May 26, 2009

A Million and One Ethiopians

I read 2 Chronicles 14 in my devotional time this morning … and it caught my attention more than some other chapters in Chronicles because of a very noticeable ‘E’ word tucked into the chapter. 2 Chronicles 14 tells the story of a certain Zerah, a military commander from Ethiopia who brought a million man army to fight against Asa and the armies of the Lord. Imagine a million man march from Ethiopia to Israel!

At any rate, the Ethiopians were routed before the Lord that day … so that they fled before Asa and his men. Verse 13, in fact, says that these million men were “shattered” by God Himself. That got my attention. A million Ethiopians shattered … and going to their death without hope and without God. And that brought by attention back to 2009 … where we can say the same thing, only for slightly different reasons. Millions of Ethiopians are “shattered” today because they reject Christ, or follow a Christ of their own making rather than the biblical Jesus. And, just like their ancient counterparts, they are going to their graves “without hope and without God in the world.”

Millions and millions of Ethiopians marching to their deaths. That makes the work of Pastor's Training Institute seem really small and insignificant, doesn’t it? Sixty or so men, trained in a tiny little room, through translators, by a handful of young, American city-slickers? Can they possibly stand up to the avalanche of bodies and souls sliding daily into Ethiopian graves … and, beyond them, into hell?

We’d better hope so! And there is hope, isn’t there? 2 Chronicles 14 isn’t the only place where the Bible mentions Ethiopia, is it? No! Fast-forward a few centuries to Acts chapter 8. In that chapter, the numbers are a little different. This time we do not find a million Ethiopians descending in their chariots upon Jerusalem … but one, single, solitary man. And this Ethiopian didn’t meet, as his ancestors had, with the fury of the Lord ... but with His mercy! He didn’t meet God’s armies, but God’s preacher, Philip, who proclaimed Jesus to him! And the African man was changed forever … and “went on his way rejoicing”! “Went on his way” … where? Well, presumably back to Ethiopia; and, presumably, bringing the good news with him!

Why were there so many Christians in Ethiopia so soon after the close of the New Testament? Probably because there were already a lot of Jewish people in that part of the world who readily accepted that the Old Testament Messiah was the New Testament Jesus. And possibly also because, if tradition is right, Andrew the apostle may have gone there with the good news. But I think the early spread of the gospel in Ethiopia may have had something to do, also, with this one Ethiopian man who went to Jerusalem on religious pilgrimage, and met Philip (and Jesus!) on the way back home.

One solitary man can make an incalculable difference if it’s the gospel of Jesus that is coming from his mouth! So maybe the millions aren’t such daunting numbers after all. Maybe there is a lot more strength behind PTI than would outwardly seem possible. Maybe there is one man whom God is going to touch, to send on his way rejoicing, and to use to woo untold masses to Jesus. Would you pray for them (especially as the pastors come together in mid-June)? Would you ask the Lord to raise up another Ethiopian eunuch (or thirty or forty of them)?

May the Lord smite a million Ethiopians once again … this time with a repentance that leads them to Jesus, and to life eternal!

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