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Saturday, 7 November 2015

Acts part 15: "What prevents me from being baptised?"

Building the right foundation part 15

Acts 8:26-40

Now an angel of the Lord said to Philip, “Rise and go towards the south to the road that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.” This is a desert place. And he rose and went. 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. 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. Now the passage of the Scripture that he was reading was this:
Like a sheep he was led to the slaughter and like a lamb before its shearer is silent, so he opens not his mouth. In his humiliation justice was denied him.
Who can describe his generation?
For his life is taken away from the earth.”
And the eunuch said to Philip, “About whom, I ask you, does the prophet say this, about himself or about someone else?” Then Philip opened his mouth, and beginning with this Scripture he told him the good news about Jesus. 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 baptised?” (And Philip said, “If you believe with all your heart, you may.” And he replied, “I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.”) And he commanded the chariot to stop, and they both went down into the water, Philip and the eunuch, and he baptised him. And when they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord carried Philip away, and the eunuch saw him no more, and went on his way rejoicing. But Philip found himself at Azotus, and as he passed through he preached the gospel to all the towns until he came to Caesarea.
English Standard Version Anglicised
Before we consider the passage together it is important for us to consider the highlighted words contained in our reading. They are in brackets because they are not to be found within most of the modern translations of the bible but are included in versions such as the Authorised and New King James. This has caused many to be disturbed by modern translators and scholars who have decided to put it in the footnotes. It is the short discourse of Philip telling the Ethiopian that he can be baptised if he believes with all of his heart and the Ethiopian confirming his faith that Jesus Christ as the Son of God.
New testament scholars believe this to be part of an early baptismal liturgy which was later added to the text by a scribe who believed that Philip after baptising Simon the magician falsely would have been keen to make sure that the Ethiopian was not baptised wrongly. That is a strong possibility but is somewhat unprovable and it is certainly true to say that the statement is not found in the earliest and most reliable manuscripts from which our bible is translated. It is therefore right to treat it with caution and therefore sensible to highlight the problem. That having been said the man's declaration is a fair one without which he should not have been baptised.
Back to the passage: Luke has recorded Philip's next evangelistic adventure for our encouragement. As we have previously said, the gospel is moving ever outwards and towards the Gentile world just as Jesus had commanded that it must.
To move on from his ministry in Samaria Philip has:
A heavenly encounter:
It is by a visit from a Messenger (Angel) of the Lord who is none other than the Holy Spirit. In verse 26 He is referred to as an angel of the Lord speaking and directing Philip. By the time we come to verse 29 it is the Spirit who is speaking and directing and in verse 39 it is the Spirit of the Lord who carried Philip away.
This encounter is purely of the Lord whose purpose in coming to Philip is the conversion of one very important man.
As far as Philip was concerned he had been preaching the gospel to the Samaritans and proving that Jesus is their long awaited Messiah resulting in many being converted. Now all of a sudden his ministry is to take a sudden change of direction. God spoke to him and told him to go to the Jerusalem to Gaza road which is desert.
Philip immediately obeyed and went!
I wonder if we are as willing to go to where God by His Spirit calls us. Our God is never changing, He is always the same and he always works with His people in just the same way. Therefore the God who called Abraham to leave Ur of the Chaldees; who called Moses out of the wilderness to Egypt and who called the prophets to stand and speak to the nation for Him is the same God who directed Philip on that day to go with a message to a man in the desert.
God is still calling and sending His people to a lost world.
Sometimes God's call is simply by circumstance of life as it had previously been for Philip in Samaria and at other times it is directly by His word as it was on this occasion. Sometimes His call is to a whole town as Philip in Samaria but on other occasions it is for the benefit of just one man. Whatever God's purpose is He is still sending us His people out into the world with the glorious gospel of salvation.
It is safe to say that the majority of us here today are where we are by God's directing through circumstance, of course some may be here because they have been clearly directed by God's Spirit. The truth is that we are all here and we have a purpose, it is not simply to enjoy life. Enjoying life is a part of our purpose but as we enjoy the privilege of belonging to Jesus and His church then we also have a responsibility to introduce all that we can to the Saviour.
Are we like Philip willing to go wherever God leads us and to take that opportunity to direct others to Jesus?
When Philip went he met:
A man in need:
Luke goes to great pains to tell us many things about this man. Firstly he was an Ethiopian which means that he came from Africa. He also tells us that he was a eunuch which simply means that he had been castrated in order to make him loyal to his employers. We are told also that he was a court official to the queen of Ethiopia. Candace was probably not a name of the particular person but was an official title given to the queen mother who office was to represent the king on various occasions and functions. Luke tells us that this man was basically the accountant in charge of all of her financial dealings.
This man could not be more different from the Samaritans amongst whom Philip had previously been evangelising.
There are more significant differences also, the Samaritans were an apostate nation who had no care for Judaism but this man was returning from worshipping in Jerusalem which means that he was either Jewish by birth or a convert to Judaism. He was not only returning from worshipping in the temple but he was also reading the prophet Isaiah which was something else that the Samaritans would never do, they had long before rejected the word of the prophets.
In every way this man had been prepared for this very encounter, he was reading Isaiah 53 and could not understand who it spoke of, he was confused as to whether it was concerning Isaiah or somebody else.
What a wonderful opportunity that Philip had!
As we said a little earlier Philip was led by God's Holy Spirit out into the desert for the purpose of speaking with this very important man. God's purposes are not only for the poor and marginalised as were the Samaritans, He is concerned for the salvation of people from every walk of life and from every nation in the world. There are none that are excluded from His saving grace. There are no untouchables in gospel work, we are simply called to go where God sends. Before going to my previous church in the wealthy part of South Wales I had to be reminded that the gospel is for the wealthier of society just as much as it is for the poorer people in the mining valleys.
We must never be selective with the gospel but must be like Philip and be willing to speak of the Lord Jesus to whoever we are in contact with. As the church here in Callington we must be about a gospel witness. We must take the opportunities that God gives today. Philip moved on from Samaria and spoke of Jesus freely in the new circumstances that he found himself in. As Christians we are often guilty of having our heads pointing in the wrong direction. We seem to think that just because we evangelised in one particular way in the past then we must always do the same things.
That could not be farther from the truth.
We are what we are today and we are here in Cornwall in this particular day with all of it's complexities therefore we must reach out to the people in a way that is relevant for today. We are not about setting up groups simply because they were once successful but will be led by the Lord to reach out as He by His Spirit directs. That is why we must pray for His guidance, starting with the leaders but eventually as the whole church. We will start nothing until we are convinced that it is of God and that we therefore have the personnel for the task. We need to pray that God will equip us as His people for the gospel work that He has for us.
The gospel effect:
Philip asked the man a simple question: “do you understand the scriptures?” The man's answer was
who can understand unless somebody guides them?”
As Christians we so quickly forget this very truth, the bible is there for all to read but we know the words of eternal life, we are to be interpreters of the bible to those who cannot understand it for themselves. Therefore we must know what the bible is all about and how it works, which is why we have our “Reading the bible for all of its worth” studies. The man was reading Isaiah 53 which speaks of the Suffering Servant who we know is Jesus but he did not and so Philip began with that passage and declared the gospel of Jesus.
Are you able to speak of Jesus from the scriptures? All of scripture speaks of Jesus; would you be able to help somebody who was reading a portion of scripture to find Jesus as Philip did? The man heard the good news of Jesus which simply means that Philip was able to tell the man that the Promised One of God would fulfil all that Isaiah 53 speaks of. It is He that takes all of our iniquity, it was Him who was crushed for our transgressions. It is by His wounds that we are healed from the sickness that is sin. It is Him that brings eternal peace to the sinful soul because it was He who would suffer and die in order that we might have forgiveness of sin and the promise of life eternal.
As Philip was explaining all of this the man's heart was being dealt with by the Spirit of God, he was believing all that he was hearing and was trusting in Jesus as his own personal Saviour. This is a very different response to the gospel that Simon the magician had displayed. This wealthy Ethiopian man simply believed and then wanted to prove that all of this was true for him and so when he saw water he asked Philip:
what prevents me from being baptised?”
Philip's unrecorded answer is “nothing now prevents you from being baptised” and so they stopped the chariot and Philip went into the water and baptised the man.
Many at this point try to prove the point of total immersion because it says that they went down into the water. Total immersion cannot be proven from that comment because it would logically mean that both the man and Philip were totally immersed as they went down, be careful of fanciful interpretations. That is not the point of the passage.
Luke is once again simply recording what happened, we can logically draw the conclusion from this episode that it is important for a new convert to be baptised in obedience to the word of God. The Gospel message preached by the apostles was to repent, believe and be baptised.
The Ethiopian eunuch obeyed the word of the Lord and was faithful in his witness as he was baptised.
There are many Christians today that do not see baptism as important.
If you are one of those who are not baptised then I would ask you to think again. It is true that baptism is not necessary for salvation but it is vital to prove obedience to Christ!
Are you baptised, we would be very pleased to talk to you about it. If you are truly born again I would ask you:
What is it that prevents you from being baptised?”
This baptistery can soon be filled with water for you to be baptised in obedience to the Lord Jesus' command. Why not obey the command of your Master and follow Him through the waters of baptism?

As far as Philip was concerned his was job done. The man took the gospel with him to Ethiopia and Philip was transported by the Holy Spirit on his next missionary adventure of spreading the gospel from Azotus to Caesarea. The work of grace in the man's heart was all of God's grace and he was safe and sound in God's care, he went on his way singing praise along with countless angels in heaven.

Let us also move on in our gospel witness both as individuals but also as the church.

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