It all started with a question. “Do you understand what you’re reading?” It was a harmless question, and perhaps a little forward. The two men had never met. Yet, here they both were on a desert road because God had plans for this Ethiopian eunuch. And isn’t that something? Here we are in the book of Acts written by Luke and, if you recall, in the chapters before this one he speaks about all these thousands of people being brought to faith. In Chapter two, we are told “three thousand were added to their number that day”, and later in the same chapter, “the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.” Then, in chapter six, we read “the number of disciples increased rapidly”, and even “priests became obedient to the faith.” – God’s church was growing by leaps and bounds!
But now here in chapter eight we find ourselves on a dusty road leading away from Jerusalem – away from all the hubbub and excitement – and our attention is focused on a eunuch, a foreigner, one person. God wants us to see something. He wants to show us his love and care for all people as he takes time for one. God cared about one to the point that he took Philip, one of the seven chosen to help the apostles in their ministry and pulled him away from Samaria, a place where, we are told, he was having incredible success spreading the gospel, and instead God directs him here to walk next to this chariot so that he could overhear a eunuch reading from the book of Isaiah.
And so you picture this, this eunuch reading from a book or scroll, it’s hot, it’s dusty, he’s likely being jostled around, but he’s reading, he’s focused. And these are the words that he reads, “He was led like a sheep to be slaughtered” …hmmm… “and as a lamb before the shearer is silent so he did not open his mouth.” Suddenly this stranger interrupts him. It’s Philip. He asks the question from earlier: “Do you understand what you are reading?” The Ethiopian’s response, “How can I,” he said, “unless someone explains it to me?”
This guy doesn’t get weirded out that some random stranger was listening. He doesn’t suddenly remember his important position and look down on this man walking in the dust from his chariot instead he “invited Philip to come up and sit with him.” But it’s what this eunuch says next as Philip sits down next to him. “Tell me, please!”
“Tell me, please.” He wasn’t just being polite – please sir, explain this all to me – he was pleading, he was begging. “Tell me, please, who is the prophet talking about?” “Tell me, please…is the prophet talking about himself or someone else?” This eunuch wanted to know. It bothered him that he couldn’t figure it out, that he didn’t understand. Philip knew the answer – I bet all of you do too – who was this sheep being led to the slaughter? Who was this lamb silent whose life was taken from the earth? It’s Jesus going to his death on the cross for our sins. That’s what Philip shared “Philip told him the good news about Jesus.”
Now can I ask all of you something? Did any of this seem difficult? Did Philip have to go in depth about every single belief and teaching of the BibleWhat did he talk about? Jesus. This man had a need he needed to know Jesus. He begged to know him “Tell me, please!”
There were no quick retorts in this conversation. No angry confrontations. Nothing clever. It’s just two people talking and one finding out he’s loved by God in a way no one else ever could. That’s all. This is how we view witnessing to others. You may not bet gifted to debate with angry or complacent skeptics. That’s really okay. But there are going to be other people, and maybe in your lifetime just one, who you are going to run into not in a moment of controversy but in a moment of hurt. And they may not say the words “Tell me, please!” But you’ll see it in their eyes, their desperate need, their deep need and with those pleading eyes they’ll look at you, wondering if you have anything to say.
What will you say to that person? One of our confirmads sitting (who will be sitting here) here today spoke of what we can say to a person like this. In the essay he wrote on his confirmation verse he said, “the gospel,” that is the good news about God’s love through Christ “is the saving grace for all who believe in it. Not all people believe in it though, which is why we must tell them about it, so they too can call Jesus their Savior.”
What will we say to a person whose hurt on this earth seems beyond fixing? What will we say to that teen who feels overwhelmed by life and doesn’t know what to do? What will we say to that adult whose spouse walked out the door, whose children want nothing to do with him or her? How can we comfort the friend whose illness won’t get better? We can take them to the cross. We can lift their downcast eyes and show them that the suffering and terror of sin and what it has wrought in their lives was defeated there once for all. We can connect them to that vine that we saw in our Gospel lesson, Jesu Christ. So that in their despair, in their need, in their tears, they can see by your testimony and by the Spirit’s power a love that purchased them from sin and brought them into a family for all eternity. What greater comfort can we offer?
But, you know, it all starts with our own connection to that vine, to Jesus. John tells us, “Remain in me, and I will remain in you.” If we go back to the eunuch and Philip, Philip knew how to explain the Scriptures because he stayed connected to them; he read them. He thought about them and delighted in the OT pictures of his Savior. This was a fruit of faith that he had, a fruit that bore more fruit as he was able to share his knowledge of the Savior with a total stranger.
I know. I know. Part of you may want to say that you don’t know enough of the Bible yet to share your faith or that your life isn’t together enough to be Christ’s representative. I get that, but Mark Paustian, a professor at Martin Luther College, once said this, and I think it helps to think of it this way: “While we are in this world, we will always be God’s unfinished work, mere beginners, wounded healers, childlike teachers. Though God is not finished with us, we who are in Christ are in possession of the wisdom of the universe, and we do know what to say: “For God so loved the world.”
God isn’t looking for perfect people, well-versed in his Word to share him. He’s looking for you, a confirmand, for you a parent, for you a student, for you a grandparent, for you a teen. A person who has experienced first-hand sin and grace. A person who has seen sin and wept over its effects, whose wrestled daily with temptation, knows its terrifying struggle, yet knows grace and can testify that there is nothing greater, nothing more relieving, more freeing than knowing Christ’s love every day, than knowing you are saved through faith in him.
This is your relationship to God, its beginning and its end… “I love you, he says in Christ. You answer, “I know.” And as you see that love each day, as you begin to recognize just how deep your need for him is, you can’t help but go to him and beg “Please, tell me more!” You see even though we can be like Philip and share with others the beautiful message of a Savior from sin, there remains in us a spirit like that of the eunuch, that wants to grow, that needs to grow in always new and deeper ways; a spirit that has tasted and seen that, truly, truly the Lord is good.
And so you turn off the TV for a while and you close the computer screen for a bit, and put off the housework and the homework, and you set aside all other books and you pick up the Book. Making room each day for this seed to quietly grow, by saving a place for it in your mind, knowing that you are saving a time and place for him. It is in this way, that each of us holds tightly to that Word, a branch firmly connected to the life-giving vine of salvation.
That is what we see today as we look at Philip and this Ethiopian eunuch. Two people. One who wants to know more, who is begging to know more “Tell me, please.” May that be our attitude every day to stay connected to God and his Word to be students ever-learning, ever-growing in our faith. And the other person in this story, Philip, what an example he is for us of what we can do, yes even me, I can be a voice in the desert sharing my Savior, sharing a love I know so well.
Because there are people out there who don’t know if there is a heaven, who are fuzzy on the subject of God. And they hurt just like you. They worry. They want to be loved. Do see a colleague sorrowing in a new world of grief? Do see a neighbor who looks longingly at the family life you have? Do you see the outcast dying quietly at the edge of the classroom? Do you see…a place to start? Tell them, please. Amen.
May God continue to keep you students of his Word so that your faith continues to grow as you share it in every circumstance of life. Amen.