April 29, 2018 [Easter 5]  Acts 8:26-40  J.D.Roekle

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 eunuch, an important official in charge of all the treasury of Candace, 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 The eunuch was reading this passage of Scripture:

         “He was led like a sheep to the slaughter,

         and as a lamb before the 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.”

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. Why shouldn’t I be baptized?” 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.

 

Every Soul is Precious to God

 

Dear Friends in Christ,

          The Germans captured more than 20,000 U.S. soldiers during the Battle of the Bulge.  Of that number, 1292 of these men were non-commissioned officers who wound up in a prison camp in Ziegenhain, Germany.  One day after their arrival in Ziegenhain, the commandant of the prison camp ordered all Jewish POWs in that group of 1292 to present themselves the next morning.  Upon hearing that, the highest ranking officer of the American POWs, a man by the name of Master Sergeant Roddie Edmonds, ordered all 1292 men to present themselves the next morning.  Seeing all 1292 POWs the next morning, the commandant approached Master Sgt. Edmonds and said: “You can’t all be Jews.”  At the risk of his own life, Edmonds replied: “We are all Jews.”  Edmonds certainly could have just given up the 200 or so men who were Jews, but to him, every American POW was precious.  In the end, they all ended up surviving. 

          How precious are you to God?  Do we really even need to ask the question?  Because who we are by nature wars against our faith, we need to be constantly reminded.  Each week we gather for worship, we are reminded of how precious each of us are to God.  And this is important because it only takes a bad event in our lives to get us to forget or at the very least doubt this truth.  But in order for us to have the truth that every soul is precious to God cemented in our minds, let’s see how this truth plays out in this account from Acts. 

          Much of the time when you hear this account of Philip and the Ethiopian man, the emphasis may often be on Philip and what the Lord led him to do.  Certainly that is a very valid emphasis.  But today, while we may be talking about Philip too, our emphasis is really going to be on the Ethiopian man.  We want to see how God clearly is telling us that every soul is precious to him. 

          The man from Ethiopia was clearly not a Jew by birth.  He was from Africa.  But somewhere along the way, he apparently began to follow Judaism.  In fact, we are told that he was going back to Ethiopia after having worshipped up in Jerusalem.  While we don’t know how much he knew about Jesus, he clearly didn’t know that Jesus was the Messiah, the Savior. 

          Because this man’s soul was precious to God, He went out of his way to make sure he learned about Jesus.  He went out of his way by sending Philip.  This is pretty remarkable especially when you consider what Philip had been doing. 

          You may remember that Philip was one of the 7 men who were appointed as deacons in Jerusalem, who were to help with the distribution of food of the Christian widows.  Apparently, that responsibility had run its course because at the time the Spirit redirects Philip here, we find Philip in an unnamed city in the region of Samaria.  He is working there as an evangelist.  He was already working on the Gentiles. And he was having some good success.  The Holy Spirit had reached the hearts of many men and women there. 

          Now, God redirects Philip’s attention.  Why?  For the sake of a single man.  For the sake of one individual.  One soul.  One precious soul.  And we see the careful attention the Lord is giving this one precious soul.  It was an angel of the Lord who sent Philip in his general direction.  It was the Holy Spirit who specifically commanded Philip: “Go to that chariot and stay near it.”  It was God who made the writing of his prophet Isaiah available to this Ethiopian man who came from an area where the Old Testament Scriptures were likely not as obtainable.  And it was God who had made sure that Philip was trained in such a way so that he could help this man understand that Isaiah was talking about Jesus.  God did all this for one precious soul.  Is there any doubt that every soul is precious to him!

          Who is your Philip?  Who was it that first taught you about the love of God in Christ?  Who was it that brought you to the waters of baptism?  Who was it that took the time to explain Scripture to you?  Who was it that told you that the suffering servant that the prophet Isaiah is talking about was your Savior who willing suffered and died for you to win salvation and forgiveness for you? 

          Maybe it was a whole series of Philips that your Lord has sent to you.  Whoever it is, thank God for that person or persons.  Whoever it is, it should remind you of how precious you are to God.  He sent his resources specifically to you.  He sent a person or people specifically for your benefit, in order to bring you the love of God that we find in Christ Jesus our Savior. 

          That leads us to a thought that should come naturally to us by faith.  Since God has found me to be so precious to him, who does God want to reach out to with the Gospel?  Of course, we will immediately want to think of those who don’t know Jesus or who may have heard about Jesus but don’t understand what he’s all about.  We always want to be prepared to give an answer for the hope that we have in Christ. 

          In respect to this, we most often point you to look for people outside the church who are not currently churched anywhere.  There is a huge mission field out there.  Look for those individuals.  If you know someone in that situation, find a way to reach out to them with the Good News of Jesus. 

          But there is another segment of people I’d like you to focus on too.  Focus your attention on people who have fallen away from church or are in the process of falling away.  You may think to yourself: that’s the work of the elders.  True.  That is the work they are specifically tasked with.  But you also can play a part in this.  You too can assist. 

          When people are falling away from church, many of them are like this Ethiopian man.  They may not understand any longer the significance of Jesus.  And so, they need to be reminded.  They need be reminded that Jesus is the suffering servant who humbled himself even to the point of death, yes, even death on a cross.  They need to be reminded of how important Jesus is for them each day of their lives.  When they are led to those Scriptural truths once again, it is the Holy Spirit that takes over and moves them to act on their faith.  To come and worship their Savior once again. 

          While the elders do this work on behalf of the church, they are unable to reach everyone.  There are some who won’t answer the elders’ letters or phone calls.  That’s where you come in.  You do know some of these individuals.  You do communicate with some of them.  Let the Lord remind you how important it is that you talk to them about Jesus by reminding you that each soul is precious to him.  Each soul is so precious that God would sacrifice his own Son to die for each soul. 

          Many of those who have been falling away from church are much like evangelism prospects.  What they need is to be connected or reconnected to the vine.  They need to reconnect with Jesus.  He is the one who gives life.  He is the one who makes our lives flourish by producing fruit in connection with our faith. 

          Every soul is precious to God.  May the Ethiopian man be a reminder to you of that truth.  May you be reminded of how God has singled you out by sending individuals to you to care for your soul.  With that truth in mind, may you be moved to care for other precious souls.  Amen.