August 20, 2023

He cares for the one

Well, hello, Grace. Do we have the best worship team in the world or not? That was incredible. The worship is just better every time I come, and it's my joy to be here with you. Chip is gone this weekend. We are a church that celebrates life, and he's with his father, Charlie, and his brother, Bobby, and they're celebrating his father's 80th birthday this week. So, Chip texted me a picture of them. There they are, celebrating 80 years. Moses says that 70 years are allotted to man, and 80 by reason of strength. Charlie is a strong man. We would not have Chip but for this man. I've gotten to know him well. His character is unbelievable, and you can see it in his sons. He's very proud of Chip and Bobby. So, God bless them in their time together.

I would like to look at the text tonight, Chris having prayed for us. My text is from Acts 8. It's the account of the Ethiopian eunuch, and it’s a very powerful story. I want to introduce you to this man and let you get to know him a little bit. He has a phenomenal story. You may remember that when Jesus comes out of the grave, all of the judgments of Genesis begin to go into reverse. When we come to the book of Acts, Jesus is commanding His disciples, the 11 — soon to be 12 again — to go into all the earth, teach them the things that He has taught them, and to fulfill the promise of Habakkuk, that the earth would be filled with the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea. It's His way of redeeming the flood narrative, having already repaired the curse of death in the resurrection, having won the fellowship of God and man together again. When He speaks to Mary and calls her woman as the new Adam, He’s reversing all of the judgments. And when we come to Acts 8, it's just after Pentecost. When the spirit of God came down originally, at Babel, confounded the languages, and began all the quarrels among all the tribes of men, at Pentecost, the Spirit comes down and reverses for a season, it seems, that confounding of languages. Everybody hears the Gospel in their own language, which means that race no longer matters and tribes no longer matter. We are all one people who hear the voice of the one God. To show how Jesus had said that that should take place, He commanded them before He left and ascended into heaven. He told them that they would begin their witness in Jerusalem, in Judea, and Samaria, and from there to the ends of the earth.

And Luke, who writes the book of Acts, the one who wrote the Gospel, tells us how that came about, and he does it very creatively. There are three chapters, Acts 8-10, where he describes a road leading out of Jerusalem. Three roads leading out of Jerusalem. The one from Acts 9 is very famous. It's the road to Damascus. You've all heard of that, where Saul of Tarsus becomes the Apostle Paul, and he is converted by Christ Himself on the road to Damascus. In Acts 10, on the road from Jerusalem to Joppa to Caesarea, Peter brings the Gospel to Cornelius the centurion. And in this chapter, Acts 8, the road from Jerusalem to Gaza, the desert road, is where the first major celebrity Christian comes to faith, and that is the Ethiopian eunuch. Three road narratives. Why does Luke choose three road narratives? He's showing us that Noah had three sons, and all of us are descended from those three sons. Every race, tribe, and tongue in the world, we are all descended from Noah through one of those three sons. The sons are named Ham, Shem, and Japheth. The Ethiopian on the road to Gaza is a son of Ham. Paul, the Jew, on the road to Damascus is a son of Shem. And Cornelius, at the house where Peter came, is a Roman centurion, a son of Japheth. He's showing us that the Gospel is for everyone. Races no longer matter. That's important.

How is it that races no longer matter? They should no longer matter because our identity is from Christ to whom we have been espoused. All of us are made equal in Him, and all judgements and curses are done away with. All of us take our identity from Christ Himself.

So, here is a story about an Ethiopian. I like that the first celebrity convert to Christianity is a black man from Africa. So, I want to get to know him. It occurs in the context of this verse.

“So when they had testified and preached the word of the Lord, they returned to Jerusalem, preaching the gospel in many villages of the Samaritans.”

The Gospel has gone forth from Jerusalem. It's already in Samaria and many villages. Whole villages are coming to faith in Christ. It is a time of great revival, and the one who preaches that great revival is Philip. It's a time like none other that we've had.

But during the middle of that revival, “An angel of the Lord spoke to Philip, saying, ‘Arise and go toward the south along the road which goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.’ This is a desert road.”

Desert means deserted. Nobody's there. Why would God take His great evangelist who is having such success with so many multitudes of people and send him down to a road that's completely deserted but for one person? I think that's Luke's way of telling us something of the kindness of God. The multitudes matter, but so does the individual. There is one man who came to Jerusalem seeking salvation but didn't find it, and he’s on his way home without salvation. God deploys His great evangelist to bring one lost sheep to salvation. It tells you something about the Lord God. The one is important, as well as the many. God, one of these days — someday in the past, perhaps — sent a messenger to you to bring you the message of salvation. He was mindful of that. So, He dispatched this Philip to go from Jerusalem to Gaza on the desert road.

“So he arose and went. And behold, a man…”

Now, he's going to tell us about this man, but he never names him. Why doesn't he name him? Because he wants us to remember him by the way he describes him. So, when we're introduced to this man, the first thing we notice is the first thing any of us ever notices about another. He's from Ethiopia. That means he's black. Ethiopia, in the ancient world, was anything south of Egypt. So, it included Sudan. This man happened to be from Sudan, part of Ethiopia. Ethiopia is the name the Greeks gave to the people that dwelt south of Egypt. Literally, in Greek, it means “black of face,” so there's no question this man was a Sub-Saharan African. The first thing you notice is he comes up, he's approaching the chariot, and, as he sees him, he sees a black man. The first thing he noticed. But as he draws closer to the chariot, he notices something else. The man is a eunuch. How does he know that? Eunuchs never grow a beard. In the ancient world, all men wore a beard. So, the eunuch stood out, and he was regarded as incomplete. He was broken. It was in an age where they valued a man for how many sons he had. This eunuch would never have children. He was utterly, utterly desolate.

It's a desert road. The desert speaks to infertility. The context even speaks of his own infertility and emphasizes that he's a eunuch. “Eunuch” meant that he would be humiliated. His condition would be proclaimed everywhere he went. It was a context where a man would never grow a beard and, over time, his face would take on a kind of effeminacy. The humiliation of that condition. They mocked the eunuch. The most hurtful thing that they usually called them was a dried-up tree. Why dry tree? Because they could bear no fruit. Sometime in the past, probably when he approached puberty, he was recognized as being very intelligent, which meant he could be useful to the queen. Ethiopia was ruled by queens. So, he was marked out to become her treasurer. The treasurer of all of Ethiopia. Ethiopia was known for its wealth. The Bible speaks of the gold of Ophir, the topaz of Ethiopia where the pharaohs got their gold. So, this treasury was filled. It was a place that required someone very responsible. He was identified as being very bright, but they didn't want somebody who might have a family of his own, who might have a temptation to self-deal. So, probably about the time he approached puberty, he would've been taken aside by four strong men, one to hold down each of his limbs. He would be taken, stripped, and emasculated. Imagine this frightened boy going through something like that. That was a cruel practice, but it was done. They would use eunuchs to guard the harems for obvious reasons, the kings who had multiple wives, or to guard the treasury. And here is this boy who had been through that kind of torture, torment, and abuse, but he had grown to maturity. He had great authority under Candace, the queen of the Ethiopians, and he had charge of all her treasury. Somehow, in Ethiopia, he had come to recognize that the gods of Ethiopia are no gods. So, he had searched. He’s at the second cataract of the Nile. We know where these queens were buried. At the first cataract of the Nile, there was a Jewish colony called Elephantine. Probably from them he acquired the scriptures, the Greek of the scriptures, which the Jews had at that time. In reading the Bible, he had come to believe that the true God was the God of the Jews, whose name dwelt in Jerusalem, and who required sacrifice to be given in Jerusalem. So, he had come to Jerusalem to worship.

Now, what had he found in Jerusalem? I suspect because the temple was a den of thieves, as Jesus called it, that he was welcomed for his great wealth’s sake. That would be obvious. He would have a retinue of people bringing gifts and treasures. They would welcome that, but they would not accept him. He could not enter into the courts of God. It was a racist culture. He was kept at bay. We found two of these inscriptions. There were four of them at each gate in the temple. It says — literally, you can read it — “If any Gentile crosses this boundary, he will be subject to the penalty of death.”

So, he's come 800 miles, a very difficult journey in that day, but he's not allowed to come into the court. He could only have come to the court of the Gentiles where that boundary stone was. But this man was not even permitted to come into the court of the Gentiles. Why? This might surprise you. It's because the law of Moses forbid it. Why would God's law forbid it? It’s Deuteronomy 23.

“Any man who's injured in his genital area is not permitted to enter into the court of God.”

Why? Why would God put an impediment like that in the law? Just because he's broken, can he not come to God? I pondered that for a long time until I realized. Why did God put that impediment in the law? He's teaching us to long for a better temple. He's teaching us to long for the day when a temple will come that won't shun the broken, but will welcome the broken, and heal them. And a new temple has come in Christ Jesus.

So, he's returning. There is no salvation for him in Jerusalem. He was sitting in his chariot. I think that's a little misleading. It's very obvious that this is like a large coach. It's not a chariot that he's driving, but it’s a coach attended by drivers with horses. He was sitting and reading. That would require him to have some leisure. He's certainly not driving. It's a wealthy transport. He's sitting in his chariot, and he's reading Isaiah the prophet. Now, all they had in the first century we scrolls. So, you roll it up with one hand, out with the other, and he's reading the prophet Isaiah. He has to read right through. That's the way it would've worked for him.

He’s reading Isaiah the prophet, “Then the Spirit said to Philip, ‘Go near and overtake this chariot.’”

The same God who had sent Philip to bring him to faith on the desert road spoke to him. Notice who speaks to him. It is the Spirit of God. The Spirit is not a force, inarticulate. The Spirit is one of the three persons of the Trinity. He can speak. He can articulate a sentence. It's not the Father. It’s not the Son. The Spirit said to Philip, “Go near that chariot.”

The spirit directs the evangelist to speak.

“Go near to that chariot and overtake it.”

“So Philip ran to him, and heard him reading the prophet Isaiah,”

He recognized the passage. It's Isaiah 53, as we'll see.

So, he says to the eunuch, “‘Do you understand what you are reading?’”

Now, a couple of things about this passage. This eunuch who came to Jerusalem, who had been so humiliated, rejected, and sent away without salvation, what is he doing? He could have rejected it, and said, “This God is not for me. He doesn't want me. The people of God don't want me.”

He could have rejected it like that and walked away from it, but he's sitting in the chariot on his way home, reading the prophet Isaiah. Do you see the humility of this man? He wants to know, “Is there a crumb that can fall from the table of Israel that could satisfy my hunger?”

He's looking for some scrap of mercy.

“Is there something, some Word of God, for me?”

He says, “‘Do you understand what you are reading?’”

Again, you see his humility.

“And he said, ‘How can I, unless someone guides me?’ And he asked Philip to come up and sit with him. The place in the Scripture which he read was this…”

Many of you will recognize it. It’s from Isaiah 53 where the prophet, the ancient prophet, had spoken 750 years before Jesus as a vision of Christ dying on the cross. The place in the scripture he read was this, and Philip would've recognized it immediately.

“‘He was led as a sheep to the slaughter; And as a lamb before its shearer is silent, So He opened not His mouth. In His humiliation His justice was taken away,’”

That is the justice He should have had, that was due to Him, was taken from Him. He was treated unjustly and humiliated.

Then the prophet says, “‘And who will declare His generation? For His life is taken from the earth.’”

Now, this is the passage to which they had come. In the good providence of God, it shows the cross and the meaning of the cross of Christ. This is the passage he had come to, but he had stopped here. Why did this passage arrest the attention of our eunuch from Ethiopia? Do you see that? Look at that carefully. He's reading about a man. He doesn't know who the man is, but he wants to know who the man is. Why? Because the man who went to Jerusalem was treated unjustly and humiliated. As for this man, He would have no physical seed. His generation would be ended because He was cut off from the land of the living. In other words, for the sake of the Kingdom of God, our precious Lord made Himself a eunuch. You read the genealogies all through the Bible, and when they come to Jesus, there is no further begetting. He is cut off without physical seed.

So, the eunuch stops at this place. He won't go further. He stumbles. He doesn't understand. Only the Spirit of God can open these mysteries to him, so the Spirit of God is bringing one who can explain it to him. This passage speaks of Jesus, and he explains to him how Jesus came as the sacrifice and allowed Himself to be broken in order to make all of us whole. What a passage to come to to bring him to faith.

“So the eunuch answered Philip and said, ‘I ask you, of whom does this prophet say this, of himself or of some other man?’”

He's very perceptive. Very bright.

“Then Philip opened his mouth, and beginning at this Scripture, preached Jesus to him. Now as they went down the road,”

Luke is developing the narrative now. The chariot is moving, the wheels are turning, and they're moving down the road.

“…they came to some water.”

It's an oasis in a desert. Do you see what Luke sees? In the desert, he is the eunuch. He's infertile. But as he comes to know Jesus, he's coming to an oasis of waters. The waters speak of fertility.

“And the eunuch said, ‘See, here is water.’”

He asked Philip — and you can hear all of the humiliation this man has been through all his life speaking. He wants to be baptized. He wants to identify with Christ, but the way he phrases the question shows you how beaten down he has been, psychologically.

“‘Is there anything that would hinder me from being baptized?’”

He doesn't take it as a right that is due him. He's asking humbly and graciously, “Is there anything that would hinder me from being baptized?”

“Then Philip said, ‘If you believe with all your heart, you may.’ And he answered and said, ‘I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.’

“So he commanded the chariot to stand still.”

So, Philip assured him that he could be baptized too because he had authentic faith, so he commanded the chariot to stand still.

“And both Philip and the eunuch went down into the water,”

Imagine that. All around is green. If you've ever seen an oasis in the desert, it's fertile. And that eunuch is baptized in those waters, those fertile waters. It's beautiful, the way the narrative is unfolding. The providence of God in the way that even the landscape is speaking to the narrative that we're reading.

“Now when they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord caught Philip away,”

What a strange thing. Look at how people come and go.

He just disappears. He absolutely disappears. “Caught away” is the word. He's caught away and the eunuch doesn't see him anymore, so he’s on his way home to Ethiopia. The eunuch doesn't see him anymore, and he'll have no reason to return to Jerusalem.

So, Luke ends his story by saying this: “And he [the eunuch] went on his way rejoicing.”

He went on his way rejoicing. I want to propose a question to you that occurred to me a long time ago. How is it that Luke knew that he went on his way rejoicing? How did he know that? Philip didn't see him rejoicing. The man had no reason to come back to Jerusalem. How did Luke know that? I kind of, in my mind's eye, imagine Luke writing that, at the end of this account, and smiling because Luke knew. By God's grace, I want to show you, as well, how he knew the man went on his way rejoicing. It's not just a comment that he had come to faith, so we assume, and we know that he went on his way rejoicing. They had read and come to this passage.

“He was led as a lamb to the slaughter, And as a sheep before it shearers as silent, So He opened not His mouth. He was taken from prison and from judgment, and who will declare His generation? For He was cut off from the land of the living.”

That's the passage to which they had come. He’s reading the scroll of Isaiah. So, after he's come to faith, he picks up scroll, and would continue on reading what the prophet had written, again, 750 years before the eunuch was reading this.

Probably, the next verse: “And they made His grave with the wicked…”

This is from the same chapter, Isaiah 53. Probably, Philip had told him about how Jesus was crucified with thieves who were murderers, but with a rich at his death. Maybe he told him about Joseph of Arimathea.

How in the world did Isaiah foresee that 700 years before? Seven centuries.

“But with the rich at His death, Because He had done no violence, Nor was any deceit in His mouth.”

He was taught about the sinless perfection of Christ who was the Lamb of God.

But he was also taught this: “Yet it pleased the Lord to bruise Him.”

How can the prophet say such a thing, that it pleased the Lord to bruise Him? The only reason God was pleased to bruise Him is because He knew He was giving Him something greater, and because of that bruising, we could come to salvation, and this man would be given a bride. God esteemed us even when we were sinners and knew that we would be the greatest gift He could give to His Son. So, He offered Him up to death, put Him to grief, and He made His soul an offering for sin.

But then the eunuch reads this: “He shall see His seed,”

But the prophet has just said he was cut off from the land of the living. Who will declare His generation? How can this Christ see His seed? Then the eunuch realizes what? He is the seed of Christ. He's come to faith. He's been born into a family. This eunuch had been taken away from his family and had no family of his own. He had been born into another family, a family of Christ Himself, and Christ was seeing Him, and rejoicing in heaven. He’s rejoicing over what he reads.

“…He shall prolong his days,”

You prolong your days. The one who is cut off from the land of the living will prolong his days. He's teaching about the resurrection. So, all the doctrines of our faith were here for Philip to bring out, to share his faith, that the eunuch came to believe.

“…And the pleasure of the Lord shall prosper in His hand.”

Then the prophet says that God says, “Therefore I will divide Him a portion with the great, and He shall divide the spoil with a strong,”

He will be victorious in His humiliating death.

“…Because He poured out His soul into death, And He was numbered with the transgressors, And He bore the sin of many, And made intercession [prayed] for those transgressors.”

My goodness, what a magnificent chapter on the suffering of Jesus. That is what brings the eunuch to faith. The prophet writes this fantastic chapter, Isaiah 53 — if I can use a musical metaphor — in a minor key. The mode is tragic. It ends in the death of Christ, although it anticipates His resurrection. He writes Isaiah 53 in the tragic mode of a minor key, but this is poetry. All of this is poetry in Hebrew. It's meant to be sung. And what is the next passage? Because the prophet, after he saw the death of Christ so clearly, saw beyond the death of Christ to the Gospel age, to this present age of the glorious triumph of Christ and the Gospel. So, the prophet moves from the cross to the resurrection, and what does the prophet write now that the eunuch sees?

“‘Sing, O barren, You who have not borne! Break forth into singing, and cry aloud, You who have not labored with child! For more are the children of the desolate than the children of the married woman,’ says the Lord.”

My goodness, how did that land on the ears of our eunuch?

“‘Enlarge the place of your tent, And let them stretch out the curtains of your dwellings; Do not spare; Lengthen your cords, And strengthen your stakes.’”

This is the language of the Bedouin. They dwelt in tents, but he's saying, in our metaphor, “Add bedrooms onto your house, this barren eunuch. Add bedrooms on for the multitude of sons and daughters that are going to come to you in this glorious Gospel age. My goodness.

He says, “For you will expand to the right and to the left, And your descendants [seed] will inherit the nations, And make the desolate cities inhabited.”

My goodness, what a word. What a word. Then he continues reading. From Isaiah 54, he continues reading. He comes to Isaiah 55. He’s taking the seed of the Gospel with him back home to Ethiopia. His chariot wheels are turning, and he continues to read deeper into the prophet. He comes to Isaiah 55. It's one thing for him to offer the grace of God because he's very wealthy. He has access to enormous wealth, but he's bringing a Gospel that is free.

So, he reads, “‘Ho! Everyone who thirsts, Come to the waters; And you who have no money, Come, buy and eat. Yes, come, buy wine and milk without money and without price.’”

Is there anyone who could have paid for their salvation? None of us. But this is a salvation that is utterly and completely free. Do you understand? And then he comes to Isaiah 56. Look at this, this eunuch from Ethiopia.

The prophet wrote this: “Do not let the son of the foreigner who has joined himself to the Lord speak, saying, ‘The Lord has utterly separated me from His people’; Neither let the eunuch say, ‘Here I am, a dry tree.’ For thus says the Lord: ‘To the eunuchs who keep My Sabbaths, And choose what pleases Me, And hold fast My covenant, […] I will give them an everlasting name that shall not be cut off.’”

He will have an everlasting name, and he will have a seed. He's on his way home to Ethiopia with a seed of the Gospel, this eunuch that was chosen to bring the Gospel to Ethiopia. Well, what's the rest of the story?

This man, in church history, becomes the founder of the Coptic Church. Have you ever heard about it? It's the most ancient and most persecuted church in all the world, founded in Ethiopia, founded in Sudan. These people have been persecuted. They still are. There are 20 million of them in Egypt alone, and because of their dark skin, they're persecuted constantly. Their churches are burned, and trash is dumped in their part of the city. They're persecuted, and they were persecuted enormously when Islam first came into this region, but no persecution has been able to take away these simple, black believers from their love of the Gospel, and they have clung to the cross through all of that. And all of Africa has Coptic Christians in it.

All of these — listen to this. All of these believers all over Africa call this eunuch the father of their faith. Do you see that? By their multiple, multiple millions, he is the father of the faith of Africa. God takes a eunuch and makes an Abraham out of him. What kind of a God do we have? Whatever dream you have, whatever loss you've suffered in this life, whatever loved ones have gone on that you are missing, we have no idea, do we, what God will do with that? The sufferings of this present age are not worthy, we are assured, to be compared with a glory that will come. Here is the eunuch who became an Abraham.

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