Day 165

Your Nation Can Be Changed

Wisdom Proverbs 14:25-34
New Testament Acts 8:4-35
Old Testament 2 Samuel 21:1

Introduction

There were 10,000 sex-workers plying their trade on the streets of London. Binge drinking and gambling were widespread. The UK had descended into decadence and immorality. This was the eighteenth century. Church congregations had declined sharply (just as they have in recent decades). Parts of the church had virtually descended into paganism.

Yet, the nation was changed. The preaching of John Wesley and George Whitefield began to take effect. Thousands of people responded to their message and encountered Jesus. Robert Raikes started his first Sunday school in 1780. The growth from this one idea reached 300,000 unchurched children within five years. By 1910, there were well over 5 million children in Sunday school. God raised up William Wilberforce, Lord Shaftesbury and others. Not only were individual hearts changed – but the nation was also transformed.

As we look at our world today, we see it is changing faster than ever before. In the last twenty-five years, there has been huge change – politically, economically and technologically. Massive change is taking place in many countries around the world. How can the spiritual climate of your nation be changed?

Wisdom

Proverbs 14:25-34

25 A truthful witness saves lives,
   but a false witness is deceitful.
26 Whoever fears the Lord has a secure fortress,
   and for their children it will be a refuge.
27 The fear of the Lord is a fountain of life,
   turning a person from the snares of death.

29 Whoever is patient has great understanding,
   but one who is quick-tempered displays folly.

30 A heart at peace gives life to the body,
   but envy rots the bones.
31 Whoever oppresses the poor shows contempt for their Maker,
   but whoever is kind to the needy honours God.
32 When calamity comes, the wicked are brought down,
   but even in death the righteous seek refuge in God.

34 Righteousness exalts a nation,
   but sin condemns any people.

Commentary

Peaceful people

The writer of Proverbs says, ‘Righteousness exalts a nation, but sin is a disgrace to any people’ (v.34). Sin destroys a nation. ‘God-devotion makes a country strong’, (v.34, MSG.) ‘Righteousness’ involves a range of right relationships:

  1. Peace with God

    Righteousness starts with making peace with God (Romans 5:1). It starts with the fear of the Lord (in the good sense of proper respect for the Lord).

    ‘The Fear-of-God builds up confidence, and makes a world safe for your children. The Fear-of-God is a spring of living water’ (Proverbs 14:26–27a, MSG).

  2. Peace with others

    As far as it depends on you, ‘live at peace with everyone’ (Romans 12:18). Right relationships with others are characterised by righteous words and actions:

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  • Our words are to be truthful rather than deceitful for ‘a truthful witness saves lives’ (Proverbs 14:25).

  • Our actions are to display a desire for the well-being of others. Be patient rather than quick-tempered (v.29). Be kind to those in need. ‘You insult your Maker when you exploit the powerless; when you’re kind to the poor, you honor God’ (v.31, MSG). Display your delight towards those who act in wisdom (vv.33,35).

  1. Peace with ourselves

    Righteousness involves a right relationship with ourselves. You can know peace: ‘A calm and undisturbed mind and heart are the life and health of the body’ (v.30a, AMP). Anger, lack of forgiveness, envy and jealousy can damage your physical body. Getting rid of the bad stuff in your life and having a ‘heart at peace’ is good for your health.

Ultimately, this peace comes from being content about both the present and the future. For, ‘even in death the righteous have a refuge’ (v.32b). For those who fear in the Lord, he becomes our refuge in the present (v.26) and the future (v.32b).

Prayer

Lord, I pray that our nation will turn back to you and that the name of the Lord will be respected again in parliament, government, schools and law courts. Help us to prioritise the poor and be kind to the needy.

New Testament

Acts 8:4-35

4 Those who had been scattered preached the word wherever they went. 5 Philip went down to a city in Samaria and proclaimed the Messiah there. 6 When the crowds heard Philip and saw the signs he performed, they all paid close attention to what he said. 7 For with shrieks, impure spirits came out of many, and many who were paralysed or lame were healed. 8 So there was great joy in that city. 9 Now for some time a man named Simon had practised sorcery in the city and amazed all the people of Samaria. … 11 They followed him because he had amazed them for a long time with his sorcery. 12 But when they believed Philip as he proclaimed the good news of the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptised, both men and women. 13 Simon himself believed and was baptised. And he followed Philip everywhere, astonished by the great signs and miracles he saw.

14 When the apostles in Jerusalem heard that Samaria had accepted the word of God, they sent Peter and John to Samaria. 15 When they arrived, they prayed for the new believers there that they might receive the Holy Spirit, 16 because the Holy Spirit had not yet come on any of them; they had simply been baptised in the name of the Lord Jesus. 17 Then Peter and John placed their hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit. 18 When Simon saw that the Spirit was given at the laying on of the apostles’ hands, he offered them money 19 and said, ‘Give me also this ability so that everyone on whom I lay my hands may receive the Holy Spirit.’ 20 Peter answered: ‘May your money perish with you, because you thought you could buy the gift of God with money!

26 Now an angel of the Lord said to Philip, ‘Go south to the road – the desert road – that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.’ 27 So he started out, and on his way he met an Ethiopian eunuch.... This man had gone to Jerusalem to worship, 28 and on his way home was sitting in his chariot reading the Book of Isaiah the prophet. 29 The Spirit told Philip, ‘Go to that chariot and stay near it.’
30 Then Philip ran up to the chariot and heard the man reading Isaiah the prophet. ‘Do you understand what you are reading?’ Philip asked.
31 ‘How can I,’ he said, ‘unless someone explains it to me?’ So he invited Philip to come up and sit with him.
32 This is the passage of Scripture the eunuch was reading:

‘He was led like a sheep to the slaughter,
  and as a lamb before its shearer is silent,
  so he did not open his mouth.
33 In his humiliation he was deprived of justice.
  Who can speak of his descendants?
  For his life was taken from the earth.’
34 The eunuch asked Philip, ‘Tell me, please, who is the prophet talking about, himself or someone else?’ 35 Then Philip began with that very passage of Scripture and told him the good news about Jesus.

Commentary

Powerful preaching

The early church was made up of ordinary people like you and me. Yet it changed the world. The whole known world was transformed following the death and resurrection of Jesus and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. The book of Acts tells us how this happened.

Everywhere they went they preached the message about Jesus (v.4, MSG). In this passage, we see that they preached to crowds and to individuals, like Simon the sorcerer and the Ethiopian eunuch.

Nations are comprised of cities, towns and villages. They preached the gospel in all three. Philip preached to a city in Samaria (v.5). Peter and John preached the gospel in many Samaritan villages (v.25). Philip preached the gospel in all the towns until he reached Caesarea (v.40).

Their preaching was accompanied – and indeed accelerated – by three factors:

  1. Persecution

    It began with persecution: ‘Those who had been scattered preached the word wherever they went’ (v.4). The dispersion brought great blessing. Everywhere they went they ‘proclaimed the Christ’ (v.5).

    Again and again in the history of the church, persecution and opposition have led to unexpected fruitfulness. It is easy to lose heart when we experience setbacks, but this reminds us that God can use them in amazing ways.

  2. Prayer

    We see in this passage the importance of prayer. Peter and John prayed for the Samaritans that they might receive the Holy Spirit (vv.15–17).

    Simon was a notorious magician who dazzled everyone with his wizardry and had everyone eating out of his hand (vv.9–11, MSG). He himself believed and was baptised, but following his old ways he wanted to buy the Holy Spirit (v.19).

    Peter was unimpressed, ‘To hell with your money!… Ask the Master to forgive you for trying to use God to make money. I can see this is an old habit with you; you reek with money-lust’ (vv.20–23, MSG).

    Simon realised that only the Lord could save him and asked them to pray for him (v.24).

  3. Power

    The early church was characterised by enormous effectiveness: ‘When the crowds heard Philip and saw the miraculous signs he did, they all paid close attention to what he said. With shrieks, evil spirits came out of many, and many paralytics and cripples were healed’ (vv.6–7).

    They were totally reliant on the Holy Spirit. Philip’s encounter with the Ethiopian was not the result of a strategic planning meeting. Rather, ‘the Spirit told Philip…’ (v.29). The result of him following the leading of the Holy Spirit was the remarkable conversion of the Ethiopian, which has affected the whole nation of Ethiopia right down to the present day. The church that was birthed that day has never died out in that nation.

    The Holy Spirit is the agent of change. He can bring about change in a nation. That change starts with the change in the lives of people. It is worth noting the factors involved in the change in this Ethiopian:

  • The Spirit of God prepared his heart.
    The Ethiopian is honest about his ignorance (v.31), searching for answers (v.32) and not too proud to ask for help (v.34). There is no shame in not always understanding what you read in the Bible. It is wise to get help from trusted people or Bible commentaries to help you apply it to your life.

  • The Spirit of God is at work through the word of God.
    It is as the Ethiopian looks at the book of Isaiah that he begins to find answers (vv.32–33). Often, the Holy Spirit uses a human agent to help open up, explain, and apply the Scriptures. This is what happened here, beginning with Isaiah 53, Philip explains ‘the good news about Jesus’ (v.35).

    The Holy Spirit changes the heart of the Ethiopian in such a radical and complete way that he believes immediately and asks to be baptised. There is no more powerful an agent of change than the Holy Spirit.

Prayer

Lord, help us to be more like the early church. Help us to pray more and to follow the leading of the Holy Spirit day-by-day. I pray that our nation would be transformed as people come to know you.

Old Testament

2 Samuel 21:1

During the reign of David, there was a famine for three successive years; so David sought the face of the LORD.

Commentary

Passionate prayer

The battles in David’s life never seem to come to an end. In today’s passage we see two further battles.

First, there is ‘a troublemaker named Sheba’ (20:1). This is an echo of David’s struggle with Absalom (16:22). The people of Israel seem extremely fickle: ‘All the men of Israel deserted David to follow Sheba’ (20:2). The Lord gave David victory over Sheba but immediately there is another battle around the corner.

There was a famine for three consecutive years (21:1a). As the nation faced disaster, ‘David sought the face of the Lord’ (v.1b). Sometimes it takes a real disaster to get us on our knees. God spoke to him as he prayed.

He held Israel to the promise that was made to the Gibeonites (see Joshua 9). In spite of the promise, Saul had tried to annihilate them, but the oaths that are made to God are very important and cannot be broken lightly. (The most common oaths today are in the marriage service and oaths in court.) Only after David had put things right and honoured the oath made to God did God answer prayer on behalf of the land (2 Samuel 21:14).

Prayer

Lord, I seek your face on behalf of our nation. Have mercy upon us. Help us to be a nation that honours you with faithfulness to our marriage vows and truthfulness in our law courts. Lord, would you once again answer prayer on behalf of the land. May our nation be turned back to you. May your name be honoured. May your kingdom come.

Pippa adds

In Acts 8:39-40 it says,

‘The Spirit of the Lord suddenly took Phillip away… Philip, however, appeared at Azotus…’

I don’t know whether it would be exciting or terrifying (or useful) to be at HTB in London one minute and the next minute be in Brighton! It only happens to me when I drive off absentmindedly and find myself in totally the wrong place!

Thought for the Day

There is no more powerful an agent of change than the Holy Spirit.

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References

Unless otherwise stated, Scripture quotations taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version Anglicised, Copyright © 1979, 1984, 2011 Biblica, formerly International Bible Society. Used by permission of Hodder & Stoughton Publishers, an Hachette UK company. All rights reserved. ‘NIV’ is a registered trademark of Biblica. UK trademark number 1448790.

Scripture quotations marked (AMP) taken from the Amplified® Bible, Copyright © 1954, 1958, 1962, 1964, 1965, 1987 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission. (www.Lockman.org)

Scripture marked (MSG) taken from The Message. Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002. Used by permission of NavPress Publishing Group.

The Bible with Nicky and Pippa Gumbel

  • INTRODUCTION
  • WISDOM BIBLE
  • WISDOM COMMENTARY
  • NEW TESTAMENT BIBLE
  • NEW TESTAMENT COMMENTARY
  • OLD TESTAMENT BIBLE
  • OLD TESTAMENT COMMENTARY
  • PIPPA ADDS

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