TEXT: ACTS 8:26-40; 1 JOHN 4:1-11; JOHN 15:1-8
A FRUITFUL VINE REJOICES
THAT JESUS CHRIST HAS COME IN THE FLESH
Rev. Kenneth W. Wieting

Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world.  By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God
(1 John 1:1, 2).

A month has passed since Easter, and now our hearts begin to turn toward Ascension joy.  A week from this Thursday we have opportunity to gather here to extol God for the ongoing miracle we need more than anything else – the continuing ministry of the Ascended Christ.  Christmas and Good Friday and Easter all point to the Lord’s glorious Ascension.  Jesus rules with full authority in heaven and on earth as both God and Man.  Jesus rules with the authority of the Father’s right hand – in the flesh!   It is He in whom you must abide as branches in the vine!  It is He who gives you life in this dying world.  It is He whom Philip proclaimed to the Ethiopian Eunuch.  

“There was an Ethiopian, a eunuch, a court official of Candace, queen of the Ethiopians, who was in charge of all her treasure.  He had come from Jerusalem to worship and was returning, seated in his chariot, and he was reading the prophet Isaiah.”

 

TEXT: ACTS 8:26-40; 1 JOHN 4:1-11; JOHN 15:1-8
A FRUITFUL VINE REJOICES
THAT JESUS CHRIST HAS COME IN THE FLESH
Rev. Kenneth W. Wieting

Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world.  By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God
(1 John 1:1, 2).

A month has passed since Easter, and now our hearts begin to turn toward Ascension joy.  A week from this Thursday we have opportunity to gather here to extol God for the ongoing miracle we need more than anything else – the continuing ministry of the Ascended Christ.  Christmas and Good Friday and Easter all point to the Lord’s glorious Ascension.  Jesus rules with full authority in heaven and on earth as both God and Man.  Jesus rules with the authority of the Father’s right hand – in the flesh!   It is He in whom you must abide as branches in the vine!  It is He who gives you life in this dying world.  It is He whom Philip proclaimed to the Ethiopian Eunuch.  

“There was an Ethiopian, a eunuch, a court official of Candace, queen of the Ethiopians, who was in charge of all her treasure.  He had come from Jerusalem to worship and was returning, seated in his chariot, and he was reading the prophet Isaiah.”

Who could do this?  It might be compared to someone idling along a deserted road in western Wisconsin, in a Lamborghini convertible reading from his Kindle for I-pad.  The road was in a desert place – an uninhabited region.  The man travelling the road had materials not possessed by one in a million.  A chariot – like a rare and exotic car today!  A scroll of Isaiah to read from – an even rarer treasure – in his personal possession!  Who could do this?  This was a man with resources at his fingertips!  He rode in a fine government vehicle.  He was literate and well refined.  He had freedom to come and go, even to Jerusalem to worship.  Do you see the incomparable fortune and status of this man?
 
But there is another angle from which to ask the question “Who could do this?”  The word “Eunuch” is a sobering word.  It did not always mean that the person in question had faced bodily mutilation.  But most often it did – especially when the position of service was related to the King’s lady or ladies.  The text gives indication that this man was the minister of the treasury under the “Candace” the “queen.”  His service was closely related to the King’s most important lady.

Yes, this man had someone else’s fortune to manage.  Yes, he traveled in style.  But eunuchs did not have the riches of their own children to love.  Their position of power and prestige was often pitied by many of much lower status who simply rejoiced in the simple blessings of daily bread under the sun.  A Eunuch was a dry tree.  He would never be a fruitful branch with a family of his own.

What do you think of this man reading aloud in his chariot; royal profiteer to be envied or unlucky slave to be pitied?  What do you think of yourself in your station and vocation in life?  We are often tempted to think of ourselves as superior to others because of ability or experience or common sense or monetary worth or perceived accomplishment.  Such haughty thinking actually makes us a dry tree – strangled with pride.  It chokes out the bearing of fruit in Christ Jesus.  What kind of chariot do you suppose you’re riding in?  What kind of cutting edge guru (technically, financially, theologically, intellectually) do you fashion yourself to be?  

On the other hand we may be tempted to think of ourselves as inferior to others.  Because of limitations – because of what has been cut off from us in this life – because of the criticism of others - we may consider our life second-rate.  Instead of contentment our hearts can be colored with complaint. Disappointment and feelings of deprivation can also make us a dry tree, choked with insecurity or self-pity.  What kind of position do you think you occupy in this fast-paced world of 2012?   Are the hours of your day and the thoughts of your mind filled with God’s gift of contentment?

As we contemplate our place in life, it is most helpful to see how God cared for the Ethiopian eunuch in his place.  We read elsewhere in Acts how thousands were added to the church.  But here we are told of just this one.  See how God cares about just one – about you!  The Holy Spirit sent Philip to enlighten this one man concerning the Christ-centered focus of the Old Testament.  

A eunuch could not be a full proselyte to Israel (Deuteronomy 23:1).  He could only be a proselyte of the gate, limited to the outer courts.  A few chapters after the one this eunuch was reading from Isaiah the prophet speaks of foreigners who hold fast to God’s covenant (Isaiah 56).  Their sacrifices will be accepted on God’s altar for His house will be called a house of prayer for all peoples.  More pointedly, God also speaks there of eunuchs.  Thus says the Lord” To the eunuchs who keep my Sabbaths, who choose the things that please me and hold fast my covenant, I will give in my house and within my walls a monument and a name better than sons and daughters; I will give them an everlasting name that shall not be cut off.  What an amazing promise to one who would never have sons and daughters to carry his name.  I will give them an everlasting name that shall not be cut off.  

That Name was soon to fall on his ears in a life-renewing way!  From his kindle for I-Pad – from his precious scroll of Isaiah he read - Like a sheep he was led to the slaughter and like a lamb before its shearer is silent, so he opens not his mouth…And the eunuch said to Philip, “About whom, I ask you does the prophet say this, about himself or about someone else?”  Then Philip opened his mouth, and beginning with this Scripture he told him the good news about Jesus.  Dear Christians, the Ethiopian asked the right question!  Who is this suffering servant who was wounded for our transgressions, crushed for our iniquities and led like a sheep to the slaughter for our sins?  Who is this loving man who gives gifts to the childless that are better than sons and daughters?  Who is this promised one who gives an everlasting name that will never be cut off?

The eunuch would have known something about Jesus and it would not have been good.  He was travelling from Jerusalem which was in an uproar over the man Jesus who was publicly executed just a few weeks before.  Stephen had since been stoned. Christians had fled the city for their lives (Acts 7).  A man name Saul – not yet converted (Acts 9) - was hunting down Christians with a passion even as this man ambled along in his chariot.

Then Philip opened his mouth and beginning with this Scripture he told him the good news about Jesus. 
This is what your pastor should do when he opens his mouth and what a father and mother should do in the home with their children and what we have increasing opportunity to do here with people from so many lands.  No matter what Scripture is the starting point, the ending point is the good news about Jesus.  The Son of God has come in the flesh!  He is the center of Scripture!  He is the fulfillment of all God’s promises – all of them (2 Corinthians 1:20).  He is the Vine who gives His life and His fruit to you this day.

When the traveling sermon had ended, the eunuch said, “See here is water!  What prevents me from being baptized?”  And he commanded the chariot to stop, and they both went down into the water, Philip and the eunuch, and he baptized him.  Telling someone the good news about Jesus includes telling them that Baptism now saves them (1 Peter 3:21).  For this man – will instructed in the Old Testament and missing only the key of the Messiah’s identity, nothing now prevented his baptism.  

As Philip proclaimed Christ, the Holy Spirit opened this man’s heart to receive Christ. 
There in that wilderness spot – according to the command of the risen Christ, Philip would have baptized him in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  He was given an everlasting Name which would not be cut off.  He was given a name better than that of sons and daughters.  The life of the Vine was flowing into this branch so newly grafted in.  He was no longer a dry tree, but a fruitful branch abiding in Christ.  And the eunuch…went on his way rejoicing.   

Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God…every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God…
Other spirits operate with the spirit of the antichrist, that is, “instead of” Christ.  Many things – indeed almost anything - “instead of” Christ!  Instead of Christ in the flesh where he has promised to be, how about a Jesus fashioned by your preferences and mine and bowing to culture’s currents?  How about nature worship or eastern meditation or American civil religion (a dash of this, a pinch of that, as generic and vanilla and inclusive as possible)?  Why not any one of scores of spiritual philosophies tolerated by the world - instead of this troublesome Christ who says – “apart from me you can do nothing?”  No wonder the Christian confession and Christian consciences are under increasing public assault when the truism of our day is that everyone has their own truth.

I am the true vine…you are the branches.  Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.  It was the evening of Holy Thursday – just before Jesus stepped out into the night and walked to the Garden of Gethsemane.  In this setting He emphasizes the fullness and strength of the disciples union and communion with Him.  They would not remain connected to him by their strength – their denials and their desertion were straight ahead.  He would remain connected to them by the strength of His forgiving love – His grace - just as He does with you.  In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent His only Son into the world, so that we might live through him.  In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.  That’s where the sap, the juice for the Christian life comes from – from Jesus’ atoning sacrifice - His blood covering all your sins.  Blessed is the person who understands this truth and abides in Jesus.  
The Ethiopian eunuch understood this truth.  He couldn’t change his station in life.  He couldn’t change what had been done to him.  As his duties carried him along he didn’t always have peace of mind.  But He did have peace with God.  That’s why he went on his way rejoicing!  

Tradition tells us that he baptized the Queen (the Candace) of Ethiopia.  History tells us that the eunuch’s home region confessed the Christian faith from the 4th to the 6th centuries until it was overrun by Muslim forces in the 7th century.  Some of these matters and details we do not know for sure - but we do know for sure that he continued on his way rejoicing.  
 
Beloved, you also have reason to do the same - because you also have peace with God.  Jesus, in the flesh, says to you this very hour – “Already you are clean because of the word I have spoken to you.”  Already you are clean - through the word Jesus spoke to you in your washing of rebirth.  He gave you an everlasting name that will never be cut off.  Already you are clean – through the word of absolution Jesus commanded be spoken to repentant sinners.  It is not mere human authority that is behind such speaking of forgiveness, but the authority of God in the flesh, risen from the grave.  Already you are clean through the word by which He serves you His heavenly food – His body – His blood for the forgiveness of your sins!  

Despite sins of self-importance or self-pity, you are clean!  No matter how dried up you may feel - in Christ you bear much fruit at this very moment!  When indifference threatens to smother your soul – when dark thoughts or weariness seem far too constant – remember that you are clean in Christ.  God still shows His love for you in the flesh!  Even now you breathe the air of His resurrection as the living Christ serves you and fixes your heart where true joys are found.   Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit…

In the Name of Jesus, Amen.  

 

Luther Memorial Chapel & University Student Center | 3833 N Maryland Ave | Shorewood, WI  53211
(414) 332-5732 |lmcusc@lmcusc.org

Divine Service: Sundays - 9:00a Mondays - 7:00p Bible Study & Sunday School: Sundays - 10:45a