The Fifth Sunday of Easter
April 29, 2018
Easter Empowers the Means of Grace
Now an angel of the Lord said to Philip, “Go south to the road—the desert road—that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.” 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, and on his way home was sitting in his chariot reading the book of Isaiah the prophet. The Spirit told Philip, “Go to that chariot and stay near it.” Then Philip ran up to the chariot and heard the man reading Isaiah the prophet. “Do you understand what you are reading?” Philip asked. “How can I,” he said, “unless someone explains it to me?” So he invited Philip to come up and sit with him. 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. In his humiliation he was deprived of justice. Who can speak of his descendants? For his life was taken from the earth.” The eunuch asked Philip, “Tell me, please, who is the prophet talking about, himself or someone else?” Then Philip began with that very passage of Scripture and told him the good news about Jesus. 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?” And he gave orders to stop the chariot. Then both Philip and the eunuch went down into the water and Philip baptized him. 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. Philip, however, appeared at Azotus and traveled about, preaching the gospel in all the towns until he reached Caesarea. (NIV1984)
Dear fellow worshipers of our living Lord and Savior,
Have you ever stopped to consider how many of the things that you depend on are completely dependent on something to power them? You get up in the middle of the night and flip a little switch on the wall— fully expecting the light to come on. But, that light is completely dependent on electricity to power it! No electricity— no light! You get in your car to go to your doctor’s appointment. But, before you get halfway down the block your car starts to spit and sputter and soon the engine stops running. As you coast to the curb you look down at the gas gauge and remember that you were supposed to stop for gas yesterday! Unless you are tooling around town in a Tesla your car is completely dependent on gas to power it! No gas— no go! Whether we are conscious of it or not, my friends, we are very much dependent on things that are very much dependent on something to power them.
Now let’s take that reality and apply it to Jesus’ Church here on this earth. You all know how much emphasis I place on the Means of Grace— the message of the Gospel as it comes to us in both Word and Sacrament. The Means of Grace are what the Church is all about! But, have you ever stopped to consider the fact that the Means of Grace need something to power them? With that in mind let’s use this portion of the book of Acts to see that: Easter Empowers the Means of Grace. First, let’s make sure we understand the event that is recorded for us here in our text. Then, let’s see if there is a way to apply this text to our hearts and our lives today.
The conversion of the Ethiopian eunuch is relatively familiar and relatively easy to understand. In the bigger picture of the book of Acts the conversion of the Ethiopian eunuch gives us an opportunity to see how the message of the Gospel rippled out from Jerusalem to Judea to Samaria and ultimately to the ends of the earth. (See Acts 1:8) But even though this is an amazing account of how God’s people are given amazing opportunities to share their faith with others our goal this morning will remain very specific. Our goal is to see how Easter empowers the “tools” that we have been given to carry out the Great Commission— “Go and make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:19).
Since the “working definition” of the Means of Grace is, “The Gospel in Word and Sacrament” let’s begin by looking at the prominent place which God’s Word is given here in our text. The Lord God Himself had given to Philip what might be called a “picture perfect evangelism experience.” Philip was told to go south on the road that leads from Jerusalem to Gaza. As he is walking Philip meets a eunuch— but not just any eunuch. Not only was this man from the ancient country of Ethiopia (which today would be southern Egypt and northern Sudan), not only was this man an important government official, not only had this man “gone to Jerusalem to worship” (verse 27), not only was this man reading from “the book of Isaiah the prophet” (verse 28), but this man was reading from Isaiah 53 where the Lord describes the suffering, death and resurrection of the Promised Messiah! (Verses 32-33)
Now look at verse 34-35 of our text, “The eunuch asked Philip, ‘Tell me, please, who is the prophet talking about, himself or someone else?’ Then Philip began with that very passage of Scripture and told him the good news about Jesus.”
Beginning with the first Gospel promise in Genesis 3:15 and continuing throughout the entire Old Testament era, the Lord always gave His Old Testament children enough insight into His Plan of Salvation for this world so that they could be saved— purely by grace through faith in what God promised He would do for them. Obviously, however, some of the Old Testament believers did not always understand some of the Messianic prophecies which God revealed to them. So what did Philip do to help his man? Did Philip say to the Ethiopian eunuch, “Well, what I think this probably means is…”? Did Philip say to the Ethiopian eunuch, “One way to interpret what Isaiah says is…”? Did Philip try to tell the Ethiopian eunuch, “What Isaiah probably meant to say was…”? Absolutely not! Philip proclaimed what God had revealed through His servant Isaiah by simply sharing with the Ethiopian eunuch “the good news about Jesus.” And since we’re told that Philip began with the very portion of Isaiah which the Ethiopian eunuch was reading, Philip undoubtedly walked this Ethiopian eunuch through the events of what we call Holy Week— including Easter!
This first section of our text is why you and I can say that Easter empowers the message of God’s Word. If Easter were not true then this book (the Bible) would be false. If Jesus did not physically rise from the grave this book (the Bible) would not only be dead but it would also bring death. But because Easter is true we know that the rest of God’s holy Word is also true! Because Jesus lives we know that this book (the Bible) is not only the living Word of our living God but this Book also brings life to you and to me! Easter is the inexhaustible source of power which assures us that when we are faithfully sharing God’s Word with others, when we are faithfully telling people that God’s Son died on the cross to pay for their sins and then rose from the grave to guarantee their salvation— then, my friends, then we are wielding a “tool” which has the “energy,” the “power” to first bring a person to their knees in repentance and then lift them to their feet with the joy of salvation!
At the same time, Easter not only empowers God’s holy Word but it also empowers God’s holy Sacraments. Here in our text we are specifically reminded of how Easter empowers the Sacrament of Holy Baptism. After hearing about what Jesus had done for him, after being brought to faith in Jesus as his only Savior from sin the Ethiopian eunuch turned to Philip and said, “Look, here is water. Why shouldn’t I be baptized?” So Philip baptized him. From that day forward this man’s Christian baptism served as the “knot at the end of his spiritual rope.” No matter what did or did not happen in his life when he got home to Ethiopia this man could always “hold on” to what God had done for him.
To this very day, my friends, Easter empowers the Sacrament of Holy Baptism. Baptism’s “power” to wash away sins, Baptism’s “power” to “cleanse” us in the eyes of a holy, just and perfect God, Baptism’s “power” to create the gift of saving faith in the heart of even the youngest child is based upon the death and the physical resurrection of Jesus the Christ. In Romans 6:4 Paul tells us, “We were therefore buried with him (i.e. Jesus Christ) through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.”
In much the same way, the reality of Easter is what empowers the Sacrament of Holy Communion. Because Jesus was able to keep His promise and physically rose from the dead on the third day so also we have the confidence of knowing that Jesus is able to keep all the promises He makes to us— including His promise that in His holy Supper He gives us His true body and His true blood to assure us that all of our sins are forgiven.
While we may not always stop to think about it, Easter does indeed “empower” the Means of Grace. Without Easter the Bible is just another book. Without Easter Baptism is just a nice ceremony we use to “christen” or to “dedicate” our children. Without Easter the Lord’s Supper loses its meaning, its importance and its power for you and for me.
Is there a way to properly apply all of this to our hearts and our lives today? I think there is. Being a Christian in this sin-filled world is not an easy thing to do. Openly proclaiming the Truth of God’s holy Word, openly living our life in a way that is pleasing to our risen Savior, openly bearing the “fruits of faith” that our God expects to see in our lives— no, that that is not always easy to do! Sometimes we get “down.” Sometimes we feel “overwhelmed.” If— or perhaps I should say when— that happens to you I encourage you to remember this: Easter empowers the Means of Grace!
Whenever you are feeling overwhelmed by anything in your life turn to the power-filled Word of your God. Re-read the Easter accounts recorded in sacred Scripture. Listen as your risen Lord says to you, “Peace be with you” (John 20:21), “I am with you always” (Mathew 28:20), “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28). When other people don’t seem to appreciate you for who you are and what you do for them, remember what God did for you when you were baptized in His holy Name. Remember that you are His beloved child, a child to whom He says, “Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine” (Isaiah 43:1). When you feel as though you have perhaps failed in your role as a Christian, come to the altar of your risen Lord and Savior and listen as He comforts you and strengthens you with the words, “This is my body given for you…This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins” (Luke 22:19 & Matthew 26:28). When you are concerned about your children and what the future has in store for them remember the day that you lovingly brought them to the baptismal font and watched a miracle take place as their sins were washed away and your heavenly Father adopted your precious child as His own precious child. When your journey here on this earth comes to an end take comfort in knowing that Easter not only guarantees to you a sweet blessed family reunion in heaven, but Easter guarantees that your physical death automatically ushers you into a glorious eternal life in your heavenly Father’s Home!
It is not difficult for us to realize that many of the things we depend on in our day to day lives are completely dependent on something to power them. Every time we flip that little switch on the wall, every time we stop to fill up the car with gas we are reminded of this truth. My prayer then this morning is actually quite simple. Even though the celebration of Easter may seem to be fading into the backdrop of history I pray that we will remember how important it is for us to hang on to the reality of Easter each and every day of the year. Easter is what makes this book the powerful living Word of our God. Easter is what empowers Baptism to wash away our sins and give us the gift of saving faith. Easter is what empowers the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper to strengthen our faith and to keep us in the saving faith until the very end of our life. So remember, my friends: Easter empowers the Means of Grace which God Himself has given to you and to me.
He is risen! He is risen indeed!
To God be the glory!