5/2/21 “No Limits” Ex. 2:11-22, Acts 8: 26-40
Luke, the author of Acts, emphasizes the spread of the gospel to all people. You can see the gospel message move from Jerusalem to the outermost regions of the world. It appears, from Luke’s perspective, that there are no limits for the gospel and there is no one it cannot touch; but can the gospel really have such remarkable growth and reach so many people?
To answer this question, Philip and the Ethiopian eunuch enter Luke’s story. Philip’s role as the evangelist preacher is indeed important, but the role of the eunuch is utterly fascinating because it brings significance to the gospel story that has not before been witnessed. Up to this point, the message of Jesus Christ has remained confined to Israel and its religion. But as Luke emphasizes the gospel’s power speaks to others as witnessed previously by both the Samaritans, who were not seen as pure Jews, and now as the gospel encounters an Ethiopian.
The term Ethiopian, as used in the first century supposedly describes a black person from the land south of Egypt. To the Mediterranean mind, this area was the outmost part of the world, and a person such as the eunuch would have been a racial minority. He would have experienced people’s curiosity and interest because he would have seemed exotic, rather than being despised or ostracized for the color of his skin.
The Ethiopian eunuch was a stranger in a distant land, as was Moses in our Exodus passage. So, we ask the question, why was he in Jerusalem? The story depicts the eunuch reading from the prophet Isaiah during his return home, and therefore, one could assume that he has some level of interest in Judaism. Was he a Jew, a Jewish proselyte, or simply, an interested Gentile? Regardless of his religious position, the eunuch tries to understand the words of Isaiah, which he is unable to do. He lacks the power to interpret and comprehend the scriptures.
Now Philip was one those enthusiastic Christians, on fire with the life and message of Jesus. God is on a redemptive mission. He mobilizes us just as he did in this text. He schedules Philip to keep a gospel rendezvous along the old road running southwest from Jerusalem through Gaza. As he did, he came upon a man traveling by chariot returning the court treasurer to his queen and home in Numidia, just south of the Nile. The Spirit commanded Philip to draw up beside him. “Go to that chariot and stay near it.” Vs. 29. An angel of the Lord said to Philip, “Get up and go.”
We so often hear the expression “the voice of an angel” that I got to wondering what an angel would sound like. So, after scratching around, I discovered that an angel’s voice would sound something like a person saying, “Hurry up! Get going.” Before I started checking this out, I thought that the voice of an angel would be a beautiful thing. But the words, “Get up and hurry!” are rarely beautiful, especially early in the morning. But the Bible records many instances of angels saying these words. An angel comes to Peter in jail and says, “rise quickly.” An angel says to Gideon, “Arise, get up, go in your might.” An angel says to Elijah, “Get up and eat.” An angel appears to Joseph in a dream, when Herod was slaughtering infants and says, “Go quickly.” And now this angel appears to Philip and says, “Get up and go.” Really, the angels are monotonous talkers! They seem to always say the same thing—Get up and go, and while you’re at it, hurry!’ But then so is a fire or tornado siren monotonous. If we are to be saved, it will be by monotony, the reiterated command, “Get up and get going!” The angels hear a command, too. Psalm 91:11 says, “I will command the angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways.”
There is an old legend that says when God created the world, the angels were in awe. As he created the animals, the angels asked to give it try. God agreed, so the animal-creation committee designed the platypus, a creature with the bill of a duck, the fur of a dog, the tail of a beaver, and the feet of a frog. Ever since that day, there have been no committees in heaven. That must be when God assigned speaking engagements that were short and to the point.
In other words, Philip had no time to spare. He drew alongside of the Ethiopian only to see that he was reading from Isaiah. Isaiah 53 to be exact. (Isa. 53:7-8). “He was afflicted and oppressed, yet he did not open his mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before his shearer is silent, so he did not open his mouth. By a perversion of justice, he was taken away. Who could have imagined the future? For he was cut off from the living, stricken for the transgression of my people.”
Philip looked at him and said, “Do you understand what you are reading?” The man said, “Not at all. Get up here and sit by me and tell me all about it.” Philip uses this opportunity to share the good news about Jesus. Philip took this as a golden opportunity to evangelize. The opportunity was unlimited. I think Philip was a cousin to C.T. Shedd the great athlete and missionary who said, “some people wish to live within the sound of a church bell; I want to run a rescue shop within a yard of hell.” Philip jumped right in there and opened his mouth and out poured the good news. In response, the eunuch is so moved by the encounter that he asks Philip to baptize him.
One day a lady criticized D. L. Moody for his method of evangelism in attempting to win people to the Lord. Moody’s reply was “I agree with you. I don’t like the way I do it either. Tell me, how do you do it.? The lady replied, “I don’t do it.” Moody retorted, “Then I like my way of doing it better than your way of not doing it.” E.L. Maxwell said, “If we have been enamored with Jesus, having not seen whom we love, we should be unable to conceal the treasure.”
I believe Philip models the Reformation principle that Christ is the key to interpreting the Old Testament. He may even have used the very same scripture and insights that Jesus used on the road to Emmaus to explain why it was necessary for Christ to die and be raised from the dead. The classic messianic prophesy anticipated the atoning death of the Lamb of God. He speaks of the Lamb that takes away the sins of the world which opens an unlimited relationship with God.
Perhaps Philip’s witness included an explanation of the great commission of Jesus that baptized disciples were to be made of the nations, of which Numidia-Ethiopia was certainly one. Whatever the case, the eunuch recognized the baptismal opportunity presented by a roadside pond. Because when he saw the pond, he said, “What is to prevent me from being baptized?”
There are several baptisms, including the eunuch’s recorded in Acts, and certainly each baptism signifies a person’s conversion and acceptance of the gospel message. Its intriguing to me to note the order of these baptisms. Luke has already shown us that Jews and Samaritans alike have been moved by the gospel of Jesus Christ. The reader is also aware of the story of Cornelius found in chapter 10, which illustrates that the gospel is open to everyone, including the Gentiles. The Ethiopian eunuch’s story, however, is sandwiched between these conversions, but still, it shows us that the gospel is progressively spreading to all people, Jews, and Gentile alike. The gospel is for everyone. There is no need to judge whether a person is qualified.
Tristen Speaker was critical of Babe Ruth’s decision to quit pitching and become an outfielder. After Ruth made the transition in 1921, Speaker said, “Ruth made a grave mistake when he gave up pitching. Working once a week, he might have lasted a long time and become a great star.” Since our judgments are not infallible, we’d better leave that department to God. He is qualified, we are not.
The eunuch’s question was a legal one. “What prevents me from being baptized?” The Hebrew law prevented non-Hebrews from entering the inner courts of the temple. It also forbade the physically impaired from entering the assembly (Deut. 23:1). Whether from birth, accident, or intentional surgery, the eunuch’s condition prevented him from the rite of full conversion into the Hebrew community and from entering the very presence of God in the Holy of Holies beyond the veil of the temple. But through Jesus, the messianic promise of including and honoring the physically impaired in the assembly was now fulfilled. Philip may have very well described to the Ethiopian that at the moment of Jesus’ death the wall of hostility had come down and even the curtain had been torn from top to bottom. Now access to God would be unlimited even to the Ethiopian.
Like the Ethiopian, Moses had become an alien. He discovered in the secret of his birth, that he was not a genuine Egyptian prince. It was then he became indignant of the mistreatment of his kin and slew the taskmaster. Moses fled and took refuge in Midian, where once again he was found to be a stranger, an alien in a foreign land. But in contrast to our New Testament text, the story centers around the rare and precious well of water in the desert. Moses watered the flocks of the Midianites and found not only a home but grace through the waters of God’s great Spirit. So that he would never forget he had once been an alien in a foreign land, he named his child Gershom, the Hebrew word for “outsider.” God’s grace, like the Gospel, has no limits.
Human participants, like Philip, have an important role as the gospel grows and reaches new people. Philip, however, is not the primary mover in this story. But it is divine intervention and a movement that facilitates this advancing work. Philip is commanded by the angel of the Lord to get up. Then the Spirit prompts him to speak with the eunuch. Finally, the Spirit of the Lord snatches Philip away from the eunuch and places him in Azotus, a city on the Gaza strip.
There are just two ways to pass anything around in which you are greatly interested. The first is to live it yourself, and the other is to talk about it. Of course, there is no substitute for the first. The way to make anyone realize the value of something you care about is to show it in your own life. And so, one way to spread the gospel is to live it. Yet that is not the only way. We spread things not only by living them, but also by talking about them, by passing on the word and the fire from one person to another by persuasion. For example: one of the things that made the great abolitionist movement of the US spread, was the fact that Abraham Lincoln lived it. He was possessed by the idea of the emancipation of humanity. But by itself that would not have been enough. Lincoln not only lived it; he talked about it again and again in the Cooper Union address, the Lincoln-Douglas debates, in the inaugural addresses, and in the speeches before Congress. He talked about it wherever he went, and so the movement spread by the power of his example and by the power of persuasion.
That is what happened in the early days of Christianity. The early Christians drew other people to them because they had something that other people recognized as very worthwhile. In the 2nd C. Tertullian wrote, “See how these Christians love one another.” That is the real reason the movement spread. They also talked about it, and what is interesting is that when Philip climbed up into the chariot with his friend from Ethiopia, he opened his mouth. When people saw the early Christians they said, “Look at them!” followed by “Listen to them.” The text tells us the eunuch went on his way rejoicing. If he was rejoicing, what was he doing but telling others about his experience.
When Philip found the man did not know the meaning of the passage he was reading, he took the time to start where he was and guided him into understanding the meaning. He began with the man where he was. That is where God always begins with us. He meets us when we are hanging on the end of the rope of our frustrations, or in our failures, sorrows, pain, hopes, joys, ignorance, and wisdom. Wherever we are, God gently guides us further into the truth.
There is a story of a small dog which had been struck by a car and left lying in the street. A doctor driving by, noticed the dog was still alive, stopped his car, picked up the dog, and took him home with him. There he discovered that the dog had been stunned, suffered a few minor cuts and abrasions, but was otherwise alright. He revived the dog, cleaned up the wounds and was carrying the animal from the house to the garage when suddenly it jumped from his arms and scampered off. “What an ungrateful little dog,” the doctor said to himself. He thought no more about the incident until the next evening when he heard scratching at the door. When he opened the door, there was the little dog he had treated with another hurt dog. This is called dog evangelism!
After the Ethiopian had heard, understood, and was baptized he arose from the water to live for Christ. When you surrender your life to God, you begin to live for Him right at that moment—not sometime in the future, but right then. At any moment, in any place, God can touch your life through a stranger or a friend and challenge you to live for Him. That is what being changed by the Holy Spirit can do.
It is this mysterious work of God that advances the gospel message, not merely the human effort. Through the work and power of God, the gospel advances by being inclusive, reaching Ethiopia and the outermost parts of the world. Christians today have the same opportunity as Philip.
Membership in many Korean churches involves a whole lot more than walking down the aisle. In fact, a lot of American Christians would love to have the same standard. The requirement for membership in many Korean churches is not only a profession of faith in Jesus Christ, but a convert at your side as well. Not only must you believe in Christ, but you must lead someone else to the Savior before you can become a member. How many of us would qualify for membership I wonder?
“All authority in heaven and earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit and teaching them to obey all that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, even to the end of the age. (Mt. 28:18). Go, the Spirit is telling us, to go and tell others, to teach others, there are no limits because he promised to be with us always. That is good enouMaygh for me.
God has given us this day. Live today. Utilize it well. Accept it as the gift that God has given you. This is the time we know we can live for Christ. As the prophet Isaiah proclaimed, “God with us.” God is with us now—not just in the future, not only in the past—but the present. His wonders and powers are unlimited. The gospel of Jesus Christ is the key to the glory of God. There are no limits. It is no secret what God can do.
Closing Prayer: We give you thanks holy God, that you tolerate our constant questions. We come with doubts and fears. You have shown us that assurance comes after taking the step of faith and not before. Give us daring, O God, as well as the willingness, to do your will. Grant that we may discover your truth for ourselves. Take us on new and exciting, even risky adventures with you, opening the way to share the truths that you have given us. Strengthen our faith to go out and serve others. Today we lift our prayers to you for those who are hurting and lost, who are grieving and lonely, who are anxious, weak, and sick. Most of all we pray for those who think they do not need you at all. May our love for them be seasoned with your grace and answered prayers. May you be please with our worship as we open our hearts to you as you fill us with your Spirit to go out into the world and begin a new week, a new journey, even a new adventure—always with you. Bless not only the gifts of your bounty, but the gifts of your love. In Christ’s name we pray the prayer he taught us…Our Father…
May 9, 2021 Guest Pastor
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May 23, 2021 “The Promise of Pentecost” Acts 2:1-13, Joel 12:28-32
May 30, 2021 Trinity Sunday “Not for Sissies” John 3:1-17, 1 Cor. 13:12