Summary: I preach expository messages, and this is the fourteenth in my series on the Book of Acts.
In Step with the Spirit
August 12, 2007
Raised a Baptist, I’ve still got Baptist feet. In other words, you don’t want to see me try to dance. That doesn’t mean I don’t have rhythm; I’m okay there, but dance? No. I’ve never laughed as much in my life, I don’t think, as I did a few years ago when some friends persuaded Karen and myself to join them in taking a cha-cha class. All I remember from the class is “1, 2, cha cha cha, 3, 4, cha cha cha”. It wasn’t pretty.
But the Spirit of God bids us dance in step with Him, to live life in rhythm to His timing, stepping beyond our own comfort zones and dancing a dance wherein He calls the moves. And it’s scary, for those of us left-brained, analytical types who like to reason our way through life. But in Acts 8, the church is light on its feet, responding to circumstances that the Holy Spirit has thrown its way, “dancing” to a tune that most in the church didn’t like—and yet, the Holy Spirit was in the lead, and He used this set of circumstances to further His agenda for the world.
I. The Spirit Leads thru Circumstances
We want to know “why” things happen that seem to be random circumstances. Why did the bridge collapse on the day that it did in Minneapolis? I’m sure that some of the families and friends of the victims are asking that question, why on that day, at that exact moment when their loved one was passing across, why not one minute later, or five minutes earlier, and why that bridge, and all of those questions. Why? And the answer is that we will never know. Period.
Did the people who were being persecuted understand why? No, but this was God using persecution to accomplish His purpose - Sort of cuts across the grain of the idea that when we turn to God, everything will automatically be peaches and cream in our lives, huh? And yet, at the same time, this is a beautiful illustration of God’s promises to work out His will through all the circumstances of our lives if we will trust Him. Kent Hughes says that “following the church through Acts is like following a wounded deer through the forest. Drops of blood mark the trail.” Mao-Tse-Tung launched the most ambitious program in human history to eradicate the Christian church. He was responsible for killing over 70 million people, many of them followers of Christ. Chairman Mao threw out the China Inland Mission missionaries, and the number of believers in China dwindled. Under Mao’s iron fist, there were only 1.5 million believers in China in 1970. Today, there are around 100 million.
They went out “preaching the Word.” Five times in this chapter Luke uses a term that he’s used only once so far in the book of Acts, and it is the verb euangelizo, from which we get our words “evangel”, “evangelize”, and “evangelism”. The “evangel” is means “good news”; to evangelize means “to bring good news”. Luke is introducing the necessity of sharing the good news of Christ with those who are not yet followers of His, and as Stott points out, “there can be no evangelism without an evangel”, and “Christian evangelism presupposes the good news of Jesus Christ.” Let’s not run on by this without pausing for a moment: guarding the message of the gospel, the whole message of the gospel, is critical in the times in which we live. The tendency to water it down, to try to make it more palatable, to leave out the difficult parts, is as powerful today as ever. But we don’t have that prerogative; the methods we use might change, but the message never can.
Something else that we see in this passage is a clear transition, the beginning of the Christian mission to the world. Jesus said, “you will be My witnesses in Jerusalem, and in Judea, and Samaria, and to the remotest part of the earth.” Samaria was the land of half-breeds, the despised people who followed a quasi-Judaistic cult, as to worship, and who had intermarried in a way that provoked the Jews to hatred (this is why the story of the Good Samaritan is so compelling). Philip is a man who pioneered this outreach, and then further down the passage, we find him conversing openly with the Ethiopian secretary of the treasury. This Philip fellow was quite the pioneer! Philip was just the man for the job. His semi-castoff status as a Hellenist put him in league, if you will, with the Samaritans, who were fully castoffs, and his message, which discounted the Jerusalem temple which the Samaritans hated, in favor of Christ, was one which would have resonated with them as well, for this they had in common with the Jews: they looked forward to a prophet like Moses—which was Philip’s message, that Christ was the fulfillment of this prophecy of Deuteronomy 18:15, 18-19. And when he spoke, the Samaritans responded. Philip was dancing in step with the Spirit, Who orchestrated the circumstances in order to accomplish His purpose.