Ted Bowling, recollecting a conversation with his late mother about the identity of Philip, the individual who ministered to the Ethiopian eunuch, affirmed that this same Philip was one of the first seven deacons chosen to serve the neglected Grecian widows, providing sorely needed administrative relief. These men were chosen not only for their administrative savvy, but for their good reputation, character, wisdom, fullness of the Holy Spirit, and humility to serve in lowly and thankless positions. Philip served with Stephen, the first New Testament martyr, whose example was evidently instrumental in the calling and conversion of the apostle Paul. With the death of Stephen, Philip stepped in to fill the gap, preaching and serving the needs of the congregation in Samaria, evidently swelling the size of the fellowship with his dynamic preaching, providing Peter with a large number of candidates for baptism. At the peak of this accomplishment, he was removed from this responsibility and sent on another assignment, involving more uncertainty and arduous travel; Philip accepted this charge without complaining or grumbling, being willing to serve in any assigned capacity. When he encountered the Ethiopian eunuch, an official of Queen Candace, he approached the task of helping this single individual to understand with the same alacrity as teaching a multitude, leading to the baptism and conversion of this man. Philip teaches us that we do not have to preach to multitudes in order to be used by God; we never know in what capacity God may use us. As long as we humbly are willing to serve in any capacity, being willing to wash feet, God will find a use for us.
Jesus Christ's miracle of feeding the five thousand people who had assembled to hear His message is the only miracle that all four gospels record. Martin Collins explains how Jesus used the circumstances to teach His disciples lessons that they would be able to use in their ministries after His death.
John Ritenbaugh reiterates that we, like the crowds who rejected Jesus' message, have unconsciously absorbed a whole pre-packaged set of behaviors or attitudes (human traditions) from our culture, sometimes dangerously inhibiting the assimilation of the precious truths of God's Word. One cardinal lesson we glean from the feeding of the five thousand is that when God calls us, He not only realizes our present limitations, but also has a vision of what we can become when we combine our meager capabilities with His infinite power. Unlike the crowds in John 6 who tried to get Jesus to serve their own selfish purposes, our relationship to God should be one of total submission to His will, patterning our lives according to His purpose. The storm the disciples encounter on the Sea of Galilee instructs us that when we are in the midst of a trial getting nowhere, if we invite Christ into the situation (having faith He is near), we will immediately have peace. We glean from Jesus' counsel to the crowd at Capernaum that any attempt to fulfill a deeply felt spiritual need with a physical solution will never give satisfaction, but will instead lead to addiction, perversion, frustration and despair. Our orientation should always be on the spiritual.
John Ritenbaugh, reflecting upon the healing of the man at Bethesda, cautions that when God removes an infirmity or gives a blessing, He also gives a responsibility to follow through, using the blessing to overcome and glorify God in the process. As Jesus healed this man, He continued to reveal His identity as the prophesied Messiah, reflecting God the Father's proclivity to work ceaselessly on behalf of His creation, extending mercy and relieving burdens, traits we must emulate as God's children. Through total submission to the mind, will, and purpose of God the Father, Jesus (being totally at one in body, mind, and spirit) attained the identity and the power of God. Obedience (submitting to God's will) proves our belief and faith. If we compare ourselves to men, we become self-satisfied or prideful and no change will occur in our lives, but if we compare ourselves to God, we feel painfully discontent, and will fervently desire to yield to God's power to change us, transforming us into His image. Understanding the Bible will never take place until we yield unconditionally to its instruction. As metaphorical lamps ignited by God's Spirit, we must be willing to be consumed in His service.
John Ritenbaugh asserts that whom we believe in is every bit as important as what we believe in. The last part of the first chapter focuses upon the selection of the disciples, many of whom had known one another and had been in business together. John and James were directly related to Jesus. Nevertheless, all had to have the Messiah revealed to them. When Jesus chose the disciples, He (having the ability to look into the innermost hearts) looked past their current flaws to their long-term potential. In the second chapter, focusing on the beginning of signs (the miracle of turning water into wine), Jesus' relationship with His mother now turns from dependent son to authoritative savior. This miracle reveals that God is involved in the simple little details of our lives as well as the great events in the course of human events. Likewise, God desires to be involved in the practical aspects of our lives, relieving our burdens and saving us from embarrassment. In the driving out of the moneychangers from the temple, Jesus revealed another aspect of His personality, showing contempt for underhanded, extortionist financial transactions conducted in the name of God.
John Ritenbaugh suggests that Matthew, a former publican, wrote an orderly account of the Gospel easily outlined and analyzed. This account included Christ's genealogy, the circumstances of His birth, John the Baptist's introduction of Christ, Christ's presentation to the local congregation, the sermon on the mount (a collection of sayings that Matthew had collected over 30 years), the rising of the opposition (Pharisees, Sadducees, and local synagogue leaders), the installation of Jesus' personal staff (the twelve apostles), ordinary men ranging from a hated publican to a revolutionary zealot to a plain blue collar contractor, and working men, representing the twelve tribes of Israel, called not so much for their current abilities, but as to what they would become by yielding to God, much the same as it is for all of us. The commission to the disciples evolves from their preliminary marching orders to go to the House of Israel to their ultimate commission of going to the Gentiles. The observation is made that the disciples seem to appear in groups of four, with one disciple assuming the leadership position of each group. Jesus warns His disciples then and now to be aware of persecution from inside the church, the government (incited by slander and libel) and our own families. Jesus cautions us never to fear or show timidity because our lives are entirely in God's hands and He will provide us whatever resources we need to overcome and build character in our brief 70 to 80 years we are allotted to live in mortal flesh. If we remain steadfastly loyal to God, we will experience abundant life in His family and Kingdom. [NB: This series of Bible Studies from 1981-82 is incomplete.]
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