The Kingdom Expands

Scriptures: Psalm 22:25-31; 1 John 4:7-21; Acts 8:26-40

Last week our sermon was about 1 John and talked about reconciliation, reaching out within the congregation, to those who have separated themselves from us for whatever reason, or to those that we feel have wronged us or that we might have wronged.

This week we’re going to talk about reaching out, outside the congregation, as we look at Expanding the Kingdom, and we take a good look at Phillip, and the way he did it, as he followed what God commanded.

Now, if you study the book of Acts as a whole, you’ll observe how God has orchestrated the church, at this point, to move out of Jerusalem. There’s persecution of believers in Jerusalem, and more specifically we just had in the chapter before this, the martyrdom of Stephen.

This has caused them to scatter out into the countryside and the cities of Palestine. Now, all Judea, Samaria, and Galilee are hearing the good news about what Jesus has done as Messiah. They’re hearing about his deliberate sacrificial death, that he went to the cross on purpose, in order to demonstrate his love, to save humanity from their sin.

They’re hearing about his utter defeat of death by doing the impossible, rising from the dead. They’re hearing about how Jesus fulfilled his promise to send the Holy Spirit, and the new life He now brings. And this message was spreading like wildfire.

One of those who took advantage of the new opportunities was Phillip. God effectively used Phillip to open salvation to the Samaritans. Now, I don’t know if you remember who the Samaritans were. The Samaritans were half-breeds – at least that’s what the Jews considered them to be.

They were descended from those who had stayed behind during the Diaspora, and married out into other ethnicities, if you will, that were there. They had a few differences in their understanding of Scripture, like which mountain was holy, etc. They were hated.

That’s why it was so surprising for Jesus to use the Good Samaritan as the hero of a story, and why it was surprising that Jesus would talk with the woman at the well, because she was a Samaritan.

And here we have Phillip preaching the gospel to the Samaritans. Successfully. And the church back in Jerusalem, the elders, agreeing that this was real and true, that the Samaritans did become members of the church. That is a fundamental shift that is hard for us to comprehend.

Now, God keeps expanding, though, the inclusionary nature of the gospel. He’s not satisfied with just Samaria. He has promised He’s going to take the Word to the entire world. Because Jesus died for the entire world.

Phillip is going to be introduced to the Ethiopian, most like a black African. This event showed that the Christian faith was more than just a Jewish concern. It showed that the Christian faith was more than a concern for those living in the land of Israel. Jesus was for all nations.

This faith was for anyone who would dare to be humbled by cross, confess their sin, and follow Jesus. This faith was for anyone who dared to believe.

So as we look at this passage, there are a couple of things I want to note. First of all, Phillip was a Spirit-led man with a deep relationship with God. He followed where God led and did as Christ commanded.

We know that he was filled with the Holy Spirit because in chapter 6, when the apostles decided to create deacons, they said that they had to be men filled with the Holy Spirit, and mature in the faith and witness. Phillip was one of those that was so designated.

Now, he had this vision, or was talked to by an angel, and the angel asked him to do something that probably you or I would have great trepidation about, be very anxious about. He told Phillip, “I want yo to go over to this road over here, and stand here on the roadside, until I tell you what to do next.”

How many of you would like to go stand here on the roadside, at 61 or something, just waiting for … whatever. No? I don’t blame you. In fact, in those days there were robbers, for instance, that formed the basis for the story of the Good Samaritan.

There were wild animals that could attack. (I suppose nowadays, the deer can still get pretty nasty.) They had wolves and things like that, that could attack. Or lions.

Phillip, though, he doesn’t say no. He doesn’t say, “What?!” He just goes and stands by the roadside, doing what he was commanded to do. And finally, somebody comes by.

Now, this guy is in a carriage, or a chariot. We know, from what was described about him, that he was wealthy. He had to be. First of all, he was the chief treasurer of Candace the queen there in Ethiopia.. Secondly, he was riding in a carriage, which means that something was pulling the carriage, which meant that he was pretty wealthy.

The angel gives him another instruction. “Go run up beside this thing and keep up with it.” Now, I don’t know about you, but even a horse going at a trot is moving a little faster than I’d like to be moving. But Phillip goes and he does it.

He speaks to this Ethiopian. He listens, first, as he runs. The Ethiopian, I found it amusing, there’s no indication that the Ethiopian even noticed him or anything before that.

The Ethiopian is someone that, we need to understand, is a sort of a generic figure. The passage doesn’t give us, even though he’s an important person, his name is not given to us. I think that’s deliberate. Because that means it could be any of us, that could be that person.

The second thing of note about this passage is that there was someone seeking understanding. There was someone seeking understanding. So many people in the world today seek to understand. About God. About His Word.

Yes, there’s a lot of negativity about this, a lot of skepticism. But just because you’re a skeptic doesn’t mean that you don’t seek knowledge and understanding answers. Even amongst us in the church, we get that way.

There’s a survey that was done in 2001 by Barna. It says that they found that almost 9 out of 10 adults classify themselves as Christians by the following definition. “I am personally committed to Jesus Christ, and have confessed my sin, and I believe that I will go to heaven when I die because of God’s love and grace through Jesus Christ.” By the way, just last week I read another survey, and that number is down to about 67%. So it’s taking quite a spill.

But that’s a strong definition. And this survey went on to find out what their goal was, what was their primary goal in life. Not one of those who said they were Christian by that definition declared their life goal was to be a fully committed follower of Jesus Christ and to participate in making Christian disciples. The very commission that Jesus himself gave us was not on their to-do list, or goals for them to have. But it’s critical for the expansion of the Kingdom.

Now that doesn’t mean that you need to be pushy. I’ve shared the story before of my dad, and he had, after a time away from our family, a “baptism of fire” at Cherry Hill Baptist Church in Arlington, Virginia. He came home, and for about six months after that, every person he met, he’d shake their hand and say, “Hi. I’m Roland. Do you know the Lord?”

We don’t need to be that pushy. But we do need to be ready. When we see someone who is seeking understanding, as Phillip did with the Ethiopian, as we listen – listen first to that person – as we listen and see that they are seeking. It may not be the answer to Scripture. It may be the answer to a problem in their life. It may be just that they’re feeling bereft and alone.

We have an answer for them. We have the hope of Jesus Christ, and the presence of the Holy Spirit with us at all times, and we can give them that promise. You need to be ready when someone who is seeking understanding gives you an opening to share the gospel and the good news.

Phillip knew his Scripture, by the way, and he was eager to share it. Now, mind you, he wasn’t a rabbi. He wasn’t a member of the temple priests. He hadn’t been a scholar who studied all his life. He was a fisherman, like Peter, James, and John. But he knew his Scripture. He studied it, on his own time.

Did you know, in America, they say these days that every household in America has a minimum of three Bibles? Most of them gathering dust on a coffee table or a bookshelf. We need to study the Word and be eager to share it.

Part of the reason for that is, it has to be all of us, it can’t just be one person. Yes, this story is about Phillip, and man, he did some great things. But it has to be all of us.

Thom Rainer once told a group of Wesleyans at a Sunday School workshop that it takes 85 laypeople one year to lead one person to Christ. Eighty-five encounters with the gospel. So simple, yet so hard to grapple with, a stumbling block for many.

In advertising, you know, it doesn’t sink in until it’s been at least five times in five different ways. That’s why on these radio commercials, they drive you nuts constantly repeating their phone number again and again and again. But there’s a reason behind that. They want you to remember it.

In the same manner, those who are exposed to the gospel will take multiple exposures by you or by a group of other people together.

You know, Paul Harvey once said, “Too many Christians are no longer fishers of men, but keepers of the aquarium.” We’re concerned with the church, and the building, and everything that goes on in here. That’s a good thing, but the goal is to reach out and expand the Kingdom.

Whether you think of the Kingdom as a real, sort of geographical kingdom, or the kingdom of heaven, or you think of it as the Jews did, where it’s the rule of God in people’s lives, no matter which way you look at it, the expansion of the Kingdom is going to include more people coming to accept Jesus and know God.

We can’t just be the keepers of the aquarium. We need to go out and fish for others. Now, admittedly, there’s a little bit of anxiety about that. None of us feels comfortable doing it.

Trust me, I’m serious about that, because even I have problems with evangelizing. Yes, I’ve been to seminary. Yes, I have a degree. Yes, I preach every Sunday. But when you get out there in the world and you’re one on one with people, and there’s an opportunity to share the gospel, that means making yourself vulnerable.

We talked about being vulnerable for other church members, for the family of Christ, last week. It’s even harder with the outside world. Because we might be rejected, we might get hurt, when we’re sharing the good news.

So it is a hard thing, but it’s something we’re called to do. Now hopefully, we don’t do it as badly as this barber. There was a Christian man who owned a barber shop. One night at a church service, the barber felt greatly burdened to do more with his testimony for Christ.

So the next evening, the barber began attending an evangelism class at his church. He attended faithfully every night for two weeks. He rehearsed all the material, took extensive notes, and memorized the assigned Bible verses. At the end of the two weeks, he received a plaque acknowledging his completion of the course.

The next morning in the barber shop, he hung that plaque up, that certification, and bowed his head. “Dear Lord,” he prayed, “help me to witness to the first man to come through that door this morning.”

At that moment, in walked the biggest, meanest, foulest man the barber had ever seen. It seems this man had recently lost a bet with some biker buddies, and now he had to get his head shaved. He was covered with tattoos. Needless to say, the barber did not feel very comfortable quoting the Romans Road to a man with tattoos all over him.

The rest of the day didn’t get any better for the barber. At five p.m., the barber was sobbing with shame. He had not witnessed to a single person. He bowed his head again, and this time he prayed, “Lord, if you will allow just one more opportunity, I promise I will do my part.”

At that, the door opened, and in walked a pleasant-looking gentleman. The man smiles at the barber, apologized for coming in so late, and took a seat in the chair. Now, as the barber draped the man in the protective sheet, he began to try to remember what he was supposed to say. He began to get very confused.

As the barber put shaving cream on the man’s face, he tried to remember the answers he had learned to possible objections that people might raise to the Romans Road. As the barber began to prepare his razor with the strop, he realized that he simply could not remember a thing he had learned. This made the barber very nervous, and soon sweat began to break out on his forehead.

[Now as an aside from this story, I have to say that if I was in the barber’s chair, and the barber was stropping his razor and sweat broke out on his forehead, probably sweat would be breaking out on my forehead too.]

So he stropped the razor. Then finally, he came to the man in desperation, and he shook the razor at the man and he screamed, “Are you prepared to die?” … Not the best form of evangelism.

We need to know our Scriptures. We need to be willing to share. We need to be willing to be vulnerable. We need to be adaptable to the situation. After all, Phillip didn’t know who he was going to be talking to. He didn’t know what he was going to be talking about, when he got sent out there by the angel.

As he was sharing the gospel with the Ethiopian eunuch, they passed by a pool of water. Now, mind you, remember this is in the outskirts, outside of Judea. We had that presentation by the Motts a while back. It is a dry land. No creeks and rivers all over the place like here. A pool of water was pretty rare. No occasional water on the golf courses there. And yet, they came across this pool of water.

The Ethiopian asked him an interesting question. He said, “There’s some water. Is there any reason I shouldn’t be baptized?” Phillip didn’t say, “Well, you have to be a member of the church in good standing and have gone through a class on baptism and…” No, he said, “Sure,” and he baptized the man there on the spot.

[Now, there is a gloss that’s added in, in later manuscripts, that appears in some versions but was not read today. Verse 37, that is not in this version, comes after the man asked, “Is there any reason I shouldn’t be baptized?” It has Phillip say, ““If you believe with all your heart, you may.” And he answered and said, “I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.” So we have confession and profession of faith.]

I don’t know what the elders back in Jerusalem would have thought about it, but Phillip, guided by the Holy Spirit, baptized him. Then it says the man went on his way rejoicing and Phillip got swept up by the Holy Spirit and ended up in some other town. I don’t know about you, but I would find that a little disconcerting personally. Much as I’d love to have the “Scotty beam me up” technology, going someplace that you hadn’t planned and you didn’t know where you were would be disconcerting.

But it says he just went and he preached the gospel. Phillip was a Spirit-led man. He was adaptable to the situation. Wherever the Spirit placed him, that’s where he was going to be. He was going to be consistent in his following of Jesus Christ and the call to evangelism. We need to be adaptable as well.

We need to trust that, as with Phillip, the Spirit will be present. There’s no doubt the Spirit was present with Phillip. It’s mentioned at the beginning of this passage. It’s mentioned at the end of this passage. And the Spirit will be present with you, when you reach out this way. He will guide your words and your heart, so that you can give God glory and bring others to know the good news of salvation.

You know, the world has such a desperate need right now. Despite the persecution of Christians, probably, in part, the persecution of Christians is coming because of that desperate need. People don’t want to admit they need Christ. People don’t want to admit that they need the love of God, that they can’t do it all on their own, that they can’t successfully find their own way, that they can’t achieve their own salvation and own happiness.

We have a message to share with them. Because in each of those cases, as in your own life, I’m sure, there will come a time when you need to hear it and be reminded of it. We have the greatest news ever in creation, that through Jesus Christ’s sacrifice for us, no matter what our status, no matter how good, bad, indifferent, no matter how high, no matter how low, no matter how rich, no matter how poor, God loves us and Christ can save us.

And through that salvation, we have eternal life promised to us in heaven. That eternal life means we get to see those we love. That means we get to experience God face to face. No darkness. Only light. And that’s the message they need to hear.

Sometimes we need to remind ourselves as well. We’re going to partake of Communion here, in a minute or two. I’ve always said that there are two parts to Communion, two goals for Communion. Number one is as we share the bread and we remember that Jesus Christ did die for our sins, that his body was broken for our sakes. We remember our need for Jesus.

But then we have the cup of salvation, the victory that was won in Jesus Christ. It’s already won. So we can celebrate and have joy over life, no matter where we are, no matter what place we happen to be in. And we can pray that the Holy Spirit would strengthen us through this reminder. Then we can go out into the world and share that good news with others.

My prayer for you is that, like Phillip, you will go where the Spirit leads, that you will do as Jesus has commanded, you will share the gospel of the good news of Jesus Christ. You know, even Psalm 22 – I’m not one of those people that like to point to Christ in every passage in the Old Testament the way some people do, but if you look at Psalm 22, and you read just before where we started this morning, in verses 22-24, it says

I will tell your name to my sisters and brothers,
in the midst of the congregation I will praise you:
You who fear the Lord, praise him!
All you offspring of Jacob, glorify him;
stand in awe of him, all you offspring of Israel!
For he did not despise or abhor
the affliction of the afflicted;
he did not hide his face from me,
but heard when I cried to him.
From you comes my praise in the great congregation.

From there it goes on to what we read. The psalmist makes his testimony here. But then he takes his testimony out there, from the assembly to the great congregation. And the reminder is of how great the Lord was. This passage speaks, I believe, of Jesus, that he did not despise or abhor the affliction of the afflicted, and he did not hide his face from them. He came for them. He came for you and me.

May we always look for opportunities to share that good news, and may that good news shape every facet of our life, as we become disciples of Christ, and glorify God, so that we might enjoy Him forever.

In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost. Amen.

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