God's Search and Rescue Operation

Do you still remember our mission statement? Let us all recite it. “Glorify God by Multiplying Biblical, Committed and Loving Followers of Jesus Christ.” This morning we will look into the “multiplying” aspect of our mission statement.

It is God’s will that we become fruitful. Jesus said in John 15:8, “This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.”[1] Yes, if you would look at the context, the word “fruit” probably refers to “love.” Verse 13 says, “Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.” I like how The Message translated this: “This is the very best way to love. Put your life on the line for your friends.” Would you put your life on the line by joining God’s search and rescue operation?

Let us read the life of one who did join God’s search and rescue operation. Let us look into the encounter of Philip and the Ethiopian eunuch in Acts 8:26-40. Let me give you the background for our passage. Philip was one of the original seven deacons or workers of the early church. Now, persecution broke out due to the stoning of Stephen. As they scattered to escape persecution, Philip as well as the rest of the believers “preached the word wherever they went. Philip went down to a city in Samaria and proclaimed the Christ there.”[2] Because of Philip’s preaching, many Samaritans became believers also. The apostles Peter and John even visited Philip’s work in Samaria and “When they had testified and proclaimed the word of the Lord, Peter and John returned to Jerusalem...”[3]

One day, “an angel of the Lord said to Philip, ‘Go south to the road—the desert road—that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.’”[4] Remember that Philip went up north from Jerusalem to Samaria. Now the Lord wants Him to “Go south along the desert road that leads from Jerusalem to Gaza.” [5] From Samaria to that desert road is about 50 miles. That’s even longer than his travel from Jerusalem to Samaria! That doesn’t make sense at all. In fact, Philip could have told the Lord that Peter and John were already in Jerusalem. Philip could have reasoned that God could save time and money by sending them instead of him.

Yet, Philip obeyed “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...” Note that the Spirit spoke to Philip and he obeyed. To join God’s search and rescue operation, we must SUBMIT to the Spirit’s direction.

Os Hillman, in one of his devotionals in the Today God is First website,[6] wrote, “God’s ways of determining where we invest our time and energy often has little to do with results. It is not by the success or failure of the events we are involved in. Our plumb line for determining success can be only one thing: obedience to the direction of the Holy Spirit.”

Let us backtrack a little. When the apostles decided to delegate to deacons the work of feeding the widows, they gave this criterion to the church: “Brothers, choose seven men from among you who are known to be full of the Spirit and wisdom. This proposal pleased the whole group. They chose… Philip”.[7] The fact that Philip was among those chosen by the whole group speaks a lot about him. He was “full of the Spirit”. And we see in the response of Philip that a person full of the Spirit is an obedient person. Charles Stanley wrote in his Timely Testimony article, “Philip wasn’t mighty in spirit because he performed signs and wonders. Rather, he made his mark in simple obedience. Wherever the Spirit led, he followed; whatever the Spirit prompted, he said.” The question now is, “Are you an obedient believer?” Now you may be asking, “How do we know what the Spirit wants?” Well, He revealed it in the Bible. And the word of God says, “Make disciples of all nations”.[8]

That’s brings us to our next point. To join God’s search and rescue operation, we must SHARE the Gospel to seekers. Philip obeyed the prompting of the Spirit and he “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.”[9]

The Bible describes the eunuch as an important government official, “the chief treasurer for Candace, the Queen of Ethiopia.”[10] He was a Gentile. He was not a Jew. Yet he believed in God. The Bible says he just came from a worship service in Jerusalem. He really sought God for Philip saw him reading the Old Testament on his way home. However, as he admitted to Philip, he did not understand what he was reading. In short, he was a very successful, sincere seeker. In his Be Dynamic, Warren Wiersbe wrote, “This Ethiopian represents many people today who are religious, read the Scriptures, and seek the truth, yet do not have saving faith in Jesus Christ. They are sincere, but they are lost! They need someone to show them the way.”

The eunuch was actually reading from Isaiah 53, which prophesied the death of the Lord Jesus Christ: “Then Philip began with that very passage of Scripture and told him the good news about Jesus.” [11] That’s the Gospel, “the good news about Jesus.” Remember that the eunuch just came from Jerusalem. There he must have heard about Jesus. He had a lot of questions. God at the right time sent Philip to share the Gospel to him. What about you? Would you obey the Lord by sharing the Gospel to others? People need the Lord. They are actually looking for Him.

Just imagine. God told Philip to leave a very successful ministry in Samaria where many people accepted the Lord to share the Gospel to only one man. For one soul is very precious to God. “What good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul? Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul?”[12] Even the whole world is not enough to pay for a soul. Our Lord Jesus died to rescue us from our sins. That’s how precious we are to God.

After baptizing the eunuch, “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.”[13] Again, the Spirit led Philip to his next assignment. God brought him about 30 miles away from Gaza. Then, he traveled another 30 miles from where the Spirit brought him. “He went from town to town, all the way to Caesarea, telling people about Jesus.”[14] He faithfully shared the Gospel from one place to another. From here, the book of Acts leaves Philip. Then, 20 years later or 13 chapters later, we read that Paul visited Philip. “Leaving the next day, we reached Caesarea and stayed at the house of Philip the evangelist, one of the Seven. He had four unmarried daughters who prophesied.”[15] No doubt we are talking about the same person and not just a namesake for he was described as being in Caesarea and “one of the Seven”, which refers to the original seven guys who became the first deacons of the church. But now, notice that he was now called “the evangelist.” There are times we feel threatened with big ministries for God. But all of those whom God mightily used started small. Luke 16:10 says, “Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much.” Philip was faithful in little. So, God trusted him with much. You don’t even have to start with sharing the Gospel with others. You can begin with inviting people to attend our worship service. Then you can get trained to evangelize. Thus, to join God’s search and rescue operation, we must SEEK to be more fruitful for Him.

Brethren, would you obey the Spirit by sharing the Gospel one person at a time?

Let me close with the “Parable of the Lighthouse.”[16] Once there was a crude, little lighthouse that serves also as a lifesaving station on a dangerous seacoast notorious for shipwrecks. The few volunteers would risk life and limb just to save those who are in danger. Because of their faithful efforts, they saved many, many lives. Soon, the lighthouse became famous.

They purchased new boats. They trained new crews. They also constructed a new building. The once unattractive and poorly equipped rescue station became a very comfortable, popular gathering place. It is now an attractive clubhouse.

But since few people volunteer on lifesaving missions, they hired professional crews to do this work. They claim they haven’t forgotten their mission. They even have a sign that says they were lifesavers. Yet they are not really that involved as before in saving lives.

One day a large ship sank near that seacoast. The rescuers brought in loads of wet and dirty people. The beautiful clubhouse suddenly became messy and cluttered. The members complained. So they had an emergency meeting where they had a debate. Some insisted on saving lives as the reason why the lighthouse was there in the first place. But most of the members voted to stop the rescue activities for it affected their schedule and activities. They told those few to start their own lifesaving station if they want to continue saving lives.
As the years passed, people built many rescue stations along that seacoast. But the cycle went on. Now, you’ll find a lot of exclusive, impressive clubs along the shore. Shipwrecks still occur in those waters. But now most of the victims drowned. Every day people drown at sea, and so few seem to care... so very few.

Are we a lifesaving station or an exclusive club? Brothers and sisters, we are called to multiply.

Let us pray...

[1]All Bible verses are from the New International Version, unless otherwise noted.
[2]Acts 8:4a-5.
[3]8:25.
[4]8:26.
[5]Contemporary English Version (CEV).
[6]http://www.TodayGodIsFirst.com
[7]Acts 6:3a, 5a.
[8]Matthew 28:18-20.
[9]Acts 8:30-31.
[10]8:27, CEV.
[11]8:32-35.
[12]Matthew 16:26.
[13]Acts 8:39-40.
[14]CEV.
[15]Acts 21:8-9.
[16]Adapted from the Everyday Commission by Sonlife Ministries

NOTE: This was the message Pastor Cortez preached last Sunday, February 28, 2006, in the English Worship Service of MGC.

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