150503 Acts 8:26-40

Last Updated on Monday, 04 May 2015 Written by Pastor Pagels

Text: Acts 8:26-40
Theme: God's Word Works...One Soul At A Time

Over the past few weeks I have been doing my best to keep up with the new NBC mini-series, AD: The Bible Continues, partly because I am curious, partly because I know that others are watching and I want to be able to answer any questions people might have. I was particularly interested in the episode that aired two weeks ago because it depicted the events of Pentecost. From my days as a Sunday School student I can still remember the picture of the disciples with little Bic lighter flames floating above their heads, and I was afraid that the television version would look just as corny.

As it turns out, my fears were unfounded. Instead of tiny flames flickering on the screen, the heavens opened and a stream of fire rushed down and swirled around the disciples and the house where they were staying. Is that what the fire really looked like? I don't know, but it did look pretty impressive, like something worthy of the power of the Holy Spirit.

What was missing from the episode were the other manifestations of the Spirit's power. It didn't show the disciples speaking in languages they had never learned. It didn't show Peter's sermon or the crowd's reaction. And it didn't show thousands of people confessing their sins and confessing their faith and lining up to be baptized by the disciples.

The Holy Spirit worked through the Word of God to bring three thousand people to faith in God on a single day. That is perhaps the most impressive Pentecost miracle, but not because of the impressive numbers. Today's sermon text cautions us against getting caught up in the numbers and instead encourages us to focus us on what is more important.

The Holy Spirit led Philip far away from the crowded streets of Jerusalem, far away from his successful mission work in Samaria, to share the good news, not with hundreds or thousands of people, but with a single individual. And because that man went away from that encounter rejoicing, we rejoice too. We rejoice because the Holy Spirit is still working among us, and because...

GOD'S WORD WORKS...ONE SOUL AT A TIME

As the early church grew it also experienced some growing pains. The apostles were having trouble keeping up with the physical and spiritual needs of their members, and so they proposed a solution. They appointed seven God-fearing men to serve as deacons, to take care of the day-to-day operations of the church so that the apostles could dedicate themselves to prayer and the ministry of the Word. One of those deacons was Philip (Acts 6:5).

A couple chapters later we learn that Philip's role had expanded. When the church faced severe persecution in Jerusalem, many Christians were forced to flee. What appeared to be a dangerous threat became a blessing because those persecuted Christians took God's Word with them wherever they went. And among the many Christians who left Jerusalem was Philip, who traveled north to a city in Samaria. There he proclaimed that Jesus was the Christ. He drove out demons. He made the lame walk. And as a result of his preaching and teaching and healing, there was great joy in that city (Acts 8:8).

According to all the measurables, Philip's mission work in Samaria was a great success. So why would he want to leave? Why did he leave? Because God told him to: "An angel of the Lord said to Philip, 'Go south to the road—the desert road—that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza'" (26). And so that is what Philip did. He didn't know where he was going. He didn't know who or what he would find once he got wherever he was going. But because he was a follower of God he followed the desert road into the wilderness.

On his way Philip came across another man, an important man, an official who served the Queen of Ethiopia and was returning home from worshiping in Jerusalem. The Holy Spirit told Philip to approach the official's chariot and stay near it. And so he did. Actually "Philip ran up to the chariot and heard the man reading Isaiah the prophet" (30).

I need to stop for a moment here. I have some experience doing door-to-door canvassing, and I have experienced many different reactions when people opened the door. Most people were polite, but not really interested. Some were rude and said things I can't repeat from the pulpit. And a few invited me in so I could tell them more. But I can honestly say that no one, not a single person opened the front door with an open Bible in their hands, and then proceeded to ask me to explain what they were reading.

If that sounds a little far-fetched, if it sounds too good to be true, it is true. That is exactly what happened when Philip asked the Ethiopian if he understood what he was reading. "'How can I,' he (the official) said, 'unless someone explains it to me?' So he invited Philip to come up and sit with him" (31).

As if this opportunity wasn't already amazing enough, the Ethiopian was reading these words from the prophet Isaiah: "He was led like a sheep to the slaughter, and as a lamb before the shearer is silent, so he did not open his mouth..." (32). And then he asked Philip to explain to him who the prophet was talking about, himself or someone else.

Talk about being given a golden opportunity. Talk about being lobbed a softball, which Philip proceeded to hit out of the park. "Philip began with that very passage of Scripture and told him the good news about Jesus" (35).

Because of its many Messianic passages Isaiah is sometimes called the fifth gospel. But at this time in history Matthew, Mark, Luke and John (often referred to as the four Gospels) hadn't been written. So in a sense Isaiah was the gospel that predicted the coming of Jesus, the prophetic book that described in great detail how Jesus would suffer and sacrifice his life for the sins of the world. And after Philip explained that passage to the Ethiopian he filled in the blanks, or to put it in the words of Paul Harvey, he got to tell this man "the rest of the story."

Isaiah wasn't talking about himself. He was referring to another man who would live seven centuries later, a man who was led like a lamb to the slaughter, a man who remained silent before his accusers, a man whose actions spoke volumes, a man who proved that he was also true God when he rose from the dead.

This was the good news about Jesus. This was the good news Philip shared with the Ethiopian. This was the reason the angel told Philip to leave home and look for a man in the wilderness. This was the reason the Spirit sent Philip out into the desert, to preach the Word to a single soul... and God's Word worked!

"As they traveled along the road, they came to some water and the eunuch said, 'Look, here is water. Why shouldn't I baptized'" (36)? There was no good reason to wait. The Word that created faith in the official's heart also created in him the desire to receive the blessings of baptism. And so he stopped the chariot and went down into the water where Philip baptized him. His sins were washed away. His growing faith grew stronger. His heart had found peace.

As soon as the two men came up out of the water the Holy Spirit took Philip away, but the Ethiopian official didn't seem to mind. He wasn't startled. He wasn't sad. He went on his way rejoicing, maybe because he thought to himself that even if he never saw Philip again he knew that the two men would be reunited in heaven.

There are many lessons we can learn from today's First Lesson from Acts, but this morning I would like us to limit ourselves to three simple truths...

First, God uses people to share his powerful Word. An angel told Philip where to go. The Holy Spirit told Philip to go up to the official's chariot. Did you ever wonder why God didn't just skip the middle man? Why doesn't the Holy Spirit convert people directly? The word, "angel," means "messenger," so why didn't God send that angel to share the message of salvation with the Ethiopian? Why did God need Philip to do this important work?

God didn't need Philip. He chose Philip. And he continues to use human beings, sinful people like you and me, to share the gospel. The Lord works through us (and sometimes in spite of us) so that we don't get the impression that another person's eternal destiny depends on our wise and persuasive words (and isn't that a relief?). It's not about the messenger. It's all about the message. Faith comes from hearing the message. Faith is created through the power of God's Word.

The second simple truth is this: God is giving you opportunities to share his Word. I will grant you that Philip's experience was the exception. The Holy Spirit will probably never come to you and tell you to go to a specific location to find a specific person. But if you don't live in a cave, if you interact with people in a world that is becoming less and less Christian, God will give you opportunities to share his Word with people who don't believe it.

The question is: Do you look for those opportunities? Do you see those opportunities? And when you see them, do you seize them? If Jesus is the one and only way to heaven, people need to know that. And people will never know unless someone else tells them. And if you don't tell them when you have the chance, how do you know that someone else will? If you are willing to stand on the sidelines, if you are content to leave the work up to others, if you decide that it's not a priority in your life to share your faith, what does that say about you? What does that say about your faith? What will you say when you stand before Jesus and he ask you to explain yourself on the Last Day?

I'm a pastor. It's my job to tell people about Jesus. But no one would ever confuse me with Philip. Instead of running up to the chariot there have been plenty of times when I dragged my feet. Can you relate? Can you feel that growing lump of guilt? Do you need to repent? Then repent! Ask God to forgive you, and he will. But don't stop there. After you ask for forgiveness ask God for more opportunities to share your faith. And then seize them because...

Sharing God's Word is a joyful experience. When Philip disappeared we are told that the Ethiopian official went on his way rejoicing. He rejoiced because Jesus was his Savior, because he knew that his sins were forgiven, because there was no doubt in his mind that he would spend eternity in heaven. The text doesn't say anything about Philip's emotional state, but don't you think that he was rejoicing too? God had chosen him. God used him. The Holy Spirit worked through Philip's words to save a sinner from death. And the thought of seeing that man in heaven must have filled Philip's heart with joy.

Because God has given us the same command, because God has given us the same powerful tools, I don't think it's a stretch to imagine that we could have a similar experience. Imagine what it will be like to see someone in heaven you witnessed to on earth. What a joyful day that will be! What a joy it will be to know that God used you to save a sinner from death, to know that the Holy Spirit used your words to bring another person to faith, to see the grateful look on that person's face and be reminded that God's Word works...one soul at a time. Amen.

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