Interpretation Is Everything
Fourth Sunday after Easter, Year B
May 18, 2003
Donald Charles Lacy, Pastor, Yorktown United Methodist Church, Yorktown, IN
Some years ago a great sports figure was quoted as saying, “Winning isn’t everything. It is the only thing”. Sports enthusiasts who have winked and smiled at this on occasions are too numerous to count. It encases, really, a whole philosophy of life. We play to win (in games and life). Why be satisfied with losing? Much can be said about sportsmanlike conduct and being considerate on the field or court. That’s all well and good. Games (and life) have to be played by the rules or, at least, they should be. So why not write the rules in your head and in heart? Then, why not play with every ounce in you to win?
The wisdom imparted suggests it is just not enough to work or play at something. We have to know what we are doing and how to do it. This means both faith and trust. We must have faith in those God sends to us. We must also trust them. It only takes a few words and the right moment to change entire lives. The sports world has taught many lessons that have made persons great both on and off the field or court. Of crucial importance is that interpretation has a spiritual dimension to it that benefits many. This is listening and implementing the message.
I. Philip meets the Ethiopian (Acts 8:26-30)
As was so often true in New Testament times, an angel of the Lord comes to give direction. In this case He has a special person He wants Philip to meet. Apparently, without hesitation the disciple got on the road. Soon he met an Ethiopian eunuch. The fellow wasn’t just anybody. He was a somebody. In fact, he was in charge of all the treasury of Candace. She was the Queen of the Ethiopians. He had been to Jerusalem to worship. He was on his way home, reading the book of Isaiah the prophet. The Spirit tells Philip to go to the chariot and stop near it. So, he is poised for the right moment. His faith and trust in the Living God have led him to that moment.
Then, Philip pops the question! “I see you are reading Isaiah. Do you understand what you are reading?” This seems very brazen and decidedly inappropriate. Lesser men than the Ethiopian might have roared in anger and told him to get lost or if he didn’t, expect dire consequences. On other occasions he might have done that but not this time. Why? Because the Spirit had prepared the way and Philip was perfectly in tune with it. All things are possible with God. Fortunately, praise God, not only for New Testament times but as you and I live our lives today. Who dares to say this was a chance meeting?
II. Philip teaches the Ethiopian (Acts 8:31-35)
In some anguish the Ethiopian must blurt out that he can’t understand the passage, unless someone explains or interprets it to him. Apparently there is no indication he felt Philip to be an inferior. As we see, he is even invited up to sit with him. There is no indication whatsoever of fear or distrust. There is even a tone of expectancy that seems present. Two men with quite different places in life sit there together before the words of the prophet Isaiah. They are brothers and don’t know it! It was a holy time for anyone to see and appreciate. It is as though predestination is at work. God’s will is being perfectly done.
The eunuch is reading verses seven and eight of chapter fifty-three in Isaiah. It speaks of a sheep being led to slaughter and as a lamb before the shearer in silence. It is humiliated and deprived of justice. Who can speak of his descendants because his life is being taken away? The eunuch implores Philip to tell him who this is. Then, and the angels must have begun to sing, he told the Ethiopian about the Good News and Jesus the Christ. I can imagine the recipient of the Good News laughing and crying seconds apart. “Praise God, my Savior and Lord has come to me. My search is over. I understand what I am reading!
III. Philip baptizes the Ethiopian (Acts 8:36-40)
So, the two traveled along the road together. They came to some water. The eunuch’s inquiry must have been deeply in earnest: “Why shouldn’t I be baptized?” Being a man of authority, he ordered the chariot to stop. Then, both went down into the water; Philip baptized him. The way the Scriptures read, it must have been by immersion. Regardless, of our preferences in such matters, praise God it happened and was a way of sealing what had occurred. He has been born anew by the water and the Spirit. As some theologians would say, “he had become a new being.” The old was gone and the new had come.
Upon coming up out of the water, Philip was suddenly taken away by the Spirit. The eunuch did not see him anymore. What was his reaction? Did he send a search party to retrieve him? Did he settle into a deep depression because his spiritual benefactor disappeared. No! The Scriptures tell us he went on his way rejoicing. It was a precious moment in church history that merits to be told over and over. Indeed, how like the Spirit to enable us to do our work or ministry and then move us to another opportunity. Philip travels about, preaching the Holy Gospel on the way to Caesarea.
The message is loud and clear: How shall those searching understand what they are reading, unless we are there to tell them? Had Philip missed that grand and golden opportunity? What would have become of the eunuch?
Had Philip missed the moment, perhaps he would have drowned himself in pity and wept bitterly just as Peter had done sometime before. We all work out our salvation in fear and trembling by trusting in faith and obeying the Spirit. Praises be to the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.