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Thursday, August 23, 2012

The Miracle of Joy

The Miracle of Joy

In the violent turmoil caused by by Saul in Jerusalem, the apostle Philip saw opportunity for reaching out to an often-ignored people: Samaritans.

"Now those who were scattered went about preaching the word. Philip went down to the city of Samaria and proclaimed to them the Christ. And the crowds with one accord paid attention to what was being said by Philip when they heard him and saw the signs that he did. For unclean spirits, crying out with a loud voice, came out of many who had them, and many who were paralyzed or lame were healed. So there was much joy in that city." Acts 8:4-8 (ESV)

Sudden, miraculous cleansing from demons and disease is a powerful confirmation of words of preachers and prophets.

Jesus healed a man of blindness, describing it as a display of the works of God (John 9:1). Jewish Pharisees acknowledged His power, but called it satanic. Jesus revealed their blind, broken logic: How could Satan's kingdom stand if Satan casts out Satan's demons? By the Spirit of God Jesus cast out demons, proof of the nearness of the kingdom of God (Matthew 12:27).

God's Spirit manifests His power in a variety of ways: wisdom, knowledge, faith, healing, miracles, prophecy, discernment, translation and interpretation. But each expression of God's power is by the same Spirit, intended always for good (1 Corinthians 12:10).

God's power, His spiritual gifts given to believers, vary from individual to individual, all under the control and appointment of God (1 Corinthians 12:30).

The Bible includes mention of many different ways that the Holy Spirit of God works through believers.

WHAT DO YOU THINK? Review the following passages taken from Paul's writings. With which gifts do you connect with better than others? How has God used you to minister to others?

"Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, in proportion to our faith; if service, in our serving; the one who teaches, in his teaching; the one who exhorts, in his exhortation; the one who contributes, in generosity; the one who leads, with zeal; the one who does acts of mercy, with cheerfulness." Romans 12:6-8 (ESV)

"Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. For to one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the ability to distinguish between spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. All these are empowered by one and the same Spirit, who apportions to each one individually as he wills." 1 Corinthians 12:4-11 (ESV)

"God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healing, helping, administrating, and various kinds of tongues." 1 Cor 12:28 (ESV)

"The end of all things is at hand; therefore be self-controlled and sober-minded for the sake of your prayers. Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins. Show hospitality to one another without grumbling. As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace: whoever speaks, as one who speaks oracles of God; whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies—in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ." 1 Peter 4:7-11 (ESV)

Despite the power of miraculous signs and spiritual gifts, and the good for which God intends them, Jesus cautioned against the desire for sensational, emotional excitement, without corresponding faith.

"Some of the scribes and Pharisees answered him, saying, - Teacher, we wish to see a sign from you. - But he answered them, - An evil and adulterous generation seeks for a sign..." Matthew 12:38-39 (ESV)

It is possible, even common, for unbelievers to remain unconvinced by miracles, yet still hunger to see them. Perhaps some people hope to discover a trick or hoax. Perhaps some enjoy the miracle for the sake of interest or curiosity, with little desire to connect the miracle with their Maker and Lord.

Jesus refused to perform miracles for show-seekers. His response often was to offer only the "sign of Jonah." (Matthew 12:40)

Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of a great fish. Jesus compared Jonah's entrapment with His own future burial and entombment. Both Jonah and Jesus were miraculously brought from certain death back to life.

Jonah preached to the people of Nineveh immediately upon being spit out by the great fish, and the entire city, from royalty to citizen, repented and turned in faith to God Almighty for mercy.

Jesus told the Pharisees that He had been doing the same preaching as Jonah, greater, in fact, than Jonah. Yet He knew they would reject Him, despite any sign, resurrection or not.

There came a time when Jesus refused to give any sign, not even the sign of Jonah:

"The Pharisees came and began to argue with him, seeking from him a sign from heaven to test him. And he sighed deeply in his spirit and said, - Why does this generation seek a sign? Truly, I say to you, no sign will be given to this generation.- And he left them, got into the boat again, and went to the other side." Mark 8:11-13 (ESV)

Signs, such as miraculous healings and exorcism of demons, can be convincing proof of God's power, persuading many to trust in the words of one through whom God works the miracle. However, there still remains the possibility that people will remain blind, seeing the miracle but not seeing God as the Miracle-Maker.

There must be a heart of faith created in a person before the miraculous sign will have any effect.

A heart of faith recognizes the hand of God in miracles.

Unbelief sees only a curious event.

"Many believed in his name when they saw the signs that he was doing. But Jesus on his part did not entrust himself to them, because he knew all people and needed no one to bear witness about man, for he himself knew what was in man." John 2:23-25 (ESV)

"Now Thomas, one of the Twelve, called the Twin, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, - We have seen the Lord. - But he said to them, - Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I will never believe. - Eight days later, his disciples were inside again, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, - Peace be with you. - Then he said to Thomas, - Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe. -Thomas answered him, - My Lord and my God! - Jesus said to him, - Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed." John 20:24-29 (ESV)

The gospel, even the miracle that confirms the truth of the gospel, is without effect unless God Himself creates within us first a heart that is open to the truth.

"The word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written, - I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart. - Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe. For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God." 1 Corinthians 1:18-24 (ESV)

WHAT DO YOU THINK? How has your faith been influenced by miraculous signs, whether in a negative or positive way? What is your opinion of the prominent faith-healers in our country? Is there biblical support for, or against, faith-healing? What bothers you, or encourages you, when you hear of miraculous healings?

Philip spoke to the crowds in Samaria, proclaiming Christ, casting out demonic spirits and healing people who were paralyzed or lame.

The result was joy.

JOY: chara (cheerfulness, calm delight); from chairo (to be "cheer"ful, calmly happy or well-off)

Wise men from the east desired to worship the king of the Jews. Learning of the Old Testament prophecy that predicted the birthplace of the One they desired, they traveled to the small town of Behlehem of Judea. Following in the direction of the rising star that they had first discovered many miles to the east, they came upon the house in which Mary was holding her newborn Son.

"And they rejoiced exceedingly with joy.” (Matthew 2:1-12)

Joy comes when one's desire is fulfilled.

The emotion of joy depends upon one's desire. A brief, transitory desire is met easily yet quickly ends. An eternal, unchanging desire is difficult to fulfill, yet it will result in unending joy.

WHAT DO YOU THINK? Was the desire, and the joy derived from fulfillment of the desire, fleeting or eternal for the wise men from the east? What about the joy experienced by the people healed in Samaria? What experiences have you had with both fleeting and everlasting joy?

The quality of one's desires, whether they be temporary or eternal, can be estimated by what one is willing to pay, or endure, in order to obtain that desire.

"The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field. Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls, who, on finding one pearl of great value, went and sold all that he had and bought it." Matthew 13:44-46 (ESV)

Jesus told the story of a wealthy master who had three servants; they were stewards or managers of the master's property. As a test, or as training, he gave each of them a certain amount of money, a bit more to the more experienced stewards, a bit less to the less experienced ones. He left for a journey, giving them no instructions, other than reminding them that this money belonged to him, the master, and that he would collect it when he returned.

The master was away for a long while, much longer than any of the stewards expected.

The more experienced stewards invested the money given him, immediately after the master had left, doubling the value of what they had started with.

The third, inexperienced and cautious steward hid the small amount of money given him, anxious to show his master how well he could guard what was entrusted to him.

After a long time the master returned and had each servant give account of the money he'd left with them.

For the two investors, the stewards who had understood the master's desire for gain, the master had nothing but commendation and approval:

"Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master." Matthew 25:21 (ESV)

The third, timid servant presented his understanding of what the master had desired:

"Master, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you scattered no seed, so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here you have what is yours." Matthew 25:24-25 (ESV)

The master's response?

"You wicked and slothful servant! You knew that I reap where I have not sown and gather where I scattered no seed? Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and at my coming I should have received what was my own with interest. So take the talent from him and give it to him who has the ten talents. For to everyone who has will more be given, and he will have an abundance. But from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away. And cast the worthless servant into the outer darkness." Matthew 25:26-30 (ESV)

The worthless servant understood only on a very shallow level the desire of his master. He thought the master was little more than a thief or gangster, taking from others and expecting strict obedience from his servants. The servant expected the master to be a miser, one who selfishly guarded all that he had, always taking, never giving.

The servant had a poor understanding of his master's desires. More than simple misunderstanding, the servant was acting out of deeply held attitudes of wickedness, slothfulness and fear, and he expected the master to be much the same.

Investing money is the polar opposite of theft and avarice. Investing means wisely trading money for things that can be re-traded with others who value those things higher than the original owners. The original owner is glad to rid of something they don't highly value, and the new owner is glad to have something which might be in rare supply in his region, and the investor in the middle gains profit for facilitating the trade! Everyone wins!

The point in this story for us, in our study of Philip's ministry in Samaria, is this question: What brings joy? What brings joy that lasts for more than just a day?

WHAT DO YOU THINK? How does the story of the master and his three servants help explain the joy experienced in Samaria?

WhiteFoundry by Andres Rodriguez, , Creative Commons License