Acts 8:26-40 (Fifth Sunday of Easter—Series B)
Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield, CT
May 6, 2012
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Our text is recorded in Acts 8:
Now an angel of the Lord said to Philip, “Rise and go toward the south to the road that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.” This is a desert place. 27 And he rose and went. And there was an Ethiopian, a eunuch, a court official of Candace, queen of the Ethiopians, who was in charge of all her treasure. He had come to Jerusalem to worship 28 and was returning, seated in his chariot, and he was reading the prophet Isaiah. 29 And the Spirit said to Philip, “Go over and join this chariot.” 30 So Philip ran to him and heard him reading Isaiah the prophet and asked, “Do you understand what you are reading?” 31 And he said, “How can I, unless someone guides me?” And he invited Philip to come up and sit with him. 32 Now the passage of the Scripture that he was reading was this: “Like a sheep he was led to the slaughter and like a lamb before its shearer is silent, so he opens not his mouth. 33 In his humiliation justice was denied him. Who can describe his generation? For his life is taken away from the earth.” 34 And the eunuch said to Philip, “About whom, I ask you, does the prophet say this, about himself or about someone else?” 35 Then Philip opened his mouth, and beginning with this Scripture he told him the good news about Jesus. 36 And as they were going along the road they came to some water, and the eunuch said, “See, here is water! What prevents me from being baptized?” 37 38 And he commanded the chariot to stop, and they both went down into the water, Philip and the eunuch, and he baptized him. 39 And when they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord carried Philip away, and the eunuch saw him no more, and went on his way rejoicing. 40 But Philip found himself at Azotus, and as he passed through he preached the gospel to all the towns until he came to Caesarea
No doubt you’ve heard the phrase, “Expect the unexpected.” It’s been used in car commercials and other advertisements. The first appearance of the quote is by Heraclitus of Ephesus, a Greek philosopher who lived from c.535 B.C. – 475 B.C. He said, “If you do not expect the unexpected, you will not find it; for it is hard to be sought out, and difficult.” One thing we learn from the Bible is that God is constantly doing the unexpected. I suppose we can expect the unexpected from Him.
God doing the unexpected starts all the way back at the beginning. Adam and Eve sinned. They disobeyed God’s absolutely clear command not to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. By all rights, the just and holy God should have condemned them and executed against them the judgment of everlasting death. But God does the unexpected. He gives them clothes to wear. He casts them out of the Garden of Eden so that they will not eat from the Tree of Life and live forever in their sins. And He promises a Savior, the seed of the woman who would one day crush the head of Satan, that ancient snake. Not what we expected.
Out of the blue, it seems, God picks a man named Abraham to be the father of the line by which all nations of the earth would be blessed through this Savior. God does the unexpected. Out of pure, undeserved grace, the Lord chose Abraham to leave everything he had known and to follow Him to the land of promise, Canaan. Years later, God would raise up Moses to lead His people of Israel, the descendents of Abraham, out of slavery and bondage in Egypt. Moses, you remember, was a murderer. He doubted that God would help him to do what was asked. By his own admission Moses was a lousy talker, “slow of speech and of tongue.” Yet, God does the unexpected. He chooses not the oldest son of Jesse to be king of Israel. Instead He picks the youngest, the shepherd boy, David! “For the LORD sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the LORD looks on the heart.” (1Samuel 16:7) Again, God does what we wouldn’t think possible. He makes a covenant promise to David that the Lord Himself would raise up a descendent from David’s line whose throne and kingdom would be established forever, the Savior promised from of old, the descendent of Abraham through whom all the nations of the earth would be blessed. Didn’t see that coming.
Fast forward now hundreds of years to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, to the home of a virgin girl named Mary, who was betrothed to a man named Joseph, of the house of David. “Behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call His name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to Him the throne of His father David, and He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of His kingdom there will be no end.” (Lk. 1:31-32) Not expected, we say. Not even possible! Yet, with God nothing is impossible.
The very Son of God became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth. (John 1:14) He healed the sick, gave sight to the blind, and made the mute to speak and the deaf to hear. Jesus cured the leper and the lame. He raised the dead to life. And He proclaimed that in Him the kingdom of God had drawn near to give repentance and forgiveness—the Gospel—to all people. Yet who could believe that the Creator of heaven and earth would stoop so low as to become fully human and eat with sinners and tax collectors? Who could believe that Jesus was the Lamb of God who had come to take away the sins of the world? “He came to His own, and His own people did not receive Him.” (John 1:11)
And they killed Him on a cross. Jesus “was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief.” (Is. 53:3) Yet again, who would have expected that it was “for us and for our salvation” that Jesus went to the cross so willingly to suffer and die? Who could have expected that Jesus, the Son of God, bore our griefs and sorrows. “He was wounded for our transgressions; He was crushed for our iniquities; upon Him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with His stripes we are healed.” (Is. 53:4-5) But that’s just it, God does the unexpected in order to save us from our sins and to make us His own redeemed people. As we pray in the Proper Preface for Easter, Jesus “was sacrificed for us and bore the sins of the world. By His dying He has destroyed death, and by His rising again He has restored to us everlasting life.” We live because Jesus died! Unexpected, yes! But joyously true!
The joyous truth of the Gospel, the Good News of sins forgiven and eternal life bestowed on us because of Jesus’ death and resurrection, comes to us in ways we might not expect. An Ethiopian eunuch, a court official of Queen Candice, riding in a chariot in the middle of the desert road reading Isaiah 53 hears the Gospel from Philip. Philip told the Ethiopian that what he was reading was about Jesus the Christ. Jesus was the Lamb of God led to the slaughter. Jesus is the one who died for the sins and the world, and more than that, was raised from the dead to give forgiveness and everlasting life to us all. Then the unexpected—through words printed, read, and proclaimed, God the Holy Spirit created saving faith in the heart of that Ethiopian. He trusted in Jesus as His Lord and Savior because the Gospel in word and speech in the very power of God unto salvation! (Rom. 1:16)
But more unexpected things happen. “Behold, water!” There was water in the desert, an oasis perhaps, to provide life-saving drink in a terribly harsh and dry environment. But today, yes, the unexpected. Water to quench earthly thirst suddenly becomes the vehicle to give the forgiveness of sins, rescue from death and the devil, and eternal salvation to the Ethiopian eunuch. “What prevents me from being baptized?” he asked. The answer, nothing! In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, water combined with God’s Word washed away his sins and claimed him as God’s child in the death and resurrection of Jesus.
Each time parents bring an infant to the font, God does the same washing with water and His Word. Too many people think that it just can’t happen because children are too young to understand what is happening. They don’t expect the unexpected. They don’t understand that with God all things are possible. They don’t believe that “baptism now saves you,” (1 Peter 3:21) because Baptism is God’s gracious and unexpected work through ordinary water and His all-sufficient Gospel Word of forgiveness and life.
And while we are on the topic of the unexpected—the Lord’s Supper. In, with, and under the bread and the wine the very real and true body and blood of Jesus Himself are present. Maybe you’d expect Jesus to mean the bread represents His body and the wine represents His blood, but He doesn’t mean that at all. Through the power of His Word, Jesus’ true body and true blood are present with the bread and the wine for us Christians to eat and to drink for forgiveness, life, salvation, and the strengthening of our faith in Him as Lord and Savior. Not what you expect, but again, joyously true!
By faith in Jesus Christ given to us by grace alone through the power of the Holy Spirit in Word and Sacrament we expect from God the unexpected. We who do not deserve and have not earned forgiveness and everlasting life receive from the Crucified and Risen Savior these very gifts. In Baptism, the Lord washes us clean from every spot and stain and unites us with Jesus in His death and resurrection. Through His Holy Word in the Bible, we read and hear the Good News of our salvation, how God has unexpectedly and graciously done all that we need for salvation and continues to do all that we need for life in this world. As we eat the bread which is Christ’s body and drink the wine which is His blood, we proclaim Christ’s death until He comes, receiving into our mouths and bodies Him who is Lord and King, receiving together with Him the gifts He promises—forgiveness, life, and salvation. Truly, with God all things are possible. So expect the unexpected from Him. Amen.