Good morning church family! I hope you have had a good week and are ready and eager to begin this new one. Today is communion Sunday so please take a minute to gather together whatever you will be using for the elements – bread or crackers, juice or water.
We are still in chapter 8 of the Acts of the Apostles. Last week we heard about the persecution that had basically begun immediately after Stephen’s stoning. We also looked at how Philip the Evangelist, who had been chosen as one of “the seven,” as a result of the persecution, left Jerusalem and traveled to Samaria. This was the beginning of the witness “to the ends of the earth” found in Acts 1:8.
On the one hand Samaria was truly one of the most unlikely places for a disciple to go, due to the bad blood between the Jews and Samaritans. Because as far as the Jews were concerned the Samaritans were half-breeds. And yet it makes perfect sense for a disciple to travel there to spread the gospel, as Shechem is a city in Samaria – it’s the city God led Abram to and it’s where Jacob’s well was located. It’s where God said to Abram, “To your offspring I will give this land.” Not to mention, Jacob’s well is where Jesus first announced himself as the Messiah to the woman at the well in John chapter four. Do you see the connection there?
Nevertheless, Philip who was full of God’s grace and the power of the Holy Spirit was performing great signs and wonders, including casting out demons. Additionally, he was also a powerful speaker, as many crowds in Samaria listened to his pronouncement of the gospel of Jesus Christ and were baptized as a result. He was so successful that Peter and John both traveled there to investigate.
Now we are going to pick up in the last half of the chapter verses 26-40 from the NIV translation.
“Now an angel of the Lord said to Philip, “Go south to the road – the desert road – that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza. So he started out, and on his way he met an Ethiopian eunuch, an important official in charge of all the treasury of the Kandake (which means “queen of the Ethiopians”). This man had gone to Jerusalem to worship, and on his way home was sitting in his chariot reading the Book of Isaiah the prophet. The Spirit told Philip, “Go to that chariot and stay near it.”
Then Philip ran up to the chariot and heard the man reading Isaiah the prophet. “Do you understand what you are reading?” Philip asked. “How can I,” he said, “unless someone explains it to me?” So he invited Philip to come up and sit with him. 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. In his humiliation he was deprived of justice. Who can speak of his descendants? For his life was taken from the earth.”
The eunuch asked Philip, “Tell me, please, who is the prophet talking about, himself or someone else?” Then Philip began with that very passage of Scripture and told him the good news about Jesus.
As they traveled along the road, they came to some water and the eunuch said, “Look, here is water. What can stand in the way of my being baptized?” And he gave orders to stop the chariot. Then both Philip and the eunuch went down into the water and Philip baptized him. When they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord suddenly took Philip away, and the eunuch did not see him again, but went on his way rejoicing. Philip, however, appeared at Azotus and traveled about, preaching the gospel in all the towns until he reached Caesarea.”
This is the Word of God for the people of God – thanks be to God.
Let us pray……
Remember we just learned that Philip is having tremendous success in his evangelistic ministry for the Lord – great crowds of people have heard him preach the good news of the gospel, which resulted in many baptisms. How wonderful! I don’t know about you, but if that was me, I’m sure I would be feeling pretty darn good about what was being accomplished for God! I mean how could you not? Most of us would be hard pressed not to experience at least a tinsy bit of pride under those circumstances. However, based on what we know about Philip, I don’t think he was prideful at all. I’m thinking, he understood everything that was happening came through the power of the Holy Spirit.
And then all of a sudden one day Philip hears from an angel of the Lord. Little does Philip know that God has arranged a divine appointment for him. He’s told to go south to the desert road that leads from Jerusalem to Gaza. Now initially it might seem like God is demoting Philip because he was having such great success bringing people to God and yet God has called him away from this amazing ministry. Instead, Philip crosses paths with an Ethiopian – one single solitary man – who he was going to explain the gospel to. What?! I mean why??
Putting myself in Philip’s shoes, I probably wouldn’t be very happy in that situation. Being called away right smack dab in the middle of a successful ministry for the Lord. And by success I mean measured as people becoming disciples for the Lord Jesus Christ. But here is where we get into trouble – when we question God. He knows what is best! He has a plan that is unsurpassable! And clearly God knew exactly what He was doing in this situation as He was leading the spread of the gospel to an entirely new continent.
The Ethiopian man, who by the way, was a man of significant position, was clearly a God-fearing man. How do we know this? Because he had traveled all the way from his home, and we are talking 2600 miles, as Ethiopia is located in East Africa, south of Egypt, to Jerusalem to worship God. And this Ethiopian, in his love for God, would listen, believe, and in turn, spread the gospel to the power structure of another government and other lands. So as persecution happens and disciples scatter, the church enters the process of becoming more culturally diverse – it now includes Samaritans who were considered half-Jews, and black people in Ethiopia.
But one striking consideration for us when looking at these scriptures, and something we simply cannot miss, is the fact that Philip immediately obeyed the angel of God when prompted to travel on that desert road. Immediately! He did not stop and question God in any way whatsoever. He simply went. Had he not, he would have missed the divine appointment God had arranged just for him. I wonder how many divine appointments I’ve missed because I did not obey immediately?!
He also followed the next prompt from the Holy Spirit and approached the Ethiopian’s chariot and stayed with it as told. And once again, it was an immediate response. When Philip caught up with the chariot he heard the man reading from the Book of Isaiah. It was customary at that time to read aloud. Then he asked the Ethiopian a simple question. Do you understand what you are reading?
The man replied no and asked Philip to explain the passage to him. He was curious to know who the passage was actually talking about. This Old Testament passage from Isaiah is one of the Suffering Servant passages and has been seen as an ideal starting place to share the gospel. Which is exactly what Philip did. He started from the Old Testament passage where the man had been reading and then explained how Jesus fulfilled Isaiah’s prophecies.
Next they come across a body of water. Really? In the desert? Enough water for someone to be immersed in? But indeed it was and so the Ethiopian asked to be baptized. Baptism was a sign of identification with Christ and with the Christian community. Although Philip was the only witness to this man’s baptism, it was still important for him to take this step.
As the man rises up out of the water, however Philip is spirited away and suddenly transported to a different city. Again we are not sure why. But perhaps this miracle signifies the urgency of bringing the Gentiles to belief in Christ. Philip is taken to Caesarea where he remains for the next 20 years.
Now please understand it was no coincidence that this Ethiopian was reading that particular passage at that particular time! Because if we look closely weaving its way through this account is what may be its most important theme – namely evidence of divine choreography. We see this evidence in the following scriptures: an angel of the Lord, the pilgrimage of an Ethiopian to worship in Jerusalem, the opportunistic meeting on a deserted road at midday, the Spirit said, the presence of water in the desert, and finally Philip’s disappearance. Luke bathes this scene in testimony to divine intervention in order to show that the movement of the gospel to the “ends of the earth” was and is divinely sanctioned. Just as the birth, death and resurrection of Christ was divinely sanctioned. God knew from the beginning that He would send His Son to earth to offer reconciliation in His Name. The sacrifice made on our behalf was of immense proportion and we are so incredibly blessed because we said yes to the Lord’s offer of salvation. We are blessed because through the sacrament of Holy Communion we are offered a divine remembrance of this sacrifice. We are blessed because we have the opportunity to reflect on our sins, to move closer to Him and each other.
We are blessed because Christ our Lord invites to his table all who love him, who earnestly repent of their sin and seek to live in peace with one another. Therefore, let us confess our sin silently before God.
Hear the good news: Christ died for us while we were yet sinners; that proves God’s love toward us. Therefore, in the name of Jesus Christ you are forgiven! What an amazing gift – thank you Jesus.
On the night in which he gave himself up for us he took bread, gave thanks to the Father, broke the bread, gave it to his disciples and said, “Take, eat; this is my body which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.
When the supper was over, he took the cup, gave thanks to you, gave it to his disciples and said drink from this, all of you; this is my blood of the new covenant, poured out for you and for many for the forgiveness of sins. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.
Our out your Holy Spirit upon us gathered in our homes, and on these gifts of bread and wine. Make them be for us the body and blood of Christ that we may be for the world the body of Christ, redeemed by his blood.
By your Spirit, make us one with Christ, one with each other, and one in ministry to all the world until Christ comes in final victory and we feast at his heavenly banquet. Through your son Jesus Christ, with the Holy Spirit in your holy church, all honor and glory is yours almighty Father now and forever. Amen.
The body of Christ broken for you because he loves you so very much. The blood of Christ shed for you because he wants to spend eternity with you. Amen.
Let us pray…..
Gracious and Loving God. We love because you first loved us. We have come to you, because you first came to us. We have relationship with you because of your sacrifice. Help us to be as obedient as Philip the evangelist and Jesus Christ your Son. May we hear your voice, listen to your voice, and obey your voice immediately. May we read your Word and do the same. May we step out in boldness, assured of your goodness, fulfilling your purpose for our lives. We long to hear the words “Well done good and faithful servant” when we return home to be with you forever. Brothers and sisters now let us pray with confidence the words our Lord and Savior Jesus taught us:
Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be Thy Name. Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day, our daily bread, and forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For Thine is the Kingdom and the power and the glory now and forever. And all of God’s people said, amen.