READ Acts 8:26-40.
You might remember that after Jesus and Peter, James and John had been up the Mount of Transfiguration, they came down to a kerfuffle. A father had brought his son to the disciples asking that they might cast out a demon that was causing the boy to have seizures. But they couldn’t do it.
Jesus’ response was blunt: “You unbelieving generation, how long shall I stay with you? How long shall I put up with you? Bring the boy to me.”
“You unbelieving generation.” Lack of faith was very frustrating for Jesus. To whom was Jesus speaking? Who lacked faith? I don’t think it was the father. The father had shown faith by bring his son with an expectation of deliverance. I don’t think it was the suffering son. Presumably it was the disciples, who hadn’t been able to drive out this demon.
That raises some awkward questions. If someone brought a demon-possessed person to us, would we do better than the disciples? Or is Jesus also frustrated with our unbelieving generation?
Last week I used some pretty extreme examples: having peace in a situation that is terrifying; raising the dead. They may have seemed unrealistic – just sermon-talk. But that is biblical faith.
Ps 23:4 Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil, for You are with me.
The disciples did raise the dead – later, when their faith was a lot stronger than it was at this point. They did cast out demons. That is biblical faith. Do you hunger for the type of faith we see in the Bible?
Jesus asked the father, how long the boy had been having the convulsions etc.. “From childhood,” the father said. Then he made this plea: “If you can do anything, take pity on us and help us.”
Jesus reacted to that. “’If you can’? Everything is possible for one who believes.”
It sounds as if the father had begun to have doubts. The disciples hadn’t been able to; was Jesus able to? But when Jesus questioned it, the man exclaimed, “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief.”
Can you identify with that? “I do believe, but actually, I have a lot of doubts too.”
That was a prayer. The father didn’t want to remain in that place of yes and no. He asked Jesus for greater faith. One of the ways to grow our faith is to pray for greater faith. That could be a regular, daily prayer. “Father, I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief today. I want to be a person of biblical-type faith.”
Jesus then cast out the demon and healed the boy. Do you think that might have strengthened the father’s faith? Do you think Jesus answered his prayer?
We should ask God for greater faith. The answer may come through reading the scriptures as we talked about last week but another method that God uses frequently is other people. Faith spreads from person to person. Let us read another story.
Forget the Ethiopian eunuch for a moment. What about Philip? When persecution had broken out in Jerusalem, Philip had gone to Samaria and preached about Jesus. He also performed miracles. Evil spirits were driven out and many who were paralysed and lame were healed. People were converted and baptised and received the Holy Spirit and there was great joy in that city.
In the midst of all of that, an angel told him to go out into the desert – and he did. That is faith! There was a huge work going on and God said go into the desert. As far as we know, he hadn’t been told why. Presumably he went out looking to see what God had in mind. He must have gone expecting God to reveal the next step. Faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see. Philip couldn’t see the outcome, or the reason, but God had spoken. Philip had confidence in God – sufficient confidence to actually go out into the desert. Faith is believing what God says and acting accordingly.
In the desert he met this official from the palace in Ethiopia who had been to Jerusalem to worship and was travelling home. It just so happened that this man was reading from Isaiah. There is the sovereignty of God. God clearly is controlling events.
Then the Spirit spoke to Philip. Philip believed and so he again obeyed. He ran up to the chariot, heard the man reading and asked a question. It was a very simply question but it was a conversation starter. And it wasn’t vague and indirect. Philip didn’t start talking about the weather or the news from Jerusalem or what it was like to serve in the Ethiopian court. He asked, “Do you understand what you are reading?”
“How can I unless someone explains it to me?”
Isn’t that interesting? Couldn’t God speak directly to him through the scriptures? Why did he need someone to explain it? It seems he was a genuine seeker after God. He had been to Jerusalem to worship. That was no small feat. He had put considerable effort into it. He was reading the Jewish scriptures as he travelled. That suggests he had gone to the trouble and expense of obtaining a copy of Isaiah. Why didn’t God just speak directly to him?
There is no doubt at all that God can speak directly through the scriptures. There are examples in the Bible of people being convicted as they read the scriptures. But it is also true that God frequently uses other people. This is one example.
The Ethiopian was “an important official in charge of the treasury” of the queen of Ethiopia. He could have maintained his dignity and said, “Yes, of course, I understand it. Do you think I am an idiot?”
Pride would have led to ongoing ignorance. Instead, he demonstrated real humility: “No, I don’t understand. Honestly, I need help.” He invited Philip to come up and sit with him.
Philip began with the passage the Ethiopian had been reading, about the suffering servant, the sacrificial lamb. The Ethiopian said, “Who is this about?” and Philip told him the good news about Jesus.
Quite clearly, that man came to faith in Jesus as Philip explained that scripture to him. When they came to some water, he requested baptism and Philip complied. Then Philip was snatched away by the Holy Spirit and the Ethiopian went on his way rejoicing.
Faith is contagious. Philip had faith. God used Philip’s faith to kindle faith in the Ethiopian. If you want faith, mix with people of faith.
Proverbs 13:20 Walk with the wise and become wise, for a companion of fools suffers harm
We become like the people we mix with. You know how, over time, people begin to look like their dogs! If you spend your time with wise people, you will become wise. Likewise, if you spend your time with people of faith, your faith will grow. Faith inspires faith.
The disciples’ faith was grown just by being in the presence of Jesus. His words, His actions, His miracles, His peace and integrity and courage. Everything about Him said, “You can trust God.”
Think how the faith of the early converts after Pentecost was grown just by being in the presence of the disciples. We read that they devoted themselves to the apostle’s teaching, to fellowship, to prayer. They were filled with awe at the signs and wonders that were being performed. They saw people sharing their possessions, selling their property, giving to the poor. They worshipped together, ate together, praised God together and, every day, God added to their number more people who were being saved.
All of that bolstered their faith. They were in a community of faith. They saw other people trusting God and they saw God working. They could have stayed at home and studied the Bible but they would not have grown as much as being part of a community of people of faith.
I have said that faith is contagious but that is probably a bit misleading. You can catch a cold without meaning to and you can pass on your cold without meaning to but you cannot grow in faith without meaning to and you cannot infect others with faith without meaning to. If we mix with Christians but there is nothing Christian going on, then that is not going to grow our faith. Christians could watch rugby together, and that would be good fellowship, but it would not grow their faith. The father of the demon-possessed boy was deliberate about wanting to grow; “I believe; help me overcome my unbelief.” The Ethiopian eunuch was intentional about growing his faith. He had travelled to Jerusalem. He was reading Isaiah. He asked for help. He invited Philip to travel with him. He suggested that he be baptised.
From the point of view of the mentor, Jesus was intentional about growing people’s faith. Philip was intentional. He went out into the desert in response to the angel’s command. He went up to the chariot and asked the opening (very intentional) question. He explained the scriptures. He baptised.
The apostles were obviously very intentional about growing the faith of the new converts. In the Bible we see communities that are focused on nurturing faith, through teaching, encouragement, modelling faith, asking questions, explaining the Bible, experiencing God together. That, surely is what we want to be – a community where faith is contagious because people are living by faith.
Ephesians 4:15-16 …speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into Him who is the head, that is Christ. From Him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.
Jesus grows us: From Him the whole body grows and builds itself up. But He works through people. This happens as each part of the body – each Christian – does its work. The body grows as people minister to each other and as people receive ministry from each other.
How can we grow in faith? Do you want to grow in faith? Do you want to follow in the footsteps of the people we see in the Bible? How can we do that? God’s methods in the Bible remain God’s methods.
Last week, we said, “Get to know God better” and that primarily means read the Bible. This week, certainly pray, “God give me a stronger faith” but also, mix with people of faith. Faith is contagious.
You will become like the people you mix with.
Join a small group of Christians who are not simply studying but are living out their faith – a community like the one described in Acts. Read about the lives of great Christians. Let their faith build your faith. Ask an individual to have some input into your life, a mentor – in the same way that the Ethiopian asked for Philip’s help. Join a Christian ministry of some sort – some organisation where people are actually living by faith. Remember, faith is spelled r.i.s.k. Get amongst Christians who are obeying God.
Obviously this requires courage and humility. Maybe the biggest hurdles we face are pride and our independence. Unless we are willing to mix with others and willing to learn, our growth will be stunted because God uses other people to grow our faith. Will we submit to God’s method? To be people of faith we need to be hungry and humble.
But think of the rewards. The father saw a miracle and got his son back, free from the demon. The Ethiopian eunuch gained understanding, received salvation and went on his way rejoicing. The early church enjoyed all the blessings of community and fellowship and learning and worshipping and seeing miracles and growing every day as new people were converted. Those are the rewards of faith.
So, can I finish with two questions? Are you hungry? Are you hungry for a stronger faith? Yes or no? Are you humble? Will you receive ministry from other Christians, because God uses people?