Archive for the ‘Acts 8:26-40’ Category

Baptized to be a blessing!

Sunday, May 6th, 2012

Easter Sunday 5B, May 6, 2012
Pastor Brian Henderson-Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA

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The movie clip we just watched was from the animated Christmas movie, The Polar Express. In that scene, the train had just jumped off the tracks and ended up sliding across a frozen lake. With no track to guide it, the challenge for Tom Hanks’ character was to work with the engineer and get the engine and cars lined up at the point where the tracks reemerge from under the frozen lake on the other side.

As Christians, we have been put on God’s track; we call it our walk of faith.  We were first put on that track in our baptism, but our challenge is to stay on that track, as God guides us on our journey of faith. As we stay on that track, God promises to use us as a blessing to others; He does this as He gets them back on track just as He did for us.

In the beginning, each of us needed someone to guide us, and help us stay on track. In other words, we needed someone to help us understand God’s will as declared in Holy Scripture.  So, the very first thing God helped us with was our confession to Him that on our own, as little sinners, we were completely helpless unless God intervened.  As we matured in our faith, God continually enlightened our minds to receive and understand His Word, all so we could continually appreciate that we are forgiven; we are on the right track!  This principle becomes clear in our first reading this morning (Acts 8:26-40).

In verses 30-31, the Ethiopian is struggling to understand what He is reading in the book of Isaiah.  Now I think each of us can put ourselves in the Ethiopian’s shoes; who of us has not felt confused at times while reading our Bibles?  So it’s quite understandable that the Ethiopian could not understand what he was reading; no one can unless God allows it.  The Spirit must enlighten us through the Gospel; that is, we must be given faith!  You see, concerning salvation, the prophets who foretold the coming of God’s work of grace that was to be yours, searched and inquired carefully, wondering when Christ would come and suffer as God had predicted, and then be glorified as a result of that suffering. And they were shown by God that they weren’t just serving their own generation, but also every generation that came after them, including you!  They did this by proclaiming the gospel; a message of forgiveness, empowered by the Holy Spirit, as sent from heaven.  They knew that the things they wrote, which you hear proclaimed, were things that even the angels couldn’t truly understand. [1 Peter 1:10–12]  Why even the apostles didn’t understand until Jesus opened their minds (Luke 24:45).  The truth is, the natural mind, our sinful minds can never understand the things of God until He allows us to understand (1 Corinthians 2:14).

And that is precisely why the Holy Spirit sent Philip to the Ethiopian.  It was God’s desire that his mind would be opened through Philip’s preaching.  And how did God do this?  He gave the Ethiopian a new way to read scripture; He put Jesus Christ in the center of all of God’s Word (vv 31–33)!

This morning, we discover along with the Ethiopian that what Isaiah and all of the other prophets are writing, is a witness to us, about Jesus!  They are predicting the birth, life, death, and resurrection of our God who is with us, as one of us! Yet even the clearest truths about Jesus Christ in the Scriptures can only become evident through the work and guidance of the Holy Spirit.  This was true for the Ethiopian then and it is still true for us today!

The Spirit is still guiding the true Church’s proclamation about Jesus, Him crucified and resurrected; Him alone who has fulfilled each of the Old Testament Scriptures for us (vv 34–35)!

It was Jesus who must come to be the Suffering Servant in Isaiah’s prophecy who, even though He was deprived of justice, He was vindicated by God.  Listen: “Like a sheep he was led to the slaughter and like a lamb before its shearer is silent, so he opens not his mouth.   In his humiliation justice was denied him.

Who can describe his generation? For his life is taken away from the earth.” What a vivid picture of the atoning work of Christ Jesus on the cross!  And  yet, as clear as this message about salvation through the work of Christ alone is, we ignorant sinners still fight to make salvation something we obtain through our own wisdom and effort!

But Isaiah’s own words declared long ago, make it clear to everyone, that salvation can come only through Jesus Christ, who willingly laid down his life for our salvation!  Without the work of God’s Spirit, we pitiful sinners could never receive this message!  And yet, you are here and you have heard!  You have heard and believed the message in the same way countless sinners have for thousands of years.  How?  By the same work the Spirit did long ago for the Ethiopian; God has sent you preachers, faithful pastors who have declared His Word in the power of the Holy Spirit!

And that same Spirit continues to send missionaries, evangelists, and pastors to bring light into hearts that have been held captive in the darkness of sin.  And when the message of forgiveness through Jesus Christ is not rejected, those same sinners discover God’s forgiving love; they discover that it’s true, God does not desire the death of the wicked, but instead, He desires that all of us who have gone astray would repent, turn to Jesus and have everlasting life!  He did this great work for you, by giving you the gift of faith, which in turn has brought you back on track.  Your life on track with God began the same way it did for the Ethiopian; you were baptized and filled with God’s message of forgiveness through Jesus Christ!  And like the Ethiopian, God saw to it that you heard and believed in his Son, so that your sins would be forgiven.

Because God loves you, he sent the Spirit of his Son into your heart, and He is determined to keep you firm in the only faith that saves. Because God has made you his child, his Spirit continues to equip you as you live out your calling as a Christian.  And what is that calling?  Simply this, God wants you to remember that you have been baptized to be a blessing to others; you are a blessing to others when you share your faith with your neighbors.  You are blessing when you demonstrate the same love and forgiveness that you received from God!

Now, I know, this is where many of us can get a little nervous.  You might be thinking that it all sounds so good now, in church while pastor is explaining it, but when you’re on your own, who’s gonna guide you and help you give a good witness about Jesus!

Well who guided Philip?  He was in the middle of the desert, and no help within miles; he was all alone, …but not really!  If it had not been for God’s Spirit, Philip wouldn’t have even found the Ethiopian, let alone been able to witness.  No, here God is reassuring each of us that all things, even distance, time, and fear, are under His control!  What we must remember is that God chooses who He will use to witness and He equips those He chooses.  We simply are to observe and respond when those “God” moments happen in our lives.  All we are asked to do is to honor Jesus as our Lord and Savior within our hearts, and always be prepared to give an explanation to anyone who asks us for the reason we have hope.  And when we give our witness to Jesus, through the work of the Spirit, we will do it with gentleness and respect.

Oh, and here’s another thing that we’ve learned about witnessing this morning; as Philip was led away from the safety of people that he knew and was comfortable with, in order to witness to a foreigner (v 27), so too God may be asking you to willingly step out of your comfort zone and get to know people you wouldn’t normally associate with.  But why?  So that you can be blessed with the knowledge that God really can use you; knowing that others are blessed as God uses you!

What is important for us to remember is this.  God doesn’t need us to help Him reach people lost in sin any more than He needed Philip to help!  If God wanted to, He could have used the same angel that spoke to Philip to bring the gospel to the Ethiopian.  But God chose to bless Philip by speaking through Philip, so that both Philip and the Ethiopian would be blessed together!

So remember, whether you are at work, at school, in the market, away on a trip, or at home in your community, God choses to bless you by using you.  Whether you respond or not has no bearing on the good news; it doesn’t change the fact that Jesus died for you and washed you clean by giving you new life in your baptism!  No, instead, God’s invitation to be His witness is an invitation to receive His blessings by being a blessing to others!

The Ethiopian may have thought at first that it was pure coincidence that Philip was traveling the same road that he was on.  But God wanted him to know the truth about Jesus, and so He brought the two of them together to achieve his glorious purpose. That same Spirit is working in you and among us; He is working through your life’s events to keep you on track and to help others get on the same track; the way to eternal life, through Jesus Christ! As he has guided you so far, let him continue to guide you to grow in faith and use the opportunities He creates to witness about Jesus.  I pray that we will do this as one in Jesus Christ… AMEN!