Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Dangerous Faith: When God doesn’t make sense

Now an angel of the Lord said to Philip, "Go south to the road—the desert road—that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza." So he started out, and on his way he met an Ethiopian eunuch, an important official in charge of all the treasury of Candace, queen of the Ethiopians. This man had gone to Jerusalem to worship, and on his way home was sitting in his chariot reading the book of Isaiah the prophet. The Spirit told Philip, "Go to that chariot and stay near it."

Then Philip ran up to the chariot and heard the man reading Isaiah the prophet. "Do you understand what you are reading?" Philip asked. "How can I," he said, "unless someone explains it to me?" So he invited Philip to come up and sit with him...Then Philip began with that very passage of Scripture and told him the good news about Jesus.

As they traveled along the road, they came to some water and the eunuch said, "Look, here is water. Why shouldn't I be baptized?" And he gave orders to stop the chariot. Then both Philip and the eunuch went down into the water and Philip baptized him. When they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord suddenly took Philip away, and the eunuch did not see him again, but went on his way rejoicing. 
Acts 8:26-31, 35-39

We’re in the middle of looking at what it means to have a dangerous, living faith. Over the last few weeks we have talked about: taking up our crosses daily and following Christ; leaving boring, man-made religion behind and running toward a living relationship with God; and discovering our God given passions and pursuing them in the world. Now we turn to look at various Bible characters that exhibited this type of “Dangerous Faith,” and we are going to see what we can learn from their encounters with God. (This part of our series is heavily influenced by a book entitled When God says Jump: Biblical Stories that Inspire You to Risk Big by J.R. Briggs.)

We start by looking at an encounter that a guy named Philip had with the Lord. Philip was in Samaria and had just sparked a revival that brought many Samaritans to Christ. In fact, it was a significant enough revival for some of the apostles to come down from Jerusalem to check it out and take part (Acts 8:14). After the revival, the Lord speaks to Philip in the above passage and tells him to "Go south to the road—the desert road—that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza."  God tells him to go to the desert!

Why would God ask him to do this? Why would God send poor Philip to the desert? There were so many new converts in Samaria that needed to be discipled. I mean Philip had just led a revival. Was he being punished for something? What’s going on?

Sometimes it’s hard for us to make sense out of what the Lord is asking us to do. There are even times when from our perspective it is easy to think that God has lost touch or that we know better than He does what we should be doing. But God hasn’t lost touch. We serve a God that is omniscient (all-knowing) and omnipresent (all-present). Our perspective is just too small for us to understand what He’s really up to.

How could Philip have known that the Lord was going to fulfill two Old Testament prophecies through him on that trip? He didn’t know, but that’s exactly what the Lord did! For years the Old Testament had prophesied that pagan nations in Africa (like Egypt for example) would sing the praises of God and be brought into the family of God (Psalm 68:30-32 & Isaiah 19). Many historians believe that this Ethiopian eunuch with whom Philip shared the gospel in the desert was primarily responsible for taking the good news of Christ to Africa in the 1st century after Christ’s death. If that is so, then through this one trip to the desert God provided a way for an entire unreached continent to be exposed to the good news of His Son.

What’s more, the Old Testament placed a restriction on eunuchs like this Ethiopian from entering into the assembly of the Lord (Deuteronomy 23:1). This man had traveled all the way from Africa to participate in a feast in Jerusalem in which he was not even allowed to participate fully because he was a eunuch. Now he is on the way home, and God shows him (and all eunuchs once and for all) that they are no longer held at arm's length. They can enter into the very presence of the Lord. This special inclusion of eunuchs into the people of God had also been prophesied in the Old Testament. (In fact, it was prophesied in Isaiah 56: 3-5, just three chapters after the passage that the eunuch was reading.)

So through Philip’s obedience God provided a route for the gospel to be preached to an entire continent, extended an invitation to a marginalized people within the Jewish faith, and brought one very surprised Ethiopian eunuch to a saving knowledge of Jesus. How could Philip have known that this one little trip to the desert would accomplish all of that? He couldn’t, but his willingness to obey the Lord even when it didn’t make sense is what made it possible for God to do things through him that were bigger than he was.

It’s the same for me and you today. Sometimes, we won’t understand what God is asking us to do. But, if we are willing to take up our cross and follow Him,—if we are willing to obey even when it doesn’t make sense—then we allow God to do things through us that are bigger than we are. And that’s when we are truly dangerous as Christians.
For further reading this week…

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