but does so in order to bring them along, to bring them into fellowship. The Church does that in cross-cultural missions, but should do, as well, with its own.
We leave our comfort zone and meet fellow believers during difficult times in their lives. I have watched as some of you reached out to others who were hurting. You have traveled the distance and brought hope to others who were in need at a time of loss.
There are times, after a long journey in life, when some of us need someone to walk with us the rest of the way. I thank God that at some tired times in my life, though I was still on the road to discipleship, there were brothers and sisters in Christ who left their places and met me at the Forum of Appius and Three Taverns of my life. I was gladdened when I saw them.
When I lost my aunt who raised me I was journeying. But the journey had taken its toll. I felt that I was an orphan again. It hit me hard. My wife, who is my Luke, my companion, was there with me. But I thank God for people like my friend Jimmy Dodd, a busy church planter and pastor from another part of Kansas City, who took time out of his schedule to come to me and sit for a while with me. And I will always be moved when I think of Reverend Larry Lunceford, a retired missionary from Korea, who was at the time the Stated Clerk of my presbytery, who came to our home, walked through the door and knelt down where I was sitting. He embraced me, laid his head on my chest and wept. There were no words, but his ministry of presence brought tremendous healing and reminded me that Christ was there with me.
We must be the Church who meets people at their need, not only at their need in times of sorrow but in times when people are just moving in or going through another change in their lives. We must become a people who care enough to journey out of our comfort zones, to travel where we may not have been before and extend a welcome in Jesus’ name.
The thing is: we never know when we are the ones on the road and need someone to go the distance to meet us.
Let us finally see from the last part of Acts 28:15 that …
The Church Should Be A Place that Is a Source of Thanksgiving And Praise
“When Paul saw them, he thanked God and took courage.” Again, Dr. Luke and the Lord who inspired this text want us to see the power of Christians who go the distance to welcome others on their journey. The effort of those Roman Christians actually created the worship of God and the advance of the Gospel. For it says here that Paul thanked God, and the force of the sentence structure is that Paul “thanked God” for those believers who came out to meet them and that Paul “took courage.”
In this sense we might say that sincere Christian love is evangelistic: it creates worship and praise; it produces strength to go on. In the very cases I mentioned in my own life, the ministry to me that took place some five years ago continues to produce praise and gratitude to God and gives me courage to carry on as a believer. Your ministry to another person is not just an act of kindness; it is a ministry of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Jesus said: “For truly I tell you, whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because you bear the name of Christ will by no means lose the reward” (Mark 9:41).
I have known Christians who wondered what their spiritual gift was. But there is not one Christian who can’t do what these Roman Christians did in Acts 28:15 – go out and meet another person. What resulted in Paul being blessed and God being praised began with just someone going out of his way to honor another. That is a gift. Robert Louis Stevenson wrote that “So long as we love we serve. No man is useless while he is a friend.” And that is Biblical truth. God is praised and believers built up when you befriend another person.
There are some people sitting right beside you this morning who are in need of courage. Some you may know. Their situations may be obvious and known to you. You may be God’s choice to go meet them where they are and give them the courage they need to make the journey of faith. Others? Well, it may not be as obvious. But hang around, and I can guarantee you that if you make yourself available to the Lord Jesus Christ to be a cup of cold water for a thirsty soul, He will use you.
The bottom line for a church is this: if people aren’t thanking God for the courage, the blessing they are receiving from that church, then what is the use? God wants us to be a place that is a source of courage and strength for people who need God’s presence and power in their lives.
Now, what I am saying from this passage is that this is the work of the Church. What happened there happened for our instruction. According to this passage, when we are being the People God wants us to be, we are a place to belong, a place that is a haven of hospitality, a place where people meet you right where you are and a place that gives you courage for your journey.
I read what appeared to be a true story this week about a businessman who was returning to his Rochester, N.Y., home one winter evening. It had been a long, hard and tiring business trip. He had made his way down the highway and was making a turn towards home when he saw on the bank of the Genessee River a whole bunch of excited men. He decided to pull over, to take the time to see if he could be of help. He was told that just then a boy had fallen into the river. In the dark waters, they couldn’t make him out, but heard his screaming. The businessman was aghast. “You mean a boy is in there and you are standing here?” Our man said no more, but dove into the cold, dark Genessee River. He found the boy, grabbed him in his arms, and struggled with him to the shore. As he wiped the water from the boy’s face and brushed back his hair, he was completely shocked. It was his own son. He had plunged in for the boy of somebody else and saved his own son.2
When we are the Church and extend the grace of Jesus Christ, which we have received as a free gift from Him, to others on their journey, we are the ones who are blessed.
There is no club, no fraternity, no association known to humankind like the Church where the only qualification to be a member is a confession of your brokenness, acceptance of God’s healing and salvation through His Son Jesus Christ’s death and resurrection, and resting in Him alone for life and eternal life; where in dying to ourselves, we live; and in giving away our lives for the sake of others, we find our own life.
This, my friends, is a place of grace, of acceptance, of help along the way, and truly a place to belong.
1. The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, “Acts” Richard N. Longenecker (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1981), p. 568.
2. From Encyclopedia of 7700 Illustrations by Paul Lee Tan (Rockville: MD, Assurance Publishers), page 568.

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