Commentary by Walter Albritton


October 9, 2005


Christ Helps Us Turn Problems into Opportunities


Acts 8:4-25


Key Verse: When the apostles at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had accepted the word of God, they sent Peter and John to them. – Acts 8:14


          Free your imagination. Now picture the surprise on the faces of the apostles in Jerusalem. News has just come from Samaria that many Samaritans have accepted Christ and been baptized. Samaritans of all people!

          Not only that but the one preaching the gospel was not Peter or John but a “rookie” named Philip! And get this: signs and wonders occurred everywhere Philip preached! The lame were being healed. Unclean spirits were coming out of some of the new converts. People were excited about hearing the gospel for the first time.

          Amazed at the news, the apostles hurriedly meet and agree that Peter and John should go to Samaria immediately and make sure these new Christians are “going by the book.” After all, Philip had been ordained to serve tables not preach the gospel.

          Whatever occurred, Peter and John did go check things out in Samaria. What they discovered was heartwarming and encouraging. Many Samaritans had come to faith in Christ and the city was filled with great joy. Peter and John must have celebrated all that God had done in using Philip to share the good news.

          Realizing that the new converts had not received the Holy Spirit, Peter and John laid their hands upon them “and they received the Holy Spirit.” Philip must have beamed with joy as Peter and John affirmed his ministry in winning souls for Christ.

          It is most likely that Philip went to Samaria to escape the cruel persecution that scattered the Christians from Jerusalem to many other towns. He was not sent to evangelize Samaria but since Jesus was now his Lord, he preached Jesus to all who would listen. The Spirit fell upon them for they listened eagerly to Philip and believed the gospel.

          Here is but one example of how Christ can turn our problems into opportunities to serve him. Obstacles become opportunities when Jesus is Lord! Once we understand this principle of the Kingdom, we learn not to groan when problems arise but even to thank the Lord for them. Our problems give us a chance to see the unlimited resources of God work for our good. God uses our difficulties to make us stronger disciples.

          Another Kingdom principle at work here is this: We make our best witness for Christ by the way we respond to our problems. We never make our finest witness when we set out to witness. Instead our witness shines brightest when people recognize our unconscious dependence upon Christ while things are falling apart around us. When things fall apart, we do not come apart. The One who is within us is greater than the evil one in the world who is trying to wreck our lives.

Others observing us in our struggles realize that we have an invisible means of support. And we do – the strengthening presence of the Christ who lives within us! Unbelievers often respond by saying, “I don’t know what that person has, but whatever it is, I want it!” Then, trusting Christ by faith, they discover that what Christians have is not an “it” but a Person, the Christ who lives within them!

Believers discover through following Jesus that nothing can happen to us that God cannot use for His glory and our good. When this truth sinks in, we gain new confidence to expect that God is able to use our obstacles to advance the gospel.

Coming home from a family vacation, our car became disabled on a Saturday afternoon. We made it to a small town on the interstate. No car repair center was open. Everyone advised me that no mechanic would be available until Monday. I was desperate. I had to preach the next morning in my church.

Finally I caved in to the compulsion to call my dad. Why not? He always knew what to do. By then I had figured out that what I needed was a new starter for the car. Resourceful as ever, my dad called a friend who ran a auto parts store, secured a starter for my car, and called to let me know that my brother was coming with the starter.

Once he arrived, late Saturday night, I persuaded a “shade tree mechanic” to replace the starter. Soon we were on our way but we had not gone a mile before I had to pull off the highway. I could not see for the tears in my eyes. What triggered my crying was the sudden realization that this little drama was the gospel lived out in our lives. I had called my father and he had sent his son to rescue us. That is the essence of salvation: When our problems overwhelm us, we can call our heavenly Father and he will send His Son to save us.

The next day I told this story with passion, and God used it to advance the gospel. God is able, when we are willing to call upon him, to help us use our obstacles as opportunities to proclaim the good news.

Obstacles serve another purpose. They teach us to depend on God rather than our own cleverness. Simon learned that. He depended on his clever use of magic to impress the people of Samaria. When Simon spoke, the people thought he was great. When Philip spoke, the people thought Jesus was great. So effective was Philip that even Simon believed the gospel and accepted Jesus.

Simon’s obsession with magic was not easy to part with. Observing Peter and John help the new converts receive the Holy Spirit, Simon wanted this “magic” for himself. When he offered to buy this secret from Peter, the apostle responded angrily, in the words of one translation: “To hell with you and your money!”

Embarrassed by this encounter, Simon made the wise choice of becoming a faithful disciple of Jesus instead of turning back to magic tricks. He chose to depend on Jesus rather than magic. His problem became a bridge to faith.

          Surely God wants to use our obstacles as opportunities for us to share the good news with others. If we are wise we will not allow our problems to discourage us but to remind us that we serve an Awesome God who is able to turn defeat into victory and barriers into doorways.

          The God we serve is the same God who worked miracles in the lives of Philip, Peter, and John. He is still able to use his witnesses in miraculous ways – despite their problems, because problems are opportunities for God!

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