What’s Stopping Me?
This is Karen Gibson, the leader of the Kingdom Choir, a gospel choir often seen on BBC Songs of Praise. Karen’s family arrived from Guyana in the early 1960s, after a Government request to Commonwealth countries for help to fill vital jobs in the UK. Her mum wanted to make Britain her home and set off for the local Church of England. After several weeks, the vicar met her on the way out. He asked her not to come back.
How can this story affect our vision for what the Lord wants to do in our churches in the glorious days to come?
This Sunday’s Reading from Acts 8.26-38
“26 An angel of the Lord said to Philip, “Get ready and go south to the road that goes from Jerusalem to Gaza.”
“27-28 So Philip got ready and went. Now an Ethiopian eunuch, who was an important official in charge of the treasury of the queen of Ethiopia, was on his way home . He had been to Jerusalem to worship God and was going back home in his carriage. As he rode along, he was reading from the book of the prophet Isaiah.
“29 The Holy Spirit said to Philip, “Go over to that carriage and stay close to it.”
“30 Philip ran over and heard him reading out loud from the book of the prophet Isaiah. He asked him, “Do you understand what you are reading?”
“31 The official replied, “How can I understand unless someone explains it to me?” And he invited Philip to climb up and sit in the carriage with him.
“32 The passage of scripture which he was reading was this: “He was like a sheep that is taken to be slaughtered, like a lamb that makes no sound when its wool is cut off. He did not say a word.
“33 He was humiliated, and justice was denied him. No one will be able to tell about his descendants, because his life on earth has come to an end.”
“34 The official asked Philip, “Tell me, of whom is the prophet saying this? Of himself or someone else?”
“35 Then Philip began to speak; starting from this passage of scripture, he told him the Good News about Jesus.s
“36 As they travelled down the road, they came to a place where there was some water, and the official said, “Here is some water. What’s stopping me from being baptised?”…
“38……… Philip baptised him.”
No Ethiopian Eunuchs allowed
This is a view of the temple in Jesus’ time. The outside area was as close as Gentiles (non-Jews) could get. Jewish women were allowed into the first courtyard; Jewish men into the second courtyard; and only priests into to Holy Place in the temple building. Only the High Priest could get into the Holy of Holies once a year!
The bad news – even though the Ethiopian Official had been making a pilgrimage to Jerusalem, he would not have even be allowed into the Gentile area! Eunuchs were forbidden in any of the Temple courtyards. Being black and Ethiopian also put him at a disadvantage. He would have known what it felt like to be turned away, and denied access to the Lord.
Turned away from the Temple but invited into Friendship with the Lord
Wouldn’t you just love to have met Philip the evangelist? You are desperately seeking meaning in your life. You’ve visited a very unwelcoming holy place, and you’ve bought a scroll which you just can’t get your head round. The next moment there’s a man running alongside your carriage. Between gasps, the stranger shouts: “How are you getting on with your scroll…….?” Climbing into the carriage next to him, this enthusiastic and engaging man begins to explain Isaiah chapter 53 to the African – perhaps like this:
“The LORD Himself has sent his only Son Jesus to the earth. He is the sacrificial lamb spoken of here – who died to carry away all your sin, all your pain and all that spoils your life. He has sent me to tell you this good news. Nothing can stand in your way; You need only to turn your path towards Him in simple trust, and Jesus will do all the rest.”
In excitement, the Ethiopian exclaims “What’s stopping me….?
Invited into the Inner Sanctum by the Heir to the Throne
Karen Gibson, the founder and conductor of the Kingdom gospel choir was sitting on a London bus going through Battersea when her mobile phone rang. She didn’t recognise the number, but answered it anyway. A voice asked: “Would you and the choir come to sing in St George’s Chapel, Windsor, for Harry and Meghan’s wedding?”
It was Prince Charles.
God Breaks down Walls, Opens Doors and Brings us into the Warmth
Seven hundred years before the story of the African man, the Lord had sent Isaiah with a message and now the Lord now sends Isaiah’s scroll. The Lord also commissions Philip to be in the right place at the right time. Philip runs alongside waiting for the right moment to bring the Lord’s message. With a gift inspired by the Holy Ghost, he gently befriends the African. With sensitivity he “evangelises” (He tells the Good News about Jesus) The Lord has sent him to share something precious with the man that will change the direction of his life. The King of Eternity invites us into His inner sanctum. Jesus never turns anyone away. Neither can we.
Was this account a series of happy coincidences? Was it serendipity? No, no, no! The Lord plans and causes our blessings. We just need to open our eyes to see that He was beside us all the time!
What’s Stopping You?
This lovely testimony about the African man is not about religion; it’s not about ceremonies nor giving money, nor church, nor piety. It’s about a relationship with the Living God, who loves you and gave Himself for you. He has done everything – nothing can stop you now.
I believe in Jesus. I believe He is the Son of God. I believe He died and rose again. I believe He paid for us all. And I believe He’s here now, standing in our midst. Here with power to heal now, and the grace to forgive. Amen. Amen. Amen.