The Lord Has His Church (Acts 8:26-40) Easter5B
Fifth Sunday of Easter Trinity Lutheran Church
6 May 2012 Murdock, NE
+ Jesu Juva +
First Christian Church of Jerusalem is deeply devastated! Shaken to the core! One of her preachers Stephen is dead. Stoned to death. Murdered in cold blood! Executed for his faith in Jesus as the promised Savior. Martyred for being a Christian and taking his Christianity quite seriously. Marked with the cross and name of Jesus in holy baptism, going to church to receive the forgiveness of sins in the preached Word and at the Sacrament of the Altar week in and week out cost Stephen his earthly life!
And now Saul the Pharisee ramps up his persecution of Christians. Goes from house to house. And if you’re a Christian you are taken from your home and put into a new one: prison! And if you dare to audaciously proclaim your faithfulness to a so-called Jesus of Nazareth who supposedly rose from the dead and who claimed to be God in the flesh, then your mouth would be silenced as well! Permanently! Either by volleyball sized rocks hurled at your head, by a blade thrust in your back, by a sword lopping off your head, or by spikes pinning your body to a cross until you’re graveyard dead!
Ruthless. Brutal. Callous. Eliminate all those who are baptized in Jesus’ name! Who claim that Jesus is the Vine and that they are the branches! Saul will stop at nothing to destroy the early church! He will use whatever means! All his religious wits and wherewithal! And most especially the raw power of the Roman state!
How will the church survive? She has no corporate headquarters! No lawyers or lobbyists at Rome! No war chest with World Bank of Rome, the Royal Bank of Scotland, or with First Union Bank and Trust of Jerusalem! No consultants! No pomp and circumstance! No masthead mission statement adopted at a convention! No impact studies! Oh sure, she has a bunch of preachers fixated with a crucified and resurrected Jesus-sermon in their mouths! But such a sermon appears to be no match for opponents! A word from their mouths can’t be of any help for the weary and worn down church as she struggles just to survive and is on verge of death!
First Church of Jerusalem, to human eyes, is pathetically poor, weak, and too little to withstand her powerful enemies. She may as well just despair. Close her doors. Call it quits. And die!
But suffering, persecution, and death is the Lord’s cup of tea! He will use it for the church’s good! For the church’s life! For the church’s thriving! For the church’s growth! Even for your good, your thriving, and your growing!
“Really? Suffering, persecution, and death can be for the church’s and our good? Come on Reverend! You can’t be serious!”
I am! Deadly! I really mean it! And I won’t back down! Even if you decide to call the doctor, reserve a room with padded pink walls, and measure me for a jacket that they call straight. I will keep telling you this even if you command me not to! Or if you promise me a permanent golf vacation! I won’t change my mind!
Hear me out. I beg you. Suffering, persecution, and death does the reverse of what Saul planned – what Saul diabolically had in mind. Instead, of destroying the church Saul’s persecution DID JUST THE OPPOSITE! Saul’s stalking and bullying helped the church spread throughout the world! The church grew! The church flourished!
The Holy Spirit’s power is made manifest by converting people to faith in Jesus and their receiving Holy Baptism! Faith is the new creation! In other words, in times of utter calamity, darkness and death the Holy Spirit, the Lord and Giver of life, continues through the Word and Sacrament to call, gather, enlighten, sanctify, and keep the whole Christian church on earth with Jesus Christ in the one true faith! You remember the Lord Jesus made a promise: “I will build my church … not even the gates of hell will prevail against her,” (Matthew 16:18).
Check it out! Preacher Philip has to high tail it out of Jerusalem. Otherwise he’ll be as dead as Stephen if Saul gets to him. He is directed by an angel of the Lord to go south towards Gaza.
And on his way he is lead by the Holy Spirit? Did you catch all that? Directed by an angel and then led by the Holy Spirit! Who’s in charge? Hmm?
The Lord is. Philip is directed to meet a man of international intrigue and fame! A mover and a shaker in world politics! A Secretary of the Treasury! For her majesty and royal highness Queen Candace of the sovereign state of Ethiopia! To be “in charge of all the treasury” of a nation means that this Ethiopian eunuch is a very powerful and influential man.
This Secretary of the Ethiopian treasury has been in Jerusalem. To “worship!” A religious man! But he doesn’t know God-in-the-flesh, crucified and risen Jesus! He’s on his way back home. Takes a pit stop. While still in his chariot he’s reading something. Not a map. Not The Hunger Games or The Vampire Diaries. But the Bible! Yes, that’s right, the Bible. Specifically Isaiah, chapter 53! You know: “He was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a lamb before the shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth, … ect.”
Preacher Philip goes right up to the royal official. “Good afternoon sir! Do you understand what you’re reading?”
“Greetings preacher! I sure don’t!” the Ethiopian states. “Come and explain it to me. I can’t figure it out. About whom is Isaiah talking? Himself or some other dude?”
Philip’s answer is that the Suffering Servant, the Lamb led to the slaughter of Isaiah 53 is none other that Jesus Himself! Philip proclaims Jesus. He preaches the “good news” that Jesus is the Savior. That Isaiah 53 Jesus died for sinners! For the ungodly! For His enemies! For men like Philip. Even for Ethiopian Treasury secretaries who work for Queen Candace! He took the world’s sin in His Body on the cross! Jesus’ blood is the only “atoning sacrifice for our sins,” (1 John 4:10).
Faith comes by hearing! And hearing by the preaching of Christ Jesus! Philip has preached! The sermon bears fruit! The Ethiopian believes. Then he asks Philip to baptize him! “‘Look here is water. Why shouldn’t I be baptized?’ Then both Philip and the eunuch went down into the water and Philip baptized him.”
As soon as the baptism is over the Spirit takes Philip away. Has further use for him. Puts him to work in Philistine territory, the city of Azotus, to “preach the gospel” in that area until he reached Caesarea.
The Lord has His church! The Lord Jesus is with her. As it went with Jesus so it goes with the church and His Christians in the church (suffering, persecution, and death). And hidden in all that the church goes on. She flourishes and even grows.
We witnessed this with Philip and the Ethiopian. Despite the raging hostility of Saul and his henchmen who murdered Stephen and hunted Christians down from house to house. You have witnessed this here at Trinity for 120 years. Despite whatever furious and frantic antagonism from another Saul in our day or one who is yet to come the Lord will have His church! The “good news of Jesus” for the forgiveness of sins will be preached. People will be baptized. Faith will be created and sustained. All this is the Lord’s way! For the good of the church as well as yours! No need to despair! No need to worry! No need to fear!
In the Name of Jesus.