Breaking Down Barriers
Every person can understand the value of people better by looking at the issues that Philip had to overlook.
A young man had been to Wed. night Bible Study. The pastor had shared about listening to God and obeying the Lord's voice. The young man couldn't help but wonder, "Does God still speak to people?"
After service, he went out with some friends for coffee and pie and they discussed the message. Several different ones talked about how God had led them in different ways.
It was about ten o'clock when the young man started driving home. Sitting in his car, he just began to pray,
"God...If you still speak to people speak to me. I will listen.
I will do my best to obey." As he drove down the main street of his town, he had the strangest thought to stop and buy a gallon of milk. He shook his head and said out loud, "God is that you?"
He didn't get a reply and started on toward home.
But again, he thought, buy a gallon of milk. The young man thought about Samuel and how he didn't recognize the voice of God, and how little Samuel ran to Eli. "Okay, God, in case that is you, I will buy the milk." It didn't seem like too hard a test of obedience. He could always use the milk. He stopped and purchased the gallon of milk and started off toward home.
As he passed Seventh Street, he again felt the urge, "Turn down that street." This is crazy he thought and drove on past the intersection. Again, he felt that he should turn down Seventh Street. At the next intersection, he turned back and headed down Seventh. Half jokingly, he said out loud, "Okay, God, I will."
He drove several blocks, when suddenly, he felt like he should stop. He pulled over to the curb and looked around.
He was in a semi-commercial area of town. It wasn't the best but it wasn't the worst of neighborhoods either. The businesses were closed and most of the houses looked dark like the people were already in bed. Again, he sensed something, "Go and give the milk to the people in the house across the street."
The young man looked at the house. It was dark and it looked like the people were either gone or they were already asleep. He started to open the door and then sat back in the car seat. "Lord, this is insane. Those people are in bed and asleep, and if I wake them up, they are going to be mad and I will look stupid."
Again, he felt like he should go and give the milk. Finally, he opened the door. "Okay God, if this is you, I will go to the door and I will give them the milk. If you want me to look like a crazy person, okay. I want to be obedient. I guess that will count for something, but if they don't answer right away, I am out of here."
He walked across the street and rang the bell. He could hear some noise inside. A man's voice yelled out, "Who is it? What do you want?" Then the door opened before the young man could get away. The man was standing there in his jeans and t-shirt. He looked like he had just gotten out of bed. He had a strange look on his face and he didn't seem too happy to have some stranger standing on his doorstep. "What is it?" The young man thrust out the gallon of milk. "Here I brought this to you."
The man took the milk and rushed down a hallway, speaking loudly in Spanish. Then from down the hall came a woman carrying the milk toward the kitchen, the man following her, holding a baby. The baby was crying. The man had tears streaming down his face.
The man began speaking and half-crying, "We were just praying.
We had some big bills this month and we ran out of money.
We didn't have any milk for our baby. I was just praying and asking God to show me how to get some milk." His wife in the kitchen yelled out, "I asked him to send an Angel with some. Are you an Angel?"
The young man reached into his wallet and pulled out all the money he had on him and put in the man's hand. He turned and walked back toward his car and the tears were streaming down his face. He knew that God still answers prayers.
We will be studying a man who had a similar experience. I would like to look at the issues that could have kept him from doing the right thing.
Issue I. Nation of origin
A. I like to read biographies of missionaries. It seems that many of the missionaries I read about had a passion and a drive to reach a people group that had not been reached. During the early 1800’s missionaries would working along the shores of the continent of Africa. They had heard stories of cannibals and diseases in the interior of Africa. So they would work on the coast, but they would not go into the interior of that continent. That is until a man came along who had a passion to see the people in the inner parts of Africa reached with the Gospel of Jesus Christ. He traveled throughout Africa with the message of Jesus Christ.
B. In Jesus day Ethiopia was the edge of the earth. At least that is what people believed. Imagine if that stereo type had prevented Philip from delivering the message of salvation to this man. We know today that Ethiopia is not the edge of the earth. We know that the interior of Africa does not eat white men alive. Philip could have very easily felt that he did not want to deal with an Ethiopian because of some stereo types. The Jewish people usually did not accept eunuchs either. Neither of these ideas kept Philip from going to this man. It would have been very easy for him to say he did not want to deal with the person because he was different. It might have been a stereo type. It might have been something real. He did not allow that to stand in the way of going to this man as God had told him to do.
C. I was talking with a friend the other day who attends another church. He was telling me about some immigrants who are attending their church. The grandmother in this group has her head in a wrap and has several piercings in her ears and in her nose. They are different from the other people who attend that church. Just because she looks different does not mean that she should be avoided. Just because this Ethiopian Eunuch was different from Philip did not mean that he could be overlooked.
D. I come from a family that has prejudices. I must be very aware of what I am thinking. It is natural for me to lean toward those prejudices that I have learned from my family. I know that God my father and Jesus Christ my savior does not want me to hold those same prejudices. These might be things that could stand in the way of someone coming to Christ. I try to take on the image of God my father rather than the image of my physical family. We need to relate to people like the eunuch and others who are different from us like Jesus Christ would have us act.
Issue II. Direction of Travel
A. Maybe you have heard of being on a road that goes nowhere. I think that is the road that the angel of the Lord told Philip to travel on; it is called the desert road. It was really a road that did not go anywhere. Philip was a disciple who had been sent to spread the message of Jesus Christ to the world. This was a road that was not headed to any major metropolitan areas. The towns it did go through were relatively small. The angel tells Philip to travel down this road. Then in v. 29 the spirit told Philip to, “Go to that chariot and stay near it.” I could understand getting in the way and stopping it. He is told to stay near the chariot. Either Philip was in really good shape, or the chariot was stopped, or God was giving Philip some extra ability. Whatever happened, it would have been easier for Philip to say, too late. The opportunity has passed and I cannot go to that chariot.
B. This could have easily fallen into the category of an opportunity that has already gone by. He could not catch the chariot so, he just let it go. He does not. This could have very well been something that was just too much work. There are probably more reasons as to why he should not chase after the chariot than there are reasons that he should. He moves beyond his logic into the realm of doing what God is telling him he should be doing. He acts even though all of his instincts might be telling him to hold where he is.
C. Perhaps you have felt that tug from God telling you that you should do something. Rather than doing it you decide to argue. You make the case that too much time has passed or the opportunity is no longer there. Maybe it is just not very convenient. It is easy to come up with reasons why we don’t do things. Perhaps we need to be looking for reasons to say yes, rather than always looking for what we should say no. God might have something amazing right around the corner for you.
Issue III. Failure to understand
A. As Philip does what God wants him to do he gets close to this chariot and apparently realizes that this man is reading from the book of Isaiah. So he asks the man, “Do you understand what you are reading?” The man responds that he does not. I guess that Philip could have said then, you should know that. We are told that he had been in Jerusalem to worship. We would assume that he was pretty dedicated to the Jewish faith if he had traveled that far for the purpose of worship. Why would he not understand? It can be so frustrating to explain something to someone and they just don’t seem to get it. It can make someone wonder why they did not get it before. I have listened to conversations before where two people are saying the same thing differently but they feel that they are disagreeing. So, how do you make them understand each other? Frustrating.
B. Philip could have thought this man should know this stuff. He was probably a convert to the Jewish faith. He was maybe learning some things. He certainly is not as educated in the word of God as Philip is. He does not know or understand all of these things. Philip accepts his invitation to explain and he is able to share with this man the good news of Jesus Christ. As a consequence of Philips willingness to explain to this man what he is reading, the man had the potential of becoming a witness in another part of the world. This Eunuch was the first full Gentile convert recorded in the Bible. He now has a message he can carry to the rest of that part of the world. It took the willingness of Philip to put up with this man’s ignorance in order to get him to that place of faith.
C. It is easy for a person who has been a Christian for a long time to get frustrated with a person who has been a Christian for a short period of time. New Christians don’t understand things like mature Christians. They don’t understand some of the words and phrases we use. It can be very frustrating for a person who has been a Christian for a long time. Would you want to be guilty for allowing a person to miss out on Christ? As Christians we need to be aware of the things that we have learned and developed that others might not understand.
Issue IV. Wanting more.
A. There was a man that used to visit me about once a month when I lived in Ithaca. He was kind of a hobo. He had a post office box in Lansing, and he would make a circuit every month. He got his social security check the first of the month then he would stay a few nights in a cheap hotel. He would move on and visit different parts of the state over the next few weeks, and eventually make his way back to Lansing. I got so I did not like seeing this man. He always wanted something when he showed up. He would usually ask for a ride somewhere. Sometimes he would want more. I think it is typical for some people to always want more.
B. Perhaps Philip would have rather stayed away from this Eunuch because he might ask for more. If you look at the passage he did. He got Philip to explain the passage to him, and then after Philip explained it he asked to be baptized. It was a good thing that Philip did not avoid this man just because he might ask for more stuff. Philip did not shy away from the challenge, but Philip was a man who was being led by the spirit. He did what the spirit commanded him to do. He was being obedient to God’s spirit.
C. There are probably times in our lives when we might feel like avoiding people because we know they are going to take a lot of time. They might ask us for things that we don’t want to give. It is not always easy to take care of the people who have needs. Sometimes it will make us feel uncomfortable to take care of people. It is alright for us to establish boundaries. But we need to be sensitive to God’s leading. Philip went because God had told him to go. When God tells any of us to go we need to make sure that we follow through and we do what god tells us to do.
We all need to be aware of the things in our life that keep us from doing the right thing. Rather than allow those things to prevent us from doing the right thing, be aware of them. Be sensitive to God’s voice and God direction in your life. Courageously do what God tells you to do.