Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church, Creston & Mount Ayr, Iowa;
Now an angel of the Lord said to Philip, “Rise and go toward the south to the road that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.” This is a desert place. And he rose and went. And there was an Ethiopian, a eunuch, a court official of Candace, queen of the Ethiopians, who was in charge of all her treasure. He had come to Jerusalem to worship and was returning, seated in his chariot, and he was reading the prophet Isaiah. And the Spirit said to Philip, “Go over and join this chariot.” So Philip ran to him and heard him reading Isaiah the prophet and asked, “Do you understand what you are reading?” And he said, “How can I, unless someone guides me?” And he invited Philip to come up and sit with him. Now the passage of the Scripture that he was reading was this: “Like a sheep he was led to the slaughter and like a lamb before its shearer is silent, so he opens not his mouth. In his humiliation justice was denied him. Who can describe his generation? For his life is taken away from the earth.” And the eunuch said to Philip, “About whom, I ask you, does the prophet say this, about himself or about someone else?” Then Philip opened his mouth, and beginning with this Scripture he told him the good news about Jesus. And as they were going along the road they came to some water, and the eunuch said, “See, here is water! What prevents me from being baptized?” And he commanded the chariot to stop, and they both went down into the water, Philip and the eunuch, and he baptized him. And when they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord carried Philip away, and the eunuch saw him no more, and went on his way rejoicing. But Philip found himself at Azotus, and as he passed through he preached the gospel to all the towns until he came to Caesarea.” (Acts 8:26–40, ESV)
Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
Look! Here is water, but it's not just plain water. It is water combined with God's Word. It is water and God's Word together as God commanded. This water, here in the font, is special cleansing water from God.
"It is nothing else than a divine water, not that the water in itself is nobler than other water but that God's Word and commandment are added to it" (Martin Luther, Large Catechism IV, 14).
The Ethiopian eunuch saw it as just that. God's precious gift of new life in the Savior who came in the flesh.
He was riding down the road in his chariot reading the Word from the Prophet Isaiah. Philip came jogging beside. He saw him reading and asked, "Do you know what you're reading? Do you understand what it is?"
"How can I unless someone explains it?"
Imagine Philip's surprise when the Ethiopian pointed to the text and read these words:
“Like a sheep he was led to the slaughter and like a lamb before its shearer is silent, so he opens not his mouth. In his humiliation justice was denied him. Who can describe his generation? For his life is taken away from the earth.”” (Acts 8:32b–33, ESV)
The Ethiopian read the words but he didn't see the meaning. An Angel of the Lord sent Philip at that very moment to explain. And look at what Philip does. He puts Jesus at the center of the text. The eunuch was looking at all the pieces of the puzzle spread out on the table and Philip shows him the box. The picture that makes the puzzle clear is Jesus.
Philip was only doing what Jesus had done for them. Beginning with that very text, from the prophet Isaiah, he explained that the sheep that was slaughtered for the sins of the world was Jesus Christ. And then he moved on to the rest of Scripture and explained how it was all about Jesus.
Jesus had done the very same for them on his resurrection day. Remember the account of the disciples walking down the road to Emmaus. Two disciples were walking dejected at the death of Jesus. The resurrected Jesus appeared to them but hidden, they didn't know who he was. And he explained to them that all the Scripture was about his life, death and his resurrection. All about his saving work for the forgiveness of sins for the whole world, even Ethiopian eunuchs.
So Philip, directed by an Angel and led by the Spirit, taught the Word of God. And, when this government official from Africa saw a pool of water standing in the desert he wanted what God was offering. He wanted forgiveness of sins in Jesus Christ. He wanted the cleansing that was offered in the water connected to God's word. "What's to prevent me?" And the answer is: "Nothing!"
"All nations!" Ethiopians, Greeks, Australians, Brazilians, South Africans, Swedes and even Americans. All are to be made disciples through God's work in Holy Baptism. God's word and command connected with the water in the font.
In a few weeks we will gaze in wonder at a baby born in a cattle feed trough. He is not an ordinary baby. He is the sheep to be led to slaughter. He is the one explained by Philip to the Ethiopian. He is the son of God, born in human flesh, sacrificed on the cross for the forgiveness of sin. And not just any sin, but your sin. Your baptism in this water is your connection to the one who was born in a stable and hung on a cross. In this divine water, by the power of God's word your sins are washed away, and you are forgiven. Because you are included in the all nations that are to be baptized.
You know your sin and your need. The law in God's word points it out to you. It shows itself as you fall short of your own expectations for your life. But we are not just talking about disappointment. You see in your own heart self-centeredness that prevents you from doing the right thing. You hear the words that come out of your mouth that are hurtful to even your family. You see the homeless man on the road and avert your eyes rather than help. You know the broken relationships that are scattered through your life. And you know your fault in their breaking. You know your regrets, the things that should have been. Your tossing and turning in the middle of the night wishing things were different. These are all falling short of God's expectations for your life. These are all of breaking of his commandments, any one of which condemns you to eternal separation from him in hell.
There is no escaping what you deserve. But instead you get the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes lying in a manger. You get the babe grown into a man hanging on a cross suffering the punishment of your sin. You get the water connected to his Word that promises that his death on the cross is your death and punishment. It is the power of the water and the word and the font. It is the power of Jesus for you. Amen.
The peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.