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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[a] 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.
CCI: When we listen in silence for the voice of God, we will often be surprised by God.
Intro: Today is the 5th Sunday of Easter. He is Risen! . . .
During this Easter season, we have been exploring the way the Gospel spread when the disciples understood the resurrection. We looked at the miracle of the day, we heard the word, “Peace” in the midst of terrible anxiety, we looked at the Love of God that is beyond measure; and last week we looked at the Shepherd whose voice is more familiar to us than our own.
Today we are going to take the next step and discover who God is seeking to reach through the power of the Resurrection.
The passage we just read is the story of a divine encounter between two men from very different worlds; an encounter that ultimately opened a continent to Jesus!
When persecution broke out in Jerusalem, believers left the city. Many returned to their homes, others went into exile. These believers traveled to many different places. And when they went, they carried the message of Jesus with them! The persecution lead to a revival throughout the empire.
One of those who left the city was a leader in the church named Philip. Philip was one of the first deacons of the church. He was a man of wisdom, compassion and deep love for God. He was from a Greek city but was a Jew by birth. Philip was chosen because he was full of the Spirit and wisdom. After the murder of Stephen, another deacon, Philip fled to Samaria. A city hated by Jews of the region.
As he preached, the Lord moved in the hearts of those who heard and many came to faith. It was a revival of massive proportions. People were healed in mind and spirit. The lame walked, demons fled, God was at work! The word of the work spread quickly and soon Peter and John were sent from Jerusalem to discover what was happening. They discovered God at work in this hated city and responded by praying for them that they too might receive the Holy Spirit. And God answered the prayer. Philip was the man a the center of this revival, and suddenly, God spoke to his spirit. And God said, “Leave this place of revival and go out into the desert and I will show you what you are to do.”
Now I have to ask, “Does that make any sense at all?” Philip was being used by God to introduce people to new life, new hope and new relationships with God, and suddenly God calls out and says, “Go out into the dessert.” That is amazing, but there is something in this Story that is even more amazing, Philip went without hesitation.
Philip left the revival and journeyed into the wilderness. Now while there is a sermon in that phrase, I want you to see what happened next. When he got to the highway going south, there he, a Greek speaking Jew who was living as a stranger in Jerusalem and Samaria, saw a stunning sight.
There in front of him was an Ethiopian official from the court of the queen! He was wealthy, he was powerful, and he had authority. He was riding in a chariot as another drove. He was dark skinned, and he was a eunuch, castrated that he might be trusted to work in the queen’s court. In every way imaginable, he was different from Philip. We might think that the last item was insignificant, but that detail, that he was a eunuch, is repeated 5 times in this passage.
The Spirit of God instructed Philip to run up to the chariot, and when he did, he was even more surprised because the man had a manuscript of the Hebrew scriptures and was reading from the prophecy of Isaiah! Think about that! No one owned their own copy of the scriptures! It was hand written on scrolls, it was sacred, it was a community’s treasure! And this eunuch was reading the prophet while traveling.
Philip listened and asked, “Do you know what you are reading?” Philip longed to share the gospel with every person he encountered.
“How can I,” he asked, “unless someone teaches me?” And then he invited Philip into the chariot to sit beside him.
Culturally this was a huge step for Philip, not because the man had dark skin, but because the man was castrated. You see, in Judaism at the time of Philip, if a man was sexually damaged, or sexually different, he was not permitted to worship. The Law said he was not even allowed into the place of worship. And yet Philip, sat with this man to study the scriptures, an act of worship. It was an amazing moment, it was a first for the new church.
So, Philip, starting with the song of the Suffering Servant in Isaiah, told the Eunuch about Jesus. He told him the good news that Jesus preached. He told him that Jesus suffered but loved through the suffering. He told him about Jesus message that God loved the world. Philip shared the good news.
And the eunuch received the good news. He welcomed the message of Jesus with an open heart.
Philip had told him about Jesus’ baptism and Jesus call to be like him, and so when they came upon water, the Ethiopian Eunuch asked Philip one of the most important questions in scripture: “Look, here is water. What can stand in the way of my being baptized?”
Philip could have said, “What indeed!” You are not a Jew. You are not a from these parts! You work for a pagan queen! You are sexually damaged! The Ethiopian was, despite his wealth, an outcast — not welcomed in worship, not welcomed in families, not welcomed by God.
But Philip ignored all that, and when he asked to be baptized and become a follower of Jesus, “both Philip and the eunuch went down into the water and Philip baptized him.” For Philip, there were no barriers for the Eunuch to be baptized.
But today, are there barriers we establish before a person can be baptized? Are there conditions we place upon a person being a true Christian? Do we build barriers based on race? If an Arab person came to our church who did not have proper documentation, would we establish a barrier to their participation? If a young child came to be baptized would be establish a barrier to their participation? If a woman is fighting addiction, would we establish a barrier to her participation in Christ? If a gay couple brought their daughter for dedication, would we establish a barrier to their participation?
It was not that long ago that African Americans were denied entrance to white protestant churches. Even today Churches establish barriers based on race or sexuality or language, or ability, or economics. Sometimes those barriers are explicit, but usually they are very subtle. Just this week, a man I met in a restaurant asked if he could come to church in casual attire because he did not have dress clothes. I will guarantee that he asked that, because he has been excluded for the way he dressed.
We don’t want to think we would exclude people, but do we welcome the deaf? Do we welcome the non-english speaker? Do we welcome the extremely wealthy? Do we welcome the single parent with a large family? Not only do we welcome these folks, but do we eagerly receive the gifts that the autistic adult has to offer? Do we receive the gifts that the undocumented immigrant has to offer? Are we ready to go when the Spirit says “Go!”? Are we ready to go wherever the Spirit says “Go!”?
We are guilty of erecting barriers to the gospel. Seldom do we do it intentionally, but it happens. Just as significantly, we are quite adept finding reasons we can not serve Jesus fully. Rather than challenging exclusion by asking, What can stand in the way of my being baptized? We often find reasons ourselves for not being baptized, or not fully committing to follow Jesus, or not supporting the work of the Gospel. Words like, “We can’t afford it;” or “That’s not my style;” or “I have nothing to offer;” or “God could never use me” are words from the pit of hell. When God calls, God equips and God empowers. In fact, Jesus said, the very gates of hell can not stop the church on mission.
When Philip shared the gospel with the Eunuch, all the barriers Philip had clung to throughout his life vanished, because the Spirit was moving. And when the Eunuch asked, What can stand in the way of my being baptized? all the barriers that had been erected throughout his life were crushed because the Spirit of God was moving. Are we ready to permit God to eliminate the barriers we have established?
Last Sunday, we talked about the importance of choosing to follow Jesus. Today, I want you to consider the cost of following Jesus, not economically, but the cost of comfort and ease that we know in life. You see, when we choose to follow Jesus, he calls us to tear down our walls and welcome all he sends our way.