I have always loved the story of the Ethiopian eunuch. It may be in part because I grew up in Ethiopia, and know a little bit of the history of the Christianity that this man brought there. Ethiopia will always have a place in my heart.
Another reason I love this story is that it forms the seed beginnings of the conversion of the first nation to Christianity. As you know, I have been fascinated with the concept of nation discipling for quite a few years. Americans tend to focus on individual conversions, and tend to be skeptical when entire tribes come to Christ within a few weeks. But there has been a long history of nations embracing the Gospel. In the case of Ethiopia, it started with the Ethiopian eunuch, he converted Queen Candace, the apostle Matthew was invited to Ethiopia shortly after this event. And by the way, Matthew and Thomas were the two most educated of the twelve apostles, having studied under Gamaliel. When he came to Ethiopia, the Ethiopian eunuch was amazed that he could speak all the languages of Ethiopia that je encountered, and he asked Matthew how he knew them. Matthew told him that he had learned eight languages prior to Pentecost, but that after Pentecost God had given him the ability to speak in any language that he needed to communicate in to share the Gospel. And so during the next 30 years the Gospel spread rapidly in Ethiopia, with the king himself embracing the faith after his son was healed by Matthew.
And so, this rather random meeting of Philip and the eunuch open an entire nation to the Gospel. Of course, both Philip and we know it wasn't random. God was orchestrating every detail of this meeting in order to bring Christianity to Ethiopia. And so this morning I want to look at God's sovereign grace to every race.
God sovereignly made a plan for the gospel. (v. 26).
Angels don't fulfill the Great Commission, humans do (v. 26).
And we will begin with verse 26. "Now 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." The angel didn't tell him why. And we will be seeing in a moment why this is very typical of God's guidance. He doesn't tell us everything we might want to know right now. He guides us step by step. And it's only after we have followed His earlier guidance that he gives us more.
But before we even get there, I want to emphasize a fact that is often missed. And that is that angels don't preach the Gospel, humans do. Now, angels will tell humans to preach the Gospel, or will sometimes prepare the way. In fact, there are many stories of Muslims who have had angels tell them to go to a given road where an evangelist has a word for them. But they don't preach the Gospel. The Great Commission wasn't given to Angels, it was given to the church. And when I was younger, I often wondered why. I mean think about it. Angels could do the job so much better than we could!! They don't have to take boat rides or airplane rides that wear you out. It would have been so easy for God to just have angels reveal themselves to every human being and preach the Gospel themselves. Wouldn't that be awesome?! They would certainly do a better job than I am doing. But that is not God's plan. God very deliberately bypassed very strong and capable servants – angels, and instead chose to use weak, fickle, stuttering, stumbling sinners like you and me. If you don't share the Gospel because you know someone else could do it much better than you, you are missing the whole point. Angels could do it for better than us too! But you see, God didn't give the Great Commission to the church because it is so strong and so great. 1 Corinthians 1 says that God has not chosen many wise, mighty or noble. Instead, He has chosen the foolish, the weak, the base and the despised people so that He might be all in all. If you are weak or foolish or base or despised, God loves to use you. You are special to Him. It's amazing the excuses that we can come up with as to why we don't share the faith with those that we speak to. Most of the reasons boil down to this: I'm not good enough. Well, get over it. No human is good enough. But God is good enough and His Gospel is good enough, and He has given us an incredible privilege of being part of the advancement of His kingdom. Amen? And as we pointed out from verse 4 of this chapter, that privilege has been given to every single believer. All who were scattered went preaching, except the apostles.
The "Go" in the Gospel has never been revoked.
And so the "Go" in the Gospel has never been revoked. Verse 26 says, "Arise and go." Now you might be thinking – that's fine for Philip, who is an evangelist. But you know what? He wasn't called Philip the evangelist until later in the book. At this stage he is a deacon, but he is doing like all the other laypeople in verse 4, and he is evangelizing. And as he does so it becomes obvious that God has given him special gifts for evangelism that eventually set him aside to the office. Do you get the point? Some are gifted, but all are involved. Don't forget that Mark's Gospel ends by saying it is those who believe who spread ministry; Ephesians tells us that officers equip the saints for the work of the ministry; it's sheep who reproduce sheep. Acts 8:1-4 shows that it is the common believers who take seriously this "go" of the Gospel. God is sovereign, and part of His sovereignty is that He has the right to call the shots. And he wants all of us to be part of this process. Submission to the Great Commission is an acknowledgement that He is sovereign; that He is the boss, and we will do it the way He says it, even if we think that He could do it better a different.
The Lord sometimes has to move us to "arise" when we are ready to take a break.
Notice too that God calls Philip to leave when things are going great. He has already been involved in awesome things in Samaria. Great crowds are coming to Christ. This doesn't seem like a good time to be going down a deserted road in the desert. But Philip submits to God's sovereignty and He goes where God wants him to go. And we would do well to imitate Philip. Sometimes God calls us to arise when we are ready to rest a bit. Maybe we've come home from work and are tired, but God calls us to arise and minister to our wife or our children. Sometime s he calls us to go when we like things the way they are thank you. But the neat thing about the spread of the kingdom is that God alone causes the increase, and we merely do our duty. God is the sovereign with the plan.
The Lord sometimes has to move us to "go" when we like the way things are. Philip may have been tempted to stay where the action was happening – in Samaria, but he did not question God.
Sometimes God sovereignly brings missions to us
A seeker comes to Jerusalem (v. 27) – A sovereign move of God has also brought seekers to our doorsteps.
He is very religious, but does not have salvation
The second thing that we see in this passage is that sometimes God sovereignly brings missions to us. That's what He did when the eunuch came to Jerusalem. Verse 27. "So he arose and went. And behold, a man of Ethiopia, a eunuch of great authority under Candace the queen of the the Ethiopians, who had charge of all her treasure, and had come to Jerusalem to worship was returning." Here was a man from a far-away country who had come to Jerusalem seeking God. And in the same way, a sovereign move of God has mysteriously brought multitudes of foreigners to our very doorsteps. Many come via the schools. Last year there were 565,000 International Students who came to America. During the last 10 years, more than 1 million graduated with degrees from our universities. God has sovereignly opened the doors wide for missions on our own doorsteps. Last year 1163 international students from 103 countries enrolled at UNO. Creighton has students from 40 countries. Clarkson has students from 44 countries. And many of these people are seekers. They may not look like they are open to Christianity any more than this Eunuch did. And I find a lot of parallels between this eunuch and the students at our universities.
This eunuch was very religious, but he did not have salvation. He was in a dead religion. There is a huge contingent of Saudi Arabians who have come to UNO – very religious, but without the Gospel. Why? Because they admire many things in our country that are the bread of christianity.
He is very motivated, but finds apathy in Jerusalem
The eunuch was motivated, but finds apathy in Jerusualem. He had gone there searching, and no one ever told him about Jesus. The Pharisee, Saducees and priests don't have the answer. In verse 28 iut says that he was returning, and he was returning empty-handed. What a lost opportunity Jerusalem had. And the same is true of many who come to America. Did you realize that less than 10% of International Students in America ever see the inside of an American home. If they do get inside an American home, they list it as one of the highlights of their experience. But what do they see when they come here? Nobody is really interested. They have a hard time making friends. They are lonely. They are motivated. It is the people in America who are so apathetic. God has sent them here and if they return to their countrie empty handed, what will God say to the comfortable church? What a lost opportunity!
He is very privileged, but has an emptiness and need.
Like many who come here, the eunuch was economically privileged, but had an emptiness and a need. Many times people look at these economically privileged and immediately assume that they would have no interest in the Gospel. But that is a misguided assumption.
We must not assume that with great privilege there is no hunger for God.
A great opportunity for missions is missed by the Jews and by the church of Jerusalem (v. 27) – The church of Omaha has also missed one of the greatest opportunities to face America!
Think of the influence of this man on Ethiopia – one man who changed a nation!
And I see verses 27 to the beginning of verse 28 as a scary reminder of how easy it is to miss the greatest opportunities for missions that God has ever raised up. Here was a man who had the potential of changing the entire nation of Ethiopia, and yet the Jews ignored him and the church somehow missed him.
It is estimated that ¼ to ½ of the future leaders of the world are on America's campuses.
It has been estimated that between ¼ and ½ of all the future leaders of the world are on America's campuses. That's a mind-blowing statistic with enormous ramifications. ¼ to ½ of all future leaders. This means that if they could be reached, we could reach countries without expending one dollar or traveling one international flight. What an opportunity! And yet UNO can't find enough people to even host these students in their homes. Why? It's inconvenient. It's the same excuse that the church in Jerusalem used until God in His sovereignty forced them to leave their conveniences.
Some of the most restricted nations of the world have future leaders that are wide open to the Gospel here.
It has been estimated that over 60% of International Students in America come from the least evangelized countries in the world (the 10-40 window). In fact, some of these countries are so closed, that you couldn't get an evangelist into the country if you tried. And yet we are ignoring these opportunities that God is dumping in our laps. We pray that God would raise up many more missionaries for the 10-40 window, but who would make a better missionary than people who already know the language and culture and who don't yet have any of the hang-ups of the American church?
We cannot use the excuse that we cannot afford to go on a missions trip – they are paying all expenses.
And God has even anticipated all of the exuses that Americans love to make. One excuse is that we can't afford to make missions trips. But here are people who are paying all expenses. In fact, UNO has currently raised the rates for room and board to $500 a month. Wow@ Father God, you are so good.
We cannot use the excuse that we cannot learn a different language or a different culture – they want to learn ours.
Another excuse is that we cannot learn a different language or a different culture. But that is the beauty of what God is sovereignly doing with international students. They want to learn our language and culture. You are just helping them.
We cannot use the excuse that missions is too dangerous or inconvenient – they are the ones who are facing the inconvenience.
Another excuse is that missions is too dangerous. Well then, engage in missions here. The students are really the ones who are facing all the inconvenience.
We cannot use the excuse that the Bible is not in their language – we can provide these Bibles.
It's almost as if God is saying, "Look guys. You aren't taking the Great Commission seriously, so I'm going to help out. I've already provided Bibles in these languages, I'm bringing them to your doorstep so that you don't have to travel, I'm providing income because I know you think you are really poor, I'm going to make them hugely interested in talking with you so that you can't use the excuse that it's hard to start a conversation. I'm going to make them motivated to want to be your friends. What are you waiting for!? God has prepared an open door that could not be made any easier. Will you be like the Jews of Jerusalem, and ignore these lonely people, or will you be like Philip, and step up to their chariots and engage them in conversation? God could not have made it easier. When you think about it, God could not have made it any easier. God has brought the missions to us, and I'm sure that He isn't interested in your excuses. It would be much more intellectually honest to just say, "I don't want to do it." But think of how exciting it could be if the president of some country 10 years from now lived in your home. Think of your sense of satisfaction if he declared his country to be a Christian country. Or maybe it's not the president. Instead, you hosted the wife of a city mayor, or an economist who shaped a country's economic future, or maybe your student will be someone who impacts someone. In whatever way, I just urge you to be a part of the great thing God is doing world wide. Love the internationals with the love of Christ. As far as I am concerned, you've already gotten a sermon that is worthy coming, but let's move on.
We cannot use the excuse that they are not interested in talking with us. These students are very motivated to have conversation, and many are very lonely.
Like this Ethiopian eunuch, many international students are delighted to have a friend.
God has prepared an open door! Will we be like the Jews of Jerusalem, or like Philip?
Sometimes God sovereignly sends us
He shows the way (v. 26) but expects us to take the initiative (v. 26-27a)
The third point is that God sometimes sovereignly sends us out, as God has been sending me out of Omaha. This was not a long term trip for Philip. It was short term missions – in fact, very short. And throughout the book of Acts you will find examples of all three kinds of missions – missions that is brought to you, short term missions and long term missions. God prepares the way by saying, "Arise and go," and Philip takes initiative – "So he arose and went."
As we step out in the obedience of faith, God gives continued guidance
Initial guidance is very incomplete (v. 26)
And it is in the going that God's further steps of guidance so frequently take place. I've already mentioned that the initial guidance of the Lord is very incomplete. I think there are two reasons for that: First, God wants us dependent upon the Word of God, which is sufficient for everything that we need in life. I went to a seminar this week that was a course on counseling and healing. And people will often come to this man and ask him for a word from the Lord. And he says, "I'll give you over 778,000 words – they are in the Bible. Why would God give you more words I you aren't listening what He has given?" Guidance is never given as a substitute for God's Bible. Instead, it gives us wisdom and specific information to help us apply the Bible. So He makes sure that when He gives us nudges and prompts by way of guidance, it is incomplete enough that we are never tempted to neglect His Word, which is totally sufficient. Second, this encourages our faith. In verse 26 the angels tells him where to go, but Philip has no idea what to expect when he gets there. He goes in faith, and when he gets there he observes. He looks around. Sometimes observation alone will make it clear what we ought to do.
By faith Philip goes (v. 27a)
The prior preparation of the Lord (v. 28)
Another aspect of guidance is that God had been sovereignly causing the eunuch to be open. And I want to comment on that more under our last point. But when Philip gets near, there is additional guidance that is given, this time not by an angel, but by the Spirit of God Himself.
Additional guidance in the situation (v. 29)
Verse 29. "Then the Spirit said to Philip, 'Go near and overtake this chariot.'" Notice again that the Spirit does't tell Philip why. He just gives Philip the bare minimum needed to steer him in the right direction. And this is very typical of God's guidance.
Immediate obedience ("Philip ran to him" v. 30)
Philip instantly obeys. "So Philip ran to him…" It is insensitivity to guidance that makes us miss all kinds of opportunities. You may feel prompted by the Lord to say something to someone, but by the time you have struggled with your fears, pride and doubts, the opportunity has passed you by. The chariot is off in the distance. Philip ran. We too need to be prompt to obey God's promptings.
Additional observation ("heard him reading")
And because he doesn't know why he is to go to the eunuch, he engages in additional observation to find any clues to what God wants. He wants us to use our head – to reason. It says, "and heard him reading the prophet Isaiah…" Ah! Now Philip knows that he has a divine appointment for evangelism. He didn't need further guidance. He sees opportunity written all over this. And we shouldn't be seeking for further guidance when it is obvious what we should do.
Bold inquiry (v. 30)
So verse 30 continues by saying, "and said, "Do you understand what you are reading?" He's just trying to engage him in conversation. In those days people didn't tend to read silently. In fact, the first example of silent reading in the West is Ambrose in the fourth century, who totally surprised Augustine by reading silently and very quickly. Augustine implies that he had never seen people read silently before. So, when the eunuch is reading out loud, it gave opportunity for Philip to engage him. This is a step that requires us to get out of our comfort zone. But notice that he isn't rude. He doesn't say, "Do you want to talk about salvation?" He simply starts where the eunuch is at.
A heart that is friendly and open (v. 31)
And Philip immediately finds a heart that is open, friendly and willing to talk. Verse 31. "And he said, "How can I, unless someone guides me?" And he asked Philip to come up and sit with him." Talk about effortless. What amazing preparation God has done!! This too is a form of guidance. God has so burdened the heart of the eunuch that he went out and bought a Scripture. In those days, scrolls were laboriously hand copied, which made a Bible very expensive. So this shows motivation on his part.
A context that is perfect for discussion (vv. 32-33)
But what is even more remarkable is that he is reading in a section of Isaiah that deals with Jesus, with Gentile conversions and even with eunuchs. Eunuchs were not treated well in the temple; they could not have citizenship or leadership in the Jewish church. And just as a side note, there was a reason for this. The reason is that eunuchs had no motivation to be future oriented. They had no future on earth because they had no children. That's why eunuchs could not be priests in the Old Testament. Yet here was a passage that prophesied about Messiah dying and making a new people from every tribe and nation and welcoming eunuchs into his temple. How could Philip not jump on this opportunity?
A question for help (v. 34)
Notice that Philip was a member of the spiritual AARP. These are the people who are
In your outlines I have written an acrostic someone gave to me that shows how we can be like Philip. They said that he belonged to the spiritual AARP. The first A is accessible. He was not dull of hearing, but was listening to God. He was not wrapped up with the three B's that drive the tyranny of the urgent with many pastors. They are driven with baptisms, buildings and budgets. It's all a numbers game. But if Philip was simply into numbers, he would have stayed in Samaria. That was the place that was hopping.
The second A was that he was available. He wasn't too busy to change his schedule. He wasn't too racist to minister to half-breeds like the Samaritans or Gentiles like this Ethiopian. He was ready and willing to go. He was available.
Thirdly, he was ready. It would have taken a bit of nerve to run up to the chariot when it was no doubt surrounded by Nubian body guards. "Lord, I can't go. Look at the size of those body guards. I'm a nobody to talk to a public official like this government official. I'm not even dressed right." That could have been his excuse. But he was ready.
Fourth, he was prompt. He ran. When God calls us to go, let's not be part of the retired AARP, but rather join Philip's spiritual AARP and Go. Accessible, Available, Ready and Prompt.
But always it is a sovereign gospel with a sovereign outcome
God sovereignly determined the message
Grounded in Scripture
But finally, God's Gospel is a sovereignly given Gospel with a sovereignly ordained outcome. Notice that Philip doesn't simply give his own testimony. He starts with the portion of Scripture that the eunuch had been reading in verses 32-33 and then verse 35 says, "Then Philip opened his mouth, and beginning at this Scripture, preached Jesus to him." Notice that Philip doesn't have the four spiritual laws or any other set program. He knows that any section of Scripture can be powerfully used by God. Notice too that he didn't need a New Testament to preach the Gospel. For that matter, not one book of the New Testament had been written yet. That gives a clue as to how wrong modern ministries are when they declare themselves to be New Testament ministries, or when they say that the Old Testament has law and the New Testament has grace. The Old Testament gives the Gospel because the Old Testament is centered in Jesus Christ.
Centered in Jesus Christ
God sovereignly prepared the eunuch to listen
God's sovereignty in the circumstances
Secondly, God sovereignly prepared the eunuch to listen. This can be seen in so many ways, but I think it is especially seen in the circumstances and the prepared heart.
What are the circumstaqnces? Philip had to be in the right place at the right time. The eunuch had to decide to abandon the more trafficked route and taken the lonely desert route for some reason. He had to have purchased the scroll, been reading in the right place, been in a frame of mind to not shoo Philip away as an interruption and a nuisance.The weather had to cooperate. The guards had to let him get near. And whether you are thinking of the woman at the well, Zacchaeus, Saul of Tarsus or others in this book, God is the one who prepares the way to bring helpless sinners to salvation. He is in control.
God's sovereignty in the inner man
He is even in control of their hearts. Actually, He has to be, or they wouldn't respond, right? Ephesians 2:1 says that those without Christ are dead in their sins. A dead corpse can't make the first move. It can't understand, exercise faith or doing anything spiritually. He's dead. Dead people don't do anything. 1 Corinthians 2:14 says, "But the natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned." Jesus said, "No man can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him." And so God has to be sovereign even on the inner man to draw a person to Himself. What did God do to Lydia? It says, "The Lord opened her heart to heed the things spoken by Paul." In other places it says that God circumcises the heart or gives us a new heart that will listen. Why? The Bible describes the heart as being "desperately wicked" (Jer. 17:9), being born in sin (Ps. 51:5) unto every good work reprobate" (Titus 1:16), the very best of our actions being considered as filthy rags (Isaiah 64:60), our natures being such that we "cannot please God" (Rom. 8:8). It's an amazing thing that anyone can believe, and yet God is sovereign over the heart. "The heart of the king is in the hand of the Lord; like channels of water He turns it wherever He wants." And so the 18th century preacher, Samuel Davies, said, "The success of the ministry of the gospel with respect to saints and sinners, entirely depends upon the concurring influences of divine grace;...without the divine agency to render the gospel successful, all the labours of its ministers will be in vain" [Sermons of the Rev. Samuel Davies, vol. III, 13]. I can preach my heart out to you and if God's sovereign grace is not at work in your inner man, the Scripture message will go in one ear and out the other.
God sovereignly prepared the response
He believes the message of Isaiah concerning God's sovereign grace to every race (cf. Isaiah 52:7-56:8)
A promise given to Gentiles (Is. 52:10,15; 54:3; 55:5; 56:3,6)
And so let's look at the threefold response of this eunuch, and glorify God at how wondrously He orchestrated it all. First, the eunuch blieves the message of Isaiah concerning God's sovereign grace to every race. If you read through the section that the eunuch was reading from, you will see that God promised grace to the Gentiles over and over again. And how it must have brought tears to his eyes to realize tht it wasn't just Jews that God was interested in. He loved Gentiles. I won't read all the examples given in your outline, but let me just read the first one: "The LORD has made bare His holy arm in the eyes of all the nations; and all the ends of the earth shall see the salvation of our God." What a great promise of God's sovereign grace to every race once Messiah comes.
A promise given to eunuchs (Is. 56:3-4)
But the second encouraging thing that this Ethiopian would have received with gladness is that this Messiah would receive eunuchs into the closest relationship with Him. What an astonishing promise this must have been. Isaiah 56:3-4 says, "Do not let the son of the foreigner who has joined himself to the LORD speak, saying, 'The LORD has utterly separarted me from His people"; nor let the eunuch say, ‘Here I am, a dry tree.'" [That's exactly what the Ethiopian eunuch must have been thinking.] "For thus says the LORD: to the eunuchs who keep My Sabbaths, and choose what pleases Me, and hold fast MY covenant, even to them I will give in My house and within My walls a place and a name better than that of sons and daughters." He had been excluded from God's house in Israel, but here was a promise that he as a foreign eunuch could be within God's house and have a name better than that of sons and daughters. Incredible providence.
A promise given to sinners (Is. 53:5-12)
And throughout this section he would hear God's promises given to sinners. About Messiah Isaiah 53 said:
He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities; the chastisement of our peace was upon Him, and by His stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one, to his own way; and the LORD has laid upon Him the iniquity of us all.
You keep reading and you realize that the Gospel in all of its richness and fullness was providentially before this eunuch.
He obeys the message of Isaiah to be baptized (cf. Isaiah 52:15)
Now that he believes, he obeys the message of Isaiah to be baptized. Philip is just preaching Isaiah. Seven verses before the ones listed in our passage, Isaiah says about the coming Messiah, "So shall He sprinkle many nations…" The eunuch was not bringing up something unrelated to Isaiah when he asked for baptism. Philip had been instructing him on what it meant for Messiah to sprinkle many nations. And he wanted in. Notice that both Philip and the eunuch go into the water and both come out. That is not talking about dipping. It's talking about entering far enough into the water to keep from getting mud on the head. He obeyed Isaiah's message of baptizing the nations.
He rejoices and takes this message to the mountains of Ethiopia (cf. Is. 52:7,10,15; 54:3; 55:5; 56:7)
And finally, he rejoices and takes this message to the mountains of Ethiopia. The passage in Isaiah says, "How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him who brings good news, who proclaims peace, who brings glad tidings of good things, who proclaims salvation, who says to Zion, Your God reigns." What a great summary of God's sovereign grace to every race. "who proclaims salvation, who says to Zion, Your God reigns." Isaiah goes on to say, "For you shall expand to the right and to the left, and your descendants will inherit the nations…" This iis not a message of things getting worse and worse between the first coming and the second coming. This is a message of the invincible advancement of the kingdom into every nation. And the eunuch obeys the words of these passages and takes the gospel to the mountains of Ethiopia. He wasn't a preacher or even a deacon. All he was was a layman. Yet, he too had the responsibility to spread the good news. He converted the Queen mother Candace. In Ethiopia the king was considered the child of the sun, and it was beneath his dignity to rule. That was left up to the queen mother who had the dynastic name of Candace, which would be like the title Pharoah. Yet even this god-king of Ethiopia abandoned his pretensions to godhood and submitted to the sovereignty of God and received his salvation. It is amazing the difference that one person can make.
Will you play your part in bringing God's sovereign grace to every race? Perhaps your only role will be to host a student. And maybe that student will not even embrace Christ as Lord and Savior while in your home. But your role might be to plant the seed, to give a good taste about Christianity in the mouth of that student, and some other person will do the work of conversion. But think of the joy it would bring if you knew you had a part in his or her salvation. Think of the part you could play if such a student becomes the leader of their country, and introduces Christ to their whole country. I urge you to do what you can to bring sovereign grace to every race. Amen.