5th Sunday of Easter
Thanks be to God! He’s given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead! In the name of Jesus, your risen Lord and Savior, dear children of God, what’s your house like when you’re getting ready to leave for a trip? My house is almost always a frantic search. Do we have everything we need? Are we ready? Do we have all the clothes we need? Do we have all the supplies? Are we prepared? Is everything turned off in the house? And, honestly, with four small children, you never feel quite as prepared as you hoped. So, we’ve made lists to make sure we have everything, we take time before we leave to walk through the house, sometimes we have to turn around, but I think every time that we leave for a long trip I always have a little pit in my stomach because we probably forgot something and that something was probably really important. I think that almost every long trip that we’ve gone on we’ve forgotten something. So, do you have everything you need?
What about in life? Do you have everything you need? Do you go through life rejoicing because you know that you have everything? Or do you go through life feeling like there’s something missing and you’re constantly searching for it? Would you describe your life as a frantic search for something or a joyfully content trip?
Our text for this morning features an Ethiopian eunuch who was searching for something. He was from Ethiopia, but don’t think of modern day Ethiopia. Over the years the border lines have changed many times. This location was in what we would consider southern Egypt, the upper Nile region. We’re also told that he was an “important official in charge of all the treasury of Candace, queen of Ethiopia.” So apparently he was a very well respected and trusted individual. We’re also told that he had “gone to Jerusalem to worship.” So, even though he was a Gentile he was a convert to Judaism and seems to have gone to Jerusalem for one of the major festivals. To take a trip that was around 200 miles in a chariot, just to worship must mean that he was fairly well off. And finally, we’re also told that he had in his possession a scroll of the prophet Isaiah. Again, scrolls at this time were not like books today. Today you can get a Bible very reasonably, in fact, if you don’t have a Bible our church will GIVE you one! But back at this time, a scroll of the Bible was incredibly expensive. It would have been meticulously hand copied, probably onto some kind of parchment or papyrus. To own a scroll of the prophet Isaiah would have meant you were really wealthy.
So, it might be easy to look at this Ethiopian eunuch and think, “He’s really got it made.” He’s got a good job, good vacation benefits apparently, and a good income. What more could you want? He has everything he needs in life, right? But we also need to understand a little bit about the Jewish ceremonial laws. Those were the laws that governed the worship life of the nation. Gentiles, or non-Jews, were welcome to become a part of God’s people. But there were two classes of Jewish converts. There was the Jewish convert called a “proselyte of righteousness” who was a Gentile who in a sense became a Jew. He or she would have made themselves subject to all the ceremonial laws. The 2nd class of converts were “proselytes of the gate.” Which meant that they followed the Jewish religion but didn’t follow the ceremonial laws, nor could they go into the inner courts of the temple, they could only worship in the court of the Gentiles. This Ethiopian was a eunuch which probably referred to the fact that he couldn’t have children, and by ceremonial law, that meant he was forbidden to ever become a full-fledged Jewish convert. He was kind of like someone on the outside looking in. He could never really be “in.” In fact, being Gentiles that’s what it would probably feel like for you and me if we lived at this time. That must have been somewhat difficult for this Ethiopian to swallow, especially if he was an important official and a man of some means, more so probably than most of the actual Jews worshipping in the temple.
But as he’s riding along in his chariot he’s missing something, he’s troubled, confused, full of questions. He’s reading the prophet Isaiah and can’t figure out who it’s talking about. Someone “led like a sheep to the slaughter,” “as a lamb before the shearer is silent, so he did not open his mouth,” “in his humiliation he was deprived of justice,” “his life was taken from the earth.” Now, we know almost immediately who it is that Isaiah was pointing to. But the Ethiopian didn’t have the grasp of God’s grace like you and I do. Remember that the main teaching from the rabbis and religious leaders at Jesus’ time was based on dutifully following all the requirements of the law; that you had to earn a good standing with God by what you do. And worse yet, they thought it was not only possible, but it was what they were doing and the religious teachers insisted that others did the same too. So, they let their own ideas color scripture and they weren’t looking for a spiritual Savior, a Savior from sin in all the prophecies of the OT, rather they were looking for an earthly savior, an earthly king. So they missed the whole point.
And so, this Ethiopian is traveling back to his home. Was he feeling like something was missing? Was he uneasy? Did he feel like he left something back in Jerusalem that he should have taken with him? Maybe he had even heard some things about Jesus from Nazareth while he was in Jerusalem. But he was still in the dark. He was missing the key to all of Scripture, he was missing the most important piece to whom all of Scripture points.
And so, God sent Philip. Not the disciple Philip, but a layman. God directed him to go to the chariot of this Ethiopian. And Philip asked him if he understood what he was reading. The man replied, “How can I unless someone explains it to me.” And he invited Philip into his chariot and beginning with this passage Philip told this Ethiopian about Jesus. You see Jesus had to be led off like a sheep to the slaughter. Jesus didn’t resist it or fight it. Rather, he went through deep humiliation and incredible injustice. He was brutally sacrificed on a cross and yet he was the only innocent person who ever lived. But he had to go through it. Why? Because that’s how he won salvation for you, for me, for this Ethiopian. He had to be led like a sheep to the slaughter, had to suffer humiliation and injustice. And there along that desert road this Ethiopian eunuch was brought to know Jesus as His Savior, was led to know that his sins were all forgiven, and that because of Jesus eternal life was his!
So he sees some water, probably not much, remember they’re in the desert, and asks why shouldn’t he be baptized? And so Philip baptized him. And God wrote His name on this man. He was baptized, the time when God gives you Jesus’ clothes of righteousness, washes your sins away, makes you His own dear child, and connects you to Jesus’ death and resurrection.
And all of a sudden the Spirit of the Lord took Philip away somewhere else where Philip continued to spread the good news of Jesus. But this Ethiopian “went on his way rejoicing.” He was searching for something, had he left something in Jerusalem, was he missing something, but now he could rejoice because in Jesus he had everything he needed.
Do you have everything you need? What are you searching for? Is your life like a frantic search looking for something that’s missing? Maybe a relationship that you’ve always wanted? Finding the right guy or girl? Or finding the right job or career? Or getting the right thing? Do you feel like your life is missing something? That thinking can easily lead us to a woe-is-me attitude and feel basically down. Finally, every problem that we have is a spiritual problem. If we think we’re missing something, is it not because we’re failing to appreciate what we already have?
Look at what this Ethiopian discovered that he had! You have it too! A.) You have a God who went into deep humiliation, suffered injustice, was led like a lamb to the slaughter, all to rescue and save you! B.) You also have a God who seeks you out. You know, God could have sent Philip to Rome, Italy or Alexandria, Egypt where there were thousands upon thousands of people, but he sent him to a desert road to speak with one individual! Why? Because God cares about the individual. God also sought you out, individually, he had someone seek you out to tell you the good news about Jesus! God sought you out! C.) And you also have a God who in baptism washed your sins away, forgave you, wrote His name on you, and made you an heir of eternal life. How do you know that what Jesus did applies to you? You were baptized, connected to Jesus’ death and resurrection!
And knowing all of this means what? It means that as you journey through life, what are you really missing? What else is there of any value that you need to look for? Through God’s Word God connects you to Jesus like a branch to a vine and, really, He gives you everything you need.
There’s a ton of people in our world who are very much like this Ethiopian. They’re searching for something. Something that makes life make sense, something that fills the longing inside, something that answers life biggest questions like, “Who am I? Where am I going? What’s the purpose to this life?” They may even be people who have read parts of the Bible, like this Ethiopian, or heard about Jesus. But what they need is what this Ethiopian needed. Someone to point them to Jesus, the center and key of all of Scripture. The one who died and rose to save them and us. The one through whom we have everything.
So, do you have everything you need? God’s given you so much! In fact, God has given you everything you need for eternal life and if you have everything that you need for eternal life, then you have everything you need!