Going to the Spiritually Deserted
A man praises his father for enduring a long,
difficult dying without ever seeking relief in religion. He describes his father in absolute despair,
having nothing to hold on to but his own pride. Christian Wiman wonders, ‘Is this to be admired?’ That we carry our despair all the way to death?
That even the utmost anguish of our lives
doesn’t cause us to seek change?
How astonishing, he says,
that we cling to that which keeps us miserable,
so obviously lacking
when extreme suffering or circumstances come.
The question for us is:
will you go to the one in a spiritual desert like this?
Mr Wiman goes on to write:
‘A friend once told me
she could wake up a Christian
and go to bed an atheist.’
Every day could bring this up and down
to and fro with God.
The question for us is:
will you be there for another who was so strong,
but the next day is weak
and in a spiritual desert like this?
And then the story of a woman near sixty
who finds that her faith has fallen away.
It was the grace of love
that opened her heart to God,
found in a man who would be her husband
for nearly 35 years . . .
until very undramatic divorce.
And the love that moved her to God
became the very thing that killed her faith.
The question for us is:
will you go to the one in a spiritual desert like this?
And if you say you’re the one in the desert,
can you see yourself in this text,
heartened to know that the risen Lord Jesus
will send or perhaps has already sent
a fellow traveler to be Christ to you on the journey?
What an important story for us here in Acts 8.
Look what this says about Jesus to you and me.
Jesus is the God of the desert.
He is there to heal and to save.
An angel tells Philip to ‘Go.’
That word ‘go’ is from the word
literally translated as ‘rise up.’
It is used often to refer to being healed.
But it is used by Jesus
to speak of his resurrection from the dead.
‘In three days I will rise again,’ he promised.
So this story is the result of Christ alive and with us always, to the very end.
The angel tells Philip, rise,
and then the angel says, go down:
‘take the road that goes down . . .’
It’s true that the road from Jerusalem to Gaza,
from the Judean hills to the sea
does go down in elevation.
But the going down speaks of service,
being gracious with kindness and mercy,
giving up our own ways for Christ’s will,
who gave us the Holy Spirit.
It was the Holy Spirit who descended,
who came down and rested on the apostles
and the believers.
This same word – go down –
is used in parable of the good Samaritan,
when the priest and the levite and the Samaritan
all went down the Jericho road,
but only the Samaritan stopped for the one in need.
believers in Christ,
are sent by the Spirit:
we are to go in service to the gospel
to those whose hearts and souls are in the desert – alone, spiritually lifeless.
You may be the one in a spiritual desert right now.
And you haven’t told anybody.
You are afraid to express your doubts.
You may not be able to find the right words,
You may have to risk not hearing back
the right words to begin with,
we’re all in this together and faith is hard
even as faith is a great joy.
Will each of you help us all
to be a family fellowship
where Christ is shared in the desert:
the harshest experiences of life,
the hardest questions of life,
when there are no other answers
than Jesus was crucified and he rose again.
By the cross of Christ
we know the reach of God is far and deep
reaching into sinners’ lives
to redeem, forgive, save and set free.
Our reach as Christ’s church
and as followers of our Savior must be that long, too.
We are to show this by our support of missions
and our participation in the mission
of sharing of the gospel,
going all the way across neighborhoods,
across ethnic divisions,
across economic divide,
across racial tensions,
across threats and oppression,
sent with the only gospel that saves:
the good news of Jesus.
Being sent into your world by Jesus means you, too.
Acts 8-10 show the Holy Spirit
insisting believers just like you and me
get out there shining our lights.
Here we read about Philip.
This wasn’t his job, his first calling,
remember he was a deacon,
he was interested in helping those needing care.
But he too is sent.
Like Ananias will be sent to Paul in chapter 9.
Ananias was just a regular,
and when he welcomes Paul as a brother,
Paul is then sent out, too.
Then Peter in chapter 10,
just when he thought he had gone far enough,
the Spirit says, a little farther still, and Peter goes.
This is a scandalous change
brought about by the heart of God
thru the Holy Spirit.
The Holy Spirit insists that
our Heavenly Father did not reach down to earth
in the giving up of his Son,
and Jesus didn’t just reach out
to the last, least, little and lost of his day,
finally sacrificing his life on the cross,
to build his church on this powerful love
and grace of God,
just so we, the church, could stay at arm’s length
from the brokenness in the world
and from the lost-ness of our society.
We are to go.
For the rest of the book of Acts
you can’t escape the fact that Christians
are going somewhere.
And where they’re going is NOT to church.
Instead they obey the call to go
to share their faith in Christ
with friends and enemies,
neighbors and strangers.
Christians don’t go to church;
they bring church
to bring Christ’s refreshment in life’s deserts.
Will you accept this change
in what it means to be people of the resurrection,
faithful followers of our Savior?
Look also at the scandalous choices
of God’s Spirit.
Look who the Spirit chose for salvation!
You might think your life has disqualified you
from God somehow.
Or it feels that way
because of the wilderness you are in.
There is not much to commend
this Ethiopian to Philip.
He is so insignificant by world standards
that we aren’t even told his name!
Yet he is noticed and known by God!
He is a foreigner.
In the Jewish religious system,
because he is both a foreigner and a eunuch,
he could never fully be included in worship.
He was restricted to certain areas
in the temple courts.
No wonder he is reading from Isaiah 53 –
“He was led like a sheep to the slaughter,
and as a lamb before its shearer is silent,
so he did not open his mouth.
In his humiliation he was deprived of justice.
Who can speak of his descendants?
For his life was taken from the earth.”
These words speak to this unnamed man
known only for the job he must do
and his physical condition.
He has been physically humiliated
and finds in this prophecy
one who shared humiliation
and being deprived of justice.
This prophecy was fulfilled
in the cross of Christ Jesus.
Philip shares that gospel with him:
35 Then Philip began with that very passage of Scripture and told him the good news about Jesus.
Today we must pay attention to these verses.
So many experience injustice.
Our country is increasingly divided
over justice issues -
there is more shouting than listening,
more judgment than mercy
and conventional wisdom says
you’ve got to grab power
in order to bring about change.
But here is Jesus,
led like a lamb to the slaughter,
giving up his life silently,
no appeal to power.
The story encourages us to learn to talk about Jesus.
Jesus in our lives: for us and with us.
You and I don’t’ matter, he does.
What is it about Jesus that the world cannot live without?
What is it about Jesus that your neighbor cannot live without?
What is it about Jesus that you cannot live without?
Do you know?
Does it show?
Then, let’s go!
When the eunuch asks Philip,
why shouldn’t I be baptized,
we can quickly come up with
at least 7 answers why he shouldn’t:
He doesn’t understand the Bible
He hasn’t given any testimony
He has no mentor,
no means to continue to grow as a disciple.
He has no place to worship when he gets home.
His lifestyle in the courts of the pagan queen
would be questionable to the Christians.
And Philip is only a deacon,
how can he baptize anybody?
But grace is alive even in the desert.
And that’s what we have to understand and appropriate in our lives,
our relating to others,
our heart for others!
Grace is the measure, motive and reason
for all we do and choose not to do.
Not lesser things!
Will you in faith accept this scandalous challenge?
Philip is taken from popular and successful work
to a desert road.
In the beginning of chapter 8 Philip
winds up in Samaria
and brings great joy to a city there
with the good news of Jesus.
Crowds gather around him and the Bible says,
‘they all paid close attention to what he said.’
But then the angel of the Lord commands Philip
to the desert road.
Who is going to be there?
Doesn’t Philip have other important,
church things to do?
Isn’t working in Samaria enough,
already crossing over divisions between peoples?
He has to do even more?
The scandalous challenge of the Spirit
is given to the disciples of Jesus to go.
How about you measure your faith today
with that one word: go.
To whom have you gone in the name of Jesus
in the last few days, weeks, months?
How do I take a first step?
Philip’s story shows us some of the ways
the Spirit prepares us
to be obedient to this gospel calling:
1) Philip shows us that believers are in touch with God. Twice we read, in vss 26 & 29, that an angel of the Lord spoke to Philip. Once to go to a place nobody would have thought to go. And then to go up to the man in the story that nobody would have thought to talk to.
After that, in vs 39, we read that the Spirit took Philip away to another place of witnessing. Being in touch with God means to be directed and led by the heart of God. What matters is what matters to the Lord. What is important is what is important to Jesus. This is one way the Lord speaks to you and me today. And this is one way we may hear God, with our hearts. We open ourselves up to such faithful hearing by using the means the Spirit has given us: worship and preaching, personal and group Bible study, time listening to the Word of God, sacrifice and service, obedience and trust, prayer alone and together.
2) Philip is obedient, not to his own self but to the Lord. When the Spirit says go, he goes. No backtalk. No what about him or her. No maybe later. He’s worked in Samaria where there is deep racial hatred between Jew and Samaritan. He’s done what the apostles haven’t been able to do. But he doesn’t say that’s enough when the Spirit says more. What is enough for him is that the Spirit said so. And did we notice that obedience has to do with others? Our forgiving God expects private morality – go and sin no more, he has said. The Risen Christ wants more: it is in the love of neighbor that we fulfill the law, we show our obedience. This is the business of the Christian, to obey the Lord. Reaching out is also an act of obedience. It’s not about whether we are outgoing people by nature, our second nature, our new nature is that of witness. We can’t say we’ve got to look after ourselves first. We can’t put our own needs at the top of our agendas. We can’t say no to evangelism because we’re not good at it. Our only choice is to devote ourselves to getting better at it. And if that means getting better at our love for our neighbor, that’s a good thing to strive for.
3) Philip was gracious to others, even the stranger. He had compassion on the outsider. He asks the Ethiopian, Do you understand what you are reading? Can I help you? He goes with him. He respects and listens to the one different from himself and is ready to serve him with the blessings of Christ.
4) Philip knew his Bible. When the Ethiopian is stuck in Isaiah and asks who this prophecy is about, Philip is able to respond. This tells me he spent time with God in the word of the Lord. Philip had worked thru those verses himself. He was ready, as we are commanded, to give an answer for the hope that lies within us with gentleness and respect. He was ready to share the good news. Are you? One main preparation is for us to know our testimony. How would you answer someone who asked you what you believe, why you are a Christian, why you belong to Christ’s church? And I know from experience that when those questions are asked you have about a minute in which to respond. No one says, I have been thinking about the great eternal questions of life, and I would like to give you a few weeks to prepare, and then we’ll get together, and you can lead me through a ppt presentation on your faith, okay? It doesn’t work that way. So are you ready? Can you practice with your friends until you have it in your heart and head? God has placed you in relationships where your witness counts. Will your neighbors and friends meet Jesus when they meet you?
5) And last, Philip stuck with others. He stuck with the Ethiopian until he could acknowledge the love and lordship of Christ in his life. Who is the Spirit directing you to stick with? It might be a relative. It might be a co-worker or classmate. It might be a neighbor.
It may be someone who has turned away from the Christian church feeling let down
even tho you know you and others tried their very best for that person.
Maybe someone going thru the desert right now all alone except for you. It is what Jesus does for us, right?
Let’s end this morning praying about how we have been most convicted and making one commitment. Will you bring that to the Lord now? Perhaps you are able to give financially to one or more of the missionaries we support. Or you are reminded again of friends that need your presence with them in their struggle.
Is it time for you to join in that community group where you can share life with your neighbors? You love baseball anyway, so why not help out coaching little league? Or you love the outdoors, why not join a local group? Will you tell someone what you believe the Spirit has directed you to do so that he or she can pray for you and hold you accountable? We have just been struck again by the beauty and power of Christ’s cross and empty tomb. Someone you know missed out on these assurances. Someone needs to hear about Jesus from you.
AMEN'd this Sermon: