Sunday, August 31, 2014

Listening to the Spirit (Acts 8:26-40)

1.     Previously on the topic of witnessing (Luke 24:36-53), we considered some necessary characteristics to be a good witness for Jesus:
Ø having the right foundation in life; reflecting good character; showing consistency & integrity; exhibiting purpose & hope;
Ø this time … being sensitive to the leading of God’s Spirit – so that we can connect with people (and be in the right place at the right time).

2.     Background to text

(a)  We are now in the post-Pentecost period where the Gospel has started to be shared far and wide … part of the reason for this was the persecution being suffered by the Christians in Jerusalem, causing them to disperse throughout the region (8:1). So whereas persecution was a bad thing, it did lead to Jesus-followers coming across the path of a broad range of people.

(b) When the original disciples needed help with practical pastoral care so that they themselves could continue with their preaching of the Gospel and devotion to prayer, Philip was one of those chosen – on the basis that he was “in good standing, and full of the Spirit and wisdom”. (Acts 6:1-7).

(c)  It obviously wasn’t long before Philip graduated to being an evangelist (Acts 8:4-13)! Philip was now a roving evangelist moving from place to place as the Spirit guided.

3.     Learnings from text (Acts 8:26-40)

Ø Refer verse 26. Now let us consider the question of God’s leading! The only way that you can sense God’s leading is how?? Being open to it – looking for it; praying for it. God will call and guide us through big decisions; but also God will call and guide us through everyday journeys … like going to see someone, or making a phone call – that we never planned to do, but sensed the need to do. Do we sometimes, however, resist Spirit promptings because they are inconvenient? ... or because they are a disruption? … or because we are heading in an unknown direction? It will often be in the disruptions that we sense the presence and movement of God, rather than in what we had planned.

Ø Philip simply felt impelled to go down south, and although not knowing why … there must be some really good reason to do so.

Ø What sort of trip was this likely to be for Philip?? “This is a wilderness road”!! Lonely, potentially dangerous! Out of our comfort zones.

Ø Refer verse 27a. So, Philip ‘hesitated and thought about it a bit more’!?! So, Philip ‘put it off for tomorrow’!?! No – Philip “got up and went”. The “got up” perhaps indicated that Philip was at prayer (or resting) at the time, but now was hitting the road. How often do we procrastinate? For Philip, this was an undeniable and irresistible call from God. If he had procrastinated, what might have been the result?? An opportunity missed!?!

Ø This was all heading for a ‘right place right time’ sort of situation; or what we might term a Divine appointment – refer verses 27b-28. Here was a quintessential ‘seeker’. Following whatever business he was transacting on behalf of his employer, he attended worship in Jerusalem. And now, he was sitting in his car reading the Bible … well so to speak! As we come to find out, this man was wrestling with the meaning of what he was reading from Isaiah.

Ø Who was this “Ethiopian eunuch”? Being identified here as an “Ethiopian” designates that he was a dark-skinned African, perhaps, given the geography, from the region of Sudan. Being described as a “eunuch” could mean a couple of things: probably that he had been physically castrated; but also the possibility that he had been culturally castrated in a metaphorical sense (i.e. emasculated), in that he had been placed in a position of servitude to a female ruler. Given that he had been worshipping in Jerusalem, and now was reading from the Hebrew Scriptures (Isaiah), this African was either a Jewish convert or one very much attracted to their religion [because of monotheism, high ethical standards]. However it is also possible, that if he was regarded as physically deformed, he may have been deemed unacceptable for full admission to the religion of the Jews!! But there was no restriction to him becoming … ??? … a follower of Jesus! If he was looking for somewhere to belong, then Philip would be able to show him the way!!

Ø Refer verse 29. Sometimes we have made the move, but we still need to be sensitive to the particular ministry God has in mind for us. Philip now understood why he had been guided in this direction and ran over to the eunuch’s chariot. I think here presented too is the general idea (for us to grab a hold of) that God’s Spirit is moving – there is a high importance on us understanding this and seeking to co-operate with this. Philip realised that this was a natural moment for God’s Spirit to be working and he had better get with the program! The Spirit is at work in the world drawing people to God, and it is up to the people of God to discern that activity and join with God on his mission (Karina Kreminski).

Ø Refer verse 30b. Where is the genius of Philip’s approach?? He started exactly where this other person was! Philip understood that there was little chance that this person from a much different background would be able to understand the text of Isaiah. [So this was NOT any sort of negative ‘put-down’ that this ‘eunuch guy’ wouldn’t be able to understand Isaiah, but rather a genuine and considerate offer of help toward such understanding.] Philip may have also deduced a confused look on the eunuch’s face. With this in mind, Philip came up with just the right question! Or we might say, he was open enough to God that, despite any uncertainty or nervousness, just the right words came out of his mouth. There is some skill and experience involved in saying the right things at the right time, but even for the most experienced, there is the need to be tuned in well to the Holy Spirit’s leading. As we practice this, it will become more and more natural. And this opened a wonderful conversation that we know had a great outcome.

Ø We should note that Philip, once he knew that he must converse with this man, didn’t let the differing racial background, or different type of profession, or anything else, get in the way.

Ø Many people today might enter a church worship service, or open the Bible, and be puzzled and lack understanding; for they have little background to draw upon that would help them. Philip’s gentle and sincere approach facilitated an open door through which the Gospel was shared. The good question, followed by the eunuch’s warm response “How can I, unless someone guides me” opens the way for a relationship to begin. Notice also (in verse 31) the trust involved in inviting Philip to sit beside him.

Ø God had already been preparing not only Philip for this interaction, but also the ‘eunuch’ – note the passage he was reading, and how this would easily lead to a presentation about Jesus.

Ø Why Philip … why me?? The coming together of two uniquely compatible personalities. There might be no one else with quite the same connectivity with a certain other person. Watch out for what God might be setting up. God’s Spirit may be preparing other people to meet up with us! We might not be able to answer all the questions that follow, but we can make ourselves available to assist in that mutual journey toward understanding. Having said this, Philip was able to helpfully interpret Isaiah for this ‘eunuch’; thus we should take every opportunity we can to improve our biblical knowledge (and our wisdom in applying this).

4.     Opportunities abound

It is one thing to be ready for God to lead us to another person, it is another to actually be anticipating it. We can also, if we dare, pray for these very opportunities. This could be with people we already know in mind, or just with anyone in mind that God might want to throw across our path. We can pray that God will use us like he used Philip. We can pray that God will prompt us to be in the right place at the right time. And we can pray this with the thought that God will be preparing the other person for an upcoming interaction as well (so that they will respond as warmly as did the “Ethiopian eunuch”).

Some people have serious reservations about the Christian faith – emotional hurt, philosophical objections, bad experiences. We can pray in these circumstances for some new creative way of communicating that helps reveal God’s grace. Perhaps we need to listen better, or be more vulnerable in sharing our own story. Perhaps we need to find other ways of serving their practical needs first, developing the sort of trust that will begin a growing relationship.

Let us be encouraged by those times when we have said something helpful in season. Let us rejoice when we have been able to travel out of our comfort zones into someone’s else’s “chariot”, and found that God’s Spirit has given us the words and the resources that we have needed. Let us be thankful when others have been able to experience God through their interactions with us. Let us be encouragers of one another on this journey of being God’s hands, feet and mouthpieces in our local communities.

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