Acts 8:26-40 (Fifth Sunday of Easter—Series B)
“On Our Way Rejoicing”
Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield, CT
April 29, 2018
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen
Our text is the First Reading from Acts 8:
26Now an angel of the Lord spoke to Philip saying, “Arise and go toward the south on the road that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.” (This is a desert road.) 27And he arose and went. And behold! a man, an Ethiopian eunuch, a court official of Candace, queen of the Ethiopians, who was over all of her treasure, who had come to worship in Jerusalem, 28was returning and was sitting in his chariot and he was reading out loud the prophet Isaiah. 29The Spirit said to Philip, “Go and join this chariot.” 30And Philip ran up to it and heard him reading aloud Isaiah the prophet and said, “Do you understand what you are reading?” 31And he said, “How can I unless someone guides me?” And he urged Philip to come up and sit with him. 32Now the passage of Scripture he was reading was this: “Like a sheep led to the slaughter and like a lamb before its shearers is silent, so he does not open his mouth. 33In his humiliation his judgment was taken away. Who can describe in full his posterity? For his life was taken away from the earth.” 34And the eunuch answered and said to Philip, “I ask you, concerning whom does the prophet say this? Concerning himself or concerning someone else?” 35And Philip opened his mouth and, beginning from this Scripture, proclaimed the good news to him, Jesus. 36As they were traveling along the road, they came upon some water and the eunuch said, “Look, there is water! What prevents me from being baptized?” 38And he ordered the chariot to stop and both Philip and the eunuch went down into the water, and he baptized him. 39Now when they had come up from the water, the Spirit of the Lord took Philip away, and the eunuch saw him no more but went on his way rejoicing. 40And Philip was found in Azotus and, as he was passing through, he proclaimed the good news to all the towns until he came to Caesarea.
This past Tuesday at Concordia Seminary, St. Louis, and Wednesday at Concordia Theological Seminary, Ft. Wayne, candidates for the Office of the Holy Ministry received their first calls. I still remember Call Day 2001, and hearing, “Michael John Coons. New England District. Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield, Connecticut,” and shaking Pastor Rockemann’s hand as he gave me the envelope with my call documents. And here we are still together as pastor and people soon-to-be 17 years later.
Now I mention this because the next great event in the life of these pastoral candidates is their Ordination Day. During the Rite of Ordination, the candidate makes several promises in the presence of the congregation and before our Lord God. He is asked, “Do you believe and confess the canonical books of the Old and New Testaments to be the inspired Word of God and the only infallible rule of faith and practice?” The candidate responds, “Yes, I believe and confess the canonical Scriptures to be the inspired Word of God and the only infallible rule of faith and practice.” It’s by no accident that pastors make this promise, nor is it by accident that those who are received into membership in the Lutheran Church through Confirmation also make that same promise when asked, “Do you hold all the prophetic and apostolic Scriptures to be the inspired Word of God?” The person replies, “I do.”
We as Lutheran-Christians believe, teach, and confess that the Bible, the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments are really and truly God’s Word. The Bible does not merely contain portions that are God’s Word. The Bible IS God’s Word in its entirety, from Genesis 1:1 through Revelation 22:21. And God’s Word is a message for all people. It is a message for you. It is the message that gives Jesus.
Why is that important? Last Sunday Peter and John answered that question for the Jewish Ruling Council. There is no salvation in anyone else other than Jesus of Nazareth, true God and true Man, the Christ. There is no saving health in body and soul unto eternal life except that salvation given in and through Jesus.
Now let’s join the court official of Queen Candace of Ethiopia in his chariot on the road to Gaza. Here we have a man who is actually using his Bible. Rather, he had the specific scroll of the prophet Isaiah most likely written in Greek. He was sitting in his seat on the ancient equivalent of his private jet (without all the amenities and speed!) He is reading the Greek text out loud: “ou-toj ta.j a`marti,aj h`mw/n fe,rei kai. peri. h`mw/n ovduna/tai kai. h`mei/j evlogisa,meqa auvto.n ei=nai evn po,nw| kai. evn plhgh/| kai. evn kakw,sei.” He continues reading, “This one bears our sins and suffers pain for us, and we accounted him to be in trouble and calamity and ill-treatment. But he was wounded because of our acts of lawlessness and has been weakened because of our sins; upon him was the discipline of our peace; by his bruise we were healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; a man has strayed in his own way, and the Lord gave him over to our sins” (Isa. 53:4-6 Septuagint/Grk trans).
Perhaps he pauses at this point in the text to consider what he has just read. “Someone has taken my griefs and sorrows as his own. Someone was pierced with nails because of my transgressions and iniquities. I know God’s Ten Commandments. I’ve been to Jerusalem many times for the festivals and have worshiped Yahweh there. Each time it is clear that I do not live up to His demands for my life. I do not always follow His Law and do His commandments and show love and mercy to others. I pray that the sacrifices prescribed would take away my sins and grant me a good standing before God, but I am not a part of that covenant community. I’m not allowed to be. And yet, I’m like a sheep gone astray. I can’t seem to find a way to get to God. And yet Yahweh is laying my sins, and the sins of all people, on this one of whom Isaiah speaks. I don’t understand. Who would bear my sins and die for me? for all people?”
Enter on the scene by divine appointment Philip, one of the seven chosen in Acts 6 to serve the Greek widows. He runs up to the chariot, “Whatcha reading? Isaiah?”
“Why, hello there. Yes, yes it is the prophet, Isaiah.”
“Do you understand what you are reading?”
“No, I don’t. And how can I unless someone guides me? Come on up and sit with me.”
Philip did just that. By this time the Ethiopian official was up to Isaiah 53:7 and 8. “I ask you,” he said to Philip, “concerning whom does the prophet say this? Is he talking about himself as the Lord’s servant or is he talking about someone else?” So Philip started with this text and proclaimed to the Ethiopian the Good News. That Good News is Jesus!
“Jesus of Nazareth is God’s Son who took on human flesh. He is God’s Servant about whom Isaiah is writing,” Philip said.
The Ethiopian replied, “Then He is the One? The One who bears sins and iniquities and is pierced and crushed for them? He’s the One who is like a lamb led to slaughter?”
“Yes,” Philip replied. “Jesus is the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. He was crucified under the authority of Pontius Pilate. He bled and died as the once-for-all sacrifice for everyone’s sins. Yours and mine, too. But after three days, God raised this Jesus from the dead. He’s alive. He showed His followers His hands and His pierced side. They touched Him and ate with Him and saw Him ascend into heaven with the promise that He will come again to raise all the dead so that those who believe in Him will rise to eternal life. Before He went into heaven, Jesus said, ‘Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance for the forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem’” (Lk. 24:46-47 ESV).
Yes, I have filled in the dialog between the Ethiopian and Philip. St. Luke doesn’t record what was actually spoken. He simply leaves it at “Philip proclaimed the good news to him, Jesus.” You and I can imagine the words of the Good News. It’s the Gospel Word that is for all people, the Word that is for you, the Word that gives Jesus. It is the true Word of God that delivers to us the forgiveness of sins Jesus won for us on the cross. It is the Word that grants to us eternal life and salvation in body and soul. It is the Good News Word received along with the water in Holy Baptism that gives the forgiveness of sins, rescues from death and the devil, and gives eternal salvation to all who believe the words and promises of God.
“Look, there is water! What prevents me from being baptized?” exclaimed the Ethiopian. Not a thing! The Ethiopian had heard the Good news, the Gospel. He had heard the proclamation of Jesus crucified, died, buried, and risen for the forgiveness of sins. Through the Word of Christ, this man beheld the Lamb of God by faith through the working of the Holy Spirit. He repented of his sin by the power of the Gospel Word and desired the baptism that Jesus had instituted after His resurrection from the dead—the very baptism that delivered Christ’s gifts to that Ethiopian and to you.
There is no other word or message that has this kind of life-saving, life-changing power. Sure, words can influence us for good or for bad. They can rouse a mob to violence or a people to revolution. But only the Word of God—the Good News, Jesus Christ—can save you and all people from sin, death, and hell. Only the Word of God in the Gospel can create a new person with faith in Jesus within you. Only Jesus through His preached and read Word can bestow on you forgiveness of sins and life everlasting. Only His Word can raise you from death again to live before Him in His righteousness and purity with which He clothes you in Baptism.
Whatever happened to that Ethiopian Christian? We actually don’t know for sure. The early church father Irenaeus in the second century A.D. wrote of him, “Immediately requesting to be baptized, he said, ‘I believe Jesus Christ to be the Son of God.’ This man was also sent into the regions of Ethiopia, to preach what he had himself believed, that there was one God preached by the prophets, but that the Son of this [God] had already made [His] appearance in human nature. . . and had been led as a sheep to the slaughter; and all the other statements which the prophets made regarding Him” (Irenaeus, Against Heresies, III.xii.8). Luke in Acts 8 simply concludes the account this way, “He went on his way rejoicing.”
The Bible is God’s Word. It’s for all people to give them Jesus. God’s Word is for you in order to give you Jesus. The Gospel is the power of God unto salvation by grace through faith in Jesus Christ alone (Rom. 1:16). God’s Word in the Gospel forgives your sins by the blood of Jesus Christ. The Gospel grants you new life and saving health in the Lamb of God who died and rose again for you. And what an advantage you have over the Ethiopian! You have all of God’s true, inspired, and inerrant Word in the Bible. He still had to wait for the Gospels to put on paper, for Paul’s letters to be composed. You have the whole of God’s revealed Word in your Bibles, on your computers and tablets and cell phones. Read it! Study it! Inwardly digest it! It’s God’s Word for you to give you Jesus and all the gifts your Savior won for you with His life, death, and resurrection.
And you know what? That Gospel will send you on your way rejoicing. You will give thanks and praise and celebrate the forgiveness of your sins, the removal of your guilt by Jesus’ blood. You will delight in the new life of faith and love in action that He has created in you, the new creation that you are in Jesus. And how can you not delight in the victory over death and the grave that you have been given through Jesus’ resurrection? Such Good News, Jesus! And that Gospel is for you! Hear it! Read it! And go on your way rejoicing! Amen.