Monday, May 07, 2012

Sermon on Acts 8:26-40, for the 5th Sunday of Easter, "No reason to be stuck!"

Sermon Outline:
1.      Ever been stuck? Places: in traffic, in a long line, in an airport. Situations: caught in trouble with no apparent way out, stuck for ideas (when writing a sermon perhaps?), between a rock and a hard place, left to deal with someone else’s mess or problems. Emotions: fear, anxiety, or doubt freezes you from taking action; an emotional wound cripples you from moving on; guilt or shame puts you in a self-imposed retreat into isolation. Knowledge: can’t solve a problem, lack the know-how; fail to comprehend the situation. Spiritual dimension.
2.      Pres. Newton remarked that Jesus is “the master of getting stuck people unstuck.” Not always by snatching them out of the situation though! Often we learn only through hardship and experience and failure. Prunes, shapes, matures us.
3.      Ethiopian eunuch was “stuck” on a confusing passage of Isaiah. Searching to understand, but a block and a puzzle to him. A worshipper of God, wonderfully receptive and open to hear God’s Word. God sends ready Philip on a mission to help this man get “unstuck.” Isaiah 53:7-8. Jesus made no resistance, no complaint, no bitter cursing and hatred of His enemies—silently bowed His head for slaughter. Faced the cruel injustice with humble acceptance of God’s will. Didn’t get “stuck” with the cross—He wasn’t just the “unlucky one” who drew the shortest straw or was the last man out. Not just left holding everyone’s problems and messes because there was no one else to do it. He willingly, of His own choice and determination, took the cross, obeyed God with resolute words: “YOUR WILL BE DONE!” He took the sad and sorry mass of our sins and guilt on Himself and raised no complaint, no resistance, no self-pity. His pity, His compassion was instead turned toward His tormentors. Toward those who scorned Him. Stuck in pride, arrogance, disbelief. Toward those who abandoned Him. Stuck in fear, uncertainty, cowardice. Toward those who were stuck in guilt and shame, knowing they had not spoken up for the innocent, and had watched Him march the long path to His cross.
4.      Isaiah 53 describes this remarkable and unparalleled man, often called the “Suffering Servant.” God’s own Servant, He calls Him. A few verses later, in Isaiah 53:11 it describes how “Out of the anguish of his soul he shall see and be satisfied; by his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant, make many to be accounted righteous, and he shall bear their iniquities.” God’s Righteous One, His servant Jesus—anguished in soul, but satisfied in knowing that He made many righteous by bearing their sins. Jesus’ satisfaction out of this terrible ordeal, was the knowledge that He was forgiving the sins of many by bearing the awful load of guilt. Puzzling chapter for the Ethiopian, but no better place for Philip to open his mouth and begin from this Scripture to tell the good news about Jesus! Like an incredible wave of joy, the good news struck this puzzled man, and dislodged him from his confusion! Unstuck! The good news of Jesus is that powerful force that strikes us (in a good way) and transforms our immobility into joyous motion.
5.      You’ve all been stuck in one way or another. See others? Recognize them? How can you help by opening your mouth and telling the good news about Jesus? You don’t have to have the solutions to all that has them “stuck”, but you can point them to Jesus, who is the master of getting us “unstuck.” Cuts the sticky cords and web of guilt and sin that entangle us, so we can fall into His arms. Picture of the exhausted man, holding hammer and nail, held up by the risen Jesus. Something in your life that is holding you back from coming to Jesus—listen! Tune in with your ears! There is no reason to hold back from coming to Jesus! What’s to get in your way? Jesus has bulldozed a path through your sins and has come to you in the hearing of His Word. Away with fear and whatever holds you back. Courage = fear baptized.
6.      Ethiopian heard the Word and believed it eagerly. Realized there was no obstacle. Nothing holding him back. Jesus won salvation for him. As soon as he saw water: “What prevents me from being baptized?” Answer: nothing! Eagerly was baptized and joined with Christ His Savior, for the forgiveness of his sins and the gift of the Holy Spirit. Isaiah 56 promises the eunuch and the foreigner who seeks the Lord, that they’ll be joined to God’s people and will have something better than sons and daughters to his name—God would give them an everlasting name. God’s name and salvation—better than descendants. But in all likelihood, this eunuch did have many spiritual “descendants” as he carried the good news of Jesus back to his homeland, and is claimed by Ethiopians as the ancestor of one of the oldest Christian church in Africa and the world!
7.      Are we ready and willing to serve the Lord, and share His good news? Half the battle is doing what Philip did, and “opening your mouth.” Afraid what will or won’t come out? The mission hymn “Hark the Voice of Jesus Calling” says, “If you cannot speak like angels, if you cannot preach like Paul, you can share the love of Jesus, you can say He died for all.” Everyone can at least share the love of Jesus, and tell people that Jesus died for our sins. It takes no special training or expertise to do that. But we can also model the examples of Philip and the Ethiopian. Like Philip we can be ready and waiting for the call of the Lord, willing to serve and make use of the daily encounters that aren’t truly chance—but arranged by God’s design. Ready to speak the Word. Like the Ethiopian in eagerness to study and understand—have someone teach and explain. To rejoice in salvation and move forward in faith. Bible study for us—growth in the Word.
8.      What happens when Jesus gets a person “unstuck”? They become a useful servant in His kingdom. Move forward with Him in faith. Trusting and following. Hearing His call and answering. Loving and seeing the needs of those who are “stuck” around him or her. Jesus has done all this for us! What’s to prevent us from sharing the good news? In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Sermon Talking Points
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1.      Describe how you or someone you know has been “stuck” in various ways as mentioned in the sermon. While you don’t have solutions, how is telling about Jesus the best gift you can give?

2.      Did you know that another Ethiopian eunuch performed an act of kindness to a prophet in the OT? Jer. 38:7-13. What hardship or stigma faced a eunuch? Dt. 23:1. How was hope and honor foreshadowed for eunuchs and foreigners in Is. 56:3-5; Ps. 68:29-31; Zeph. 3:9-10? How had King Solomon (and ultimately God) long intended for the Temple to be a place of worship for all nations? 1 Ki 8:41-43

3.      Read Isaiah 53 (vs. 7-8 quoted). What was remarkable about God’s Suffering Servant, described in this prophecy the Ethiopian was reading? How was Jesus willing to undergo this? Hb. 12:2; Lk 22:42; Jn. 10:15-18

4.      How do sin and guilt “paralyze” us from coming to God? How did Jesus come to us instead? Is there anything that should hold us back? Any obstacle? What benefits does baptism give? Rom. 6; Acts 2:38-40; Ti. 3

5.      How can you be like the evangelist Philip, ready to tell the good news? 1 Pet. 3:15; Col. 4:6; 2 Cor. 5:11-21. Who do you see who is “stuck” in your life?

6.      What becomes of us when Jesus gets us “unstuck”? How does He do it? What change and impact does it have in our lives, and in our service to His kingdom?

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