Monday, April 29, 2013

The Holy Spirit at Work

Good morning!  Today is the first day of our seventeenth week, reading the Bible through together in a year.  Our scriptures this week are:
  • 1 Samuel 9-10; Acts 8
  • 1 Sam 11-13; Acts 9; Psalm 38
  • 1 Sam 14; Acts 10; Psalm 124
  • 1 Sam 15-16; 1 Chr 1; Acts 11; Ps 39
  • 1 Sam 17; 1 Chr 2; Acts 12
Today, I want to look at the role that the Holy Spirit plays in choosing people for God's service.  Some churches elect their leaders, while others have them appointed by bishops or other supra-church authorities.  But we deceive ourselves if we forget that it is the Holy Spirit who really selects our leaders.  We see this in both our Old Testament and New Testament scriptures today.

In 1 Samuel, God's hand is at work, orchestrating every event that leads up to Saul's selection.  Who do you suppose it was who made the donkey go wandering, anyway?  Who put it into Saul's servant's head, to go to the seer to find guidance?  The events in chapter nine (ESV) are uncanny, leaving no room for doubt that God's hand is in it all:

15 Now the day before Saul came, the Lord had revealed to Samuel: 16 “Tomorrow about this time I will send to you a man from the land of Benjamin, and you shall anoint him to be prince over my people Israel. He shall save my people from the hand of the Philistines. For I have seen my people, because their cry has come to me.” 17 When Samuel saw Saul, the Lord told him, “Here is the man of whom I spoke to you! He it is who shall restrain my people.” 18 Then Saul approached Samuel in the gate and said, “Tell me where is the house of the seer?” 19 Samuel answered Saul, “I am the seer. Go up before me to the high place, for today you shall eat with me, and in the morning I will let you go and will tell you all that is on your mind. 20 As for your donkeys that were lost three days ago, do not set your mind on them, for they have been found. And for whom is all that is desirable in Israel? Is it not for you and for all your father's house?” 21 Saul answered, “Am I not a Benjaminite, from the least of the tribes of Israel? And is not my clan the humblest of all the clans of the tribe of Benjamin? Why then have you spoken to me in this way?”
22 Then Samuel took Saul and his young man and brought them into the hall and gave them a place at the head of those who had been invited, who were about thirty persons. 23 And Samuel said to the cook, “Bring the portion I gave you, of which I said to you, ‘Put it aside.’” 24 So the cook took up the leg and what was on it and set them before Saul. And Samuel said, “See, what was kept is set before you. Eat, because it was kept for you until the hour appointed, that you might eat with the guests.”

Then, if Saul had any doubt about God selecting him, the Spirit confirmed it by filling him with prophetic ecstasy, just as Samuel predicted (10:1-13).

Finally, after Saul has been privately anointed as king, chapter ten has Saul selected once again--this time, by lot.  What are the odds that a selection by lot would reveal the same person that God had selected simply by revealing him to Samuel's heart?  That "chance" would point out the man whom God had already anointed?  Not very likely!

20 Then Samuel brought all the tribes of Israel near, and the tribe of Benjamin was taken by lot. 21 He brought the tribe of Benjamin near by its clans, and the clan of the Matrites was taken by lot; and Saul the son of Kish was taken by lot. But when they sought him, he could not be found. 22 So they inquired again of the Lord, “Is there a man still to come?” and the Lord said, “Behold, he has hidden himself among the baggage.” 23 Then they ran and took him from there. And when he stood among the people, he was taller than any of the people from his shoulders upward. 24 And Samuel said to all the people, “Do you see him whom the Lord has chosen? There is none like him among all the people.” And all the people shouted, “Long live the king!”

We see the Holy Spirit at work in the selection of the Ethiopian Eunuch as well.  In Acts 10 we find him:

 26 Now an angel of the Lord said to Philip, “Rise and go toward the south to the road that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.” This is a desert place. 27 And he rose and went. And there was an Ethiopian, a eunuch, a court official of Candace, queen of the Ethiopians, who was in charge of all her treasure. He had come to Jerusalem to worship 28 and was returning, seated in his chariot, and he was reading the prophet Isaiah. 29 And the Spirit said to Philip, “Go over and join this chariot.” 30 So Philip ran to him and heard him reading Isaiah the prophet and asked, “Do you understand what you are reading?” 31 And he said, “How can I, unless someone guides me?” And he invited Philip to come up and sit with him. 32 Now the passage of the Scripture that he was reading was this:
Philip and the Ethiopian Eunuch
“Like a sheep he was led to the slaughter
    and like a lamb before its shearer is silent,
    so he opens not his mouth.
33 In his humiliation justice was denied him.
    Who can describe his generation?
For his life is taken away from the earth.”

34 And the eunuch said to Philip, “About whom, I ask you, does the prophet say this, about himself or about someone else?” 35 Then Philip opened his mouth, and beginning with this Scripture he told him the good news about Jesus. 36 And as they were going along the road they came to some water, and the eunuch said, “See, here is water! What prevents me from being baptized?” 38 And he commanded the chariot to stop, and they both went down into the water, Philip and the eunuch, and he baptized him. 39 And when they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord carried Philip away, and the eunuch saw him no more, and went on his way rejoicing. 40 But Philip found himself at Azotus, and as he passed through he preached the gospel to all the towns until he came to Caesarea.

My intention here is not to go into an in-depth study on this fascinating account.  You can click here for that.  In his "God Triumphant: Reflections on the Church after Calvary," Donald X. Burt writes:

There is a tradition that this newly baptized man returned to his native Ethiopia and became a missionary for Christ there. Through his influence the first Ethiopian Christian community was created. (2) So powerful was the Spirit working in this Church that (after some centuries of dormancy) it was revived in the fourth century and was made the official religion of the country. It lasted as such for 1644 years up to the fall of the Emperor Haile Selassie in 1974. 

So, God wasn't converting just anybody to Christ.  The Holy Spirit carefully orchestrated this meeting between Philip and the Ethiopian Eunuch.  Not only did the Spirit tell Philip to go to the desert road--He also timed their journeys perfectly so that their paths would intersect.  The Spirit moved the Ethiopian to read the Scripture, and chose a passage for him to read that would cause questions to arise in his mind--all of this, just before he encountered Philip on the road.  The Spirit guided their conversation and led the Ethiopian to receive Jesus.  He even geographically placed their meeting in such a location that there was water nearby for baptism--in the middle of a desert!

While I believe in free will, it is always exciting to see that when we follow God's path, the choices that we make have the Holy Spirit guiding them.  In my transition from Antioch Baptist Church to Bethel Baptist Church, I can see "God-things" that have let me know that the time is right.  Events that are beyond coincidence have taken place to confirm these things in my mind.  Just as God led people throughout the Old and New Testaments, guiding events one step at a time until His perfect will became unquestionable, so I have seen uncanny and astonishing events taking place in my life that leave no room for doubt that I'm on the right path.

I pray that if you are earnestly seeking God's will in your own life, that the Holy Spirit will orchestrate situations so that there's not doubt in your mind what God wants you to do.  I pray that you'll go through life with your spiritual eyes and ears open, and that you'll be ready to step through the doors that the Lord opens for you.  I pray that you'll  see the hand of the Holy Spirit at work in your life today and every day.

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