May 4, 2015

May 3, 2015 - Acts 8:25-36

Theme: How to Capitalize When Opportunity Knocks
1) Arise (v.26)
2) Go (v.29)
3) Preach (v.35)

Are you ready? The natural response is: “for what?” Usually, if we’re eagerly anticipating something, we’re ready for it. But, if we’re waiting for something less desirable, we usually find ways of not being ready. One of the problems I often got into as a younger kid was lacking the ability to patiently wait for something that I really wanted, that I was really ready for. And usually when whatever I was waiting for finally happened, I was usually let down because I had built it up so much in my head. The same thing still happens to me often today. Does it happen to you too?

Regardless of how impatient we may get for something that we really want or how much we build it up in our minds, at least we can say that we’re ready. If it’s something less desirable, who cares about being ready for it? In fact, why even try to get ready for it? Instead, you can spend time trying to prevent it from happening. Sometimes we do that too.

How do you treat the Gospel? What is your view when it comes to sharing and spreading God’s Word? Is it something you can’t wait to do? Do you seek out opportunities to talk about it? Are you ready for the opportunities when they come your way? Or, do you shy away from speaking about God? Are you ashamed to bring it up or do you start to get quiet when the topic arises?

The good thing about sharing the Gospel is that we don’t have to manufacture opportunities, God takes care of that. But, we can ignore then when they come up. It’s very easy to casually look the other way when the Holy Spirit opens a door. As Christians who love their Savior and what He’s done for them, none of us want to deny Christ or fail to stand up and speak for Him when the time comes. But, so often we do. Why? Well, we think too much of ourselves when we’re in the moment. Perhaps we don’t know God’s Word like we should or we have trust issues when times for speaking that Word arrive. The reasons “why” can go on and on. But a better question is “how do we capitalize?” How do we make the most of the opportunities that God puts in front of us, because like it or not, He’s going to.

If you’re like me, and a lot of other Christians out there, it helps to take the focus off yourself and put it squarely on Christ. Don’t dwell on what you haven’t done or what you think you’re so good at doing; but rather simply listen to what Your Savior’s Word says.

In our text for today, we see the basic prescription for capitalizing on opportunities to share God’s Word: Arise, Go, & Preach. May God the Holy Spirit bless us through our study and lead us to do what we’re supposed to do as we read our text from Acts 8:25-36:

Now an angel of the Lord spoke to Philip, saying, "Arise and go toward the south along the road which goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza." This is desert. 27 So he arose and went. And behold, a man of Ethiopia, a eunuch of great authority under Candace the queen of the Ethiopians, who had charge of all her treasury, and had come to Jerusalem to worship, 28 was returning. And sitting in his chariot, he was reading Isaiah the prophet. 29 Then the Spirit said to Philip, "Go near and overtake this chariot." 30 So Philip ran to him, and heard him reading the prophet Isaiah, and said, "Do you understand what you are reading?" 31 And he said, "How can I, unless someone guides me?" And he asked Philip to come up and sit with him. 32 The place in the Scripture which he read was this: "He was led as a sheep to the slaughter; And as a lamb before its shearer is silent, So He opened not His mouth. 33 In His humiliation His justice was taken away, And who will declare His generation? For His life is taken from the earth." 34 So the eunuch answered Philip and said, "I ask you, of whom does the prophet say this, of himself or of some other man?" 35 Then Philip opened his mouth, and beginning at this Scripture, preached Jesus to him.

For all intents and purposes we could say that the Lord’s call to “arise” and to “go” are one and the same. For the purpose of our thoughts today we’ll treat them the same. When it comes to speaking the Gospel, the message and the work is already pre-packaged and ready to go. It doesn’t demand anything of us. So, why must God command us to “arise” and “go?”

These commands speak to our preparation. When God, through His messenger, commanded Philip to “Arise and go” in verse 26 and when He commanded him to “Go” to the Ethiopian’s chariot in verse 29, He was preparing Philip for the task at hand. Part of preparation is being in the right place at the right time. You wouldn’t show up late or go to the wrong location for something important. In the same way, God prepares us for opportunities to share His name by ever so gently leading us in life.

For us, God’s guiding hand is often more subtle than it was for Philip. There weren't many unknowns about the task at hand for Philip, God was quite blunt in what He wanted. But Philip didn’t know everything, just like we rarely know the ways in which God is going to work. God simply told Philip to Arise and Go, but He didn’t tell him what was going to happen or what he was about to experience.

Each time that God calls us and each time we’re presenting with an opportunity from Him, it requires a level of trust. Ultimately we need to reserve ourselves to the fact that God has a plan and He’s using us to accomplish it. Sometimes it’s easy to trust, and sometimes it’s not. But whatever the case, you can be sure that God has a plan and He knows the best way to use you in that plan. And you need to trust that. So, you know well that God calls you the same way and He called Philip. He tells you to Arise and Go in His name, and wherever that call takes you He will have opportunities waiting along the way.
God will also make the moment clear. He even promises that He is able to give you the words you need speak at the right time. The question you need to ask yourself is if you trust God. Do you trust that He will lead you? Do you trust that He will give you opportunities to share the Gospel? Do you trust that He will make that moment clear? And do you trust that He will help you to speak the truth? Don’t be mistaken, it’s not just pastors and teachers that God calls to Arise and Go. He calls all Christians. No matter what your occupation is in life, opportunity will come knocking. The stronger your faith and conviction is in what God, your Savior, has done, the more you’ll recognize those opportunities and bolder you’ll be to speak of Jesus.   

And yes, when those opportunities come along, there will be times when you have to speak. As a pastor it’s not uncommon to have most people expect you to be the one who speaks. This makes sense, because the pastor is called by the congregation to speak publicly for the congregation. When opportunities arise to preach, the pastor is usually the one who takes up the task, with the congregation’s support. But this can abused as well. Sadly, it’s also not uncommon for people to view the pastor as the only one who is supposed to speak and preach. Whenever the topic of mission work and evangelism come up, there’s always a large contingent of members who point to me and say, “Well, that’s your job.” Closely connected to this are the members who say that they don’t have the skills or abilities for mission work or speaking about Jesus; that’s it’s just not what they’re inclined to do.

My response to both is, “Really!?” God has given each of you a mouth and a tongue and the ability to speak but someone you’re not able to do that for Him? It’s usually at this point in the study of preaching, mission work, and evangelism that the Sword of the Spirit cuts deep and the Law penetrates our hearts and reveals worthless and petty excuses. The truth is that we can all speak for God. Not only do we have the blessed privilege and right, God commands it.

Now, that doesn’t always mean you’ll have every answer or every memory verse on the tip of your tongue. Nor does it mean that you can never refer someone to the pastor or seek help. And it’s also true that God uses all types of gifts and talents for service in His kingdom, of which speaking is only one. Perhaps it’s not your best skill or the first thing you’re inclined to do, but that doesn’t mean you can’t do it. The ministry of the Gospel is not only supposed to come from the mouths of pastors and teachers. Quite the opposite. It is message that should operate in your life as it did for Peter and John when they said, “we cannot but speak the things which we have heard and seen (Acts 4:20).”

Beware of making excuses and beware of turning a blind eye to opportunities that God puts in front of you.  One scholar famously said, “Reluctance to speak the Gospel is the fig leaf that covers unbelief.” Ever since Adam and Eve’s fall into sin, fig leaves have represented coverings for things that are shameful or embarrassing. This isn’t’ only reserved to Biblical terminology either, even Wikipedia cites it as a truth used in our culture. Truly, the only shame is cases like these is not in the Gospel, but in our selfish attitudes. What an embarrassment for us, that even after everything Christ went through for us; after everything He freely gave for us; we would still look for ways to get us out of saying anything about Him!

If you’re not convicted by this thought, then you need wake up. We have all had times when we didn’t say anything. We have all let opportunities that the Holy Spirit presented slip through our fingers. We have all turned away in shame, just as Peter in the courtyard of the high priest. It happens to us all. Pastors aren’t exempt from this conviction. In fact, we’re often the guiltiest ones. Just in preparing this sermon my mind was flooded with memories of opportunities wasted. Times when the Holy Spirit dumbed His work down enough for a fool like me to see it and I still caved to my self-imposed pressure.       

How precious is the Gospel to you? How seriously do you take it and your task to proclaim it? Are you afraid of the answers to those questions? If I’m the only one speaking it, as a pastor, we can pack it in, we’re done as a congregation. In fact, if that’s the case, then we’re really not a church, but rather just a hollow group of hypocrites. If this is the case, then what’s the point?

One thing we know without a doubt is that we’ll always make mistakes. I’m sure you’re thinking, “Yeah, pastor, you’ve hammered down that point.” But there’s another reason we examine ourselves and ask these questions. How precious is the Gospel? Are you prepared and willing? What do you do when opportunity is knocking? Because although the answers will at times reveal our failings, they also reveal our hope.

One of the most famous “calls” into the ministry was when God called Isaiah. We know the passage well, “And I heard the voice of the Lord, saying: ‘Whom shall I send, and who will go for Us?’ Then I said, ‘Here am I! Send me.’” That’s what we want, isn’t it? To see the opportunity that the Lord presents and to respond with boldness, ready and eager for the task. But Isaiah wasn’t any different than you or me. He had his sins and insecurities too. Right before this famous verse, Isaiah responded to the Lord’s call with much less conviction. “Woe it me, for I am undone! Because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; For my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts (Isaiah 6:5-6).” Does that sound like a man who is ready to say, “Here am I, send me”?

But in between this moment doubt and the grand display of boldness, comes the reason for our hope. Then one of the seraphim flew to me, having in his hand a live coal which he had taken with the tongs from the altar. 7 And he touched my mouth with it, and said: "Behold, this has touched your lips; Your iniquity is taken away, And your sin purged." This is why I speak with conviction. This is why I tell you that you have the right and the command to Arise, to Go, and to Speak. This is why I tell you that your worthless excuses fall by the wayside. Because there’s one requirement to speak for God, and its forgiveness. How much you treasure that gift determines how much you say, no matter if you help sick people, if you punch the clock in a factory, if you design airplanes, if you speak publicly on Sundays, if you’re a CEO or if you’re a grunt; it doesn’t matter. If you’re forgiven, you’re ready to speak.

We see this in our text too. No matter where you come from or who you are, we all have the same question that eunuch had: “How can I understand unless someone teaches me?” What was Philip’s reply? Then Philip opened his mouth, and beginning at this Scripture, preached Jesus to him. Philip spoke, he opened his mouth. He didn’t turn away. He didn’t say, “I don’t know.” He wasn’t ashamed, because someone had already answered that question for him. The only reason you’re here today is because God created an opportunity for you to hear the Gospel message, and someone spoke. How many people out there are waiting for an answer? How many ask, What am I here for? What is life all about? Who is God? How can they understand unless someone teaches them? Will you speak?

I’m here to help to you. I may be the “face” of the congregation in that sense. I have been called to proclaim this truth publicly on your behalf. But I can’t be the only one. I need you more than you need me. I can’t speak for you if I don’t have you there with me, as unified congregation. We have lots of needs of other needs too. But they are only fulfilled by One – Jesus Christ our Savior; Who forgives our sins and cleanses our lips to proclaim His name. That’s why Philip didn’t just “preach” to the Ethiopian. Oh no, it was much more. Literally, he “evangelized” him, which in our English is simply to proclaim the good news of forgiveness. It’s not my opinion; the text says it without reservation. The exact word used for Philip’s message means precisely to speak the Gospel.   

Whenever opportunity to share the Gospel knocks, we should not only be aware of it, but we also think about who it is that’s knocking. Jesus says, “Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and dine with him, and he with Me. He who has an ear to hear, let him hear what the Spirit says (Revelation 3:20,22).”

The same advice Paul gave to the Romans applies even more to us: It’s time to wake up, for now our salvation is nearer than when we first believed (Romans 13:11). Sometimes, you’ll tell people the bare essentials, just who Jesus is. Sometimes, you’ll say more, like what it means to be a Christian or what a particular passage teaches. Sometimes, you’ll get advanced, like how God works in our lives and how His Word applies to the various situations of life. And sometimes, you’ll be unsure and scared, and you’ll just do the best you can or just refer them a fellow Christian or to a pastor. Whatever opportunity comes your way, you can be ready, because you’re forgiven by Jesus.

So, who will go for the Lord? Who will He send? Here am I, to arise, to go, and to preach, send me! Amen.

The peace of God which surpasses all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, Amen.

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