Pastor Edward Brouwer “QUESTIONS” Acts 8:26-39
Philip and the Ethiopian Eunuch October 8 2017
Introduction—do you have questions about faith? Is it safe to ask those questions? How many of you have refrained from asking questions because you didn’t want to appear dumb or out of fear that someone would embarrass you? Many of you are familiar with the books of the author Dan Brown. Several years ago The Da Vinci Code came out as a book and then a blockbuster movie, translated into many languages. It’s story is sensational because it seeks to upend the “real truth” about Jesus. People are fascinated with this stuff. I watched a recent interview with Dan Brown. It turns out he was raised Episcopalian and he had a lot of questions about the Bible. At one point as a teenager he went to his priest and asked a question–and the response was “good boys don’t ask these hard questions”. Literally from that moment Dan Brown abandoned the idea that the Bible, indeed the Christian faith had truth to offer. At the end of the interview he spoke of a time in the future when religion would be abandoned for a more enlightened view of life. I find this tremendously sad. Any faith leader, whether a parent, SS teacher, youth worker or pastor who seeks to suppress honest questions is doing great harm. In the passage we look at today I have many questions, perhaps you do as well. Philip has questions and so does the person he talks to. God invites us to ask! Ask and it shall be given unto you, seek and you shall find, knock and the door shall be opened unto you Jesus said in Matthew 7:7.
Read Acts 8:26-39
We pick up the story where Philip the Evangelist has been preaching in Samaria. Christians have fled Jerusalem because of intense persecution, with Saul hauling families out of their homes and throwing them in jail simply for professing faith in Christ. When Jesus said, “you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and Judea and Samaria and to the ends of the earth, (Acts 1:8) the Lord used the means of this persecution to accomplish the advancement of the gospel.” Application: when something “bad” happens, train you heart to ask some great questions like “Lord what are you doing here? How are you turning this to good for your glory?” This is a question that poises us for engagement. How was Philip engaged?
Engage by listening to the Lord—in this text we read about an angel telling Philip to prepare for engagement in evangelism. I don’t know how, but Philip heard from an angel to go and do something. The Bible is full of stories of messengers, (which is what an angel is), who supernaturally tells something. For example, Michael announces to Daniel that his prayers are heard (Daniel 10). Mary is told by Gabriel that she will bear a son. An angel leads Peter out of prison. Maybe it was a vision of an angel (in a dream an angel tells Joseph to flee Bethlehem Matthew 2:13). These are extraordinary stories and most of us likely have never had an angelic visitation. But throughout this short story we see Philip engaging by listening—the Angel tells him to go to a certain place (the road to gaza) at a certain time (noon). When he goes, Philip sees a chariot. The Spirit tells him to come up alongside the carriage that he sees on the road. Philip puts himself in a place where he is prepared to engage someone for the gospel. Philip hears someone in the chariot reading out loud a portion of the Scriptures. And Philip immediately recognizes the reading portion. He addresses the reader and asks the first question “Do you understand what you are reading?”. This sets up the entire exchange. Application: how are you “listening” to the voice of the Lord in such a way that you are prepared to share the gospel? Are you engaged? I have a riding mower at home. It’s happened to me at least once that I have started cutting the grass, but realized I had not engaged the blades. The work of evangelism involves active engagement. Listening first. Obedience second. Conversation third.
Engage by listening to the questions—Philip poses a question and the Eunuch poses his own question. How can I understand because I have no one to explain this to me? Immediately Philip must think to himself—well I can because I know this text and its true meaning BUT Philip allows the Ethiopian to pose a second question (that’s what good listening is all about)…is the author talking about himself or someone else? I think this second question is crucial. Why did he ask it? It’s honest and genuine but it shows a perception of truth seeking that is personal. Remember that this person has come from Jerusalem where he has gone to worship God. Luke reveals information about his specific situation. A high official in the court of the Queen of Ethiopia (present day Sudan) but he’s also a eunuch, emasculated either at birth or before puberty (like the castrati in Europe in the 17th and 18th centuries). The text he is reading he personally identifies with—likely he himself was unjustly “cut off” from his inheritance and of his descendant who can speak? This is the remarkable nature of God’s holy Word. It is living and active, speaking to us in our situation. Have you ever read a Scripture and it came alive to you, which the Spirit used to apply to your circumstance—perhaps a promise or a warning?
Just for a moment let’s think about this person—according to the Law in Deuteronomy 23:1 such a eunuch was barred from the assembly of God’s people. This eunuch had a heart for God, but according to the Law he was disqualified on at least two counts—as a eunuch and a gentile. And don’t you think this person must have struggled with his sexual identity? Am I a man? What am I? More questions. Today in our culture people are struggling to understand their identity. Many of you have friends or family or co-workers in the LGBTQ community. Are you engaging them by listening to their stories or are you judging them? Do you have a heart of compassion? Or are you someone who thinks God will save anyone He wants and he does not need to use me? Really? Romans 10:14,17 How will they know unless they have heard—faith comes through hearing the Word of Christ.
And this is precisely where the radical nature of the gospel speaks into the heart, and breaks every chain, removes every barrier and through Jesus Christ we are invited, everyone, into relationship with God. Jesus is our peace who has broken down every wall (Ephesians 2:14). It is in Christ that we find our true identity as beloved children of the Father. This scroll that the Ethiopian has in his hand, just a few verses (Is. 56:1 ff) ahead speaks of a time when the Messiah would come and proclaim good news to the foreigner and the eunuch. Listen to these words:
“Keep justice, and do righteousness,
for soon my salvation will come,
and my righteousness be revealed.
2 Blessed is the man who does this,
and the son of man who holds it fast,
who keeps the Sabbath, not profaning it,
and keeps his hand from doing any evil.”
3 Let not the foreigner who has joined himself to the Lord say,
“The Lord will surely separate me from his people”;
and let not the eunuch say,
“Behold, I am a dry tree.”
4 For thus says the Lord:
“To the eunuchs who keep my Sabbaths,
who choose the things that please me
and hold fast my covenant,
5 I will give in my house and within my walls
a monument and a name
better than sons and daughters;
I will give them an everlasting name
that shall not be cut off.
And all of this would be accomplished in the coming of Jesus. This conversation led to Philip’s opportunity to share Christ: he described how Jesus was the Suffering Servant, the One upon whom all our sins was laid, the perfect savior by whose stripes we are healed and how to enter into relationship with this redeemer!
This Eunuch invited Philip to come up alongside of him and explain the truth about the Scripture. Are you ready to do that? 1Peter 3:15 Peter writes to us and says “be prepared at all times to share the hope that is within you, with gentleness and respect”. Are you prepared to get up alongside people who desperately need to hear the truth of Christ? And not just for a few hours as was the case here, but for a few days, a few weeks, a few months years or even decades?
Engage and Listen to the voice of the Spirit inside of you, engage His Word by studying it, and engage those around you by listening to the heart cry of the people God has placed in your life. Always be ready to share the hope you have in Christ.