RUDDER DOWN, SAILS UP – OPEN AND OBEDIENT TO GOD'S EXTRAORDINARY GUIDANCE
["What does God want us to learn from this passage? Why did He put it in Scripture? "All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work. (2 Timothy 3:16-17) What the sufficiency of Scripture means biblically is that Scripture gives us all we need for two things: 1) it gives all the authoritative truth we need in order to be saved and grow spiritually, and 2) it gives all the authoritative truth we need in order to make good judgments about what is right and wrong. But the sufficiency of Scripture does not mean that God cannot speak through nature (Psalm 19:1) or that He cannot speak through the human conscience (Romans 2:15) or that he cannot speak through gifts of prophecy and wisdom (1 Corinthians 12:8-10). And the Scriptures are sufficient, in the sense that they give the only authoritative rule for completing and assessing those other kinds of revelations. So the Scriptures are wonderfully sufficient here-they protect us from the error of thinking that the only way God guides us in good work is by reasoning and planning from circumstances and principles (though this is good), and they show us that there are works God may lead us to do by means of extraordinary guidance. I count at least 18 instances of this extraordinary guidance in the book of Acts scattered among all the more ordinary ways of making decisions in evangelistic strategy. And since there is no teaching anywhere in the New Testament that says this work of the Lord is limited to the time of the book of Acts, we should assume that one of God's ways today of building His church is to give direction to His people in extraordinary ways as well as more ordinary ones." John Piper on Acts 8:26-40] (Also see the attached Decision Making Guide for the many ways God leads us.)
"But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth." (Acts 1:8) We see in this account the gospel going to the "ends of the earth" just as Jesus commanded; from Jerusalem, to Samaria and now to Ethiopia. Wow! Irenaeus, an early church father (a. d. 130-202), wrote that the eunuch returned to Ethiopia and became a missionary to his own people. (See Psalm 68:31; 87:4).
Earlier (see lesson 11) we saw that the "ordinary" process of evangelism is like farming: preparing the soil; sowing the seeds; cultivating; and reaping the harvest. Each part of the process is evangelism as we pray and plan and sow seeds into relationships we intentionally build and deepen to draw others to Jesus. But here we see an "extraordinary" means of evangelism and something that Philip could have never planned. God spoke through an angel and then by the Spirit and step by step divinely connected a seeking heart (the eunuch) with one who was ready willing and able to connect him to the Savior.
This man had apparently become a convert to Judaism, since he had been to Jerusalem to worship and was reading Isaiah the prophet. Although he was a very successful man with a high position (like Secretary of the Treasury) he, like all people, was empty and unfulfilled without the Lord. ["Everyday they pass me by, I can see it in their eyes. Empty people filled with care, Headed who knows where? On they go through private pain, Living fear to fear. Laughter hides their silent cries, Only Jesus hears. People need the Lord, people need the Lord. At the end of broken dreams, He's the open door." Steve Green] This one found the Lord: "and the eunuch… went on his way rejoicing."
Rudder down, Sails up – The lesson our Lord wants us to learn from this is 1) like Philip we are to always be about the work of the Great Commission as we see him doing (Acts 8:1-24; 1 Cor. 15:58) and yet, we are to be open and obedient to extraordinary guidance from God for divine appointments anytime, anywhere. Sails up – tuned in and listening for the Spirit's promptings; and rudder down – grounded in Scripture less we get "blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming" (Eph. 4:14 – false teachings, cults). Philip asked him, "Do you understand what you are reading?" and was equipped to teach the Word. He, or you and I, could not have clearly "preached Jesus" from Isaiah 53 if he had not studied the passage and been ready to explain it to the eunuch. (2 Tim. 3:16-17) (Note: Daniel 9:24-26 refers clearly to the Messiah's atonement and it is possible Philip used this passage along with Isaiah 53 to show that Jesus is the Messiah.
Let's look closer at this account to grasp God's message to us. In the previous verses in Acts 8 Philip is preaching and leading men and women to Jesus. It is like a revival with many coming to Christ. Yet, God calls him to leave a very fruitful ministry to many and go to one person far away (about 50 miles). Maybe that seemed strange to Philip but he still obeyed.
1 – That is the first point: God calls Philip to leave a very fruitful ministry to many and go to one person far away; God moves in mysterious ways (Isaiah 55:8) and we need to obey His promptings even if they sometimes require us to "lean not on our own understanding." (Prov. 3:5-6)
2 – "Walking" (step by step) by faith often means we do not know the outcome and what God is asking may seem strange, or difficult. Notice God did not tell him all that He intended but guided him step by step (vv. 26, 29, 37, 39, 40). Like Abraham, he left not knowing where he was going. (Heb. 11:8) John Ortberg wrote a book entitled If You Want to Walk on Water, You've Got to Get Out of the Boat. I recommend this book along with Bill Hybels' book The Power of a Whisper -hearing God and having the guts to respond, and Doug Banister's book The Word and Power Church – for growth in "hearing" God's voice and following Him in faith, often step by step.
3 – We are to initiate spiritual conversation with people. Philip asked him, "Do you understand what you are reading?" Once he connected with the eunuch Philip initiated the conversation in response to what now was a clear divine appointment as the eunuch read out loud one of the clearest "gospel" passages in the OT about Jesus" sacrificial death and the way to salvation. (v. 30) Likewise, God leads people to Himself but He most often uses human instruments to share the gospel.
4 – Help people "receive the Lord" but don't force them – "As they went along the road they came to some water; and the eunuch *said, "Look! Water! What prevents me from being baptized?" 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." Although this verse is omitted from most Greek manuscripts of the NT, Ã¯Â»Â¿its teaching is consistent with the rest of Scripture; belief in Jesus Christ is certainly prerequisite to baptism. On the one hand we do not want to push people to pray the sinner's prayer and tell them they are saved, and on the other hand we do want to join with God in what He is doing and encourage people to "receive" Jesus now as the Spirit is leading them. (John 1:12)
5 – Public baptism is the first step in discipleship and commanded by our Lord (Matt. 28:18-20; also see Acts 2:37-41; 8:5-13; 8:35-39; 9:10-18; 10:34-48; 16:13-15; 16:30-33; 18:8; and 19:1-6). In most cases, we can and should be involved in making sure the new convert is discipled beginning with baptism and a public testimony of his salvation and commitment to obey the Lord. (Psalm 107:2 KJV: "Let the redeemed of the LORD say so, whom he hath redeemed from the hand of the enemy.")
6 – Sails up – Understand and be open to the gifts seen in 1 Cor. 12:4-11 "Now about spiritual gifts, brothers, I do not want you to be ignorant." (1 Cor. 12:1) In this chapter, Paul is encouraging and challenging us to understand and be open to the gifts seen in 1 Cor. 12:4-11 as ways God may choose to work through us to save the lost and sanctify His church.
QUESTIONS FOR DISCUSSION AND APPLICATION
1) Be prepared to share with the men at your table an experience you or someone you know personally has had along the lines of what is seen in this passage; i.e., extraordinary divine appointments.
2) Rudder down, Sails up – Do you feel you are both grounded in God's Word (rudder down) and open to His Spirit (sails up)? In which of these do you feel you need more growth? Discuss your answer.
3) Discuss some questions you use to begin spiritual conversations with people. (E.g., Do you ever think about spiritual things? etc.)
4) "Now about spiritual gifts, brothers, I do not want you to be ignorant." (1 Cor. 12:1) Paul is encouraging and challenging us to understand and be open to the nine gifts seen in 1 Cor. 12:4-11 as ways God may choose to work through us to save and sanctify His church. Discuss your understanding of these gifts and how God may have used any of these in and through your life to reach and build up His church.
5) What is your main take away from the message and table discussion and how can you apply it to your life?