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Good News Travels Fast

Good News Travels Fast
10th July 2011

Good News Travels Fast

Speaker:
Passage: Acts 8:26 - 40

 Acts 8:26 – 40
Good News Travels Fast

The greatest missionary ever.
When I was in high school I loved reading the biographies of famous preachers and missionaries.  People like Charles Spurgeon, who used to smoke cigars because he said the cigar smoke was cleaner than the air in 19th Century London.
One time as he stepped into the pulpit, someone threw a note at him, just the word “Fool”.
And without missing a beat Spurgeon said, “I’ve received many anonymous notes in my time, but this is the first time, the sender has left off the message, but signed their name.
Another story I loved was that of William Carey, the pioneer missionary to India in the late 1700s.  While he was trying to awaken the church to the great need for Christians to take the gospel to the ends of the earth,  Carey was famously told by a church leader “Young man, sit down; when God pleases to convert the heathen, he will do it without your aid or mine”
Supposedly it’s a true story, and it makes you think doesn’t it?
God’s powerful, what’s our part in people hearing about Jesus?
Well Acts 8 gives us some help answering that question.
The story so far
It’s been more than a year since we were last in the book of Acts, so let me, very quickly refresh your memory, or fill you in, if you’ve don’t know the story so far.
After Jesus’ resurrection, he says to his disciples, Acts 1:8, you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” , and Jesus is taken up to heaven.
A little while later, at the Jewish festival of Pentecost, Jesus sends the Holy Spirit, and one of the signs of the coming of the Holy Spirit, the person of God who dwells in and among his people, is that the disciples are able to speak in different languages.
Because of the Passover, there were tens of thousands, maybe hundreds of thousands of followers of the Jewish religion in Jerusalem, and they came from all around the world,  and they were able to hear the good news of Jesus and the wonders of God in their own tongue.
Do you see already there’s a hint, of Acts 1:8 being fulfilled.
If you’ve ever travelled overseas, on your way home you get back to the airport in whatever foreign city, and you hear the Qantas staff speaking, and you think one of 2 things, either, “Is that really what my Australian accent sounds like?!”, or “What a great sound!  Finally someone who speaks like me!”
Well these people from all over the world had that experience at Pentecost, “God speaks my language.”
But we’re still talking about a church that is made up people who had previously been part of the Jewish religion, and who now understood that Jesus was the fulfillment of everything they’d been longing for.
And that fact was not one that the Jewish religious establishment particularly welcomed, and so we’re told in verse 1 of chapter 8,  a great persecution broke out against the church at Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria.
Now Samaria was a bit like Victoria.  We don’t like them and they don’t like us.  That’s a bit unfair isn’t it, If you’re from Victoria, welcome this morning, it’s great to have you here!  We don’t really have an equivalent actually.  The Jews and the Samaritans, it was more than just friendly rivalry, it wasn’t friendly at all!
If you were here when we were in Habakkuk about a month ago, we talked about the nation of Israel splitting in 2 in about 930 BC, well what became the northern kingdom, was wiped out by the Assyrians in 722 BC.
The people who were left there intermarried with those who moved in, and so the Jews down in the south, no longer regarded their northern neighbours as pure.  In fact, despite their common ancestry, they basically called them mongrels.
And yet, the first part of Acts 8, is about how even, the Samaritans, those mongrels, are drawn in to the community of God’s people.
So the church initially was just Jewish believers,
And then Jewish believers from around the world,
And then the Samaritans are drawn in, chapter 8.
And when we come to verse 26, we see the church about to change once more.
That’s the story so far, step by step moving closer to the fulfillment of Acts 1:8.
God is the great evangelist
And through the book, Luke, the author, has told us about 5000 people coming to faith, 3000 people, large numbers of people putting their trust in Jesus, and then, the story slows right down, and we zoom right in, on one man.  It’s a fairly significant change of gear.
It’s a bit like when you’re watching the news on TV, and they say, 87 people were killed when a suicide bomber blew himself up in Pakistan ... and in other news, some Port Power defender has a new hair style!
And you’re like, excuse me?  Hang on, what just happened, How did we change direction quite so suddenly?!
Well it’s not a change of direction in Acts 8, but it’s a significant enough change of pace to make us ask the question.
“Hang on, why now are we focusing on one guy’s conversion?
Why has the story slowed down so much?
What am I supposed to be noticing?
And there are 2 things I think Luke wants us to notice in this episode, and the first one is that, in the midst of all the evangelism that takes place in Acts ,
We’ve got Peter preaching, Stephen speaking, Apostles proclaiming Jesus and the grace of God,
It’s evangelism central,
And yet what Luke wants to highlight, is that it’s God himself who is the great evangelist.
Look with me from verse 26 at how God is bringing the good news to people.
Now an angel of the Lord said to Philip, “Go south to the road—the desert road—that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.” 27 So he started out ,
Whenever we go on holidays, we seem to meet someone we know, no matter how far from home we are, there’s a neighbor, or someone from work, or church or whatever.
We were in Queensland just a couple of weeks ago and Heidi and I climbed off the Dodgem cars at Dreamworld to find Kathy talking to a friend of hers who lives in Mt Barker.  You think, out of all the people in the world, what kind of coincidence is it that I bump into you?!
Well this crossing of paths in Acts 8 is no coincidence.  Luke says an angel of the Lord spoke to Philip, and then, later we see, the Spirit of the Lord led Philip to the chariot.
God has arranged this meeting.
David Cook, who spoke at the Trinity Decade Dinner last year, calls this “A Divine Intersection”.
Gaza was the last stopping place in the desert before the road stretched out to Egypt, and Ethiopia.  If you’ve ever driven in the Outback you might have seen those signs by the side of the road “Last pub for 500 kilometres”,   That’s the kind of place that Philip is led by God.
And you can imagine him, wondering “what on earth am I doing here?
I was having a great time talking to people about Jesus in Samaria, and I’m out here in the middle of nowhere!
Did God punch the wrong coordinates into his GPS?
Well .. no!  God has prepared a divine intersection, and along comes an Ethiopian eunuch, an important official in charge of all the treasury of Candace, queen of the Ethiopians.
And so, the Spirit told Philip, “Go to that chariot and stay near it.”
We’ll come back to what’s so special about this man in a moment,  but for now, let’s just notice how God has arranged this meeting.
He’s put Philip there, in the middle of nowhere.
The man arrives and the Spirit of God says to Philip,  go to that chariot and stay near it.
And as Philip approaches the chariot, he hears the man reading the Jewish Scriptures, he’s reading Isaiah.
And you can imagine Philip, who runs up to the chariot, verse 30, Do you understand what you are reading?
And the man replies, “How can I,”,  “unless someone explains it to me?” So he invited Philip to come up and sit with him.
Here is a man ,
In the middle of nowhere ,
Who wants to worship God ,
Who, in God’s providence is reading perhaps the most significant passage in all of the Old Testament about the life and ministry and victory of Jesus,
And he wants someone to help him understand it ,
And God has arranged for Philip, who we’re told in chapter 6 is full of the Spirit and wisdom, who’s just done an amazing work of evangelism among the Samaritans, to be right there, and in God’s kindness, he is able to answer the Eunuch’s question,  who is the prophet talking about, himself or someone else?
35 Then Philip began with that very passage of Scripture and told him the good news about Jesus.
It’s Jesus who was led like a lamb to the slaughter.
It’s Jesus who didn’t speak in his own defence when falsely accused.
It’s Jesus who suffered the penalty that we deserved, although he was entirely innocent and entirely without sin.
God is the great evangelist.
He’s brought all these elements together.
The man interested in worshiping God ,
The Christian who can explain the good news of Jesus ,
The Ethiopian has just so happened to get his hands on a scroll which contains in it the section of the Scriptures that speaks of Jesus’ death so that sinful people can be declared not guilty before God.
And even, in the middle of the desert, at just the right time, there is water, so the man can be baptized.
Verse 36, “Look, here is water. Why shouldn’t I be baptized?” 38, and then the Spirit of the Lord suddenly took Philip away, and the eunuch did not see him again, but went on his way rejoicing.
Is there any doubt that this is a divine intersection?
Is there any doubt that evangelism, that is, sharing the good news of Jesus with people, is God’s business?
Sure Philip was obedient. Great example for us.
Sure the Ethiopian was willing to ask for help when he didn’t understand the Scriptures.  Again, a great example for us.
But who’s the hero of this story?
It’s God isn’t it?
If this was a movie and we watched the credits as they scrolled past at the end, it would say, Acts 8, starring “God”
Directed by God
Produced by God
Screenplay by God
Set Decoration by God
Do you know what I mean?
God is the great evangelist.
When he instructs Philip to share in that work.
When he invites us, in places like 1 Corinthians 15, to become ministers of reconciliation, reconciling people to God, he is asking us to share in, what is first and foremost, his work.
Is that an encouragement to you?
If you’re a Christian person, do you ever think, “Well I’m not much of an evangelist”?
“I couldn’t possibly work out who among my friends, needs to hear about Jesus, or would likely respond to the message of Jesus.”
“I Just don’t ever seem to know, “is this the right time to bring up matters of faith?
Is this the moment to invite my friend to church?
I don’t even know what I’d say, if I had the opportunity to talk about Jesus.
What answer does Acts 8 give to all of those questions?
Acts 8 says God has all of that in his hand.
God is the God of divine intersections, he is the great evangelist.
When we’re thinking about sharing the good news of Jesus with other people, which sometimes is as far as we get, isn’t it?  When we’re thinking about evangelism, is our confidence in ourselves, or is our confidence in God, the great evangelist.
If you’re not a Christian, but you’re here with us this morning, maybe because someone invited you .. maybe someone’s talked to you about Jesus, I’m really pleased that you’re with us.  I wonder if you’ve ever stopped to think that maybe those conversations and questions weren’t all coincidences ,
Maybe God has actually been at work, bringing you to this point.
Acts 8 would suggest that it’s no accident that these questions of faith come at you from different directions.
And if God is working things out and prompting you behind the scenes, does that make your response perhaps a bit more important?
Not something that you can just take or leave, but something that demands a more considered response?
God is the great evangelist.
The good news is for everyone
The 2nd really important thing that Luke shows us is that the good news of Jesus is for everyone.
Remember, up until this point in the story, the church was just Jews, they were the ones God had chosen to bring his blessing to the world, but then at the beginning of chapter 8, it extended to the .. sort of, half-Jews, the Samaritans.
And now we’re beginning to see just the very first signs that the good news of Jesus’ life and death and resurrection, is not just good news for the Jews, but for everyone. We’ll see completely in the coming weeks, this is just the very beginning, but here’s the reason Luke slows the tempo of the story.
Do we realize who this man is?
Firstly he’s not a Jew, he’s an Ethiopian.
Ethiopia was considered the furthest reaches of the civilized world.
In the kids’ books it’s always Timbuktu, isn’t it?  The furthest place you can go, the back of beyond.
If the good news of Jesus is good news for someone from there, it must surely be good news for everyone.
And of course, he’s a eunuch.  If you don’t know what a eunuch is, let me just say, becoming one is very painful for men, and leave it at that.
And this guy is the treasurer, he’s the Wayne Swan of Ethiopia.
Like Cornelius, who we meet a bit later on, he seems to be what was called a “God fearer”, someone who believed in the God of Israel, but unlike the people at Pentecost, hadn’t converted to Judaism.
But this man couldn’t have become a full member of the Jewish religion if he’d wanted to.
He could visit the temple in Jerusalem, but he couldn’t go inside it.
Eunuchs were excluded.
They weren’t allowed to take part.
But now, this foreigner, this man who because of physical deformity or injury was once upon a time an outsider, he is brought in.
What is the difference in status between the Ethiopian and Philip?
How are their Christian identities different?
What is different in the way God looks at Philip, to the way he looks at the Ethiopian?
Nothing.  Nothing at all.
When God looks at Philip, he sees a man born into sin, with nothing to make him attractive to God, and he sees a man trusting in Jesus’ life and death and resurrection, for forgiveness.
And when God looks at the Ethiopian, he sees a man born into sin, with nothing to make him attractive to God, and he sees a man trusting in Jesus’ life and death and resurrection, for forgiveness.
When God looks at me, and you, he sees a man born into sin, a woman born into sin, with nothing about us to make us attractive to God, and if you’re a Christian, he sees a person trusting in Jesus’ life and death and resurrection, for forgiveness.
The good news of Jesus is good news for everyone.
No matter what your background ,
No matter what your past ,
No matter what you’ve done or has been done to you,
Think of the people you know who seem so unlikely to come to faith.
Maybe people whose lifestyle right now is screaming “I want nothing to do with Jesus”
Maybe people who hurt others and tread on others and ignore others, in their march to the top of .. whatever it is that they’re marching to the top of ,
The good news of Jesus:, sins forgiven, peace with God, a fresh start, hope beyond the grave, the good news of Jesus can be good news for them.
So this episode is really the first crack in the opening of a door, that in the coming weeks we’ll see swinging wide, as the good news of Jesus goes out, literally into all the world.
And clearly God is at work.
Our evangelism?
So does it make you wonder, “Should we expect this extraordinary prompting in our evangelism?  Do I just sit at home, not talking to anyone about Jesus, until I hear some voice telling me, “Go out onto the Freeway and look for the driver of a white commodore, he needs to hear the good news about Jesus””?
Well God might do that!
But I definitely shouldn’t sit at home waiting for that kind of prompting before I start talking about Jesus.
This event is a milestone.  Remember the change of pace?
The point of this is that this is unusual.
This is a turning point in the life of the church.
But there are still lessons for us.
We’ve already spoken of God as the great evangelist.   Which is good news for us isn’t it?  Few of us would identify ourselves as great evangelists, and that’s OK, because God is the great evangelist.
DIVINE INTERSECTIONS
And while we shouldn’t expect or demand that the Spirit of God will give us this kind of very deliberate and specific instruction as to who to speak to and when to engage people in conversations about Jesus, we do want to make sure we’re open to the opportunities God places before us.
We do want to respond to the divine intersections that the Holy Spirit creates.
What a terrible mistake it would be to think sharing my faith is all about me creating the opportunity ,
Me convincing my friend by my clever argument and great knowledge.
Me drawing them near to God.
The danger is we become like a preacher I heard about once.  He was normally very diligent in preparing his notes for his sermon every week, but one Sunday stood up in front of the congregation and said, “I have had a shocking week, and I haven’t been able to prepare, so this morning I’m going to have to depend on the Holy Spirit. But let me assure you, this will never happen again!”
If God brought someone right across your path ,
A friend, work colleague, family member, classmate, total stranger, would you see in your meeting them, your conversation, the hand of the great evangelist?
Are you sensitive to the divine intersections that God creates?
Will you pray, for divine intersections?
Would you, shock horror, even prepare, think about what you might say, when you find yourself in a divine intersection.
At the Trinity dinner last year David Cook talked about asking people he meets in shops and on the train and on planes, “What kind of day has it been?”  And the conversation is wide open.
Someone told me just this week that their question whenever someone is speaking about the difficulties of life is .. “And who is carrying that with you?”,
How might you make the most of the divine intersections?
God’s heart?
Another good question for us out of this passage is “Do we have God’s heart for people?”
I read this week, God’s heart is for the lost.  A church or Christian that ceases to be missionary, ceases to be Christian.
A preacher I heard once put it even stronger than that, he said if you don’t have a heart for the lost, you probably are one of the lost. Now sweeping generalizations are .. just that, sweeping generalizations, and I definitely don’t want anyone here to think “I haven’t told my neighbours about Jesus, maybe I’m not a Christian after all.”
But have we really grasped how God presents himself to us in this episode?
God is the great evangelist.
God’s heart is for the lost.
It would be a lot easier for us, and a lot more comfortable, if preachers didn’t talk about evangelism so often, if we could read through Acts, and just say, “wow, wasn’t that so cool!  Didn’t God do amazing things!”
But we can’t get away from the fact that God is the great evangelist and he longs for people to come to him ,
He makes the way open for people to come to him ,
And he calls people, to come to him.
And rather than just announce the good news of Jesus with, I don’t know, writing in the sky or something, God chooses to work through his people.
People like Philip.
People like the church.
People like us.
22 times in Acts, God speaks directly.  A voice from heaven, Jesus speaking, God the Father announcing.  22 times.
Sixteen of those 22 times, are reminders to the church to keep on telling people the good news about Jesus ,
To keep on responding to the divine intersections ,
To keep on reaching out to the ends of the earth.
I did the math for you!  Statistically 73 percent of what God says directly to Christian people in Acts, is to say .. keep on telling people about Jesus.
There’s really no getting away from it!
Where’s your heart?
Could we do it?
Which makes me wonder, if it was us, would we have been able to do what Philip does?
I don’t mean could you run alongside a moving chariot, but could you have explained Christ from the Scriptures?
Could I?
Sure we’re not Philip.
Sure the Spirit of God put Philip alongside that road, this was his God-arranged appointment, not ours.
But since it’s in the Scriptures that we find Jesus, surely we should be able to explain Jesus from the Scriptures.
Back in 2005, in preparation for the Jesus All About Life media campaign, we did some training with people, to help them make the most of the divine intersections brought about through the TV ads and billboards and everything.
One of the things we did was encourage people to choose one Bible verse that communicated something significant to them about who Jesus is, and what he’s done.
One verse.
Not the whole scroll of Isaiah, One verse.
Maybe this week each of us should choose one verse, and commit it to memory,
So that when we encounter that divine intersection, we can explain Christ from the Scriptures.
What happens next?
Well, If you’re anything like me, when you read Acts 8, you want to know what happened next.
Did the Ethiopian go back home and, you know, just tell everyone he knows about Jesus?
We don’t know.
Did he completely restructure the treasury department to enable it to fund missionaries and school chaplains, and you know, whatever else.
Is his new-found faith immediately obvious whenever anyone walks into his office?
We don’t know.
Did he become Ethiopia’s first evangelist?
That’s what tradition tells us.
But really, we don’t know.
Did he keep reading his scroll of Isaiah?  If he did, listen to what he would have come across just 3 chapters later.  Isaiah 56:3 – 5 ‘Let no foreigner who has bound himself to the Lord say, “The Lord will surely exclude me from his people.” And let not the eunuch complain, “I am only a dry tree.” For this is what the Lord says: “,  I will give them an everlasting name that will not be cut off” ’
What happened next? Did he read that and think, “Wow, it was always God’s plan for people like me to come to him?
We don’t know.
Did he think, “God has been at work for centuries, preparing a place for me?”
We don’t know.
We don’t know what happens next.
We’re not told.
It doesn’t matter.
But we do know what happens next, .. for us.
This morning we’ve all had the experience of this Ethiopian Eunuch.
We’ve read God’s Word.
We’ve had it explained.
We’ve heard it speak of Jesus.
For many of us not for the first time, but maybe for some of us.
What do we do with what we’ve heard?
How do we live as Christians, knowing that to be a Christian means to have God’s heart for people who don’t know him?
How do we respond to the divine intersections that God has placed in front of us?
How do we respond to God breaking into the world, to draw us to him,
Whether you’re a Christian or not a Christian, the “What happens next?” is up to you.

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