Sunday, August 30, 2015

Ethiopian Baptism

Explain it to me. 

Acts 8:26-40

New International Version (NIV)

Philip and the Ethiopian

26 Now an angel of the Lord said to Philip, “Go south to the road—the desert road—that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.” 27 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, 28 and on his way home was sitting in his chariot reading the Book of Isaiah the prophet. 29 The Spirit told Philip, “Go to that chariot and stay near it.”
30 Then Philip ran up to the chariot and heard the man reading Isaiah the prophet. “Do you understand what you are reading?” Philip asked.
31 “How can I,” he said, “unless someone explains it to me?” So he invited Philip to come up and sit with him.
32 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.
33 In his humiliation he was deprived of justice.
    Who can speak of his descendants?
    For his life was taken from the earth.”[b]
34 The eunuch asked Philip, “Tell me, please, who is the prophet talking about, himself or someone else?” 35 Then Philip began with that very passage of Scripture and told him the good news about Jesus.
36 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?” [37] [c] 38 And he gave orders to stop the chariot. Then both Philip and the eunuch went down into the water and Philip baptized him. 39 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. 40 Philip, however, appeared at Azotus and traveled about, preaching the gospel in all the towns until he reached Caesarea.

On the heels of dealing with Simon the Sorcerer, the Apostle Philip moves on to engage in conversation a special someone traveling down the road of life. Unlike Simon, who seemed to have life all figured out, this man has questions that need answered. 

The interesting part is how these two parties seem to find each other.
It says in v26 that "an angel of the Lord said to Philip..."
The first thing we should note in today's passage is that when the Lord speaks, we need to listen.
We need to follow the Lord's direction for our lives. We need to go where he wants us to go. We need to follow where He leads us. How does Philip know that it's time to leave the area he was working in around Samaria and drop down into the region of Judea to meet a Ethiopian man on a desert road? Philip is in touch with the Lord on an intimate level. Becoming a disciple of Jesus meant turning his life over to the Lord and following wherever the Lord led him on the road. For three and a half years Philip had been walking with Jesus all over this countryside. How did Jesus know when he needed to be in Bethsaida to give a blind man back his sight or drop in on Jerusalem because there was a lame man lying by a pool? The Spirit led him. Now, the Spirit that Jesus promised to give them is leading these new apostles to speak, to heal, to lift up the Lord in the same manner Jesus did. 

Have you ever been put in a place, at the right time, at the right moment to speak with someone? Maybe, to show them love and grace, peace and kindness, so that they could come to understand who Jesus Christ is truly? 

I'd like to tell you about a guy named Matt.
Matt grew up going through high school as one of two dudes in his circle of friend with a solid church experience. I say church experience. Not a spiritual experience. Matt grew up in a church where the Gospel is shared openly. People go to an altar to pray. People ask Jesus to come into their hearts. Only, Matt claims to have never actually done this. He has waffled around on the subject. After high school, Matt decides to try out for the Marines. His brother was in the Air Force. His dad served in the Army. Military is an option on a paternal level. The thing is, Matt happened to be one of the scrawniest kids in his graduating class. The Paris Island experience does not go well. Matt is sent home with nothing to show for his time except regret and dismay. Except for one small thing. 

Matt finds Jesus while he is there.

Matt accepts Jesus as his Lord and Savior. If failing to make it in the Marines in a source of pain or remorse what he gains in finding Jesus makes up for everything. Matt comes home with a crazy drive to make sure that everyone in the circle of friends he runs with will find Jesus too. Some might suggest that Matt had to go through hell to discover heaven. And, Matt came home to make sure that everyone he knew as going to make it to heaven with him. He would, out of the blue, show up on people's doorsteps and come in with a bible in his hand. He would sit there and read scripture and talk about the importance of knowing Jesus as your Lord and Savior. How did he know whose door to knock on next? How did he know who needed to hear? He just listened and followed. Everyone needed to hear. Everyone needed to know. Following Jesus didn't mean there was a specific target in mind. Following Jesus simply meant that Jesus needed to be introduced to anyone who would listen. 

But, what about the people he spoke with?
How many people had questions just like our Ethiopian here?
A better question to ask might be - how many people are willing to put themselves in the right place so as to be available to answer those questions? It's because Philip had long ago surrendered himself to the will of the Lord that he finds himself in this place. Long ago he came to know who Jesus is and began to follow. Now, he is in place to help others follow. 

The one who is seeking has questions that need to be answered.
He has read some scripture. That's always helpful. 

He is in one of the most familiar books that speaks to who Jesus is. The prophet Isaiah. 
32 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.
33 In his humiliation he was deprived of justice.
    Who can speak of his descendants?
    For his life was taken from the earth.”[b]
 What would cause someone to turn to such a provocative passage as this?
John Wesley would describe the grace of God in such terms as prevenient, justifying, and sanctifying. Prevenient grace goes before us. Leading us. Guiding us. Drawing us in. Maybe even causing us to question, to ask, to desire the things of God before we even are able to define or understand what is happening.
34 The eunuch asked Philip, “Tell me, please, who is the prophet talking about, himself or someone else?”
 Have you ever had questions that just needed to be answered? Deep spiritual questions.
Questions that plague the soul unless there is something or someone who can retort with the proper message that will fill the void. We should know the only answer that will suffice. The Ethiopian wants to know who Isaiah is talking about? He has been to Jerusalem to worship. Most likely, he has been to the Temple and offered his sacrifice for sins. In other words, he has done what he needs to do on a religious and ritualistic level. But, still... There is something missing. How many of us come to church each week simply because it "the requirement"? Is there anything missing? Is there something longed for? Is there an empty spot that has not been filled?

This Jesus that Philip speaks of can come to the heart of any one will turn their lives over and ask for forgiveness. Philip, most likely, shares the history of why this Jesus came to give his life so that all could know this forgiveness. The way of the believers thus far has been to accept the message of Christ as Savior and Lord and then be baptized. The subject must have been on the table for discussion since the Ethiopian is the one who calls it out. “Look, here is water. What can stand in the way of my being baptized?” Here is a moment for being justified. When we come to Jesus, inviting him to enter our hearts and lives, we are coming to God in justifying grace. If we came to God in any other means, there would not be anything to warrant the approach. Jesus makes it possible for us to know God. There is no other way. There is no other person. There is no mysterious knowledge that need to be covered. Jesus is the Way, the Truth, the Life. Jesus gave his life so we could be in a right relationship with God. 

In this moment of baptism, we are sprinkled with water as a sign that the Holy Spirit has come to rest upon us. The Ethiopian go the fully immersed route. He puts his old life down into the abyss, the deep, and comes back up to new life. Any way we choose to be baptized it shows that God has come into our lives and made us his child. We take vows in our baptism that mean Jesus is what matters most. We want to live for Jesus. We want to be like Jesus. We want to follow the example that he lived out. We turn our lives over to God and we let God lead the way. 

There's one last matter to discuss in our scripture passage today.
As soon as the Ethiopian has been baptized, as soon as his life is in the Lord's hands, Philip is whisked away. It seems that as soon as the work is completed, Philip is needed elsewhere. Can you imagine being there in the moment. You come up out of the water and see this person just taken away. It's rapturesque. I have wondered why Philip isn't left there. He could have been a person of support for this new convert. But, that doesn't seem to be a point of major importance to the Lord. There will be others whom this Ethiopian will intersect with in life. 

Sometimes we tend to put too much emphasis on a certain person. We get too attached.
Later in his letters, the Apostle Paul would speak with the Corinthians about following a person. says, “I follow Paul,” and another, “I follow Apollos,” ” Maybe the Lord takes Philip away so that the Ethiopian won't become dependent upon 'the man'. The new convert's faith needs to focus on the Lord and Savior that Philip has introduced. People cross our paths for a reason, I believe. People strengthen us or challenge us. Then our path is changed or their path is changed. Suddenly they are gone. Maybe we never see them again. We are left with the lessons we learned. We are strengthened by the truth shared. But our lives cannot be wrapped up in the person. Our focus must be upon the Lord. The Author and Giver of our lives. If we make anything or anyone else our cornerstone, we are missing the point. 

Jesus. Name above all names.

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