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The True Vine And The Ethiopian Eunuch

April 29, 2018 Pastor: Rev. Peter Mills

Verse: Acts 8:26–8:40

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 Please see this excellent sermon on today's lessons (Easter 5, Series B) by Rev. Peter Mills, Pastor Grace Lutheran Church, Akron, Ohio.

EASTER 5/B(2018):Acts 8:26-40; 1 Jn. 4:1-21;John 15:1-8

Vine, “I Am the true vine… Abide in me and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me… Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.” (vv. 1a, 4, 5b, c)

It is important here to know what is going on in the background. Ancient Israel was God’s vineyard in the Promised Land. Israel proved faithless, bearing in the world only wild grapes (Isa. 5:1-7). In the NT God sent Jesus to be his true, faithful vine to which all others in his new vineyard are attached, oriented, receive nourishment, and have their being.

Jesus’ instruction that he is true Vine immediately follows institution of his Supper portending God’s NT vineyard planting at the cross. Jesus is the Seed to be lifted in the glory of the Father. On the cross Jesus would water the earth in his blood and die, revealing God’s sacrificial love for the world drawing all men (Jn. 12:24, 32). By God’s planting and Jesus’ germinating death the earth would raise up a vineyard for pleasing fruit in Christ.

At the Supper the Apostles partook of the church’s new fellowship in Jesus’ body and blood, their new Passover food for a new exodus out of a dying world to new Life. The Supper’s instructional table talk having concluded, Jesus invited his Apostles, “Rise, let us go from here” (14:31b), taking a break for reflection and occasion to deepened an apostolic appreciation of what had just occurred in their Holy Communion.

Jesus’ blood of the NT Cup now bespeaks their blood, making them and us true fruit of the Vine in God’s vineyard; that abiding in the flesh of Jesus, the life we live in our flesh is now defined by the holiness of his flesh coming to us every Eucharist.

Last Sunday we observed, we are sheep of the Good Shepherd having our proper end in sacrifice to God and love’s consumption, even as Christ is Lamb of God. So also we share, not only in Jesus’ flesh, but in his blood, delivered as his once for all sacrifice, become the holy things of our Eucharist; his essence and being as Son of God and Son of Man crushed, squeezed, and poured out for union with men, forgiveness of sins and unbelief.

Jesus is Servant of God and true Vine. If we are to possess life in him we must remain in him and he in us by the power of the Spirit given in word, Baptism and Eucharist. God requires of his vineyard in the world a right confession in word and deed (1 Jn. 4:2; 3:18, 4:4) of Jesus crucified in his humanity, the only source of God’s love for us and through us.

God is love, we are not; and so Jesus teaches of God’s sacrificial love at the cross. Love is the fruit that God desires. As always in Jesus, God gives what we of ourselves do not possess, delivered in word, Baptism, and Supper. Thus Jesus is source of our new being, urging, “apart from me you can do nothing.”

That Jesus is our source of new life and God’s love in the world is on display in this morning’s Reading, the conversion and Baptism of an Ethiopian eunuch. In the power of the Resurrection the church took her testimony of Jesus beyond Jerusalem, north into Samaria, with great success.

But now an angel of the Lord directed evangelist Philip out of Samaria, to open a southern gospel campaign at Gaza. There, Philip engaged an Ethiopian official returning home from festival pilgrimage in Jerusalem. The Gentile eunuch was reading the final Suffering Servant prophesy from Isaiah (53).

Under Jewish law the Ethiopian was doubly restricted from temple worship. As a non-Jew he could not advance to God’s presence beyond the soreg wall barring entry into the temple proper, warning in stone relief, “No foreigner is to enter the barriers surrounding the sanctuary. He who is caught will have himself to blame for his death which will follow.”

Even if the Ethiopian had converted to Judaism, and perhaps that is why he was studying Scripture, as a eunuch Mosaic Law forbad his participation in the worshipping community, “No one whose testicles are crushed or whose male organ is cut off shall enter the assembly of the LORD” (Deut. 23:1).

In OT worship, such a bodily defect was not remedied by animal sacrifice. In his person the eunuch stood as continuing affront and contradiction that God is Creator and Author of life in league with men for procreation and conception. And yet, the Ethiopian was captive in searching the word of God.

Philip caught-up to the Ethiopian and asked if he understood what he was reading. The man confessed his need of a guide, someone to enlighten to Scripture’s meaning. Philip, trained in the Apostles’ teaching and Baptized with the Spirit, gave witness of the gospel, that all Scripture directs us to and is comprehended in the man Jesus, God’s Suffering Servant, crucified, risen, and ascended for the sin of the world and now in his flesh abiding with his church for our confident access to his and our Father.

The Gentile eunuch, every bit as much as the Jewish man blind from birth on the outskirts of the temple (John 9), is picture of our excommunicate condition in unregenerate sin. Apart from Jesus we are dry branches to God destined to fiery destruction. But the Word rightly heard and received results in confession and desire to baptismal participation into the wounds of the Crucified Lord revealing a miraculous regenerate change of our being.

Of course the man on the Last Day will be physically restored in the resurrection. But more importantly by the Spirit’s bestowal of faith, the man received Jesus’ blood applied in word with water, and was immediately released from the consequence of his defect, incorporated into the assembly of believers in Christ.

In Christ the Ethiopian was restored to wholeness, not in a physical way but in the manner of a circumcised heart; no longer is the man an offense; for God received for our sakes the greater offense of the cross in the flesh of his Son. In Baptism and Eucharist the Ethiopian is a brother, an attached living branch to Jesus, our Vine and source of Life in the vineyard of God. The Ethiopian went on his way home rejoicing.

No doubt the Ethiopian continued reading in Isaiah in guidance of the HS. Three chapters later his joy would be magnified:

“Let not the foreigner who has joined himself to the LORD say, ‘The LORD will surely separate me from his people’; and let not the eunuch say, ‘Behold, I am a dry tree.’… ‘To the eunuchs who keep my Sabbaths, who choose the things that please me and hold fast my covenant… I will give them an everlasting name that shall not be cut off… these I will bring to my holy mountain, and make them joyful in my house of prayer… their sacrifices will be accepted on my altar…” (56:3-7).

The fruit that God desires from his vineyard is not only a right confession of Jesus as true Vine and source of love’s Life blood come to us in his flesh; but by the Spirit, for love’s sake, we are daily urged, compelled, cajoled, and impelled to be like Jesus in his nature as we participate in his.

We have received his love to extend this fruit to brother, sister, and neighbor; not a love as the world loves but as he has loved us; spontaneously, selflessly, and active to help meet those in need as Christ give us the sight. Amen.

pem.