A Healthy Church is Led by the Spirit with a Gospel for All People (Acts 8:26-40)
A pastor friend of mine said this week, “If the gospel in our churches is not a movement then it will become a monument.” A lot of churches have become monuments where it becomes a “come and see us” church. But as we have been studying Acts since January in our series called “Healthy Church,” we are seeing that God is more interested in a church is that “Go and make.” God doesn’t just send churches on mission, but He is already on mission and invites us to join Him!
Sometimes we can look at the task and be overwhelmed. It seems like entire groups are turning to the Lord in Acts, but today I love this story as we are going to see that God loves reaching individuals just as reaching the masses. How does this happen? First of all:
I. The Spirit of God directs the mission of the church (vv.26, 29, 39).
Phillip, the deacon, was pushed out of Jerusalem through persecution. Through he was pushed out, God actually had His hand on Phillip. Nothing is wasted. God uses pain for His purposes. Look at the cross. He ends up in Samaria with the hated Samaritans—the mixed breed of half-Jews and half-Gentiles. Acts 1:8 is slowly happening, but how is it happening?
Are they primarily getting together and coming up with a strategy to go to these places? No, it is led by the sovereignty and the Spirit of God. Look at vv.26, 29, and 39. I am not against plans, strategies or methods. I think God can use them. However, sometimes we can lean on them a little too much. EM Bounds says,
“Men are God’s method. The church is looking for better methods; God is looking for better men. What the Church needs today is not more machinery or better, not new organizations or more and novel methods, but men whom the Holy Spirit can use; men of prayer, men mighty in prayer. The Holy Spirit does not flow through methods, but through men. He does not come on machinery, but on men. He does not anoint plans, but men, men of prayer.”
Notice Philip is enjoying great ministry here in Samaria when an angel shows up and tells him to go where? The road that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza is about 60 miles of desert road. This is the road that leads to Africa. And there are two possible roads to take to Gaza: the popular route and less seldom used road.  Guess which one this is? Yes, the seldom-used road! You want me to go where? Preach to the lizards and scorpions? It doesn’t make sense to leave a fruitful ministry, especially when the ministry was at its height. As Pastor Kent Hughes adds, “Have I not proved myself worthy of a broader ministry? I have been faithful in the small things—I even waited on the widows. And now the desert? Lord…!”
Take note here: Being led by the Spirit is not always the most sensible way in our eyes. Let’s be ready to serve anywhere and at anytime. Let’s not think we know what ministry should look like because we did it for a while. If the Lord gives you a congregation or 1,000 or of one, let’s serve the Lord. When I got hired here, people said, “It’s too far. No one’s gonna come.” Others said, “It’s too connected to the first congregation. No one’s gonna come.” Others said, “It’s too small. No one’s gonna come.” And there were Jenny and I were like, “What are we doing here?” God’s ways are not our ways!
Notice God doesn’t tell him what is on the desert road until Philip gets there. God never gives us the whole story of our lives. We need to obey Him one step at a time. We all want the blueprint. God says, “I will give you something better. My presence. Is that enough?” We live by His promises, not by explanations.
Also, note this as well: being led by the Spirit is not always the most efficient way in our eyes. This mission is out of control—of the disciples’ hands. This is all God here. Pastor Stephen Cole says, “This Ethiopian had just made a 1,000-mile journey to Jerusalem. After making this long journey, and considering that he probably stayed in Jerusalem for a period of time, why didn’t the Lord direct one of the apostles in Jerusalem to share the gospel with him there? He could have led the man to Christ and given him a crash course in discipleship before he left. Meanwhile, Philip could have continued his fruitful ministry in Samaria. Later, Philip settles in Caesarea, where a centurion needed to hear the gospel. But rather than send Philip, who was there, God sent Peter, who was not there (chapter 10)!”
This is encouraging to me that it is the Spirit of God who must lead us into mission. Sometimes we put the pressure on us that we have to save people. We cannot save anyone. We must simply obey and be available when He moves. The Holy Spirit does not flow through methods, but through men and women who are listening to Him, but that will not always be sensible to us or efficient, but He likes to do things where He alone gets the glory!
The man who brought my family and myself to Christ in New York was visiting from India to help his daughter who had just given birth. It was around the same time a group of people, mostly unbelievers, from the church we were attending, decided to pray to get to know God more. God brought this missionary from India to New York not just to help to take care of a new grandchild, but to be part of the new births of about three to four families. Later we find out that he was my late grandfather’s first cousin. What are the chances? God brings a man thousands of miles from India to bring the Good News to some lost people in New York. Only God can script a story like that! The Spirit of God is already on a mission. We must join Him!
Are you joining the mission of the Spirit of God in your workplace? In your families? Where you live? Where is He moving? Are we even listening? Are we open to the crazy and insensible ways He might move?
II. The Spirit of God destroys the divisions of man (vv.27-30).
What an interesting person that Philip is brought to. By the way, it would not have been one chariot, but a caravan because of this man’s position. Let’s break it down. First, he’s an Ethiopian. In the Greco-Roman period, “Ethiopia” is referred to the land south of Egypt—what is today the Sudan and modern Ethiopia. …The term “Ethiopia” has come to mean the land of the “Burnt-Faced People,” indicating their black skin. This is a black African.
Secondly, he was a eunuch. We don’t know if he was literally a eunuch, meaning he was castrated or born without male parts. The word is often used to describe high court officials as well. But Luke says he was “a eunuch, a court official of…” No need to say that again unless he meant to say this was a literal eunuch who was also a court official. In the Ancient Near East, if you were not of the royal family but just a commoner with potential for leadership, you can get in and work your way up, but you would be castrated. Why? Because of the fear that you might have sexual relations with the women of the royal family since you will be working so closely with them. It was huge price to pay to get to the top. We don’t really know for sure if this was his story, but the possibility is there.
Thirdly, he is wealthy. He probably bought the Isaiah scroll because he could afford his personal copy, since it is uncommon for people to have that. and has a lot of power. He is also the CFO or the Secretary of the Treasury for the queen. Her name is not Candace, for it is just a title like Pharaoh or Caesar. This guy is at the top of his country or kingdom.
Look at how different the two people are. Philip is a middle class Jewish man. This eunuch was a black African from what the Jews would call from “the extreme limits of the civilized world.” As a result, he would be seen as a “barbarian.” So you have a Jewish middle class man who was originally hired to serve food to widows hanging out with a sexually altered barbaric black rich and powerful CFO of a kingdom. The Jewish men always woke up saying, “Thank you Lord that I was not born a woman, a slave or a Gentile.” It would be defiling to hang out with someone like this.
I wonder if the reason why God seems to direct Philip so specifically is because otherwise there would be no way he would do this on his own. Jewish men don’t hang out with black eunuchs. Look at v.29: “Go and join that chariot.” This means the chariot was moving and Philip is running alongside it and talking to him! This is humorous because it is so outside the box.
What does this teach us? As Pastor Tim Keller says, “The Spirit of God strongly desires that racial barriers between people to be triumphed.” You will see that throughout Acts. The Spirit forces Christians to break out of their comfort zones to embrace people of different races, different cultures and different geographical places. It grieves God when Christians avoid, ignore or look down people of other races.
Where do we get our identity from? Before salvation, we get it from something we do (what’s your name, what do you do?—, especially in Western cultures), or something we have better than other people that we can be proud of. We feel good about ourselves because we have accomplished something better than other people or we pride ourselves in our culture, our race or our status. But when the Gospel comes, it comes apart from who you are or your accomplishments. You are not saved because of anything you did or are. You are saved purely by grace! But when we don’t understand the gospel, we make our racial identity first. Or our work identity first. Or our status first.
But because we are all saved the same way, we are not better than anyone else. Look at the Spirit of God running after a black sexually altered male and using a middle-class Jewish man to bring him to Christ! What does this mean? If it is the Spirit of God who strongly desires that man-made barriers be broken down, then wouldn’t it make sense that when we want to stay with people who are most like us (whether by race or personality preferences or economic standing or looks or whatever), that we are resisting the Spirit of God? The Spirit of God is always moving away from racial pride and if we are not consciously and deliberately using the Gospel to go against the natural movement of our heart to stay and hang out with people we are comfortable with or to stereotype or make offhanded jokes and insults that puts another culture down, we are going against what the Spirit wants.
Do you remember in Genesis 9, after the Flood, Noah’s three sons, Shem Ham and Japheth are given prophecies. They represent the entire earth. We had one race back then. Out of Shem come the Jews and Arabs. Out of Ham, the Asians and Africans and out of Japheth the European Gentiles. Do you see what is going on in Acts? A Ethiopian eunuch, from the line of Ham, gets saved in Acts 8. In Acts 9, a Jewish Pharisee, from the line of Shem, gets saved. In Acts 10, a Roman Gentile gets saved, from the line of Japheth. Point: The Gospel is for the whole world and the Gospel does not belong to one culture more than another!
Sometimes people will say, “Don’t preach that person. You will destroy his culture.” What is the assumption behind that? The assumption is that Christianity is a product of Western Culture. That’s what most people think, that every culture in order to survive creates a religion. Look at this map here. 96% of Muslims live in the Middle East, North Africa or Southeast Asia. 88% of Buddhists are from SE Asia. 98% of Hindus are in South Asia. But look at Christianity. 25% in Latin America. 24% in Africa. 15% Asia 12% North America 20% Europe. It is so culturally diverse like no other religion. Do you know?
Since 1970, the church grew:
1. 127 million to 343 mill in Africa (2x)
2. 261 million to 470 mill in Latin America (2x)
3. 94 million to 301 mill in Asia (3x)
Korea went from 0% Christian to 40 /50% in a 100 year span. Africa went from 9% to 50% in a 100 years and the same thing is happening in China. Whose religion is Christianity? It is for everyone! There was Christianity in India before the Apostle Paul went on his missionary journeys.
The Gospel does not belong to one culture more than another. Isn’t it amazing that the first time people are preaching the gospel after the Ascension that is in every language at once? What is God saying? No language or culture has precedence in the Christian faith. Christianity comes into every culture and renews the culture while respecting that culture. It doesn’t get rid of the culture, but demotes it as being one’s primary identity. So you are not an African who happens to be a Christian, for example. You are a Christian, who happens to be African. God refuses to let one culture to take precedence over another.
Lamin Sanneh, an African Yale professor, talking about the Gospel going to Africa said, “Christianity helped Africans to be renewed Africans not remade Europeans.” An Indian Evangelist named Mr. Murthi once said to missionaries coming to India with the Gospel, “Do not bring us the Gospel as a potted plant. Bring us the seed of the Gospel and plant it in our soil.” Sometimes the West has made mistakes in this regard, though now I think now Indian churches are bringing potted plants from India to America and not planting it in American soil.
As we move forward as a church Living Hope, I do not want to grieve the Spirit of God. Please don’t grieve Him when you let your personality, your comfort, your personal preferences keep you from going over and sitting down with a person of a different race. Go against the gravity of your heart. Do you have the right to talk whoever you want? Absolutely. Give up that right by the Gospel. Next week, we will be sitting in a service where people will worship the Lord differently than us. There might be weird graphics, long choir songs, and different language uttered. What is going on in your heart then? We do church the right way? Christianity belongs to us? Let’s humbly worship together, knowing and thanking God for bringing the Gospel to Taiwan and keeping the Gospel at this church.
III. The Spirit of God uses the Word of God to drive the lost to the Son of God (vv. 31-40).
So Christianity is remade in every culture and it may look different, but at the same time, a Christianity without Christ and Him crucified is not proclaimed is not Christianity. It may be Churchianity. Philip doesn’t tell the eunuch that the Bible is whatever it means to him. This eunuch is a God-fearing Gentile, and a convert to Judaism. Some say it was through the influence of the Queen of Sheba when she came to visit Solomon.
So here is a man who possibly gave up the idea of a family to get power and status and wealth. But why would a man like that take a 1,000 mile journey to leave his culture, take a break from his job to travel to Jerusalem to worship? I think he was enormously empty. There is a hole so big in his heart that all the power, success and money and status cannot fill it. So he’s searching and hoping that there would be something in Jerusalem for him.
But there’s a problem. He is doubly excluded. First of all he is a convert to Judaism, but he’s African Gentile, so at most, he can get to the outer courts. Second, he is a eunuch and Jewish law strictly forbids eunuchs from entering in (Deut. 23:1). You were called unclean. You were excluded. There were lots of rules about who can get in and who cannot. Why? It was there to bring across an idea that God is holy and you could not just enter in without being cleansed.
So he went to all this trouble just to be left on the outside and excluded. I wonder if he is disappointed. On his way home is he reading Isaiah. By the way, they read everything out loud in those days. We don’t know for sure, but he could have read Is. 56:3-5: “…Let not the eunuch say, ‘Behold I am a dry tree. For thus says the Lord…I will give [them] a name better than sons and daughters..” Wait? The eunuch must have scratched his head, “I don’t know how to get a name unless you have sons and daughters. What in the world! A name better than that? That will never be cut off?” A salvation that goes beyond power and success and family?
And he is puzzling over this strange figure in the middle of this book of Isaiah. This person is a sufferer. He is someone who is voluntarily being led like a sheep to the slaughter. He suffers humiliation. And the Ethiopian eunuch says, “There is someone who knows what it is like to be excluded? Someone who was cut off from the land of the living?” In other words, someone who voluntarily became like a eunuch? Who voluntarily takes injustice? He’s doing everything I’m experiencing, but He’s doing this as a substitute. Just as he’s saying, “Who is this?” And then Philip comes along just at the right time: “Do you understand what you’re reading?” What a perfect opportunity! He is at the right place at the right time. Wouldn’t it be cool if you get on the plane, find your seat, and the person is reading John 3:16 and as soon as you sit down says, “What does this verse mean?”
“Is the prophet talking about himself or someone else,” He asks. Philip replies, “Oh yes, he is talking about someone very, very, very else!” And Philip brings him to Jesus. This has to be our mission. We can help the poor. We can grow in racial reconciliation. We can serve the community. But in the end, we have to bring everyone Christians and non-Christians, to Jesus. This is the goal of every Bible study, discipleship meeting, prayer meeting, servant team meeting, worship team meeting, care team meeting, children’s ministry, etc. It is Jesus. A Jesus for Ethiopian eunuchs. A Jesus for Muslims, Jews, Hindus and Buddhists. A Jesus for all regardless of gender, sexual orientation, past history, economic class, religion, race, political party, etc. A Gospel for all!
Yes, Mr. Ethiopian Eunuch, meet Jesus. The Shepherd who became a lamb who was slain for His sheep. Jesus became a leper for the lepers and a eunuch for eunuchs. In other words, Jesus Christ was excluded for our sin. The Mosaic Law was pointing to this spiritual truth that we are all excluded from the presence of God. We are all eunuchs due to our sins; we have not loved the Lord with our heart, soul, mind and strength. We have not loved our neighbor as ourselves. Nobody can go in. We all deserve to be excluded from God and lost. You and I, Mr. Ethiopian Eunuch, are the same.
But the Gospel says that Jesus was excluded on the cross. He said, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” HE experienced God-forsakenness on the cross, what we deserve. He was excluded, so we can be brought in. He was made unclean, so we can be cleansed. He was cut off, so you can have His everlasting name.
When you realize we are all saved by grace, by nothing we did, how can we feel superior to anybody? Not race, not personality type, not economic class, not job situation, not marital status, etc. We are all saved by another blood and given another righteousness. All the vain things that charms us most, we sacrifice them to His blood.
http://christian-quotes.ochristian.com/E.M.-Bounds-Quotes/page-4.shtml accessed 2 May 2013.
Kistemaker, S. J., & Hendriksen, W. (1953-2001). Vol. 17: Exposition of the Acts of the Apostles. New Testament Commentary (311). Grand Rapids: Baker Book House.
Hughes, R. K. (1996). Acts: The Church Afire. Preaching the Word (119). Wheaton, IL:
Cole, S. “How God Evangelizes the World,” http://www.fcfonline.org/content/1/sermons/030401m.pdf accessed 2 May 2013.
Arnold, C. E. (2002). Zondervan Illustrated Bible Backgrounds Commentary Volume 2: John, Acts. (285). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.
Polhill, J. B. (1995). Vol. 26: Acts. The New American Commentary (223). Nashville:
Broadman & Holman Publishers.
As quoted in http://www.theafricareport.com/News-Analysis/the-phenomenal-rise-of-christians-in-africa.html accessed 3 May 2013.
Sanneh, L. (2003). Whose Religion is Christianity? The Gospel Beyond the West (43). Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans.
As quoted in http://www.sim.org/index.php/content/childrens-ministry-cross-culturally-potted-plant-or-seed accessed 3 May 2013.