February 24, 2009

Ordinary Joes, Part 5 - Philip, the Blind Evangelist

There are three Philip’s in the New Testament. One was the brother of Herod, whose bed-hopping wife commissioned the beheading of John the Baptist (Mark 6.14-29). Another was one among the first seven deacons (Acts 6), and became the first New Testament evangelist to the ‘dreaded’ Samaritans (Acts 8). That, and his leading to faith of the famous Ethiopian Eunuch (also in Acts 8), earned him the nickname “Philip the Evangelist” (Acts 21.8).

But, before either of these two Philip’s appeared on the stage of the New Testament, there was already a fairly important man with the same name … one of the original twelve apostles of Jesus, and quite an evangelist in his own right – Philip, the apostle. In fact, as we tell his story, two traits stick out. His penchant for evangelism … and the sometime weakness of his faith. That’s why I call him ‘the blind evangelist.’

Philip wasn’t literally blind. But sometimes, though the power of Jesus had been manifested, again and again, before Philip’s eyes … he still couldn’t see beyond the physical plane. We reminded ourselves last week of how Andrew, when faced with the task of finding food for five-thousand people, went out and found a boy with five loaves and two fish, and brought Him to Jesus, reasoning to himself: ‘It’s ain’t much … but who knows what Jesus may do with it.’ It’s a wonderful story to review … if you’re Andrew. But go back and re-read John 6 and you will discover that it was Philip, not Andrew, who was supposed to think up a solution to the food shortage that day. But all he could come up with was: ‘Jesus, 9 months wages wouldn’t buy even a snack for all these folks.’ And while he stared blankly at the impossible circumstance, his friend was busy seeing with the eyes of faith.

Philip displayed the same spiritual astigmatism in John 14 when, after all that time with Jesus, he still didn’t realize that he had actually been hanging out with God Himself for three years (see vv.8-9). And we could be quick to criticize Philip. But isn’t our vision often just as blurry? I would be willing to bet that, this very weak, you found yourself staring at a John 6 kind of situation – some scenario in your life where there seemed to be no solution. No solution, that is, but Jesus. But instead of seeing His power and bringing him your pitiful little lunch bucket … you just stood there with a blank look on your face, and never moved forward at all. I find myself in that kind of daze all the time. And Philip gives me hope that I am not alone among the Lord’s servants.

In fact, Philip gives me hope that, in spite of my sometime lack of faith, spiritual short-sightedness, and even outright blindness … Jesus still loves me, wants me around, and intends to use me. For, even in the midst of Philip’s blundering, he was leading people to Jesus! He was, in fact, the one who led one of the other eventual apostles to Jesus (Nathanael in John 1). Not many people can say that! And he, along with Andrew, his partner in evangelism, brought a group of Gentiles to Jesus in John 12 – making them among the first non-Jews to hear the good news. In fact, Philip ended his apostolic career in much the same way as he had begun it in John 1 – bringing people in Asia Minor (or modern Turkey). Tradition says* that he was stoned there … for bringing people to Jesus.

Now be careful. I am not advocating weak faith, or blindness to the power of Christ. Not at all. I am simply acknowledging that one of the apostles struggled with exactly these things … and so do I. And yet God used him. And so, when the grace of God and the love of Jesus are at work, I conclude that, sometimes (indeed most of the time in my case) it is possible for the blind to lead the blind.

*See Foxe's Book of Martyrs.

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