First Mennonite Church
November 15, 2020
Explaining the Silent Lamb to Others
Text: Acts 8:26-40
In Acts 6, we are told that Philip is one of the seven deacons called to help distribute food to the poor among the community of disciples. In the beginning of chapter eight, we are told that a “severe persecution began against the church . . . and all except the apostles were scattered. Philip fled to Samaria where he preached Jesus as the Messiah (8:4ff.) There was immediate reception of the gospel preached by Philip. Many were healed and “There was great joy in that city” (v. 8).
While there in Samaria, an angel of the Lord gave Philip another task. Philip was sent from north to south, to the wilderness road that leads from Jerusalem to Gaza. The story of that commission is our passage this morning. There are several points in this passage that I will not get to address. I, however, will center our attention on some aspects of mission work found in this story, particularly the importance of personal engagement.
First let us picture Philip. He had been forcefully uprooted from his family and town. He had to flee the persecution. However, his personal hardship did not discourage him from continuing his work for the Lord. Imagine, what would you do if you had to flee from your home and family? Philip continued to be engaged in preaching the word of the Lord and the Lord was mightily working through Philip. The effects of Philip’s ministry brought great joy to the city. But once again, Philip had to go somewhere else.
Philip was not given details on what to expect. He was only given a general location where to go—by the desert road from Jerusalem to Gaza.
While the apostles remained in Jerusalem, Philip was engage in fulfilling the great commission given to the 12. “You will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and unto the ends of the world,” Jesus told his disciples (Acts 1:8). Philip was the first to proclaim Jesus to the Samaritans and he was very successful.
When Philip got somewhere along the road he was sent to, someone—an Ethiopian high ranking official from the royal house of Candace was passing by. Once again, the Spirit directed Philip to approach the passing by chariot. Philip ran along the traveling chariot and he heard the man riding reading from the book of Isaiah.
The Ethiopian was reading the scripture passage of Isaiah 53:7 from the Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible or the Septuagint. The text is about a metaphorical lamb led to be slaughtered and which silently suffers death and whose life is finally taken up from the earth. The eunuch asked whether the text was autobiographical of the prophet or about someone else.
Philip interpreted the scripture in light of Jesus’ recent death and ascension. The eunuch’s conversion is not thoroughly narrated, however, his request to be baptized indicates his glad reception of the gospel message. Upon coming out of the baptismal waters, the Spirit snatches Philip and places him in Azotus, while the eunuch goes his way home rejoicing.
Let us take a moment here to look at the larger picture of our story. Philip is, basically, a refugee, a displaced person because of his faith in Jesus. The clothes he may have been wearing might have been the only one he had worn for days. But there he was sitting, side by side a royal employee, explaining and interpreting scripture to him. There was Philip interpreting the Bible in the light of Christ.
Dear friends, the best way to share the gospel is by sitting down with our friends, relatives, and even with strangers. Maybe sitting down, literally, with friends this time could be a little more difficult. However, the idea here is that of getting to know the person with whom we want to share the good news of Jesus. Because it is only by sitting down, side by side, that we can see how God is at work in the lives of others. And if we can’t see God at work in the lives of others, how can we effectively proclaim good news? Therefore, our best chances to an effective ministry of outreach is by taking time to sit, walk, talk, and to eat with others. It is when we share with others in their joy, sorrows, and dreams that we can get to know when and how God is stirring in them a desire to know the meaning of life.
(Jasmine’s story) She has a long friendship with someone, who, if she is not an agnostic, verges the boundary of being an atheist. Jasmine has had her over at home for meals and despite her friend not being used to praying, Jasmine always prays before their meals together. This friend always seeks Jasmine’s advice. Last week, Jasmine went out to eat with her friend. There, Jasmine told her friend about the biblical studies she is taking. Jasmine was telling her about the historicity of Jesus, which is recorded even in extra-biblical sources. This friend told Jasmine, “You know, I have always laughed and made fun at religion. I do not believe in it, but now, I would like to know more of what you are telling me.” Jasmine agreed to give the study materials to her friend after she is done with them.
Siting together opens up door to share the meaning of Jesus to those who do not know him yet. Philip was not deterred by his humble appearance and who know how he smelled. Remember, he had traveled a long journey to be there and just before, he had to run along the chariot. Philip only wanted to do what God was telling him to do.
Another element in this passage is that of the “silent lamb . . . who does not open his mouth” the eunuch was reading about. The lamb did not open his mouth as he was carried away to be slaughtered. As for the eunuch, he could not articulate (bring out of his mouth) the meaning of what he was reading. But there came Philip and we are told: “And Philip opened his mouth (ESV, KJV, etc.) starting with this scripture, he proclaimed to him the good news about Jesus.
We do affirm our need of the Holy Spirit’s assistance to understand scripture, as Paul would say in 1Corinthians 2. However, we need to open our mouths to explain who that silent Lamb is. Although it is often said that the meaning of scripture is self-evident, this story reminds us that it is not always the case. The Holy Spirit want to use us to interpret Jesus to others. There is a challenge, however. How willing or prepared are we to interpret the word of God to others? If your friends were to ask you to explain to them what faith in Jesus means, what would you tell them?
A third element from this passage is the revelation of the length and breadth of God’s salvation. We should remember that this account, as every one of those in the book of Act, reveals how the work of God’s salvation in Jesus began to spread in the world. The message of salvation should begin spreading from Jerusalem outwards. It should keep moving outwards like a ripple in water, reaching out to the ends of the earth. God’s salvation in Christ would not only reach out to the farthest ends of the earth, but would also reach out to those considered the farthest away from participating of God’s favor according to the Old Covenant.
The eunuch is a person who in various ways represented one of those in the farthest end from the reaches of God’s grace. From the outset, Luke highlights the foreignness of Philip’s interlocutor. He is an Ethiopian, but also a eunuch. The man is an Ethiopian, which indicates he was likely of dark complexion. In other words, he is from an exotic land, the edge of the world, Timbuktu, “someone whose dark skin makes him an object of wonder and admiration among Jews and Romans,” says Will Willimon (Acts: John Knox Press, p. 72) But Luke also refers to this man, repeatedly, by his sexual identity, the eunuch. In Leviticus 21:20 and Deuteronomy 23:1, Moses is instructed that castrated men or any one with genital defects should not approach the altar of God. Therefore, this high ranking official was twice considered an outsider, religiously speaking. He was a gentile and a person excluded from God’s house, by nature of his sexual identity. However, Philip’s engagement and sharing of the good news to this man came by the order or command of the Holy Spirit. God’s salvation in Christ reaches even to those who are excluded from the Old Covenant. Whether Philip recognized any signs of this man’s sexual condition or not, the reason Luke mentions it repeatedly, serves to inform about the border-breaking nature of the gospel and of God’s reach to save the world. God’s grace in Christ reaches even to those who might be considered unqualified to serve God.
Philip could not limit the reach of God’s grace in Christ. He humbly obeyed the command to go and interpret Jesus to the eunuch. Salvation belongs to the Lord.
Let us open our ears to hear the voice of the Spirit speaking. It could be that the Holy Spirit is also sending us out of our preferred spaces of ministry and unto some desert roads. It could be that someone is praying and hoping that a Philip would come along to help him or her understand the word of God.
Therefore, at the beginning of your day, ask the Lord to help you understand his guidance with respect of every encounter you might have during the day. Ask the Lord to give you the grace and sensitivity to discern the spirit of those with whom you share during the day. It could be that beneath the words your friends share with you is a cry for help. Ask the Holy Spirit to give you wisdom, revelation, and empathy that as you open your mouth the love Jesus would be revealed to them. Let us all ask the Holy Spirit to send and to use us as he did with Philip. Amen!