Pentecost Sermon: Acts 8:26-39
8th Sunday after PentecostActs 8:26-39 (Alt. Text)
July 30th, 2006 Faith Ev. Lutheran Church Waterloo, IA
The American Red Cross has one general principle that has guided everything they have done for decades—”always be prepared.” We don’t need to look too far back in recent history to figure out why. The devastation of recent hurricanes in our land, and tidal waves in other lands, have made it all too clear that no one knows the future and disasters can occur at any moment. The Red Cross knows that if they are to be effective, and to truly be of service, they must be prepared at all times to face whatever crises and opportunities for service may arise.
Did you know that there is a principle in Holy Scripture that tells Christians to do exactly the same thing? God, speaking through the Apostle Peter, tells us, “Always be prepared to give a reasoned defense for the hope that is within you.” Always be prepared. This is a command to know God’s Word, and to be ready to give account of it before men at a moment’s notice. Our text from Acts this morning gives us a glimpse at exactly why we need to be prepared, and what incredible ways God might use you to execute His plan of salvation to the world.
As the text begins, we see God’s servant Philip is being given instruction by an angel of the Lord. “Go south to the road—the desert road—that goes from Jerusalem to Gaza” the angel said. Philip follows the angel’s command, and sets out south on the road. As he did so, he saw an Ethiopian man who was an important official in the service of his queen. The text tells us that the Holy Spirit told Philip to go to the Ethiopian man’s chariot and stay near it. Philip runs to the chariot, and finds the man reading out loud from the book of Isaiah.
We must pay very close attention to what happens next in the story. Although it happened two-thousand years ago, its meaning is as fresh as the sunrise this morning. “Do you understand what you are reading?” Philip asks the man. “How can I unless someone explains it to me?” the Ethiopian replies. The Ethiopian man is just like the people in the community of Waterloo. There is a world outside these walls that is dying. It is dying from lack of the truth. You see, human beings come wired with a need to hear their Heavenly Father’s voice. We are made like that. We need the Father to daily forgive us, renew us, encourage us and sustain us. God’s truth is like nourishment that sustains the soul. When God’s truth is absent, people become like starving, desperate and helpless children, crying out to be fed, and wasting away from lack of love and care. The Ethiopian man was longing for someone to help him understand the meaning of things.
“He was led like a sheep to the slaughter, and as a lamb before the sheerer 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 Ethiopian man was wrestling with this Isaiah text. He longed to have understanding. He was dying for the truth. Literally dying to live. You can hear the desperation in his ancient words, “Tell me please, who is the prophet talking about, himself or someone else?” Philip saw the man’s longing to be fed, and he was prepared. He was prepared to give a reasoned defense for the hope that was within him. Our text tells us, “Then Philip began with that very passage of scripture, and told him the good news about Jesus.” The Gospel of Jesus Christ, and Him crucified for the forgiveness of every sin changed that Ethiopian man’s life that day. The Holy Spirit worked through Philip’s proclamation of the Gospel, and changed that man’s heart. He immediately desired to be baptized, and the text tells us that he went on his way rejoicing. He was yet another lost soul that had been snatched from the jaws of death, and brought to the saving truth of Christ by the telling of the Gospel story.
God shows us in this story the way He works. Faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of God. You see, no one comes to Christ on his own. Not even the most brilliant minds on earth can do it by themselves. Not Socrates, not Thomas Jefferson, neither Einstein nor Bill Gates. The only way a soul can be saved is when the Holy Spirit changes that soul. Faith is NOT the work of men. Faith is the work of God. God gives to us. And we must be very careful to understand exactly how He gives it to us.
So how does God give us faith? By His Word, by Baptism, and by Holy Communion. We know these things as the “marks of the church.” How do we know we are in church? Not because we have coffee, potato salad and good conversation (although all of these things are encouraged by your pastor!). But we know we are in church because this is the place where God’s Word is read. This is the place where we confess our sin, and we hear that we are absolved of our sin. This is the place where the pastor preaches Christ crucified. This is the place where people are baptized. This is the place where people receive the true body and blood of Christ. This is the way that God gives faith to His children. The Holy Spirit works through hearing of God’s Word. You hear the Word, and it goes into your heart and and teaches it. When you were baptized, God washed your heart and renewed your dead soul. He put a mark on you that identifies you as one of His own. When you take Holy Communion, Christ comes to you in real bodily form and says, “I forgive you, I love you, and I will always be with you to comfort you and give you the faith you need to get through this life and be saved by the work I have done and am still doing… for you.” This is how God gives you faith. This is why you are here. God has called you here, so that you may hear His Word, receive His sacraments, and have your faith strengthened. Each of you is here because someone (be it a parent, a friend, a pastor or a stranger in a coffee shop) loved you enough to tell you the Gospel story.
But what if they hadn’t? What if you were still out there, on you own, trying to make sense of it all? What if you had to face your pain, your aging, your losses and fears of the future all by yourself? What if life offered only chaos and strife before offering a very final and meaningless death? None of us that God has given faith to would ever want to even imagine a life without our Father’s love. And none of us has been given our Father’s love so that we could keep it to ourselves.
We, dear Christian friends, have been given the call of Philip. We are to go into the world, where the people are, and tell them the Easter story. “Always be prepared to give a reasoned defense for the hope that is within you,” we have been told. That means that the telling of the Gospel story is not optional. Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God, and if we do not tell them, how will they hear? If we do not tell them, how will they ever know? Remember the words of the Ethiopian man, “How can I understand unless someone explains it to me?”
Now you might be thinking to yourself right now, “Wait a minute! I am not Peter! I am not Paul! I am not Martin Luther! I am no pastor! I can’t go around arguing for Christ! I am not ready for all this!” Do not be afraid, dear Christian friends. As several men have said, Christian evangelism is nothing more than one beggar showing another beggar where to find the bread. Christ is the bread of life. Invite them here, to the place where God gathers people to create and strengthen faith. You do not have to have a seminary education, or a big vocabulary, or superior Bible knowledge. Tell them what you know…while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Because He did, we have hope and joy. Tell them that, and invite them here. The Holy Spirit will do the rest.
If you still don’t feel prepared, then seek the Lord where He may be found. Remember, the Holy Spirit works through the Word. Start today. Read your Bible. Take home a “Portals of Prayer” devotional book. Maybe you reacquaint yourself with your catechism. Come to a Bible study. We are beginning one just today. Ask me questions. I assure you, no one was ever sorry that they spent time in the earnest study of God’ saving truth! As you submit yourself to God’s Word, He will surely prepare you for every good work He has prepared you to do ahead of time. He will give you His Words to say, and you will be prepared.
The message today is not, “You better go out and tell someone about Jesus or else…” The message is, “We love because He first loved us.” Christ our King has won the battle for our salvation with His blood. But all of the sheep are not yet in the fold. We are on a reconnaissance mission to claim the rest of our own. Christ has saved us, and prepared us and called us to proclaim His saving truth to all nations. It is our good pleasure to love our neighbor with the truth. “Always be prepared to give a reasoned defense for the faith that is within you.” The world outside these walls is dying to live.
Our Lord Jesus Christ has prepared us for heaven. He won salvation for us at the cross, and gives it to us through His Word and Sacraments. He has called us, renewed us and strengthened us. He has saved us from every sin. Having done all this out of His divine love and mercy, He now uses our lives as a testament to His glory! Go in peace this morning with that same joy of the Ethiopian man, saved by grace, renewed in faith, and forgiven by God. Thank the Lord and sing His praise! Tell everyone what He has done. Amen.