Monday, May 7, 2012

Easter 5
May 6, 2012
Fr. Philip Eberhart

Anatomy of a Divine Appointment



Our first lesson this morning is quite an extraordinary (to us) tale of the evangelistic enterprise of Philip, the apostle and evangelist of the early church. Acts 8 is the story of the beginning of the church, beyond Jerusalem. As he left and instructed the disciples, Jesus told them that “when the Holy Spirit comes upon you, you will receive power to be my witnesses, in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria and to all the ends of the earth.” This is a very familiar passage to us here at REZ and we are doing our best to put ourselves in the “flow” of God’s Spirit as His work takes us out of these four walls and into the world in witness, both near and far. Its actually far easier for us, because we don’t OWN the four walls – they are a temporary meeting place, not a fortress of retreat.

This morning I want to take a look at the steps – the experience – of Philip, the evangelist, as he was led out from the home church and he went, first to Samaria and then, by divine appointment, was sent on a jaunt to witness to one person!

Have you ever been somewhere and had an encounter with someone who you knew was a “divine appointment?” Who would say that you have had a similar kind of experience? I’m not trying to gauge spirituality here, but simple experience. What we are talking about is the experience of being “led” by God in some tangible sense. You knew that you were there “for” that person – for their comfort, for their spiritual questions, for the impact that your life brought to theirs – in whatever small way. We realize that God’s economy is in play: That there are no mistakes or chance meetings – that the Spirit of God is still very, very active in pursuing and wooing those who do not know Jesus, to come to know Him in a personal and saving relationship. And we get to be a part of that plan and work!!

EXCITED?

Philip was!! He left Jerusalem when the trouble broke out after the death of Stephen, the first Christian martyr. Look at the beginning of this chapter, Acts, chapter 8. It opens at the scene of Stephen’s death, with Saul, the young and ardent Pharisee, giving his hearty approval and taking the cause even further (in verse 3) as he began to “ravage the church” (NASB) – going from house to house, dragging off men and women and throwing them in prison.”

I love the very next verse – it wasn’t just Philip, the apostle who was an evangelist!
Verse 4: “Therefore, those who had been scattered went about preaching the word.” Philip went to Samaria (think Acts 1:8) and preached with extraordinary results – great crowds and great power from God accompanying the proclamation of the Gospel. Acts 8 is the Samaritan Pentecost! The story from verses 5 to 25 are the account of this event in and throughout Samaria.

But I want to turn quickly to our story from our first reading this morning, of Philip with the Ethiopian government official. Let’s begin by looking at verse 26: Right away we come across our first stumbling block: An Angel of the Lord spoke to Philip!

If I asked for a show of hands on that one, I might get a few among our group here, but by in large, we are without a great deal of experience in having an angel of the Lord speak to us! How do we translate this? Can we not go out for Jesus without a directive from God Himself? Of course we can. The point of my making a big deal of this, is we need to TUNE IN.

You need to know that Philip didn’t have this big, personal angel that talked to him all the time! We have a name for people like that, and its not Apostle!!! BUT…
Philip was listening!! Philip was TUNED IN to what the Lord was saying.

Have you ever spent time just getting quiet and trying to TUNE IN to what God might be saying to you – in order to fulfill the directive of ACTS 1:8? In order to fulfill the commandment of Jesus in MATT 28, to Go into all the World?

I believe that having that intention is key to our listening and to our hearing from God! Philip was anxious to get onto the next ASSIGNMENT, so he was LISTENING, and he heard – the voice of the Angel of the Lord, in this case, giving him direction for the next step.

“Get up and go south to the road that descends from Jerusalem to Gaza”
Then there is a parenthetical remark: “(This is a desert road)” Why would that matter? This is a storyteller’s device – a way to say (the road less traveled). Philip was being sent to somewhere, where he was least likely to encounter the great crowds he had just experienced! Sometimes God has us in places where we are up front and the fun begins!! The Holy Spirit is moving and the healings are happening, the demons are jumping and people are being saved and baptized. But sometimes God puts us in quiet, out-of-the-way spots, where not many pass by, in order to reach ONE. Always remember the KINGDOM IS BUILT ONE LIFE AT A TIME!

Next line: “So he got up and went;”

Remember our three little BIG words for life @ REZ?
Willingness …. Availability …. And Obedience

Philip was all of those in these two verses! So, He got up and went!! Obedience
And what did Philip find. A chariot traveling the road – a chariot of some substance, the treasurer of Ethiopia aboard, a court official of the queen! And he just happened to be reading from the OT book of Isaiah in the 53rd chapter!!! What a coincidence!!

What is the underlying substrata – the foundational soil of this whole story?
In a word, LISTEN!

The experience of Philip here is based on his willingness to LISTEN …
To God and to another as they passed by.

Then Philip asked one question: “Do you understand what you are reading?”

Have you ever noticed that as people begin to be encountered by the Holy Spirit they often find themselves with questions? Perhaps about life or circumstances, but on occasion, conversation will turn to the subject of scripture.

If we will listen to people, often they will ask the questions!

“Please tell me … (I love that!) … “of whom does the prophet say this? Of himself or of someone else?”

“And Philip opened his mouth, and beginning from this Scripture he preached Jesus to him!

How do you “preach Jesus” to someone? What are the basics? What do you tell them and what do they need to know?

Does anyone here have a bible with Verse 37 in it? In the text of the scripture itself. All of them have it, just most of the modern translations have it as a footnote.

It is not in our reading in the bulletin, but it is in the KJV. Anyone?
“And Philip said, If thou believest with all thine heart, thou mayest. And he answered and said, I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.”

Why this discrepancy among the versions of our bible?
Because the KJV was written in the early 1600’s, and was based on the current Greek manuscripts and scholarship and on the Latin Vulgate. Since the 1600’s a great many new and many older Greek manuscripts have come to light, which do not include this verse 37. That is the difference that the modern biblical translators are dealing with, and why the verse is placed in the column or footnotes, rather than in the actual text of the scriptures. (Just a little aside to help you budding bible scholars.)

But the verse itself is interesting in its content: “If you believe with all your heart you may [be baptized]. And he answered and said, “I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.” What we see here, if it is indeed a later addition, is an article of faith for baptism. Not unlike the words of Paul in Romans 10:9 “If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.”

So back to our point:
Philip was willing, available and obedient to God’s voice and direction. He went somewhere that didn’t really make a lot of sense (a desert road out of Jerusalem to the south). As he went, he encountered one man, who was reading scripture and had questions about it. Philip asked a single question, “Do you understand what you are reading?” The man invited him to ride along and the conversation led to salvation for the Ethiopian court official – and I might add, for many in Ethiopia!
In fact, Ethiopia, not Alexandria, is considered to be the cradle of African Christianity, and here we see the root of that work, that we take part in so gratefully today.

A Final question?

Are you listening?

Let us pray.

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