Acts 8:26-39 (Fifth Sunday after Easter—Series B)
“The Spirit at Work in the Word”
Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield CT
May 3, 2015
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Our text is the First Lesson 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?” 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.
Social media has expanded our associations with others. Facebook and Twitter have benefits for publicizing, dating, educating, and many other possibilities. Of course, there are trade-offs. There may be more avenues for socializing by use of technology, but it doesn’t necessarily produce a more social life with others. It might turn out to be the opposite. Could any means for socializing be more comforting than actually speaking to another person?
In Acts 8, God sent Philip, one of the seven deacons chosen to serve in Acts 6, from a busy social setting in Samaria to a place of complete isolation, a desert road, where he met the Ethiopian eunuch. Philip shared directly, personally, with the Ethiopian what he had received from Christ using the means of grace.
The means of grace—what are they? The means of grace are the Word of the Gospel, Holy Baptism, and the Lord’s Supper. Sometimes called the “means of the Spirit,” the means of grace are what God the Holy Spirit uses to bring us to faith in Christ, and to deliver to us the blessings of forgiveness and eternal life. The Gospel of Jesus Christ in the proclaimed Word and in Baptism creates saving faith in Jesus as Lord and Savior. The Gospel in the Word, Baptism, and Supper offers and conveys to people the gifts of Jesus’ cross and resurrection—forgiveness of sins, and where there is forgiveness there is eternal life and salvation. So the means of grace, we might say, are God’s social media for interacting with us and for bringing salvation to us directly and personally. So we read in the Augsburg Confession, “Through [the giving of the gospel and the sacraments], as through means, [God] gives the Holy Spirit who produces faith, where and when he wills, in those who hear the gospel.” (AC V)
But, as St. Paul writes in Romans 10, “For ‘everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.’ How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent?” (Rom. 10:13-15 ESV) The means of grace are no good if they are not delivered to people. If the Gospel in Word and Sacrament is not conveyed to sinners, they cannot come to faith in Jesus because they lack the means the Holy Spirit uses to create saving faith and to distribute to people the forgiveness Christ won for them.
So what is the Spirit to do? He will have those who have heard the Gospel, those in whom He has already created saving trust in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, those who have received the free gift of forgiveness and life through the Gospel in Word and Sign, to proclaim the Gospel to others! Such is the case of Philip in our text. Philip had a divine appointment set up for him on the 47 mile road that went from Jerusalem to the city of Gaza on the Mediterranean coast. “Arise and go south on the road that goes down from Jerusalem into Gaza. This is a desert road.” Doesn’t sound like a very social place in which to share the Good News of Jesus’ death and resurrection like Philip was able to do in populous Samaria. But had Philip not gone, this Ethiopian eunuch, who was in charge of all of the Ethiopian queen’s treasures, wouldn’t have heard about Jesus. The Ehiopian wouldn’t have the Gospel preached to him so that the Holy Spirit could use the Word to create saving faith in Christ and deliver to him forgiveness of sins through the Gospel and the Sacrament of Holy Baptism. If Philip hadn’t got up and went, this divine appointment and opportunity would have been lost, and likely, the Ethiopian’s salvation too. For although the Ethiopian believed in the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, he didn’t know Jesus Christ, the Savior, by faith. And, as we heard last Sunday, salvation from sin and death is only found in Jesus.
Thankfully, Philip didn’t resist or decline. He went. He went and preached a sermon about Jesus Christ, the Suffering Servant of the Lord, who so recently was led like a sheep to the slaughter of the cross to suffer and to die for the sins of the world, making full atonement, winning the forgiveness of sins. Jesus is the One whose life was taken from the earth in the death of the cross only to rise again on the third day in victory over death. What an opportunity for Philip to proclaim the Good News, the Gospel—Jesus! And the Holy Spirit, through that very message of Christ created saving faith in the heart of the Ethiopian. He came to faith in Jesus as His Lord and Savior and, when they came upon some water, desired to be baptized in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. How could the Ethiopian go on his travels any other way but rejoicing?! He had received from God the Holy Spirit saving faith in Jesus Christ. He received forgiveness of sins and eternal life through the Word and Baptism. This was a life-changing, life-saving day for this man because God set up a divine appointment and used His servant Philip to proclaim the Good News about Jesus.
Now, what about us? This story is not just a “feel-good” story about what God did back then. It’s a story about what God does now, and has always done. God the Holy Spirit uses the people of God in Christ to share the Gospel with others so that He might work through that means to create faith and to deliver the forgiveness and everlasting life that Jesus Christ alone purchased and won for the world with His death and resurrection. The story of Philip and the Ethiopian is a picture of your story and mine as followers of Jesus Christ.
The Holy Spirit sets up opportunities for you and me as disciples of Jesus Christ to proclaim the Good News of the Savior. He gives us the Word of the Gospel to share with others so that the baptized might bring others to baptism. And isn’t that the Great Commission, to make disciples by baptizing and teaching? So our Lord allows us these divine appointments, open-door opportunities to speak the message of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection for the forgiveness of sins to others. But do we, like Philip, use those opportunities? Sometimes, yes, and sometimes, no.
Since the story of Philip is also the story of all believers who are given opportunities to share Jesus and to offer in His name forgiveness of sins, it ought to be our prayer that, by the grace and power of the Holy Spirit, you and I more consistently use the divine opportunities presented to us to share the Gospel. We pray that the Holy Spirit would enable us to overcome reasons why we may not take the opportunities God gives us to speak His Word. Could lack of education in what we believe as Lutherans say anything about why we would not be as likely to share the Good News? Are we fearful that we won’t “say it right”? Perhaps we don’t say anything because we think that we don’t have anything worthwhile to say to non-believers?
Well, you and I know that these are just excuses. The Gospel is the power of God unto salvation! Absolutely we have something more than worthwhile to say to those who do not yet believe that Jesus is their Savior and Lord. We have the Gospel that even the most uneducated believer can share: “Jesus Christ, God’s Son, loves you so much that He died on a cross and rose again from the dead to save you from sin and death. He forgives you and gives you eternal life as a free gift.” Yes, that’s it. It’s just that simple. That’s what we are told Philip did. “Beginning from that Scripture he proclaimed good news to him, namely Jesus.” Philip wasn’t college or seminary trained. He never took a class on preaching or outreach. By the power of the Holy Spirit at work in Him through the Gospel, Philip simply shared the Good News about Jesus. And the Holy Spirit did the rest.
It is the same for you and me. We know the Good News of Jesus who is true God and true Man. He suffered, died, and rose again for us, winning our forgiveness and eternal life, overcoming death and the devil for us. By the Spirit’s work through the Word, Baptism, and the Lord’s Supper, we have faith in Jesus. We receive from His means of grace forgiveness, life, salvation, and the strengthening of our Christian faith. And that’s enough. That’s just what we need to share with others who do not yet know the Lord Jesus by faith. Because, as you tell the Good News of Jesus, God the Holy Spirit is using that Gospel to create faith in the heart of the person who hears. You, my brothers and sisters in Christ, are the means of the means of grace! You are the carriers of the Gospel to your family, friends, and neighbors. You are the ones for whom the Lord sets up divine appointments and opportunities for you to share the Gospel. And the Spirit does the rest.
God the Holy Spirit has created saving faith in your hears through the Gospel in Word and Sacrament. You have been baptized. All your sins are forgiven in Jesus Christ. You have eternal life. You have received these gifts again today through the Word in Holy Absolution. You have received forgiveness and life in the read and proclaimed Gospel Word. And you will receive these gifts of Christ again in His Body and Blood received in, with, and under the bread and the wine in Holy Communion. By the power and grace of the Holy Spirit, with great joy, take the opportunities given to you to share the Good News of Jesus with others. Do not be afraid. God Himself is with you, using your words that are speaking HIS Word, to bring faith, forgiveness, and eternal life to another person. Philip’s story is our story. Let’s keep writing it as the Holy Spirit continues to bring saving faith and the gifts of Jesus to many more people through His Word and Sacrament. Amen.