Text: Acts 8:26-40
Date: Easter V + 5/6/12
The Lord is risen! He is risen, indeed! After appearing to His disciples a number of times after Easter, on the fortieth day at His Ascension He mapped out the mission that they should preach repentance and the forgiveness of sins, baptize and teach beginning in Jerusalem, then branching out to all Judea, even including Samaria and, as He said, “to the end of the earth” (Acts 1:8). This mission happened quickly as today, already in Acts chapter eight, we’re told of St. Philip being directed to go down from Jerusalem to Gaza. There He encounters a man from Ethiopia, which at the time was considered to be part of the end of the known world. Through an interesting turn of events Philip “told him the good news about Jesus” (8:35). He must have done quite a thorough job of it for “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?’” Nothing prevented him, so he was and he “went on his way rejoicing.”
That’s the way it really works, you know. That is, I’ve seen it happen over and over again—an individual hears the wonderful invitation, the command and promise of God concerning Holy Baptism, and, you know what happens? More times than not, miraculously, they desire what God commands and promises! The Ethiopian heard, saw, desired and received. That’s how God’s Word works. That’s how faith works.
We can only imagine what Philip said to the man beginning with the Isaiah 53:7 passage he asked about. Luke says “he told him the good news about Jesus,” how Jesus is the “suffering servant” of Isaiah who, like a sheep was led to the slaughter and opened not his mouth before His accusers. Jesus is the One whose life was taken away from Him, His death for the sins of the world.
The good news about Jesus can be stated as simply as reciting the Creed or as I used to do with my new member class extending two-hour sessions once a week over a period of sixteen weeks and, we should add, over an entire lifetime of hearing and living in the Word. The news about Jesus becomes “good” news only when a person, first, discovers their real need of deliverance from sin, separation from God and death, and their helplessness to do anything about that need on their own. That’s the function of the Law of God’s Word, the peeling away of the prideful defenses of our hiding from the righteousness, holiness and judgment of God against our sin. But then secondly is “the power of God to salvation” (Rom 1:16) that is the Gospel which is never about anything we must do, but always about what God does, what He has done and will do for us and for our salvation.
What God does through His Word is create faith in the heart, when and where He wills in those who hear the Gospel. Then He gives that “hand of faith” something to grasp and hang on to, namely, His Word and Sacraments. This is how disciples are made of all nations according to Jesus’ institution and design, “baptizing in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching” about Jesus and His life-giving Word.
Now some people are a little surprised by this if not even offended. For many misunderstand Holy Baptism to be not God’s work and action at all but merely an expression of our own work and action, that is, the sincerity of our repentance and the mindful acknowledgement of a personal decision of faith. This distinction may be what’s behind the missing verse in our text. You will notice that verse 36 of our text in the English Standard Version (ESV) is followed by verse 38! Most scholars these days question whether verse 37 is part of St. Luke’s original manuscript. Still, it was accepted by many ancient church fathers including up to the time the Bible was first cast into numbered verses in the mid-1500s. (You will find it in the text of the King James Version, or in a footnote in your modern versions). After the man asks, “What prevents me from being baptized?” Verse 37 reads,
“Philip said, ‘If you believe with all your heart, you may [be baptized].’ And he replied, ‘I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God’”
the classic confession of faith. So you can see the influence of an emphasis on personal decision over against a whole-hearted faith in God’s work and action through this sacrament.
It is no different than the Church’s ancient practice, namely, that we baptize infants and then teach them what their baptism means, but with adults we teach them first in preparation for their baptism, as in the Lenten catechumenate. But there is nothing that prevents an adult from being baptized first with little delay or preparation.
Water means life. In the beginning of God’s creative activity, “See, there is water!” “The Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters” (Gen 1:2). See again, there is water! On the second day of creation God said, “Let there be an expanse in the midst of the waters, and let it separate the waters from the waters” (Gen 1:6-7). And on the third day of creation God said, “Let the waters under the heavens be gathered together into one place…and God called the waters that were gathered together Seas” (Gen 1:9-10). And he created life, creatures that swarm in the waters (Gen 1:21). Some of the water was rain and mist watering the whole face of the ground (Gen 2:6). Water means life. And see, there is water! “A river flowed out of Eden to water the garden” (Gen 2:10).
Water served God’s judgment against sin in the great flood but also delivered Noah and his family to life. Water means judgment and life.
It was God’s grace when He commanded the waters of the Red Sea to part thus to deliver His people and drown hard-hearted Pharaoh and all his host at the Exodus (Ex 13-14).
It was for water that Jesus asked a woman of Samaria and thus brought the living water of forgiveness to her. Nicodemus was told that God saves by giving rebirth from above by water and the Spirit.
Water means life. At Christ’s command it turned into a fine wine to bring life to a wedding partyin Cana. But it was in His death that the water of life issued from His very body with His life-giving blood. Philip told the eunuch the good news about Jesus. The eunuch said, “See, there is water!” St. John wrote, “This is He who came by water and blood—Jesus Christ; not by the water only but by the water and the blood. And the Spirit is the one who testifies, because the Spirit is the truth. For there are three that testify: the Spirit and the water and the blood; and these three agree” (1 John 5:5-8).
The life is in the blood (Lev 17:11), and water means new life. “See, there is water!” What prevents a person from that life and deliverance? Only the dry, dead rejection and refusal of God’s gift. “If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned” (John 15:6). But you have come to the living water of life through which God has come to you, blessed you with true faith by the Holy Spirit, and through the saving flood of your baptism all your sin is drowned and dies. May you be kept safe and secure, therefore, in the holy ark of the Christian Church, being separated from the multitude of unbelievers and serving God’s name at all times with a fervent spirit and a joyful hope and thus be declared worthy of eternal life.Water means life.