The Fifth Sunday After Easter
May 9-10, 2009
Text: Acts 8:26-40
Dear Friends in Christ,
The weeks after Pentecost were very eventful in Jerusalem. Those living through it were living inside of an explosion. It was a period of breathless and breathtaking activity. Within just weeks of Pentecost the church faced its first internal crisis - a dispute over how charity was being distributed. The Church made a couple of earth shattering decisions. First, as they consulted among themselves, they determined that the Church has the right to establish new offices as it has need. This is crucially important to understand. The apostolic office was established by Christ. From this office, in turn is derived the office of the ministry. The ministry was thus created by Christ and is an extension of the office of apostle, though it is not the office of apostle. The Church is not the Church without the office of the ministry. For the Christian congregation is always flock and shepherd. The great Lutheran father, Martin Chemnitz was very emphatic on this point. So the office of the ministry, which in that time was being exercised by the apostles themselves is not optional. The office of the ministry is the only office in the Church established by God. But the precedent that was set in the Book of Acts is that the Church also can establish additional offices as it sees need. This would include congregational offices like chairman, elder, and trustee. It would include the office of the Lutheran school teacher and the like. The ancient Church selected seven men whom they termed deacons. The charitable work of the Church was turned over to them.
The deacons, filled as they were with the Holy Spirit also began to preach and teach in irregular situations. By this we mean, not in the divine service. Rather they preached and taught in the market place to unbelievers. This is significant. They did not hold the office of the ministry. They could not preside at the public services of the Church. But they could preach and teach as the occasion arose. However, they were clearly working under the apostles. When congregations were formed among the Samaritans, the apostles had to come and certify the work.
It was one of the preaching occasions that led to major eruption. Stephen, one of the seven deacons took to preaching in the Jerusalem market place. He was arrested and stoned to death by a crowd of zealous jews egged on by young man named Saul of Tarsus. Saul then obtained warrants from the chief priest and began to arrest any Christians he could find. Many Christians fled Jerusalem. The story of Philip, another of the seven deacons, serves to tell the story of all. He went and preached to the Samaritans. Then Philip is told to go and wait along the Gaza road. We know this route. History and archeology have confirmed it’s location. These events are not just happening out there someplace.
Philip sees a man riding in a chariot reading. He probably had a servant handling the horses. Now in those days, people did not read silently. People always read out loud. The Holy Spirit revealed to Philip that he was to approach the chariot. The man was reading from the Prophet Isaiah. Philip, as a good Jew, probably knew this portion of Scripture from memory. They would have committed much of the Old Testament to memory. So he knows what the man is reading. He asks if the man understands it. He does not and invites Philip to explain it. Philip then uses these verses from Isaiah, that speak of Christ’s suffering and death, to tell the man about Jesus.
About the time Philip finished with his teaching they came to a village. As I said, we know this route. There is also some historical evidence that points us to this site. In this village there is a spring fed pool of water, about six inches deep. Here is where Philip baptized the Ethiopian Eunuch. Philip was then carried away from there by the Holy Spirit and went and preached among the descendants of the Philistines.
This episode tells some very important things. Among them it teaches us about the relationship between Word and Sacrament. Word and Sacrament are inseparable in practice. The Word will always drive us to the Sacraments. The Word creates and empowers the Sacraments. Thus you cannot have the Word without the Sacraments. Neither can you have the Sacraments with out the Word.
So what then is the relationship of the Word to the Sacraments? Why must have these separate things? Is not the Word enough? In short, no it isn’t enough. For the Word testifies to the Sacraments and we desecrate the Word if ignore the Sacraments. Consider this: You are sitting in prison. A new piece of legislation is enacted that sets aside the charges that were brought against you. Yet, you still sit in your prison cell until you can go before a judge. The judge looks at this new legislation and declares that you are free to go. Until the judge renders his ruling you are still imprisoned. The Word is God’s legislation. He has legislated in His Word that we are free from sin and death. In the Sacraments, God renders His judgement on each person individually. It is in the Sacraments that the promises of the Word are applied to me personally. It is in the Sacraments that God’s legislation of grace becomes the verdict of grace. Thus Luther says that a troubled sinner is not to flee to the cross in some generic sense, but to the Supper.
When Philip had finished his teaching, the Ethiopian Eunuch asked, what is to prevent me from being baptized? The Word had driven him to the Sacrament of Baptism, where the verdict would be rendered. You, Ethiopian Eunuch, are a child of God with God’s own name placed upon you. And so for us. We are sinners, just like this man assuredly was. We are no different. We need to hear the message that Christ has died for our sins. This is indispensable, just as it was for Ethiopian Eunuch. But it is just as necessary that this promise be applied to us individually. It is just as necessary, that God’s promise of salvation as a free gift, become God’s verdict pronounced over me. Thanks be to God that He has established His Sacraments, and the Church to administer them. When Pastor Adolph Gallert baptized me in Bay City General Hospital, God declared that I was His child, that His name was upon me. He declared that I had died with Christ rose again to life. In the absolution spoken over me so many times by Pastor Gallert, Pastor Theiss, and many others, God declared my sins forgiven and removed from me as east is from the west. In the Supper, God has declared that this sacrifice of His Son is indeed credited to my account. It is my sacrifice for sin. This is my Passover Lamb, whose blood atones for my sins.
Word and Sacrament. We must see that these things go together. There can be no Word without the Sacraments and there can be no Sacraments without the Word. This has been understood from ancient times, as we see in our text. The Word gives to us the promises of God’s grace. It teaches us what God has done on our behalf in Christ Jesus. The Sacraments apply those promises to each one of us, individually. This, in part, is done so that we have no doubts. I don’t have to worry if God’s promise was really intended for me. The judgement of God has been pronounced over me in the Sacraments. I am free from sin and death. There is no question. God has promised it and God has rendered His verdict of grace. Thus we can look to the Sacraments and have all our doubts washed away. The verdict is pronounced over each one of us. We are indeed free before God.