The Planting of the Word August 7th, 2022
O Lord, speak to us again through the teaching of Scripture. Challenge us and comfort us with the presence of your Holy Spirit, so that we are assured of your love and inspired to follow Jesus, your Living Word. Amen.
New Testament Reading:
Last week in our reading from the book of Acts we had our introduction to a man by the name of Philip who was a member of the early church in Jerusalem. He was one of the seven men who had been selected to look after the day-to-day affairs of running the church. But he also had the skill of evangelization and so was able to bring many unbelievers to come to accept Jesus Christ as their Lord and Saviour. The book of Acts is showing us ways to grow, not only our own faith, but also the faith of others.
As the Christian church grew in Jerusalem it came under more and more harassment by the leaders of the Temple. Because of this those first Christians felt threatened and many of them fled Jerusalem to avoid persecution. One of these was Philip, of whom we’re told that, “Philip went down to the city of Samaria and proclaimed to them the Christ. And the crowds with one accord paid attention to what was being said by Philip, when they heard him and saw the signs that he did. For unclean spirits, crying out with a loud voice, came out of many who had them, and many who were paralyzed, or lame were healed. So, there was much joy in that city.”
And in that city of Samaria there was a man by the name of Simon, and he was a magician. This is what we read about him, “But there was a man named Simon, who had previously practiced magic in the city and amazed the people of Samaria, saying that he himself was somebody great. They all paid attention to him, from the least to the greatest, saying, “This man is the power of God that is called Great.” And they paid attention to him because for a long time he had amazed them with his magic.”
But once Philip began to tell the people about Jesus this is what took place, “But when they believed Philip as he preached good news about the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and women. Even Simon himself believed, and after being baptized he continued with Philip. And seeing signs and great miracles performed, he was amazed.” So, with the guidance of the Holy Spirit working through him, Philip was able to bring the Good News of the Saving Grace of Jesus Christ to the Samaritans.
Now, you’d think that with such success Philip would be inclined to stay where he was and build his ministry, but that wasn’t to be the case, for Luke tells us, “Then an angel of the Lord said to Philip, “Get up and go toward the south to the road that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.” (This is a wilderness road.) So, he got up and went.” We don’t know exactly when that happened, but it would seem that right in the middle of this revival in Samaria, the Lord sent an angel to tell Philip to leave that region. He was to travel to a desert road that led south from Jerusalem to Gaza. Philip must have thought to himself, why would I go to a road in a desert, things are going so well here? Philip had been leading a successful ministry in Samaria, so it must have come as a surprise to him to be told to go elsewhere. But God knew he was the right man for the job and had an angel speak to him, giving him directions to head to the road from Jerusalem to Gaza.
And so, Philip obeys the angel and goes to that wilderness desert road. And through the grace of God we’re told, “And there was an Ethiopian, a eunuch, a court official of Candace, queen of the Ethiopians, who was in charge of all her treasure. He had come to Jerusalem to worship and was returning, seated in his chariot, and he was reading the prophet Isaiah”
Now there’s quite a bit of information in those few lines. First of all, the man on the chariot was from Ethiopia, not the same country we know today, but rather a place in the heart of the African continent. We know he had a position of importance in the royal court as he was in charge of the treasury. And he was part of the court of the Queen of Ethiopia, whose title was Candace.
This Ethiopian had gone to the Temple in Jerusalem, which was a journey of over a thousand miles, to find out more about the Jewish faith and was now returning home. While he was there, he had purchased an expensive leather scroll containing the book of Isaiah and was reading it out loud as he travelled. The section he was reading at the time he encountered Philip was the prophecy by Isaiah of the death of the Messiah for the Jewish people, being Jesus.
And at this point we’re told, “And the Spirit said to Philip, “Go over and join this chariot.” So, Philip ran to him and heard him reading Isaiah the prophet and asked, “Do you understand what you are reading?” And he said, “How can I, unless someone guides me?” And he invited Philip to come up and sit with him.”
He then said to Philip, “‘About whom, I ask you, does the prophet say this, about himself or about someone else?’” The Ethiopian wanted to know about whom the prophet Isaiah was speaking, was it himself or someone else? Philip took this opportunity to tell him about Jesus Christ and the fact that he was the Son of God who came into the world to offer himself as a sacrifice for all of mankind.
And the words of Philip touched the man’s heart, for we’re told, “And as they were going along the road they came to some water, and the eunuch said, ‘See, here is water! What prevents me from being baptized?’ And he commanded the chariot to stop, and they both went down into the water, Philip, and the eunuch, and he baptized him.” Thus, the Ethiopian came to accept Jesus as his Lord and Saviour.
When we come to this part of the reading it’s interesting to note that in the modern translations of the Bible the verses jump from 36 to 38, there isn’t any verse 37. Bible scholars believe that one of the early scribes who was copying the manuscript of Acts inserted verse 37, where the court official confesses, “I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.”, into the text. This verse is not in any of the early or best manuscripts, and the style, according to Greek scholars, is not Luke’s style of writing. If you look in a King James translation of the Bible, you’ll see verse 37 is there.
While there is much that can be taken from this morning’s reading from Acts what struck me most was the initiative shown on the part of the Ethiopian court official in his coming to faith in Jesus Christ. First of all, it was he who decided to take the long journey from Ethiopia to Jerusalem to find out more about God. A journey of over a thousand miles by chariot on poor roads, or no roads at all, would have taken a long period of time.
Secondly, his interest in our God was piqued enough that he purchased an expensive leather scroll of the book of Isaiah to try and learn more. Thirdly, when a complete stranger, whom he encountered on that desert road, asked him if he understood what he was reading he invited him to join him in the chariot to help him understand.
And, finally, when he had heard all that Philip had to tell him about Jesus Christ, he decided to accept Christ, and as a confirmation of his faith he asked Philip to baptize him.
So, there we have four times that the Ethiopian took the lead in his coming to faith. Four times that he showed the initiative to find out more about this Christian faith. And that’s something we need to always remember, it’s up to us to tell others about the good news of salvation through faith in Jesus Christ, but in the end, it’s up to them to open their hearts to the work of the Holy Spirit and come to accept Jesus as their Saviour. As the Apostle Paul wrote, “I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So, neither he who plants, nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth.” (1 Corinthians 3:6-8) We can pray and lead others to faith through planting a seed, but it is their responsibility to learn and accept Jesus as their Saviour. Many find it easy to continue in worldly ways, and we all know it can be more exciting for a time, but only God can give us what we really need.
As the Bible says, we can plant the seeds of faith and point others in the right direction but whether they come to accept God, many times we may never know. That’s why we put it in God’s hands just as Phillip did with the Ethiopian.
Let us Pray:
Heavenly Father, grant that we may follow the example of your servant Philip and bring your word to those that need you and those who seek you, for the glory of your name. Help us come to understand that while we can plant the seed, and water it, only you can make it grow. We pray that you are always with us as we share your word with others and that your loving spirit continues to grow in us and in others. This we pray through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen