When God Doesnt Make Sense Hes Up To Something
When God Doesn’t Make Sense He Is Up To Something
Dr. James Dobson wrote a book called, When God Doesn’t Make Sense. It was a best-seller. I think it was so popular because it struck a common chord. Have you had a time in your life when it seemed God didn’t make sense? You were praying, reading your Bible, attending church and serving. You felt pretty good about your faith. But, something happened that completely blew your mind. You started asking, “Why, Lord?”
I’ve been asking “why” lately. I’ve been seeking God in prayer about our church. As a church we’ve given a lot of time and energy and money to be faithful to God’s call. Yet, we’ve had to move and attendance and finances have fallen for the first time in our short history. You might think this is strange, but in spite of this, I’m not discouraged, this isn’t hurting my faith. Just the opposite is true. At this point I feel more confident about our church than I have in a year. Here’s why: I’ve learned that when God doesn’t make sense, He’s up to something.
Today, I want to show you how the early church experienced this same thing. They went through times of doubt, fear, uncertainty, and transition. As I read Acts 8, sometimes God didn’t make sense. Still He used those times in a powerful way to change the world. I want to show that when God doesn’t make sense, he’s up to something.
Before we read the scripture, let me give you some background. The church in Jerusalem was experiencing phenomenal growth. Thousands of people were trusting Christ and being baptized into the church. There was opposition, but it strengthened the resolve of the Christians. The people were growing in their faith by meeting together in homes and in the Temple for worship. Luke, the author of Acts, says the Lord added daily those who were being saved. As the church became more organized the number of new disciples multiplied. The people were sharing their faith with friends and family. They were seeking God in prayer and devoting themselves to the study of the scriptures. They were so effective that they even began to win some of the Jewish Temple priests to Christ. That’s when things began to unravel.
A young follower of Christ named Stephen was captured by an angry mob. They were upset that he and others were so successful in leading others to Christ. So, they stoned him to death. Here’s what happened next:
1. The Zealous Persecution
Acts 8:2-3 On that day a great persecution broke out against the church at Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria. Godly men buried Stephen and mourned deeply for him. But Saul began to destroy the church. Going from house to house, he dragged off men and women and put them in prison. (NIV)
Can you imagine their thoughts? The church had been doing things right. If anything can be said about these people, they were faithful to God. It didn’t make sense. How could God let such terrible persecution come on His people? Families were being ripped apart. Committed Christians were hauled off to jail. Jobs were lost. Friends were shunned. It didn’t make sense to them, but it was a part of God’s plan.
This persecution affected the Jewish Christians who were Hellenists or Greek. Israel was not their native land. The Jewish Christians who were born and raised in the area were largely unaffected by this. The Hellenistic Jewish Christians ran for their lives away from Jerusalem. God didn’t make sense, but he was up to something.
2. The Powerful Purpose
Look what happened as a result of the persecution: Acts 8:4 Those who had been scattered preached the word wherever they went. In this verse we see God’s purpose revealed. He allowed the hostility to motivate these people to spread their faith beyond the borders of Jerusalem. Jesus told them before he ascended back into heaven in Acts 1:8 "But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”
They had fulfilled the first part. The Christian were effective witnesses for Christ in Jerusalem. For some reason they hadn’t yet taken the message of God’s grace outside of the city yet. God had to give them a push to get them moving. You can understand their situation. We’re the same way. We love to get together. But sometimes our fellowship can lead us to forget about our mission to the world. I think our move is a push from the Lord. How many of us are seriously building relationships with lost people? When was the last time you shared your faith or invited someone to the Sunday service?
This past Easter I was surprised at the low attendance. I should have suspected it when we didn’t do our usual Easter mailout due to finances. But, mailouts aren’t the main way we have reached people, inviting them is. Rather than view Easter as a primetime to bring an unchurched person to the service, most of us looked at Easter as a time “for us.” If we won’t get out there and make disciples of all nations on our own initiative, then we should expect a push from the Lord.
3. The Faithful Preacher
Look at the results of God’s push: Acts 8:5-8 Philip went down to a city in Samaria and proclaimed the Christ there. When the crowds heard Philip and saw the miraculous signs he did, they all paid close attention to what he said. With shrieks, evil spirits came out of many, and many paralytics and cripples were healed. So there was great joy in that city.
There was a reason why it happened this way. Imagine that you’re a Samaritan. You hate Jews and they hate you. Into your village one day comes a group of refugees from Jerusalem. They’re Jews, but not native Jews, so you don’t completely hate them. They begin telling you how the Jews in Jerusalem were persecuting them, trying to kill them if possible. Suddenly, you’ve got empathy for them. They Jews are your enemy too. Your ears are open as they tell why they’re being persecuted. The conversation turns to Jesus.
Had the Christians in Jerusalem simply organized a mission trip to Samaria, they would have been resisted and rejected. But, these Hellenistic Jewish Christians who were persecuted were a different story. The Samaritans were open to them. Do you think God planned it that way?
Philip, a former deacon in the church at Jerusalem, a layman and not a clergy type, became the chief evangelist. God used him in a powerful way to bring the Samaritans into the kingdom. But, God wasn’t finished, He didn’t make sense. On every other occasion in the book of Acts, when people came to faith, they received the in-filling Holy Spirit. God’s Spirit came on them in power. It didn’t happen in Samaria.
4. The Clever Deceiver
Here’s what occurred next: Acts 8:9-17 Now for some time a man named Simon had practiced sorcery in the city and amazed all the people of Samaria. He boasted that he was someone great, and all the people, both high and low, gave him their attention and exclaimed, "This man is the divine power known as the Great Power." They followed him because he had amazed them for a long time with his magic. But when they believed Philip as he preached the good news of the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and women. Simon himself believed and was baptized. And he followed Philip everywhere, astonished by the great signs and miracles he saw.
When the apostles in Jerusalem heard that Samaria had accepted the word of God, they sent Peter and John to them. When they arrived, they prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit, because the Holy Spirit had not yet come upon any of them; they had simply been baptized into the name of the Lord Jesus. Then Peter and John placed their hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit.
Why did God do things this way? Why was it necessary for Peter and John to go to Samaria? On another occasion, the Holy Spirit filled people without the necessity of an apostle laying hands on them. In this instance, God was after reconciliation. He wanted the Samaritan believers to receive the acceptance and affirmation of the church leaders in Jerusalem. He also wanted the Jewish Christians in Jerusalem to see the hated Samaritans could believe and receive the Holy Spirit too. God orchestrated this whole thing to bring eternal life and reconciliation. When God doesn’t make sense, he’s up to something.
The next part of the story I include just so we can keep the sequence straight and to make a quick point. Acts 8:18-25 When Simon saw that the Spirit was given at the laying on of the apostles’ hands, he offered them money and said, "Give me also this ability so that everyone on whom I lay my hands may receive the Holy Spirit.”
Peter answered: "May your money perish with you, because you thought you could buy the gift of God with money! You have no part or share in this ministry, because your heart is not right before God. Repent of this wickedness and pray to the Lord. Perhaps he will forgive you for having such a thought in your heart. For I see that you are full of bitterness and captive to sin.” Then Simon answered, "Pray to the Lord for me so that nothing you have said may happen to me.”
When Peter and John preached the gospel in the Samaritan villages, Simon, the sorcerer had a conversion like we love to hear. Unfortunately, Simon’s faith was not real. He wanted the power, without the commitment. He tried to buy the ability to give the Holy Spirit. Peter recognized his impure motives and ungodly suggestion. So, Peter basically told Simon, “You and you money can both go to hell.”
Tradition and history teach us that Simon eventually led one of the worst heresies that ever threatened the church, Gnosticism. If this is true, he never repented and he became a thorn in the side of the early church. This is an example of someone looking good at first, but then turning bad. Be careful of appearances. Just because someone prays a prayer, or signs a card, or raises a hand, doesn’t mean they have genuine faith.
5. The Sincere Seeker
Now the story goes back to Philip. I’m sure that God didn’t make sense to him when persecution hit Jerusalem and he had to run for his life. But he learned that when God doesn’t make sense, he’s up to something. Philip knew he needed to respond in faith and he’d see what God was doing. Acts 8:26 Now an angel of the Lord said to Philip, "Go south to the road - the desert road - that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.”
The NIV doesn’t say it, but it was noon. The hottest part of the day is coming on and God tells Philip to leave his successful evangelistic crusade in Samaria and go to the desert. That didn’t make sense. Nobody would be in the desert at that time of the day. But you see, Philip had learned the lesson well so he responded in obedience: Acts 8:27-40 So he started out, and on his way he met an Ethiopian eunuch, an important official in charge of all the treasury of Candace, queen of the Ethiopians. This man had gone to Jerusalem to worship, and on his way home was sitting in his chariot reading the book of Isaiah the prophet. The Spirit told Philip, "Go to that chariot and stay near it.” Then Philip ran up to the chariot and heard the man reading Isaiah the prophet. "Do you understand what you are reading?” Philip asked. "How can I,” he said, "unless someone explains it to me?” So he invited Philip to come up and sit with him.
The eunuch was reading this passage of Scripture: "He was led like a sheep to the slaughter, and as a lamb before the shearer is silent, so he did not open his mouth. In his humiliation he was deprived of justice. Who can speak of his descendants? For his life was taken from the earth.” The eunuch asked Philip, "Tell me, please, who is the prophet talking about, himself or someone else?” Then Philip began with that very passage of Scripture and told him the good news about Jesus. As they traveled along the road, they came to some water and the eunuch said, "Look, here is water. Why shouldn’t I be baptized?” And he gave orders to stop the chariot. Then both Philip and the eunuch went down into the water and Philip baptized him. When they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord suddenly took Philip away, and the eunuch did not see him again, but went on his way rejoicing. Philip, however, appeared at Azotus and traveled about, preaching the gospel in all the towns until he reached Caesarea.
Surprise! There just happens to be an Ethiopian eunuch returning to his kingdom in a chariot, in the desert, during the hottest part of the day. It’s as if God had it all planned.
This Ethiopian was probably pretty confused about God. He was a converted Jew who had gone to Jerusalem to worship God. Being a eunuch, they didn’t even let him in the door. According to the Law, eunuchs were not allowed anywhere near the worship area. God didn’t make sense to him. He had a scroll of Isaiah, and in Isaiah 56:3-8 it said that foreigners and eunuchs would be allowed to worship the LORD. I can only imagine that after a futile attempt to worship God at the Temple, the eunuch headed home. He probably opened up the scroll of Isaiah and began to reread it just to see if he’d missed something.
At that time he reached the section on the suffering servant and Philip arrived at his chariot. In those days they read out loud, so Philip heard the man’s confusion and led him to Christ. God didn’t make sense to Philip or the eunuch that day, but he was clearly up to something. The eunuch came to faith, was baptized, filled with joy, and received the Holy Spirit. His confusion actually resulted in his eternal life.
As for Philip, because he responded in faith to a request that didn’t make sense, God used him to take the good news of Christ to the “ends of the earth.” Philip was the man who led the way. If you find that God doesn’t make sense to you a lot, let me assure you that you’re not the exception, you’re the rule. Neither is our church the exception to this principle. What we’re experiencing is the biblical pattern.
6. The So What?
Think about this: Abraham was called to take possession of the Promised Land, but when he arrived it was full of people. It didn’t make sense. Joseph had a dream that he would become a great leader. Imagine his confusion when a few days later he was kidnapped and sold into slavery. A few years after that, he was in an Egyptian prison for something he didn’t do. It didn’t make sense. Moses embarked on God’s plan to deliver his people from bondage only to find himself a wanted man fleeing to the back side of the desert for forty years. It didn’t make sense. David was anointed King of Israel by the prophet Samuel. He killed a giant, became famous, and then spent decades on the run from the reigning King of Israel. It didn’t make sense. Nehemiah had a vision for rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem, but after 29 days the enemy was attacking and the people were giving up. It didn’t make sense. Mary and Joseph were the blessed parents of the Messiah, but on the night of his birth they had a cattle stall for a deliver room and a feeding trough for a cradle. Then, they had to flee for their lives to Egypt. It didn’t makes sense. Jesus’ followers placed all their hope in him as the King of the Jews. Imagine their shock and despair when their Lord and Savior breathed his last breath and died on the cross. It didn’t make sense.
In all of these stories God didn’t make sense, but He was up to something. His plan was greater, more glorious than anything their human minds could comprehend.
Faith Community Church, God’s not making a lot of sense to me right now in a lot of what He is doing, but he is up to something. So, we have to just trust His plan. He has given us a push so His purpose will be accomplished in us if we will trust Him and be obedient to where He leads us. That means, most of all, we must remember our mission: Acts 1:8 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.”