Chapter 8: On A Mission From God

Reaching This Generation Through Principles From The Book of Acts

On A Mission From God

 

“Comfort” is a state of being that is naturally desired by all humans. We all strive to reach this state of “relief from pain or anxiety” and be “physically relaxed.” In a sense, the goal of all societies is to reach this state of comfort, or at least allow someone to be comfortable, often at the expense of many others.

When you are comfortable, you are content.  Contentment often is a state of being that keeps us where we are at.  When there are no problems, there is no reason to search for solutions. We naturally fall into a state of “couch-potatoing”. There is very little reason to do more than what is required. Comfortable & Content people are not the ones who change their worlds. They are often the spectators to those who are not content and not comfortable. This second group is those innovative, energetic, dynamic, and hardworking members of our society who actually accomplish great things in their lifetimes.  We call them “movers & shakers”.

In the Kingdom of God, we are all called to be “world changers”.

 

1Us?     Change Our World?     Really?

 

It’s true.  Like Jake and Elwood Blues in the acclaimed film “The Blues Brothers” (and now on the official Roman Catholic Church’s “must see” list), we are on a mission from God, and like The Blue Brothers, we must accomplish what often seems impossible. In their case it was to raise thousands of dollars to pay off the property taxes on an orphanage in just a few days. Against all odds, they were able to pull their old band together, avoid capture by the Illinois State Police and the Good Ole Boys, play a sold out concert, and make it to the tax office in downtown Chicago before closing time. Throughout the movie, Jake’s ex-fiance appeared with various firearms  and rocket launchers in an attempt to kill Jake for leaving her stranded at the altar.  The lives of the Blues Brothers on a mission from God was risky, dangerous, adventurous, yet amazing!

Aside from the outrageous humor, the film is also one of the most spectacular musical events of all time, with many of the famous R&B artist from the 60’s & 70’s participating. This movie spawned a legitimate musical career for actors/comedians John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd.

Jake & Elwood could have opted to sit on the sidelines and watch their orphanage close and be sold for the tax payment, yet here was a problem, and it was obvious that God had called them the be the solution. They were not content to just get comfortable and watch it all happen.

2Likewise, God has not called us to get comfortable and watch the world go to hell. He has called us to go beyond our comfort zone, into areas of risk and adventure where extraordinary things happen when He shows up. Actually our experience has taught us that for any lasting work of the Kingdom, we must position ourselves so that Jesus must show up if we are going to have success.  He made us a promise recorded in Matthew 28: “Remember as you are making disciples, I will be there with you.” (Matthew 28-20)

When we members of the Kingdom get to a state of comfort, it often keeps us from stepping forward into new areas of ministry that God has planned for us.  It is then that God often uses problems and adversity to push us forward.  This is what happened in that first congregation in Jerusalem after the Day of Pentecost.

Jesus told the disciples

“You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth.” Acts 1:8

Yet when the disciples received the power of the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost, it was some time before they actually became witnesses in the environs outside of Jerusalem. Some historians suggest that there is a six year period between Acts chapter 1 and chapter 6.  The disciples were in no hurry to get out into the Roman world, or even venture out into the Jewish cities of Judea and Galilee.  After the first miracle, the encounters with the religious elite, and the chastening of the members themselves, these first disciples appear to have fallen into a state of comfort, and limited vision for the ministry that God had called them to.

How can we conclude this? Listen to what Peter declared to the crowd of Jews on the day of Pentecost:

38 Peter replied, “Each of you must turn from your sins and turn to God, and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. Then you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 39 This promise is to you and to your children, and even to the Gentiles—all who have been called by the Lord our God.” Acts 2:38-39

But a few years later, standing in the home of a Roman Centurion in Caesarea, Peter utters a remarkable statement:

So Cornelius got up, and they talked together and went inside where the others were assembled. Peter told them, “You know it is against the Jewish laws for me to come into a Gentile home like this. But God has shown me that I should never think of anyone as impure. So I came as soon as I was sent for. Now tell me why you sent for me.” Acts 10:28-29

On Pentecost Peter told the crowd that God was going to bring those hated pig-eating-pagan gentiles into the kingdom.  Apparently he forgot this as he entered the home of a Roman military officer, insulted him and his guests, and then asked “Why have you sent for me?”

It seems apparent that Peter and the other disciples had gotten comfortable within their own cultural and physical setting of Jewish Jerusalem. It was a natural thing. It is in situations like this that God allows for problems to arise which results in His followers to get pushed out of their comfort zone, and into new areas of ministry.

3My own situation echoes this principle.  I was comfortable living as a Christian on Maui in the early 1980’s.  I had a good job, a good car, a comfortable place to live, and beautiful beaches, clear deep water, and incredible views as I ran around the island.  When that missionary came to our church to tell us of the problem that the Miskito Indians were having with the Sandanista rulers of Nicaragua, I volunteered to go for two weeks and help. One we got there, we were presented with another problem- no education opportunities for the refugee children. God provided the solution, but we had to be part of that process. We were His “Problem Solving Instruments” for that situation.

The result is a 27 year old discipleship program that has taken us to depths with God, and to places on Planet Earth that we would have never gotten to had we been content to remain in our comfortable surroundings on Maui. Because we decided to leave Maui to help solve a problem other Christians were having, God has shown us aspects of Himself that we would have never experienced, and taken us to places like Israel, Europe, Turkey, all the Central American countries, many parts of the United States, and lately the island of Utila.

It’s a principle of the Kingdom:

 

When Problems and Adversity comes our way, it is often just another opportunity for our own spiritual growth and the expansion of the ministry that God has called us to.

 

Thus the disciples in Jerusalem encountered a problem: The Greek speaking (Hellenistic) Jews who were from regions around the Roman Empire were being slighted in the aid program that was being administered by the Sabra (native Israeli) leaders of the church.

But as the believers rapidly multiplied, there were rumblings of discontent. Those who spoke Greek complained against those who spoke Hebrew, saying that their widows were being discriminated against in the daily distribution of food. 2 So the Twelve called a meeting of all the believers.

“We apostles should spend our time preaching and teaching the word of God, not administering a food program,” they said. 3 “Now look around among yourselves, brothers, and select seven men who are well respected and are full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom. We will put them in charge of this business. 4 Then we can spend our time in prayer and preaching and teaching the word.”

5 This idea pleased the whole group, and they chose the following: Stephen (a man full of faith and the Holy Spirit), Philip, Procorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicolas of Antioch (a Gentile convert to the Jewish faith, who had now become a Christian). 6 These seven were presented to the apostles, who prayed for them as they laid their hands on them.

7 God’s message was preached in ever-widening circles. The number of believers greatly increased in Jerusalem, and many of the Jewish priests were converted, too. Acts 6:1-7

 

The solution to this problem? The Twelve decided to bring in some Helenistic Jewish believers and one Gentile-turned-Jew into their leadership team. These seven men were very effective in their work and witness in the community. This sets the stage for the next problem:

8 Stephen, a man full of God’s grace and power, performed amazing miracles and signs among the people. 9 But one day some men from the Synagogue of Freed Slaves, as it was called, started to debate with him. They were Jews from Cyrene, Alexandria, Cilicia, and the province of Asia. 10 None of them was able to stand against the wisdom and Spirit by which Stephen spoke.

11 So they persuaded some men to lie about Stephen, saying, “We heard him blaspheme Moses, and even God.” 12 Naturally, this roused the crowds, the elders, and the teachers of religious law. So they arrested Stephen and brought him before the high council.  13 The lying witnesses said, “This man is always speaking against the Temple and against the law of Moses. 14 We have heard him say that this Jesus of Nazareth will destroy the Temple and change the customs Moses handed down to us.” Acts 6:8-14

 

Steven gave a defense of these charges point by point, proving that his understanding of the Scriptures and Jewish history exceeded that of the “professional religious” leaders. He concluded by saying it is not he (Stephen) who is distorting the Word of God, but rather they, the religious leaders of the nation. Listen to Stephen’s accusation against them:

51 “You stubborn people! You are heathen at heart and deaf to the truth. Must you forever resist the Holy Spirit? But your ancestors did, and so do you! Name one prophet your ancestors didn’t persecute! They even killed the ones who predicted the coming of the Righteous One—the Messiah whom you betrayed and murdered. You deliberately disobeyed God’s law, though you received it from the hands of angels.”

The Jewish leaders were infuriated by Stephen’s accusation, and they shook their fists in rage. 55 But Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, gazed steadily upward into heaven and saw the glory of God, and he saw Jesus standing in the place of honor at God’s right hand. 56 And he told them, “Look, I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing in the place of honor at God’s right hand!”

57 Then they put their hands over their ears, and drowning out his voice with their shouts, they rushed at him.58 They dragged him out of the city and began to stone him. The official witnesses took off their coats and laid them at the feet of a young man named Saul.

59 And as they stoned him, Stephen prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” 60 And he fell to his knees, shouting, “Lord, don’t charge them with this sin!” And with that, he died.

Saul was one of the official witnesses at the killing of Stephen. Acts 7:51-8:1

 

Problems have escalated. Now one of the best and brightest of the disciples is killed! This raises an extremely interesting question:  How valuable are we to God and His work here on Planet Earth?  Steven was obviously one of the key players in the evangelistic efforts of the Jerusalem church, and yet God allowed him to be illegally killed by an angry mob. Did Stephen commit a crime that deserved death? No, he spoke the truth and he obeyed what Jesus said as recorded in Matthew 10:

16 “Look, I am sending you out as sheep among wolves. Be as wary as snakes and harmless as doves. 17 But beware! For you will be handed over to the courts and beaten in the synagogues. 18 And you must stand trial before governors and kings because you are my followers. This will be your opportunity to tell them about me—yes, to witness to the world.19 When you are arrested, don’t worry about what to say in your defense, because you will be given the right words at the right time. 20 For it won’t be you doing the talking—it will be the Spirit of your Father speaking through you.

21 “Brother will betray brother to death, fathers will betray their own children, and children will rise against their parents and cause them to be killed. 22 And everyone will hate you because of your allegiance to me. But those who endure to the end will be saved. 23 When you are persecuted in one town, flee to the next. I assure you that I, the Son of Man, will return before you have reached all the towns of Israel.  38 If you refuse to take up your cross and follow me, you are not worthy of being mine. 39 If you cling to your life, you will lose it; but if you give it up for me, you will find it. Matthew 10:16-23, 38-39

The reality is that we are all expendable in this battle to win Planet Earth for the Kingdom. No one is indispensible in the work of the Kingdom.  Jesus says if we are not willing to take up our cross and follow Him, we are not worthy.  This “cross” is not the ornamental piece of jewelry that we wear around our necks, or symbol that we sew onto our garments, or tattoo onto our bodies.  No, this cross was the First Century capital punishment tool.  It was what the Romans used to kill criminals. In Jesus’ day, it was only condemned prisoners on their way to their death who were seen with a cross. Today we might say “strap yourself to your lethal injection gurney”.  Saul/Paul told his friends in Corinth, the sex capital of his time,

Or don’t you know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit, who lives in you and was given to you by God? You do not belong to yourself, for God bought you with a high price. So you must honor God with your body. 1 Cor. 6:19-20

This then is the attitude we are to have in our lives here on Earth. We are to think of ourselves as “bondservants” to Jesus who have been bought with a price.  Our lives are no longer our own. “Bondservant” in the Greek is the word Doulos. This word is used by Paul, Luke, James, Peter, and Jude to describe themselves and the other disciples. A “doulos” is a person who gives himself up to another’s will and disregards his own interest. It is a person who is “other’s centered.” This is exactly the example that Jesus Himself gave us. Here is how Saul described it in a letter to his friends in Philippi:

3 Don’t be selfish; don’t live to make a good impression on others. Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourself. 4 Don’t think only about your own affairs, but be interested in others, too, and what they are doing. 5 Your attitude should be the same that Christ Jesus had. 6 Though he was God, he did not demand and cling to his rights as God. 7 He made himself nothing;  he took the humble position of a doulos and appeared in human form. 8 And in human form he obediently humbled himself even further by dying a criminal’s death on a cross. Phil. 2:3-8

Stephen understood that once he became a follower of Jesus, his life as he knew it was over.  He was now not at liberty to live his life according to his own desires. He realized that Jesus had done so much for him in the eternal perspective that it now was his privilege to give his life here on Earth back to Jesus.

Peter echoed this perspective in his first letter to his friends scattered around Asia Minor who were confused as to what a Christian life should look like.

17 And remember that the heavenly Father to whom you pray has no favorites when he judges. He will judge or reward you according to what you do. So you must live in reverent fear of him during your time as foreigners here on earth. 18 For you know that God paid a ransom to save you from the empty life you inherited from your ancestors. And the ransom he paid was not mere gold or silver. 19 He paid for you with the precious lifeblood of Christ, the sinless, spotless Lamb of God. 20 God chose him for this purpose long before the world began, but now in these final days, he was sent to the earth for all to see. And he did this for you. 1 Peter 1:17-20

Stephen also realized that what comes after this life is eternity with Jesus- something to look forward to.  Jesus himself told his disciples the night before his death:

“Don’t be troubled. You trust God, now trust in me. 2 There are many rooms in my Father’s home, and I am going to prepare a place for you. If this were not so, I would tell you plainly. 3 When everything is ready, I will come and get you, so that you will always be with me where I am.John 14:1-3

4We may think that life here on Earth is something special, worth holding on to. A famous Christian musician who profoundly affected his generation was Keith Green, who died in a plane crash in 1982.  Keith’s comments on this passage from John 14 always bring a smile to my face:

“Jesus said that when He left Earth, He would go to prepare a place for us so that we can spend eternity with Him. That was almost 2000 years ago.  Now it says in Genesis that God created Earth in seven days. If that is true and Jesus has been preparing a place for us for 2000 years, Folks (he says with a smile), we have been living in a garbage can.”

Keith had a way of expressing the Principles of the Kinggdom!

Stephen saw into Heaven as he was being stoned and welcomed his departure from this often harsh life on Earth into the presence of God in His dwelling place. “Lord Jesus!” Stephen said, “Get me out of here! (Receive my spirit!)

Martyrs over the centuries have had this same experience.  During the various persecutions under the Romans, and subsequent killings of Christians during these past two millennium, valiant men and women have echoed Stephen’s attitude: The life that awaits us is much more valuable that the life we live here.

 

We Christians live for Eternity, not just the short life here on Planet Earth.

 

With Stephen’s departure came the third problem: Saul was now “on a mission from God” (he thought) to wipe out this heresy of Christianity.

A great wave of persecution began that day, sweeping over the church in Jerusalem, and all the believers except the apostles fled into Judea and Samaria. 2 (Some godly men came and buried Stephen with loud weeping.) 3 Saul was going everywhere to devastate the church. He went from house to house, dragging out both men and women to throw them into jail. Acts 8:2-3

 

Now it was no longer possible for the followers of Jesus to be seen at the Temple, or anywhere in public in Jerusalem. It was time to flee to safety. As they did, an interesting thing began to happen.

4 But the believers who had fled Jerusalem went everywhere preaching the Good News about Jesus. 5 Philip, for example, went to the city of Samaria and told the people there about the Messiah. 6 Crowds listened intently to what he had to say because of the miracles he did. 7 Many evil spirits were cast out, screaming as they left their victims. And many who had been paralyzed or lame were healed. 8 So there was great joy in that city. Acts 8:4-8

 

This is one of those moments were we have to step back and ask ourselves what exactly happened here.  This was not the Apostles’ planned evangelistic campaign to win Samaria for Christ. Rather it was a few men fleeing for their lives, and very naturally having conversations that maybe went like this in the marketplace of Samaria:

Hey stranger, can I offer you a cup of our fresh roasted coffee? What is your name?”

“I’m Philip from Jerusalem”

“Welcome Philip. We don’t get many visitors from there you know. We are not what you call ‘suitable society’ to most Jews. Why are you here? Just passing through?” 

I’m a follower of Jesus of Nazareth, and the leaders of the Temple are arresting us all and throwing us in jail.” I had to get out of Dodge, like many of my brothers and sisters.

“Jesus? I have heard about him. In fact I saw him. He and his friends passed through here a few years ago, and created quite a stir.  Monica over there is the lady who met him at the well near Sychar and she told us about his prophetic abilities, and that he was the Jewish messiah. She used to be a wayward woman, but something happened then, and now she has been one of the most beloved citizens of our city, helping many people. Jesus stayed with us for a few days, and many like me became his followers. We were all sorry to hear about his death, but we know that he lives today! He told us that it would happen, just as it did. Tell me, what is going on in Jerusalem? Look, we have many sick and injured people who need prayer. Would you pray for them? Monica, would you come over here? We have a visitor from Jerusalem.”

 

And thus Philip did in Samaria what he naturally did in Jerusalem- pray for the sick, encourage the discouraged, proclaim the name and nature of Jesus, and invite any who would to receive Him as their Lord and Savior.  We know that according to John 4, Jesus did spend time in Samaria (in the town of Sychar), and many received him as Lord.

39 Many Samaritans from the village believed in Jesus because the woman had said, “He told me everything I ever did!” 40 When they came out to see him, they begged him to stay at their village. So he stayed for two days, 41 long enough for many of them to hear his message and believe. 42 Then they said to the woman, “Now we believe because we have heard him ourselves, not just because of what you told us. He is indeed the Savior of the world.” John 4:39-42

 

Here is an important principle of ministry:  God usually sets us up for significant ministry with things that He has orchestrated long before we arrive on the scene.  So when you see God doing something, play your part!

 

Philip experienced this principle, as we did when we arrived on Utila in the summer of 2011 to open the Rio Coco Café on Utila.

We were intent on reaching out to the international crowd- those who were coming to the island for scuba diving.  Yet one of the first who we met that summer was a native Utilian named Sheldon, the brother of the lady who owns the house we are leasing for the Café. Sheldon came over to help us with the water cistern, and told me how he was asking God to help him to stop smoking pot.  I paused in my busy day, and sensing that God was doing something, ask Sheldon if I could pray for him. A few days later, I saw Sheldon again, and he told me that somehow, that prayer had affected him.  That began a conversation with Sheldon, and we began spending time together, talking about his life as a professional soccer player his relationship with God, and his brothers and sisters. It was one of those conversations that I told Sheldon that he needed to have a talk with Jesus, and ask for forgiveness of his sins.  The next day, Sheldon told me that he had that conversation, and that Jesus was now his Lord.  We rejoiced.

5A few weeks later, my friend Joe arrived from Vero Beach to spend a week with us.  Joe works with street people, and those fighting to come back from lives of substance abuse.  I asked Joe to spend time with Sheldon. He did- faithfully.  He suggested to Sheldon that it was time for him to be baptized, and make a public proclamation of his faith in Jesus. Sheldon hesitated, as he was know on the island as “Vermin”, a man who takes from people.  It was a huge step, but Friday morning, with his mother present, as well as the pastor who lives across the street, we baptized Sheldon off the dock behind the house where he grew up.

We saw God doing something with Sheldon, and we stopped and played our part. Likewise, in Samaria Philip did his part, and a great move of God resulted.

14 When the apostles back in Jerusalem heard that the people of Samaria had accepted God’s message, they sent Peter and John there. 15 As soon as they arrived, they prayed for these new Christians to receive the Holy Spirit. 16 The Holy Spirit had not yet come upon any of them, for they had only been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. 17 Then Peter and John laid their hands upon these believers, and they received the Holy Spirit. Acts 8:14-17

 

Peter and John responded to something that God was doing, and came to do their part.

We also took opportunity with Sheldon to do another thing that Peter and John did.  We gathered around Sheldon, placed our hands on his shoulders, and prayed for God to fill him with His Holy Spirit. We prayed for God’s power to flow through Sheldon, and that God would change him, and empower him to live a life now centered on God’s purposes. Within a few days, Sheldon began having conversations with some of his friends on the island, and even began praying for them!  It is important that all our new disciples have the Holy Spirit operating within them, and we must pray for them to receive Him.

One of Philip’s converts was a sorcerer named Simon, who saw the miraculous powers of God through Philip, who heard the message of salvation, and who apparently received Jesus.

When Simon himself believed and was baptized. He began following Philip wherever he went, and he was amazed by the great miracles and signs Philip performed. . . .

When Simon saw that the Holy Spirit was given when the apostles placed their hands upon people’s heads, he offered money to buy this power. 19 “Let me have this power, too,” he exclaimed, “so that when I lay my hands on people, they will receive the Holy Spirit!”

20 But Peter replied, “May your money perish with you for thinking God’s gift can be bought! 21 You can have no part in this, for your heart is not right before God. 22 Turn from your wickedness and pray to the Lord. Perhaps he will forgive your evil thoughts, 23 for I can see that you are full of bitterness and held captive by sin.”

24 “Pray to the Lord for me,” Simon exclaimed, “that these terrible things won’t happen to me!” Acts 8:13, 18-24

Simon was a spiritually powerful man who apparently was touched by God, who apparently received Jesus as his Lord, and who was publically baptized. He made all the right moves to appear to be a Christian, yet it was obvious to Peter that something was not right in Simon’s heart. How did Peter know this? It was through a spiritual empowerment call the gift of discernment and a word of knowledge (1 Cor 12:8-10).

It is important that we spent time with our new disciples and see if their hearts are with their words and actions.  Remember, it is always about what is going on in the heart! Churches are filled with “actors”- hypocrites, who have all the outward appearances of being a Christian, but who have not yet resolved in their hearts to allow Jesus to be Lord. How will we know?

Obedience is the barometer of the spirit.  Are we actually willing to allow Jesus to be Lord, and rule our lives?  James, who lead the church in Jerusalem, told his friends:

14 Dear brothers and sisters, what’s the use of saying you have faith if you don’t prove it by your actions? That kind of faith can’t save anyone. 15 Suppose you see a brother or sister who needs food or clothing, 16 and you say, “Well, good-bye and God bless you; stay warm and eat well”—but then you don’t give that person any food or clothing. What good does that do?

17 So you see, it isn’t enough just to have faith. Faith that doesn’t show itself by good deeds is no faith at all—it is dead and useless.

18 Now someone may argue, “Some people have faith; others have good deeds.” I say, “I can’t see your faith if you don’t have good deeds, but I will show you my faith through my good deeds.”

19 Do you still think it’s enough just to believe that there is one God? Well, even the demons believe this, and they tremble in terror! 20 Fool! When will you ever learn that faith that does not result in good deeds is useless? James 2:14-19

 

What we say regarding our faith in Jesus must be reflected in our obedience to do the things God is asking us to do, if we have genuine faith.  Our attitudes and actions do show us and others were our hearts are at. God does not demand perfect obedience, but does give us opportunity to know where we are in our relationship with Him.

Simon the former sorcerer was a man who had not really given his heart to God.  There will be some in our ministry who will confess Jesus, but the real proof of their faith will be the way they continue to live their lives.  It there any evidence of the presence Holy Spirit?  It there any change in attitudes? Are they unwilling to submit areas of their lives to the Lord? These are valid questions that we should be asking any “disciples” that God gives us. Failing to do so will be harmful for not only that person, but ultimately for our ministry.

These were lessons that the Early Church was learning, and they are important for us as well.  That is why the Holy Spirit through the writings of Luke is communicating so many principles for us in our ministry.

Luke now shares one of the most significant principles for our Rio Coco Café  ministry:

26 As for Philip, an angel of the Lord said to him, “Go south down the desert road that runs from Jerusalem to Gaza.” 27 So he did, and he met the treasurer of Ethiopia, a eunuch of great authority under the Candace, the queen of Ethiopia. The eunuch had gone to Jerusalem to worship, 28 and he was now returning. Seated in his carriage, he was reading aloud from the book of the prophet Isaiah.

29 The Holy Spirit said to Philip, “Go over and walk along beside the carriage.”

30 Philip ran over and heard the man reading from the prophet Isaiah; so he asked, “Do you understand what you are reading?”

31 The man replied, “How can I, when there is no one to instruct me?” And he begged Philip to come up into the carriage and sit with him. 32 The passage of Scripture he had been reading was this:    “He was led as a sheep to the slaughter.

And as a lamb is silent before the shearers,

he did not open his mouth.

33He was humiliated and received no justice.

Who can speak of his descendants?

For his life was taken from the earth.”

34 The eunuch asked Philip, “Was Isaiah talking about himself or someone else?” 35 So Philip began with this same Scripture and then used many others to tell him the Good News about Jesus.

36 As they rode along, they came to some water, and the eunuch said, “Look! There’s some water! Why can’t I be baptized?”

(37) (And Philip said, “If you believe with all your heart, you may.” And he answered and said, “I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.)

38 He ordered the carriage to stop, and they went down into the water, and Philip baptized him.

39 When they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord caught Philip away. The eunuch never saw him again but went on his way rejoicing. 40 Meanwhile, Philip found himself farther north at the city of Azotus! He preached the Good News there and in every city along the way until he came to Caesarea. Acts 8:26-39

 

6This is such a rich story, especially when you understand the Biblical and historical background. Eunuchs were men who had been castrated at an early age, and who served in royal governments.  Apparently since they did not have a sexual desire or ability, they were more trustworthy servants. This eunuch had been apparently touched by God, perhaps through a heritage of Judaism from the time of Solomon and his relationship with the Queen of Sheba. This eunuch went to the Temple to worship, but because he was missing body parts, he was not allowed into the ceremonial baptismal pools (mikva) located in front of the south steps of the Temple, nor into the courts of the Temple. He had to remain outside since he was not “whole”. The passage from Isaiah 53 that he was reading was a favorite meditation for those who had been “pierced, crushed, and chastened”.

The Holy Spirit told Philip to travel south to the road to Gaza.  He didn’t tell him why- just to go.  I can hear the comments of Philip’s friends when he tells them he is leaving:

“Why are you going there?  That is a long walk. There is a lot to do here in Samaria. Obviously God is moving here. Why would you go to that desolate place?”

Philip smiled as he answered: “Because God as told me to go.”

Once he goes, God’s plan takes shape- because of Philip’s obedience.

An important point.

Philip didn’t pull out a pre-planned presentation of the Gospel for the Eunuch. Rather he followed the lead of the Holy Spirit, who had already been preparing the heart of the eunuch to receive Jesus. The Holy Spirit gave Philip the open door, and the words to say.

This is an important principle of our ministry on Utila- we must allow The Holy Spirit to lead us in every conversation with each guest to the Rio Coco Café. Sometimes He tells us just to sit and listen.  Other times we are to speak to issues of the heart. All along the way, we are to show love and friendliness to all who come through the gate. We are to be known as “friends” to all.

The eunuch receives Jesus (verse 37 that is missing from some of the earliest manuscripts). Since he now realizes that he is “whole” in the eyes of God, when he sees the pool of water, he cannot wait to get baptized! As he came out of the water, something very strange happened!  Philip disappeared! He found himself suddenly at a village several miles away.

The Ethiopian Coptic Church defines their birth with this event on the road to Gaza.  This eunuch returned home and began a movement in his home country that is still in existence today, and which over the centuries has won and discipled many for the Kingdom.

This is the vision that the Lord has given us for our ministry at the Rio Coco Café:  That our disciples would return to their homes in Europe, Australia, Israel, and North America and begin “small fires” that will grow to become movements that will change their world. After all, we are called to be “world changers”!

Meanwhile, Saul was uttering threats with every breath. He was eager to destroy the Lord’s followers, so he went to the high priest. 2 He requested letters addressed to the synagogues in Damascus, asking their cooperation in the arrest of any followers of the Way he found there. He wanted to bring them—both men and women—back to Jerusalem in chains.

3 As he was nearing Damascus on this mission, a brilliant light from heaven suddenly beamed down upon him! 4 He fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, “Saul! Saul! Why are you persecuting me?”

5 “Who are you, sir?” Saul asked.

And the voice replied, “I am Jesus, the one you are persecuting! 6 Now get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you are to do.”

7 The men with Saul stood speechless with surprise, for they heard the sound of someone’s voice, but they saw no one! 8 As Saul picked himself up off the ground, he found that he was blind. 9 So his companions led him by the hand to Damascus. He remained there blind for three days. And all that time he went without food and water.

10 Now there was a believer in Damascus named Ananias. The Lord spoke to him in a vision, calling, “Ananias!”

“Yes, Lord!” he replied.

11 The Lord said, “Go over to Straight Street, to the house of Judas. When you arrive, ask for Saul of Tarsus. He is praying to me right now. 12 I have shown him a vision of a man named Ananias coming in and laying his hands on him so that he can see again.”

13 “But Lord,” exclaimed Ananias, “I’ve heard about the terrible things this man has done to the believers in Jerusalem! 14 And we hear that he is authorized by the leading priests to arrest every believer in Damascus.”

15 But the Lord said, “Go and do what I say. For Saul is my chosen instrument to take my message to the Gentiles and to kings, as well as to the people of Israel. 16 And I will show him how much he must suffer for me.”

17 So Ananias went and found Saul. He laid his hands on him and said, “Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus, who appeared to you on the road, has sent me so that you may get your sight back and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” 18 Instantly something like scales fell from Saul’s eyes, and he regained his sight. Then he got up and was baptized. 19 Afterward he ate some food and was strengthened. Acts 9:1-19

 

Don’t you love the courage of Ananias! “But Lord, I’ve heard terrible things about what this man has done to my brothers in Jerusalem! And you want me to do WHAT????”

 

7Who is the most unlikely person you know to become a follower of Jesus?

For me, it was this guy standing in front of the A-6 Intruder with his dark blue flight suit. He was a very cocky and arrogant man, whose world revolved around himself.  He could be very friendly, but was a selective. If he didn’t like you, he didn’t give you the time of day.  His morals were mostly summed up in the phrase“Why Not?” Although talented with some basic abilities and intellect, his associated attitudes made life with him often difficult. His respect toward authority extended to the limits of his own opinions, which were, by definition, the right choice for the moment.  His respect for God was limited to the areas of convenience of his own life.

I often look at this photo and ask “What the heck are you thinking???”  

For Ananais, Saul was the most unlike character to become a follow of Jesus.  Yet God revealed that Saul had been chosen to be a messenger of the Gospel, and that God was going to show Saul how much he must suffer for the sake of the Kingdom.  Maybe that last part of for Ananais’ benefit.

Saul had a personal encounter with Jesus.  It is a common experience for Jews and Muslims today. In fact, missionaries in the Middle East have told me that 90% of the converts to Christianity from those two faiths do so because of a personal visitation from Jesus, a vision, or dream.  I have a friend who used to live on Maui who is an Israeli from Jerusalem. One day, Jesus showed up in the front seat of her truck, speaking to her.  He appeared again and again over the next few weeks at her home.  Eventually she received Him as her Messiah. It takes something of this powerful nature to convince Jews and Muslims to turn to Jesus.

Saul received Jesus.  He wrote to his friends in Galatia that after this experience, he spent three years in Arabia and Damascus, hearing from God, and putting all the pieces together, all the while telling others about his experience with the Risen Lord. He then made a trip to Jerusalem:

26 When Saul arrived in Jerusalem, he tried to meet with the believers, but they were all afraid of him. They thought he was only pretending to be a believer! 27 Then Barnabas brought him to the apostles and told them how Saul had seen the Lord on the way to Damascus. Barnabas also told them what the Lord had said to Saul and how he boldly preached in the name of Jesus in Damascus. 28 Then the apostles accepted Saul, and after that he was constantly with them in Jerusalem, preaching boldly in the name of the Lord.29 He debated with some Greek-speaking Jews, but they plotted to murder him. 30 When the believers heard about it, however, they took him to Caesarea and sent him on to his hometown of Tarsus. Acts 8:26-30

 

Saul’s reputation preceded him to Jerusalem.  All who were running from him three years earlier were afraid to see him.  It was Barnabas, the Levite who gave the property to the apostles in Acts 4, who met with Saul, and brought him to the church leaders. We will see how this relationship was used in later years to launch the Gospel into new areas.

Saul became a very vocal spokesman for the Christian movement.  His training under the tutelage of Gamaliel, the leading rabbi of his time, his cross-cultural upbringing in the city of Tarsus,His Roman citizenship, and his ability to walk in the Greco-Roman world as well as the Jewish Temple made Paul as effective as Stephen in explaining the Gospel. Maybe even more so.

Stephen was a powerful and articulate spokesman for the Gospel message. When trouble came, God did receive Stephen into Heaven.  He later replaced him with a cross cultural minister who took the Gospel message to Asia Minor and on to Europe, who established churches in Greece and modern day Turkey, who wrote at least 12 of the New Testament books, and who was able to articulate the message of God to his people in a very effective manner.

Through the problems that resulted in Stephen’s death, and the subsequent problems which the disciples experienced, the Gospel was indeed taken to Judea, Samaria, and Galilee. The process began where eventually the message of a personal relationship with God through Jesus Christ was taken to the more remote parts of Europe, Asia, North & South America, and finally places like the Rio Coco in Nicaragua. Those First Century problems resulted in eventually our Twentieth Century salvation.

Keep that principle in mind!

 

31 The church then had peace throughout Judea, Galilee, and Samaria, and it grew in strength and numbers. The believers were walking in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit. Acts 8:31

 

Like Jake & Elwood, and Stephen & Saul, we all are on a Mission From God. It is an adventure. Amazing things happen as we step forward in obedience to what God is directing us to do day-by-day. All it takes is a willingness to step forward, to endure the hardships, and enjoy the presence of our Lord as He leads us to places where we would never go on our own.  At the end of our lives, we can look back with satisfaction that we did make a difference in this world. And we can eagerly look forward to meeting others who have gone before us in this adventure, and what the Lord has for us in that next dimension.