Sunday, August 18, 2013

Jesus' Message Spreads to Africa

Sunday school lesson from this morning...

Jesus' message was really starting to go viral. People all over the place were turning away from their sins and following God. It was an amazing time, and God blessed them. But in all this, the apostles were crazy busy, and some important things got neglected. The widows weren't getting enough care, and Jesus had been very clear that we need to take care of widows and orphans. So they decided to do something about this problem. They met together and chose seven deacons to take care of this important responsibility: Stephen, Philip, Procorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas and Nicolas. The deacons did their job well, and the Pharisees started to notice. The Sanhedrin had killed Jesus, and then they had arrested Peter and John for healing a lame man. Now they were so mad at Stephen for spreading Jesus' message that they stoned him to death. This set off a chain reaction that scattered the Christians. An evil Pharisee named Saul led the charge against the Christians, and he was merciless. We’ll learn more about him next week. Philip the deacon went to Samaria, where he continued to preach, and many Samaritans turned to Christ.

One day, an angel appeared to Philip and told him, "God has got a job for you. Go south on the desert road that goes from Jerusalem to Gaza." So Philip went. He didn’t even know where he was going! As he was walking along, he saw a chariot, and the Holy Spirit told him, “Go hang out by the chariot!” It was clear by the fact that the chariot was a foreign style, and the fact that the rider had black skin, that he wasn’t from around those parts. As it turned out, the guy was an important official of the Candace of Ethiopia.

Flashback. Thousands of years ago, there was a region in Northeast Africa called Cush. It came to be called Nubia, and they had neighbors to the north that you might have heard of. The Nile River flows from the Mediterranean Sea, south through Egypt, and ends up in what was once called Nubia. By Jesus’ time, the part of Nubia where the Nile ends had become known as Ethiopia, and it’s still called that today. Nubia also included what is now Sudan and part of Egypt. The Egyptian King was called the Pharaoh, and the Ethiopian Queen was called the Candace. The royal treasurer of Ethiopia, in charge of the Candace’s money, had heard about the country called Israel, and he had gone to Jerusalem to worship. Now he was on his way home, and Philip could hear him reading Scripture! He recognized the words of the prophet Isaiah:

“He was led like a sheep to the slaughter, and as a lamb before its shearer is silent, so he did not open his mouth. In his humiliation he was deprived of justice. Who can speak of his descendants? For his life was taken from the earth.”

So Philip asked him, “Does that make sense to you?”

“No,” he replied. “Can you explain it to me?” He invited Philip to get up on the chariot and have a seat. Then he said, “I’m confused. Is the prophet talking about himself or someone else?”

So Philip started with that passage and explained all about how Jesus came to earth to save our sins. Just like Isaiah prophesied, Jesus was led to the cross and killed like a lamb being sacrificed. He didn’t answer the people charging him falsely, and he was humiliated, spat on, cursed, beaten, and he did not get justice. Philip went on to explain how Jesus rose from the dead and defeated sin and death so everyone could be saved.

They had gone quite a ways while they were talking, and they came to a body of water. “Hey look!” said the official. “Water! What say you baptize me?”

Philip replied, “If you believe with all your heart, let’s do it!”

He said, “I believe that Jesus is the Son of God.”

That was enough for Philip. “Stop the chariot!” the official said to the chariot driver. With a crack of the whip, the horses came to a stop, and Philip and the official got out and went into the water. Philip baptized his new friend, and when they came out of the water, Philip disappeared! His job was done, and the Holy Spirit had taken him away. Philip found himself in the town of Azotus, and he continued to travel and preach the good news.

Meanwhile, the royal treasurer of Ethiopia returned home with the best news he had ever heard! According to Irenaeus, an early Christian, the official went on to preach this great news throughout Ethiopia. He told his countrymen that there was one God, and the prophets had foretold that He would come to earth as a man. The prophecies had come true, and Jesus had been the man. He had been led like a sheep to the slaughter just like Isaiah had foretold. That is how Jesus’ message spread to Africa, and the Church in Ethiopia was born. It’s still around today!

Just think…God used Philip to help found the Church in Africa, and he didn’t even have to go to Africa to do it! Sometimes God sends missionaries to other countries, but there are people from all over the world right here in the US. You never know how powerful it can be when you share your faith, or just do something nice, for another person.

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