Our Stories: The Ethiopian (Part 1)

Listen:

Hudson Taylor was the great missionary to China in the 19th century.  Before going to China his desire for saving the souls of men showed in his evangelism at home (Read God’s Man in China pages 49-50)

Hudson Taylor was of the same breed as another evangelist:  Philip the Evangelist.  Read Acts 8:26-39.

This episode in Acts shows us how one man seeking God is divinely intersected with another man seeking God’s will.  This episode also shows us that the reason we earnestly love men’s souls and seek to save them with the Gospel is because that is God’s heart.  He, with divine love and earnestness seeks the souls of men and is as one old author put it:  “The hound from heaven.  And so, in this story of Philip and the Ethiopian we see how God uses men to catch other men (“I will make you fishers of men” -Matthew 4:19).  We need to take a missionary mindset right here in West Michigan.  So, who has God positioned you near so you can share the Good News with them?

 

#1:  Positioned by God (26)

Notice first how Philip is Positioned by God, Acts 8:26, “Now an angel of the Lord said to Philip, ‘Go south to the road – the desert road – that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.’”

Philip is none other than Philip the Evangelist (Acts 21:8) the bold proclaimer of the Gospel.  Highly respected, he was one of the 7 chosen to administer the food to the Christian widows (Acts 6:5; 21:8).  He had 4 unmarried daughters who prophesied (Acts 21:9).  Although not one of the 12 Primary Apostles, he was an apostle nonetheless able to do great miracles, signs and wonders (Acts 8:6-7, 13; 2 Cor. 12:12).  

It is interesting that Philip was chosen rather than any of the 12 Primary Apostles.  There seems to be a division of labor among the Apostles in relation to the different people groups.  The 12 Primary Apostles seem to have been concentrated on the Jews in Jerusalem.  The other non-primary Apostles – like Philip – seem to have been sent to quasi-Jews, like the Samaritans and Gentiles who converted to Judaism.  Then the pagan Gentile world that had no affiliation with Judaism seemed to be in the hands of the Apostle Paul and his teams.  So this might explain why Philip, a non-primary Apostle, was dispatched by the Lord to a Gentile worshipper of God.

Philip was a man whom the Lord chose to use all over the map.  First, he was in Jerusalem spreading the Gospel until persecution drove him north into Samaria (1, 4-5).  When he arrived in Samaria he started spreading the Gospel there too.  Then the Lord told him to go south to the desert road (26).  Philip didn’t know why, but, he went.  Once there the Spirit instructed him to go up to the Ethiopian riding in a chariot (29).  Finally the chapter ends with the Spirit whisking Philip away to Azotus where he preached even more (39-40).  

Wherever the Lord had him, Philip went about doing the same thing:  spreading the Gospel.  Different places, same message.  Different contexts, same Commission.  

A lesson evident for us:  it doesn’t matter where we are because wherever we are we are supposed to be doing the same thing:  faithfully serving the Lord.  We don’t need special circumstances to do that – more money or talent, different job, location, home life.  Paul did it while in prison.  It’s not our inadequacies or insufficiencies or lack that matters.  The only lack that matters is faith:  We need to put our faith in the all-sufficient, all-powerful God who can use anyone submitted to Him and who is after His own heart.

Notice too that when the Lord says “Go!” Philip obeyed immediately.  How often do we see the Lord say “Go!”  The Great Commission “Go and make disciples…”.  The woman caught in adultery, “Go now and leave your life of sin.”  The woman who worshipped at His feet, “Go in peace”.  The Christian life is a “Get Going” life where we go bring the Gospel to others.  We need a Christian-kind of Pedicure:  Romans 10:15 says, “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!”  Read Romans 10:12-15.

This is a story of how God uses men to catch other men.  Christianity is about us starting out as fish only to be caught and then reused as bait for others.

 

Application #1:  Do I realize God has me right where He wants me – and am I ready to get going for Him right here?  Who has the Lord placed you near so that you can extend the Gospel to them?  Acts 17:26 says, “And God determined the times set for everyone and the exact places they should live.”  Sometimes God providentially uses circumstances to place us where He wants us – even bad circumstances.  Philip I’m sure didn’t want persecution to happen in Jerusalem but it moved him to another place where the Lord used him greatly.  

Other times we know the Lord is clearly directing us and we can be as certain as Philip the Lord is telling us to do something.  It may go against all human reasoning.  Philip could have argued with the Lord and said, “Why should I leave Samaria when the church is seeing such huge growth to go to the empty desert?  What could possibly be more fruitful there?”  Whether by circumstances or personal direction we need to trust the Lord when He tells us to”Go!”

Application #2:  We need to meet people where they are at.  Philip went to the Ethiopian.  Philip hopped up into his chariot and journeyed with him on the road he was on.  Saul was on the road to Damascus when he was saved.  The two disciples were on the road to Emmaus when they met Jesus.  This Ethiopian was on the road to Gaza when salvation came to him.  What road are you on?  Are you on someone’s road with them?

 

#2:  Profile of a Proselyte (27-34)

Secondly we see the Profile of a Proselyte in verses 27-34, Read.

Who is this Ethiopian?

First, we see his Race.  He is, obviously, an Ethiopian.  Not modern day Ethiopia, but, ancient Nubia which is the land of modern day Sudan, south of Egypt.   The kingdom of Ethiopia was ruled by Candace, which was not a name, but, a title to whatever woman was queen (like Pharaoh or Caesar).  Particularly interesting is the Ethiopians believed their kings were offspring of the sun and that the governing of the kingdom was beneath their dignity.  That responsibility – and power – was left to the queen-mother, who bore the title “Candace”.  The Ethiopian learned from Philip who the true Son was and brought that good news home with him.

Second,  we see his Responsibility.  Verse 27 says, “…[Philip] met an Ethiopian eunuch, an important official in charge of all the treasury of Candace, queen of the Ethiopians….”  A lot is revealed in this verse about the Responsibility of the Ethiopian.  He is not just a government official, but, an “important government official”.  Why is he important?  Because he oversees the entire treasury of the queen.  Translation:  He is the CFO, the Chief Financial Officer of the whole kingdom.  Let me interject an important point worth writing down:  God loves money guys – guys in accounting and finance.  Matthew was an accountant, Zacheus too, and here the Ethiopian.  He is also a eunuch.  It was common practice that eunuchs would be in charge of the royal harems and finances.  Apparently they were the only ones who could be trusted with the women and the wallet of the kingdom.  This Ethiopian was part of the upper crust of Ethiopian society, having great political power and prestige.  

 

Application:  The Gospel is not just for outcasts, but, it is also for the rich and powerful.  Everyone needs salvation.  Philip was not intimidated by this man’s power and wealth because Philip had something this man needed.  What Philip had for him couldn’t be bought or gained by money or status.  Do you know – do you really know – that you have what they need?

 

Thirdly, we see the Eunuchs Religion.  Verse 27b-28, “This man had gone to Jerusalem to worship, and on his way home was sitting in his chariot reading the book of Isaiah the prophet.”  

 

First, we can see this Ethiopian’s religion meant he was a man of Worship.  Worship was a priority – so much so that he travelled through two countries in order to go and worship God.  How sad people can’t even get up and travel across town today to go to church.  Church today happens on Saturday nights, Sunday mornings, Sunday nights, and if you miss those they are livestreamed and recorded.  How often worshipping God is sacrificed for other things today.  What do you sacrifice church on Sundays for?  Is it worth it to forfeit worshipping God, hearing His Word preached, fellowship with others who are in the faith?  What should you be sacrificing to come and worship God with the people of God?  

Being a eunuch he would not have been allowed to become a full proselyte of Judaism because of the Mosaic Law (Duet. 23:1).  Instead he would have been what was known as a “God-fearer”.  He could go to the Temple and visit, make his offerings, walk in the court of the Gentiles, converse with rabbis, talk to priests and Levites and probably have access to high level leaders like Annas and Ciaphas as a high ranking foreign diplomat.  

But even with that much involvement, I assume the Ethiopian still must have felt a sense of being on the outside as a eunuch.  Psychologically, the effect of being denied full status as a convert may have left him always with a desire to be nearer to God and have full acceptance.  How glorious then to hear the good news from Philip and learn that in Christ he would be fully accepted by God, given full access to God through Christ.  What he sought in the Jewish religion but was denied he possessed through the Gospel.

Application:  Do we realize we are accepted fully by God when we come to Him through His Son?

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