The Fifth Sunday of Easter May 14, 2006
1 John 3:18-24
512, 384, 355, 772 [TLH alt. 501]
Hymns from The Lutheran Hymnal (1941) unless otherwise noted
Now an angel of the Lord spoke to Philip, saying, “Arise and go toward the south along the road which goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.” This is desert. So he arose and went. And behold, a man of Ethiopia, a eunuch of great authority under Candace the queen of the Ethiopians, who had charge of all her treasury, and had come to Jerusalem to worship, was returning. And sitting in his chariot, he was reading Isaiah the prophet. Then the Spirit said to Philip, “Go near and overtake this chariot.” So Philip ran to him, and heard him reading the prophet Isaiah, and said, “Do you understand what you are reading?” And he said, “How can I, unless someone guides me?” And he asked Philip to come up and sit with him. The place in the Scripture which he read was this: “He was led as a sheep to the slaughter; and as a lamb before its shearer is silent, so He opened not His mouth. In His humiliation His justice was taken away, and who will declare His generation? For His life is taken from the earth.” So the eunuch answered Philip and said, “I ask you, of whom does the prophet say this, of himself or of some other man?” Then Philip opened his mouth, and beginning at this Scripture, preached Jesus to him. Now as they went down the road, they came to some water. And the eunuch said, “See, here is water. What hinders me from being baptized?” Then Philip said, “If you believe with all your heart, you may.” And he answered and said, “I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.” So he commanded the chariot to stand still. And both Philip and the eunuch went down into the water, and he baptized him. Now when they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord caught Philip away, so that the eunuch saw him no more; and he went on his way rejoicing. But Philip was found at Azotus. And passing through, he preached in all the cities till he came to Caesarea.
In the name of our ever-present Lord, dear fellow Christians:
Have you ever been in the right place at just the right time? I was on a certain summer day. The whole neighborhood was having a garage sale, so I walked from house to house looking for bargains. But the stacks of clothes had already been picked over by others, and the household goods were not things I could use or even wanted. Then in one garage I spotted among all the other odds and ends what looked like a laptop computer. I opened it up, checked it out, plugged it in, and found it worked perfectly. I bought it for $20, and have used it ever since.
It’s exciting to be in the right place at the right time: to be in the right spot in the outfield bleachers to catch the homerun ball, to be at the grocery checkout just as a new line is opened, or to pull into a busy parking lot just as some else is backing out of a spot. But things don’t always work out that way, and it often seems to be only a matter of chance.
What if we could learn the secret of how to always be in the right place at the right time, and not just with the minor circumstances of everyday life, but with what is most important—the mission the Lord Jesus entrusts to us? He tells us that He has left us here on earth to go into all the world and preach the good news that He is risen from the dead as the Savior of all. To be in the right place at the right time to do that is truly exciting! The Lord shows us how to do this through the example of Philip.
Philip was one of seven deacons appointed by the church at Jerusalem to help the apostles. As a result of persecution, Philip ended up in Samaria and preached the Word there. He was blessed with phenomenal success. He cast out evil spirits, healed people, and many were brought to faith. There was so much to do, he couldn’t keep up, so Peter and John came to help. Every night Philip must have drifted off into peaceful and happy sleep eager to continue with the work in the morning. He was in the right place at the right time.
But then came the startling message of the angel: “Leave here and head south along the road through the desert between Jerusalem and Gaza.” [cf. v.26] Philip must have wondered, “why?” From an earthly perspective it seemed all wrong: Why leave a bustling, thriving congregation with countless mission prospects and go off to the middle of nowhere?
This teaches us about God’s priorities. His first concern is not impressive numbers and statistics. Each and every sinner is precious to Him. He does not want anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance. He loved the crowds of Samaria, but He also loved the Ethiopian eunuch, the woman at the well, and the robber on the cross. So when Philip found himself on that desolate stretch of road, contrary to all appearances, he was still in the right place at the right time.
Today, church growth groups say that the way to carry on mission work is to study the demographics of an area, look at the potential for population increase, and then target a specific segment of people, for example, young middle class families. That may well be a way to quickly build up numbers, but it is not God’s way. Instead, like Philip, we are to follow the Spirit’s direction wherever He may lead. He doesn’t contact us directly through an angel, but He does guide the course of our entire life. David says, “Your eyes saw my unformed body. All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be” (Psalm 139:16 NIV).
We don’t know for sure where we will be tomorrow or ten years from now. We don’t know what situation we will be in, but the Lord knows. It may be completely different than what we might expect, but wherever we are or whatever the situation, we can be sure that with the Spirit’s direction, we are in the right place at the right time to spread His Word.
Parents are in the right place to teach the Word to their children. Children can reach their friends and classmates. e have opportunities to speak to relatives and co-workers. A confirmation class may be in the right place to speak of their faith as they canvass a neighborhood around the church. Even the seemingly most unlikely places and times can be the right time and place for the Spirit. Look at Philip on the desert road. Look at Joseph when he was in prison and how he spoke to Pharaoh’s cup bearer and baker.
I once ministered to an elderly Christian who was discouraged. He had been very active in the congregation’s outreach efforts, as well as on a personal level. Then he became seriously ill, was homebound, and eventually had to be hospitalized. He felt that he might as well be dead because in his view there was nothing he could do to serve the Lord any longer. I assured him that the Lord would certainly give him opportunities even in the hospital. A day or two later I visited him again, and he could hardly wait to tell me how he had been able to have several conversations with nurses and others about the Savior. He didn’t think so at first, but by the Spirit’s direction, he was in the right place at the right time.
Do you know someone who needs to hear the Word? Have you been intending to do it for some time, but just haven’t gotten around to it? Why not do it this week? Have you looked at the people you know and meet with that goal in mind? Don’t write off anyone as a lost cause. The Lord doesn’t!
But when the Lord gives us the opportunities, what should we say? Notice that in Philip’s case, before he said too much, he listened. He listened as the eunuch expressed confusion over what God was saying in Isaiah about someone being led to slaughter as a lamb. The man wanted to know whether the prophet was referring to himself or someone else and what that meant then for the eunuch’s life. The eunuch had worshiped God in Jerusalem. Yet, he must have felt somewhat disconnected from God because, according to the Jewish religion, he was a second class citizen and wasn’t allowed to enter the temple. He had to remain in an outer courtyard.
How did Philip respond? He didn’t sidestep the man’s question or give his own opinions and philosophy on life. He didn’t even quote the respected rabbis of the time. He preached Jesus to him. Literally, the Greek says, “He preached the good news of Jesus.” He explained that the Lamb is the holy Son of God and that He was led to death on the cross as the substitutionary sacrifice for all mankind. By His death He paid the penalty for all sin and reconciled the world to God. Philip assured this foreigner that whoever believes and is baptized shall be saved. He urged him to trust in Jesus as his Savior too, and he spoke about God’s seal of salvation in baptism. It was the same message Jesus Himself preached. While the Pharisees loaded people down with rules and obligations and dire threats of punishment if they would disobey, the Lord simply said, “Repent and follow me. I am the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.”
When the Spirit puts us in the right place at the right time, what are we going to say? May we learn from Philip and first listen. Listen to the troubles, fears, and longings of others with a caring heart. Listen to the questions others have about God and their relationship with Him. Listen and then preach the good news of Jesus. That is what the words evangelize and evangelical mean.
Evangelism is not giving someone a self-help program and saying, “Here are the commandments and here is how God wants you to live. Turn your life around and live like a Christian and you are saved.” Evangelizing is not saying, “What would Jesus do? Now you do it!” It is saying, “Look at Christ alone and all He did for you. He fulfilled the whole Law for you. He paid for all your sins on the cross. He rose from the dead so you can be sure of eternal life. He did it all! Believe it! It is a free gift from Him! When the Spirit puts us in the right place at the right time, let’s say the right thing. May the Lord open our mouths to speak the good news of Jesus.
Does the Gospel work? It doesn’t seem to at times. We speak about Jesus and invite someone to church and he doesn’t come. We bring the Word to someone, and we see no response at all in his life. We preach Jesus together as a church body, and yet we don’t see mass conversions and packed stadiums.
But just because we don’t see immediate, dramatic, visible results doesn’t mean the Gospel isn’t working. It is. It must, just as the rain causes our lawns and gardens to grow. “As the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return to it without watering the earth and making it bud and flourish…so is my Word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it” (Isaiah 55:10-11 NIV).
That gospel Word completely changed the life of the Ethiopian eunuch. Outwardly, things remained the same. He went back home to his job in the royal court. But inwardly, everything was different. He was filled with joy, for now he was a baptized child of God and heir of heaven. No matter what would happen, he was safe and secure with the Lord. With his having been evangelized, we can be sure he became an evangelist himself who preached Jesus wherever and whenever he could. History tells us that a very strong Christian community developed in the area of northern Africa where the eunuch was from, and it could well have begun with him. Preaching Jesus is the ongoing mission of all believers. The Word spreads out from them like the ripples from stones thrown into a lake.
Where will we be a week from now, next year, or ten years down the road? We might have an idea or a plan, but we don’t know for sure. But we can be positive of one thing: By following the Spirit’s direction we can be sure that wherever we are, we will be in the right place at the right time to tell the good news of a Savior from sin; and that life-changing, soul-saving results will certainly follow. God bless you in that most vital mission! Amen.
Lord, gather all your children
Wherever they may be
And lead them on to heaven
To live eternally.
With You, our loving Father,
And Christ, our brother dear,
Whose Spirit guards and gives us
The joy to persevere.
[Worship Supplement 2000, 772:5]
Ministry by Mail is a weekly publication of the Church of the Lutheran Confession. Subscription and staff information may be found online at www.clclutheran.org/ministrybymail.
All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Scripture quotations marked (NIV) are taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®. NIV®. Copyright© 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved.