By Craig Bradley
In Acts chapter eight we read the story of an Ethiopian eunuch returning home after going to Jerusalem to worship. The Spirit of the Lord told Philip to go down the same road where the Ethiopian was traveling. Then when Philip saw the Ethiopian’s chariot the Spirit instructed him to go and overtake it. As the story unfolded, Philip realized that the Ethiopian was reading from the prophet Isaiah and engaged him in conversation. The end result was that Philip taught him about Jesus and he obeyed the gospel. Clearly this was the Spirit’s intent, and surely Philip recognized it as such. Yet why, with all of the Spirit’s involvement, didn’t He just directly tell the Ethiopian about Jesus? Why involve Philip at all?
As Saul of Tarsus neared Damascus in Acts chapter nine Jesus appeared to him on the road and engaged him in a brief conversation. The incident arrested Saul’s attention and he asked the Lord, “What do you want me to do?” Jesus commanded him to continue into Damascus and there he would be told what he must do. As we read the account, we see that Jesus was not saying wait and I will tell you later. Jesus didn’t appear to him after he entered Damascus. Rather, after three days Jesus sent Ananias to tell Saul what to do. An obvious question here is, why didn’t Jesus just tell him what to do on the road, or why didn’t He appear to him a second time and tell him Himself? Why send Ananias to tell him?
In the very next chapter of Acts we read about Cornelius. Chapter ten tells us that Cornelius was a spiritually minded man who feared God, was generous to the poor, and prayed always. One day while he is praying, an angel of God appeared to him and told him to send for Peter who would tell him what he must do. Verses 13-14 of chapter eleven tell us that the angel told Cornelius that Peter would tell him words by which he would be saved. Again, we are left with a question. Why didn’t the angel just tell Cornelius what he needed to do in order to be saved? Why go through all the trouble of sending for and convincing Peter to go into a Gentile’s house?
Here are three chapters in a row, three examples in a row in which God is clearly directing events leading to the salvation of two men and an entire household. In the first, the Spirit directed Philip, in the second Jesus Himself appeared to Saul, and in the third God sent an angel to Cornelius. Yet, in all three instances it is a man that told them what they must do. Why?
There might be a number of answers to that question. The most obvious is that God was directing his servants to teach individuals that they might never have approached otherwise. Philip was told to go teach a man who was excluded from the common fellowship of God’s people. Ananias was told to go teach an enemy of the gospel. Peter was told to go teach a Gentile whom the Jews regarded as an enemy, a dog, and nothing more than kindling for the fires of hell. Yet, God’s desire is to save all men. What better way to demonstrate the gospel is for all than to personally direct his disciples to teach these men?
However, there is another reason God sent men rather than directly revealing His will to the Ethiopian, Paul, and Cornelius. It is that Christianity is a taught religion. It is not God’s will that we be born into the covenant as the Israelites were. It is not a religion that we inherit from our parents. And it is not a religion that comes from a vision, sign, dream, or any personal indwelling of the Holy Spirit. God has committed His truth to men and women to teach the world. As Paul said in 2nd Corinthians 4:7, “We have this treasure in earthen vessels.”
Consider the commission Jesus left the apostles before He ascended to heaven:
“All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you.” – Matthew 28:18-20.
Consider also how the gospel was spread:
“And they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers.” – Acts 2:42
“Look, the men whom you put in prison are standing in the temple and teaching the people!” – Acts 5:25
“And daily in the temple, and in every house, they did not cease teaching and preaching Jesus as the Christ.” – Acts 5:42
“Therefore those who were scattered went everywhere preaching the word.” – Acts 8:4
“Then Paul dwelt two whole years in his own rented house, and received all who came to him, preaching the kingdom of God and teaching the things which concern the Lord Jesus Christ with all confidence, no one forbidding him.” – Acts 28:30-31
“Him we preach, warning every man and teaching every man in all wisdom, that we may present every man perfect in Christ Jesus. To this end I also labor, striving according to His working which works in me mightily.” – Colossians 1:28-29
Maybe most importantly, God wanted us to be involved in His work. When the writer of Hebrews chastised the Hebrew Christians for becoming dull of hearing, he made it clear that they should have become teachers by the time of his writing (Heb. 5:12). He was not talking about teaching a Sunday school class; he was talking about being teachers of others in the world. He is making it very clear what God expects of us. Jesus said that His disciples are the light of the world (Matt. 5:14). Light shows the way. It reveals the path to God and eternal life. It does this by teaching God’s truth to others. It is God’s plan to do that through us. One of the most important things we can do in our assemblies is to prepare ourselves to teach others.
Remember Paul’s words? “How will they hear without a preacher?”