4**-2*-85*5 is a very important number to me. Can you guess what significance there is in those numbers? It’s not a phone number…it’s what Uncle Sam calls me. You see, there are a lot of Peter Schmidts living in the US, and so when I fill out official documents like tax forms and wage statements, the government identifies me by calling me not Peter Schmidt, instead I have the privilege of being named 4**-2*-85*5, my Social Security Number. Nothing makes you feel more important than having a 9-digit number assigned to you.
Actually this world does a good job of making us all feel like just another number, going through the rat-race called life. The friendly crew member at McDonalds who takes your order gives you your Big Mac, smiles, and tells you to have a nice day. And you feel really special, like someone cares about you, until you realize that they wish everyone a nice day. They say it so much that it really doesn’t mean much. And often those “have a nice days,” are said with so little interest that I’ve heard “have a nice day’s” that sounded more like “here’s your food, now get lost,” because you are just one of billions and billions served, and we have to move on to the next number. Our world has a way of making us not feel very important, we are all just numbers. Before I put our new phone number of the national do not call list, our home phone was ringing off the hook. And you would think by how many people called us that there were a lot of people that cared about us. And you might feel popular or important for a while until you realize that all those telemarketing companies don’t really want to be your friend, but they are calling you because they want to in some way separate you from your money. Do you ever feel that you are a 4**-2*-85*5, and many of the people who do show interest in you are really more interested in what they can get out of you?
And maybe sometimes in a bigger church like Bethlehem, we don’t feel all that important. You might think that nobody even notices if you are there or not. There might be a lot of people in your classroom…how important are you really? Would anyone lose any sleep if you went to a different school next year? God wants you to know today that you are precious to him. The Lord doesn’t see you as just another number to he has to deal with. He doesn’t pester or flatter you because he wants to get something out of you. God has an interest in you, not because he wants to take your goods but because wants to give you eternal treasures. God used a man named Philip to show a lonely foreigner how precious he was to God. And the Lord Jesus uses you to show other people just how important they are to God.
When you take a stone and throw it into a lake, what happens to the water? There’s kind of a gulp as the stone plops in, but then the waves begin to go out in a perfect circle Then those circles get bigger and bigger, spreading farther and farther away from the center. That’s what was going on in Philip’s day. At Pentecost, all of Jesus’ believers were in Jerusalem. In not too long a time, persecution happened, and the believers were scattered. But that wasn’t a bad thing, because they went out like ever expanding circles. The first mission field after the Jews were the Samaritans. Acts Chapter 8 records Philip’s hard work among these people. The Holy Spirit blessed Philip’s work, the church in Samaria was just going bananas. There were so many new Christians there that the Apostles Peter and John came from Jerusalem to help Philip with this huge successful Samaritan church. And it was in this big church, where things were happening, where Philip was doing such great work, that the Lord knew that it was time for that expanding circle to get even bigger. The Jews had the Word, the Samaritans had the Word, and now it was going to be given to other races as well. And so we see the first verse of our text, “Now an angel of the Lord said to Philip,’ Go south to the road – the desert road – that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.” I don’t know what Philip was thinking when he received this command.\, but I would have thought something like this: “Things are going great here. I’ve got tons of people to work with and share the Gospel and help them grow in faith. And now God wants me to go hang out in the desert?” But you see, God doesn’t view people as just an insignificant number. Each soul is precious to him. And there was one struggling soul that needed Philip’s attention. He was the Ethiopian eunuch. Do you know what a eunuch is? We let our two cats run around our neighborhood freely. They go in and out of the house. They take care of the mice, and we don’t have to worry about either of our cats having a bunch of baby cats because both have been fixed. Our cats are the end of their family line. That’s what a eunuch was. A guy who was fixed, who wouldn’t be having any kids. And you might wonder what on earth is going on here. Why does the Bible make a point to 6 times in this text refer to him as a eunuch? In the ancient world which was ruled by royal families, sometimes high officials in government were required to be eunuchs before they could hold high positions. That seems really weird to us, but it gave the royal family peace of mind, because the king knew that he wouldn’t have to worry about one of these fixed officials murdering him and taking over the throne and setting up his own royal family. So there was a little logic to this strange practice. It was kind of a mixed blessing in the ancient world to be a high official. Yes, there would have been a lot of power and money and honor, he had the good job and the big house, but it would have been a very lonely life, with no family to come home to each evening. There would be no Mothers Days celebrated at his house, no Fathers Days, and any birthdays he would have celebrated by himself.
And this eunuch would have felt even more unspecial during his trip to Jerusalem. Yes, he was a wealthy man, but his black skin would have made him stand out. I wonder how many people stared at him, or how many mean comments and jokes he overheard as he walked by. And you’d think, well, at least when he got to church, that sort of thing would go away, but eunuchs were forbidden by the Law or Moses to become full Jews. They could come near the Temple, but they couldn’t go through the gates. Could you imagine how well that would go over here at Bethlehem, where we would ask people with certain medical conditions that they were welcome here, but they couldn’t come into the church building. They would have to wait outside instead and catch as much of the service as they could hear through the double doors. So the eunuch had traveled for many miles to learn about the Triune God, but the closest he could get to church was the door. Maybe that’s why he bought a scroll, but it wasn’t doing him much good because he didn’t understand it.
I imagine that it was a frustrating trip to Jerusalem. This eunuch might have felt like he was just another number; maybe the person who sold him the scroll muttered a “have a nice day,” but he knew that nobody really cared about him. Whoever showed any concern had probably noticed his nice rich clothes and was just after this money. But the Lord loved this lonely man. So Philip was taken out of a very successful church in order that this one valuable soul would understand God’s plan of salvation. God worked things out so that this eunuch was reading Isaiah 53. The Book of Isaiah is sometimes called the 5th Gospel, because no Old Testament book talks about Jesus as much as Isaiah. And no chapter speaks about the work of Jesus for lost sinners better than Chapter 53. And from this, Philip taught the Ethiopian about his sin and his Savior. He taught him about Christ’s resurrection, and our repentance, and the blessings of Baptism. And through God the Holy Spirit working through Philip’s witness, one lonely soul learned that he was a part of a family, God’s family.
You are not just a number to God. The fact that you are sitting here in God’s house today proves that. How many things did God do for you to make sure that you would be here today? What Philips did God send into your life to explain Christ’s work for you, his death for you, his resurrection for you? Whom did God put into your life to make sure that you were baptized? Who took time to teach you the Scriptures so that you would be ready to take Holy Communion? The world out there is mostly just interested in taking your stuff. God, here in his house, wants you to know that he is interested, not in taking stuff away from you, but in giving things to you. God wants you to know that in Christ, he has given you a seat at his heavenly table. No matter what your sins, they have been taken care of, and so you will be with the Lord forever.
And maybe we need to do a better job at remembering why we are here. We all want Bethlehem to keep growing, but why? Why do you want our church to grow? Shame on us if we view new people and prospects as merely additional sources of revenue for the church. That’s how the world views people. At McDonald’s they tell me to have a nice day so that I come back and spend more of my money there. In church, we want members and prospects to keep coming back so that God gives them more and more spiritual strength and peace in the heart as they hear the word and their faith grows. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying that talking about offerings has no place in the church. It does. We can become selfish with our treasures, and when our mind shifts into worldly mode, that needs to be addressed. We do need to be reminded from time to time that God has placed us here and given us stuff so that we are blessings to others, and the greatest blessing that we can be to a person is a way that they hear the Gospel and live in heaven forever. Philip and his big Samaritan church did not get a dime for his work with this wealthy Ethiopian, except the joy of knowing God had used him to bring another person to faith in Jesus. And that’s why we’re here. That’s why we pray that God would let Bethlehem continue to grow, so that through our congregation’s efforts, more people are pried away from Satan’s clutches and won’t have to live in hell with him, but instead, like the Ethiopian, they will have the joy of being with Jesus forever.
Back at my previous church, they decided one year to save some money by going with a cheaper health insurance for my family. My wife had a business contact who sold insurance, and so we met with this guy Jim about insurance one Tuesday morning at our house. I remember being a little impatient to get that meeting over with, because I had important church work to do that day: writing a sermon, studying a Bible Class, making a call, things like that. So I was really hoping to get this insurance meeting with Jim done in less than an hour, because I had important church work to do that day. Unfortunately for me, Jim is one of those people who likes to talk and tell a lot of stories. And if I hadn’t had so much important church work to do that day, I might not have minded sitting and talking to him. But my patience was tested during that 3-hour meeting at my house, especially when Jim would talk about things that were completely off the topic, like how frogs can move their eyes so that one eye can look straight ahead, while the other eye moves around and watches for a fly to eat. I’m sure that’s really important information for a person to know, but like I said I had a lot of things to get done that day. Well, that insurance meeting finally did end and I was able to get to my important church work. A few weeks later we heard the news that Jim had been killed in a motorcycle accident. And worse, Jim’s funeral was going to be at the Kingdom Hall of Jehovah’s Witnesses. And I think back with shame on the morning that we had met with him in our house, and how worried I was about getting my stuff done, that I didn’t even bother to ask Jim where he went to church. Had I taken the time to do that, I could of at least given a witness about the Triune God, in whom he did not know. That day, the important church work that needed to get done wasn’t in my office, but it was sitting at my kitchen table, and I didn’t even recognize it.
Philip could have viewed the Ethiopian eunuch as a freakish foreigner who was wasting his time, time that he could have been spending in his successful church in Samaria. But Philip didn’t look at people like that. And the Lord who loves all people wants to teach you this morning to view people not as bothers and obstacles, but as treasures and opportunities to share your faith. God will bring about results when we talk about the peace Jesus has brought to our lives. Open your eyes for ways to share your faith. It might not be as obvious as the person sitting next to you on the airplane having their Bible open to Isaiah 53 and asking you what that passage means, though who knows, God works in mysterious ways. But there will be opportunities this week if you open your eyes and look for them. The opportunity might come in the form of someone asking what you, a Christian, thinks about a certain movie or book, and you would be able to tell them about the Book of Books, which contains absolute eternal truth. It might be someone wondering why there are so many bad things and evil people in this world, which would give you the chance to talk about the place you are going to one day, where there will be only good things and glorious people and a great God. It might be someone, like the eunuch, not feeling very special, feeling like more like a number than an individual, giving you the chance to tell them how valuable and dearly loved they are by God. You can tell them what Christ did to make them a treasured person. How will God use you this week? Open your eyes and view people as God views you: not as a 9-digit number, but as a soul bought back from sin by his Son’s Blood! Treat everyone you meet this week as a precious treasure, because that’s how God sees them. Amen.