The Holy Spirit Having a Church!
Fifth Sunday of Easter Trinity Lutheran Church
3 May 2015 Murdock, NE
+ Jesu Juva +
My goodness! Did you notice? Did you catch it? The incredible enormity of today’s text and what it means for you and for the church?
The sending of preachers, the preaching of the Word, and Baptism are not the work of men alone. Instead, this is the work of God the Holy Spirit. Here’s the truth! The Holy Spirit calls, gathers, enlightens and sanctifies the whole Christian church on earth and keeps it with Jesus Christ in the one true faith.
WARNING! The church is not the result of man-made programs, polls, surveys, scientific or sociological studies furiously and fanatically implemented. The church does not come about because like-minded individuals agree to come together because they have the same skin color, are the same age, have the same number of kids and have identical interests. Instead, the church is the gathering of all kinds of people (diversity par excellence) around the preaching of Jesus, the Christ, who is the Savior of all mankind.
Check it out!
The work of men looks like this: men deny that Jesus is the Christ and persecute the work of God in Jesus. Men murder Jesus and then mock the preaching of His blood stained cross. Men reject that the Nazarene actually rose from the dead. Men laugh at and ignore Baptism in the Triune Name. Men ridicule the eating and drinking of Jesus’ body and blood in the Lord’s Supper – demonizing it as cannibalism or some other derogatory tag. Men are vehemently opposed to and criminalize the preaching that the only name that saves sinners is “Jesus.” Consequently, “Christian” and “Christianity” are dirty words. Christians are branded as enemies of religion, as opponents of the state, destroyers of civilization. Consequently, Christians are discriminated against. Hated. Arrested. Jailed. Murdered.
Yet, God uses it all for good. Salvationly good For people not only here at Trinity throughout her existence but all over the world beginning just outside of Jerusalem. The Holy Spirit sends preachers to preach Christ, to baptize people, and gather them into the church that spreads throughout the world.
In the Book of Acts the persecution that scatters the church also scatters abroad the preaching of the Gospel. This is God’s work. And the Word of the Lord grows! Prime example: Philip.
Listen: “An angel of the Lord said to Philip, ‘Go south to the road – the desert road – that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.” To the desert? There’s nothing in the desert except scorpions and snakes! Send Pastor Philip to the uninhabited, heat stroke, desert sand dunes wasteland? Angels only follow orders. Orders from the Lord. This is the Lord’s word. The Lord’s work.
Why? So that Philip will preach, baptize, and gather into the Lord’s church one of the most unlikely and ineligible people on the face of the earth. “So he started out, and on his way he met an Ethiopian eunuch.”
Did you hear that? An Ethiopian. Not only a non-Israel Gentile, but did you notice his skin color? Not the same as yours. Does that make you nervous? Oh, there’s more. He’s a eunuch. Hmm. How do I explain “eunuch”? I have to keep this sermon G rated. I’ll do my best. It means that the Ethiopian has been emasculated by crushing or by cutting. No doubt you’re ready to quote Deuteronomy 23:1 that prohibits such men from stepping foot into church, right?
Perhaps you’d be willing to cut the Ethiopian eunuch some slack once you find out that he’s a highbrow political insider in Queen Candace’s administration. In fact, he’s the Chief Financial Officer of Ethiopia!
But there’s more. Check it out. He’s been in Jerusalem to do what many wouldn’t allow: TO WORSHIP. Imagine that. Gentile Ethiopian. Rendered impotent. Secretary of the Treasury in the Candace administration. And a worshipper! A convert to Judaism.
But there’s even more. On his way home to Africa, as pulls over for a break, he’s reading a scroll from the Old Testament. The prophet Isaiah to be precise. This too is absolutely incredible. A miracle. Someone actually studies and reads the Bible! That’s a rare bird! People like that are almost extinct. In addition, to obtain a scroll in those days would personally cost him a huge chunk of change. Scrolls, not to mention, biblical scrolls would be more expensive than gold.
Well, then, if the emasculated Ethiopian official is a worshipper and if he’s deep in the study of Holy Scripture, what’s Philip there for? Who needs Philip when all that’s going on?
Glad you asked. “The Spirit told Philip, ‘Go to that chariot and stay near it.’” Remember, how this sermon started? You are witnessing the work and will of the Holy Spirit!
Philip sprints to the chariot. The Ethiopian is reading out loud. (That’s how the ancients read everything: out loud. Words are meant to be spoken and to be heard. Even the written ones. That’s why the readings on the back of the bulletin are read out loud every Sunday.)
Philip doesn’t even introduce himself. He has the audacity to interrupt and blurt out a question: “Sir, do you understand what you’re reading?” How dare he? He dared! The Ethiopian is eager to learn the Scriptures (again – what a very rare bird) so he says: “How can I unless someone explains it to me? Please, come into my chariot. Sit with me. Here’s what I’m reading. It’s from the prophet Isaiah chapter 53. Here let me read part of it to you: ‘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. … his life was taken from the earth.’ Who’s Isaiah talking about? Himself? Or someone else?”
As quick as you can say, “Bob’s your uncle,” Philip is in full force preacher mode. Preaching that Jesus the Nazarene is the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecies of the Savior. Proclaiming that Jesus is the Lamb who takes away the sin of the world. How? By His dying on the cross! By taking the sin of the world in His body on the cross and answering for it once and for all. Philip clinches his sermon like all faithful preachers: “Lamb of God Jesus died FOR YOU Mr. Treasurer Secretary from Ethiopia. Because He rose from the dead all your sin is forgiven. Salvation is yours.”
Philip preaches because faith comes by hearing. And hearing by the preaching of Jesus — Romans 10:17. That’s why the Holy Spirit sent Philip to this man. To preach the gospel – to preach Jesus FOR HIM so that the Ethiopian would be, once and for all, a true worshipper – in Spirit and in truth – namely, one who believes in Jesus for salvation. One who depends on Jesus!
The believing, dependent-upon-Jesus-Ethiopian naturally wants more. Christians will always receive all that the Lord gives. “‘Look Preacher Philip, here’s water. Why shouldn’t I be baptized?’” Philip baptized him PDQ! Holy Baptism it’s the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit (Titus 3:5-8). In addition, whoever is baptized into Christ is baptized or bathed in the divine blood of Christ and is cleansed from all sin.
The preaching of Jesus for the sake of faith, people receiving Holy Baptism and being gathered into the church! This is the Spirit’s work!
The Spirit had more of this for Philip to do. “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 kept on preaching the gospel in other places. More people to graft on to Vine Jesus. Again, this is the Spirit at work.
Now, here you are at Trinity, thousands of years later. You are the branches of Vine Jesus — the fruit of the gospel being preached and your being baptized in the Triune name by many faithful pastors over the years. It all looked like only the work of men. It wasn’t. It was the work of the Holy Spirit. In your life – calling you to faith in Jesus through the preaching of the gospel, enlightening you by the gift of Holy Baptism, holy-ing or sanctifying you with Christ’s Good Friday forgiveness in the Lord’s Supper, and keeping you in the true faith.
An Ethiopian and you! Christians! Abiders in Vine Jesus. Branches of Vine Jesus. True worshippers! All because of the Holy Spirit’s working and giving in the Word and sacraments. Just as the Small Catechism faithfully puts it: “I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him but the Holy Spirit has called me by the gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith.” Indeed! That is the truth.
In the Name of Jesus.