Text: Galatians 5:25; Acts 8:26-39 Theme: The Spirit is full of energy + action; we are called to keep in step with the Spirit.
After his junior year at Trinity Christian College my son took on a big challenge. Paul attended a ten-week Marine Officer Candidate School in Quantico, Virginia. They got up at 5:00am. They took long hikes with heavy backpacks. They navigated obstacle courses. They learned hand-to-hand combat techniques. That’s why I’m afraid of Paul when he gets rambunctious with me.
And a drill sergeant had them learn how to march in step. Marching in step has always been a big deal in the military. It shows you are listening. It shows you are following orders. It shows unity of force. At his graduation it was impressive to see them march in step on the parade grounds.
On Pentecost God poured out his Holy Spirit. Immediately the Spirit sparked all kinds of action: the apostles speak in other languages; thousands come to believe in Jesus; miraculous signs and wonders are performed. No wonder the Apostle Paul urges the Galatians: Keep in step with the Spirit. To keep in step with the Spirit, we have to be on their toes.
Acts 8 provides a prime example of keeping in step with the Spirit. In this passage I’ll highlight various insights into the Spirit’s activity. Together it provides a beginning theology of the Holy Spirit.
Vs. 26: An angel of the Lord said to Philip… We don’t know anything about this angel or how it spoke to Philip. But we do know Philip; he was one of seven Spirit-filled men chosen to serve as a deacon.
Now the Lord has an assignment for Philip: Go south to the road- the desert road- that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza. This major road headed south- then cut west to the Mediterranean Sea + the city of Gaza.
Go south to the road- the desert road… That’s all Philip gets from the angel. No explanation about why. No clue to what the Spirit has in mind. Just a cryptic command.
So, here’s a first insight to keep in step with the Spirit: God by his Spirit gives directives. Maybe it’s to go somewhere. Or to send a note of encouragement. Or to write a check. You may not always know why. But you can expect the Spirit to direct you. So let me ask: are you alert to the Spirit’s leading? Are you keeping in step with the Spirit? Now, Philip may have had plenty of reasons to dismiss this message. Hey, that desert road is mighty hot. Or: as one of the seven deacons I’m way too busy. Or the capper: Maybe that angel’s message was just a figment of my imagination. When we receive a prompting from the Spirit, it may be easy to ignore it- or dismiss it.
But Philip does no such thing. Vs. 27 simply says: So he started out. The Lord sends. Philip obeys. That’s the way it’s supposed to be. And notice: that first step of obedience opened up the amazing ministry that followed. So here’s a second insight: keeping in step with the Spirit takes that first step.
Three years ago I served in Gallup, NM: on the edge of the Navajo reservation. Soon after arriving I visited a Navajo young man, who was gravely sick. Later he died. The cause: scirrosis of the liver- caused by a lifetime of drinking In the middle of that great loss I got to know his mom and his sister, Twyla Whitehair. And I got a little sense of their community: fifteen miles away in Iyanbito.
Soon after, I believe the Spirit gave me a prompting. Here’s how it went: Iyanbito is just far enough away that it’s not always easy to get to Gallup for worship. Some people there didn’t have reliable transportation to make it in. What if we started a Bible study group right there? It might be just what people need!
So, I took a first step: I shared my idea with Twyla + her husband. Right away it was: Yes! So we held a small group at their house. We studied John’s gospel + prayed for each other. For some it was life changing. Starting that group all hinged on taking that first step.
Let me ask: Is the Spirit prompting you to take some action, to head down a particular road? Like Philip, will you simply trust God and obey? Will you keep in step with the Spirit?
Vs. 27: So he started out, and on his way he met an Ethiopian eunuch, an important official in charge of all the treasury of the… queen of the Ethiopians. This man had gone to Jerusalem to worship, and on his way home was sitting in his chariot reading the Book of Isaiah the prophet.
Clearly the Spirit had been at work in this man’s heart and mind for some time. Somehow he’d developed a hunger for God; somehow he heard the Jews knew about God. He was so interested that he traveled all the way to Jerusalem to worship God.
And his visit comes right after Jesus’ death + resurrection and outpouring of the Holy Spirit. Now on the way home the Ethiopian is reading from a precious scroll of their scripture. Here’s a 3rd insight on keeping in step with the Spirit: he goes before us to prepare the way. Now vs 29: The Spirit told Philip: Go to that chariot and stay near it. Fascinating! Stay near. Hang out by that chariot. We might call this the ministry of presence.
Rev. Jim Kok led the pastoral care department at the Crystal Cathedral in its heyday. From his experience he wrote a book titled: 90% of Helping is Just Showing Up. He saw that often opportunities arise simply by being there. Being present. Being available. That’s how it started with Philip + the Ethiopian. Stay near that chariot. That’s a fourth insight for keeping in step with the Spirit: the ministry of presence.
You know, we have so many things that keep us off on our own. Television is a big one. Now our smart phones can keep us preoccupied even when we are with other people. Today the average church member attends far fewer church activities than forty years ago.
But building Christian community takes time. Building community takes staying near. When you are near you get to know people. You’re available to listen. You pick up on needs. That won’t happen if you’re not around.
The world needs the ministry of presence. At home. In our neighborhoods. At church. When you think of it, that’s exactly what Jesus did: he made his dwelling among us. So let me ask: do you make space to be present with others- to keep in step with the Spirit?
Vs. 30: Then Philip ran up to the chariot + heard the man reading Isaiah the prophet. Philip gets near. And immediately he spots an opportunity. The Spirit is leading.
Philip poses a good question: Do you understand what you’re reading?” The official is honest: not really. How can I, unless someone explains it to me? So he invited Philip to come up and sit with him. Take about an opportunity!
You know: my Bible study in Iyanbito was great. But a Bible study in a chariot: that’s cool! Here’s a fifth insight for keeping in step with the Spirit: if you see an opportunity, go for it.
But there’s more: of all things this important official is reading from Isaiah 53. Isaiah 53: the Bible’s clearest prophecy of Jesus’ death to take away our sins. Was the Spirit orchestrating this encounter? You bet. Vs. 35: Then Philip began with that very passage of Scripture and told him the good news about Jesus.
So, here we come to a sixth insight: the Spirit of God works through the Word of God. And because the Spirit works through the Word, we need teachers of the Word. You might suppose that with the outpouring of the Spirit we instantly understand things. Not so! The Ethiopian official still needed a teacher; he needed Philip to explain the gospel. So do we. That’s why Romans 12 says the Spirit has gifted some to be teachers. Let me ask: do you make time to hear God’s Word taught- through good preaching, through good books, through a solid Bible study group- to keep in step with the Spirit? And if you have the knowledge and ability to teach, are you doing so?
Finally vs 36:As they traveled along... they came to some water+the eunuch said: Look, here is water. What can stand in the way of my being baptized? And he gave orders to stop the chariot. Then both Philip and the eunuch went down into the water and Philip baptized him.
The official believed in Jesus and was baptized. Imagine the thrill for him and Philip! Now Philip knew why the angel told him: Go south to the road- the desert road. Now Philip got a bigger appreciation of keeping in step with the Spirit.
Here’s one final insight: the Spirit can be surprising. In John 3 Jesus tells Nicodemus: The wind blows wherever it pleases. The Spirit is like the wind. Often the Spirit blows in unexpected directions.
Think of this: in Jerusalem there were many Jews born into God’s covenant family. They studied the scripture on their father’s lap. They lived near the temple. But when Jesus came, many didn’t believe in him. They closed their hearts to him.
And here is an Ethiopian man who was not a part of God’s covenant people; who had no background in scripture; who grew up far from the temple. But when Philip explained Jesus, the lamb of God who takes away our sins, he believed. The Spirit blows wherever he wills. Like Philip, let’s go wherever the Spirit is leading.
Brothers and sisters, we live in light of Pentecost. You know, sometimes people think the Christian faith is little more than what we believe. To be a Christian is to have certain convictions: expressed in the Apostle’s Creed or the HC.
But the Christian life is way more than that! Jesus has sent us the gift of his Spirit. The Spirit sparks all kinds of action. The Spirit will direct us and send us. The big question is: like Philip are you keeping in step? Each moment, each hour, each day are you keeping in step with the Spirit?
When you do, it may be inconvenient; it may push you out of your comfort zone. But it will also be quite the adventure!! When you do, you’ll get in on all kinds of kingdom action!!