Look there is water, what is to prevent…? - Easter 5b

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Heavenly Father, I ask that you open our eyes to see what you want us to see, to hear what you want us to hear and to believe in our hearts the light of the world which is the good news, in which there is no darkness – Amen

“Look, there is water. What is to prevent my being baptized?”

This is the question that the Ethiopian Eunuch asks of the disciple Philip

On the surface it might seem like an innocuous question, a question of little significance – but when you dig deeper, we find it carries with it, an incredible message

            To dig deeper we are going to approach this as a reporter might approach it

                        We are going to ask the five ‘W’s and the one H

                                    Who, What, Where, When, Why and How

And like any good reporter we need to asks these questions first to dig deeper into the context of the story

WHO is this person?

We know that he is an from Ethiopia – which is the country that is next to Egypt in North Africa – and Ethiopia was considered the extreme reaches of the known world

He had traveled some considerable distances to be returning from Jerusalem the spiritual head city of the Israel and the Jewish people

            We are told that he holds a high position in the court of Queen of Candace

                        The queen of Ethiopia - He was the treasurer of all her treasury

He traveled not by foot as most would, nor riding on an animal, like a horse or camel as other might

            But he traveled with others in a chariot

A high ranking official – trusted with the money of the land

            He had gone to Jerusalem to worship

We don’t know if that meant he was Jewish scholar, serving in some form of slavery in the Ethiopian court – a Jew is Di-as-pora – similar to Daniel when the brightest young minds served in exile in the Babylonian court

Or whether he was sent by the queen as a trusted advisor to go and learn about the another culture, a cultural ambassador of some sorts

Or whether he was there on his own accord – searching for something – attracted to the Jewish people by some longing for spiritual truth

Or whether is was there – compelled by some force greater than his own understanding – that God had drawn him there to create such an opportunity

He might have been an Ethiopian by race, culture or nationality

            We are told that this Ethiopian was also a Eunuch

                        One that has been castrated, made sexual impotent

                                    Probably so that he could serve in the high position that he had

                                                (an aside: 2 out of 3 biblical Eunuch’s - are Ethiopian)

WHO was Philip?

            Philip was a disciple of Jesus – one of the first disciples, after Andrew and Peter

Who left everything when Jesus found him and said simply “Follow Me”

That, then went running to Nathanial, after hearing Jesus for just a little while and stated to his friend “We have found the one about whom Moses wrote in the law, and also the prophets, Jesus, son of Joseph, from Nazareth.”

Philip who was likely a teenager or young man, not yet considered to be a man by Jewish understanding as when the temple tax was to be paid – only Peter and Jesus had to pay

Philip who empowered by the Holy Spirit, just before our reading of today had been preaching in Samaria to great success

After the martyr of Stephen, Philip was the next bright light – by today’s standards he was celebrity - sharing the Gospel message boldly


Philip went down to (the) city of Samaria and proclaimed the Messiah to them. With one accord, the crowds paid attention to what was said by Philip when they heard it and saw the signs he was doing. …but once they began to believe Philip as he preached the good news about the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, men and women alike were baptized. (Acts 8:5&6, 12)

WHAT was the Ethiopian doing?

When Philip prompted by the Holy Spirit came across the Ethiopian he was sitting in his chariot reading the prophet Isaiah

This man was well educated, as he was able to read, and not only read but could read Hebrew and speak Greek (which would have been the language of Philip (a Hellenized Jew)

            It was the practice in those days that reading was done out loud

So as Philip ran beside the chariot he would have heard his ancestral language and His bold question “Do you understand what you are reading?” was made, because he must have known that he was brought there for this purpose

WHEN and WHERE did all this happen?

            This is a story of the early disciples in the Acts of the Apostles

This is after the resurrection of Jesus at Easter

After the earthly appearances,

After the ascension

And after the indwelling of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost,

After the first troubles of the Apostles and the appointment of the first seven deacons

After the martyring of Stephen (one of the first seven deacons)

This was just before the Saul (later to be called Paul) a Pharisee who was persecuting the early church, was to experience his ‘Damascus road conversion’

The story starts out with Philip in Samaria who is given a message from an angel of the Lord to “Get up and go south on the road that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza, (this is a desert road)”(Acts 8:26)

So our story for today – happens literary in the middle of nowhere – in the desert

Along a dusty, sandy road…we have a high court official from a foreign land and one of the twelve disciples of Jesus traveling away from a pilgrimage in which this Ethiopian was worshiping at highest spiritual city of the Hebrew people.

Likely within the first few months after our Lord Jesus had been incarnate on the earth

HOW was all of this to be orchestrated?

HOW was it possible that all of these factors could come together in this way?

            We are told that the angel of the Lord spoke to Philip and told him where to be

                        We can only assume that the Holy Spirit was at work in the Ethiopian

                                    To put him in such an important role in the Ethiopian court

To create in him the desire to worship in Jerusalem

                                    To create in him the desire to be searching for something

                                    To create in him the desire to be reading from the prophet Isaiah

                                    To create in him the trust to allow a stranger, of no apparent status, to dare

to ask him such a bold question – asking if ‘he understood what he was reading?’

And we can only assume that it was the Holy Spirit’s prompting, that had the Ethiopian reading this specific passage from Isaiah, which speaks prophetically of the Messiah, of Jesus the Christ

That has just transformed the early believer’s lives

WHAT happened next?

            The Ethiopian Eunuch responded in what I can only imagine was a deep sense of longing

“How can I [understand what I am reading], unless someone instructs me?” So he invited Philip to get in and sit with him. (Acts 8:31)

After reading the passage from Isaiah again he asked

“I beg you, about whom is the prophet saying this? About himself, or about someone else?” Then Philip opened his mouth and, beginning with this scripture passage, he proclaimed Jesus to him.(Acts 8:34-35)

        Philip proclaimed the Good of Jesus

        Philip opened with the context of the scriptures, showed the work of God in relation to

humanity over time

Philip explained the teachings of the prophets and what they were leading towards

And Philip undoubtedly told of his life with Jesus – what he personally experienced in the three years that he was a disciple

He would have told what Jesus taught and what Jesus did

He would have shared the signs and wonders

And he would have told of the greatest of all acts … of the sacrificial lamb

Of the victory over death

And of the union with Christ – that a follower has

        Philip instructed this searching soul with the only thing that can truly satisfy our void in life

                    The truth – the light in the darkness – the Gospel of the Lord Jesus the Christ

As they traveled along the road they came to some water, and the eunuch said, “Look, there is water. What is to prevent my being baptized?”(Acts 8:36)

Consider this incredible question from a certainly ‘pragmatic” perspective

            And the answer to what is to prevent…can only be “everything” – everything is against it...

                        What are the odds… that all of this could come together

·         A foreigner – one that would have been seen as outsider to the chosen people

·         a high court official from a faraway land

·         Just visited Jerusalem and is returning home

·         Along a wilderness or desert road

·         Philip a disciple of Jesus

·         who was on the other side of Israel – in Samaria

o       could happen to meet up and connect

·         that Philip would be allowed to approach the Treasurer of Ethiopia and run beside his chariot

·         That the Eunuch would have a scroll at all and that it would be from Isaiah

·         that the very passage of scripture could be part of this section of Isaiah, that is know as the servant song

o       that is prophetic for the messiah

·         and that they would find water along a desert road

·         …and then, there is the fact that he is an eunuch – one that by Jewish purity laws would have been thought of as impure – imperfect, permanently marred, not able to enter the temple and receive the blessing of the high priests

It is an incredible, almost ridiculous collection of details

The answer to the question – ‘what is to prevent’ can only be, in our humanly eyes – Everything! Absolutely everything

But, it is not about the efforts of us – it is not about what we do – it is not about the situations that we create

It is about God – it is about the power of the Holy Spirit

The story is about how a disciple of Jesus, a star disciple, who filled with the Holy Spirit – proclaiming bolding and to great success in Samaria, is called to the next task

How, in obedience, Philip responded to the need of another - to know the Lord

Jesus brought about a new covenant – a new yoke, with a burden that is light

            Jesus sent us out beyond the chosen people

                        Beyond the limits of the law and prepared our hearts, prepared our minds

                                    Prepared our souls for His indwelling

I think about my own calling into leadership in ministry

            How, before when a small group of us gathered for bible study

A bible study group that was the product of us going to an alpha course and then wanting to stay together and study more

How, when we would read the bible that we were studying, and it would go around the circle, I would “pass” not feeling capable of reading even to a small group of friends

            And then to be called in leadership in ministry?

                        In obedience I said yes – trusting that God would provide

                                    And God did

God doesn’t call the equipped but equips the called

And that is precisely what it is today for everyone that comes to be baptised

            It is the beginning – not the prize at the end

                        We are starting on our path of discipleship

                                    Called – and then equipped

Consider the life for the average person in our society

            Over 80% of the population doesn’t go to church

                        We have all sorts of obstacles in the way of being taught of Jesus’ ways

            We have businesses open 7 days a week

            We have manufacturing plants operational with shift workers running 24

Hours a day each and every day – many not closing even on Christmas

We have shopping available on Sunday’s, when for most of us, we have a memory when the Sabbath was kept sacred

We have kid’s sports running on Sunday and Sunday mornings

With the pressure to fulfill what we have committed to

Most homes have both parents now working – working to get ahead, working to keep up. Maybe just to pay the ever increasing bills for our ever increasing appetites

Making the weekend - a time of house-hold chores and maybe Sunday morning the only time to sleep in

Squeezing out the time that was devoted to church only a few decades ago

If you were to think pragmatically we could explain away the obstacles of how – everything – seems to be ‘preventing’ the baptism of our children

            And yet like our Ethiopian Eunuch of nearly 2000 years ago – there is a void

                        There is a soul searching

                                    Searching to be filled in the way that only the Gospel of Jesus the Christ can fill

Then as Now - That is the work of the Holy Spirit

            Working beyond the worldly obstacles - working in our lives to create in us something ‘new’

Today as these beautiful children were baptized and as we are gathered and made the promises we will make each time the community gathers to initiate a new member of the family

            We are saying to all the obstacles – the Holy Spirit is bigger than it all

                        We are accepting our role in God’s plan for the world

                                    We are living as the church – we are being the church

We are answering the question of 2000 years ago

“Look, there is water. What is to prevent my being baptized?”


When the work is God’s …. Nothing

Heavenly Father, we thank you that you have called us, that you have filled us with your grace, that you have overcome the obstacles, the distractions that we get involved in. We thank you that you have provided the yearning …and the solution. Lord we ask for your power to abide in us to dwell in us so that we might strive to fulfill the promises made by each one of us to grow and to be nurtured in the faith – We ask this in the name of our Lord – our saviour – our friend, your son Jesus Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit - Amen

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