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July 9, 2017

Sermon Acts 8:26-40  . . . “People to meet in heaven:  an Ethiopian eunuch”

“People to meet in heaven:  an Ethiopian eunuch”

Acts 8:26-40

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus.

Two years ago, back in October of 2015, author Robert Hutchinson wrote a book entitled, Searching for Jesus:  New Discoveries in the Quest for Jesus of Nazareth—and How They Confirm the Gospel Accounts.

This is what he said:  “What if a lot of what we have been told about the historical Jesus of Nazareth—many of the academic orthodoxies we’ve heard over the decades from university experts and media sources—turned out to be…false?

“What if Jesus was not a Zealot revolutionary…or a Greek Cynic philosopher…or a proto-feminist Gnostic…but precisely who He claimed to be—the divine Son of Man prophesied in the book of Daniel, who gave His life as a ransom for many?

“And what if some people in Jesus’ time and place knew precisely what that meant—and, contrary to what Christians have been told for the past two hundred years by scholars, were actually expecting a suffering and dying Messiah who would redeem the world?”

In other words, he said, what if everything the Gospels said about Jesus of Nazareth—His words and His works—actually turned out to be true?

So he wrote a book that details new discoveries in the search for Jesus--like the seven previously unknown New Testament manuscripts—one of which, from the gospel of Mark, that dates from the very first century…or the stone house, discovered in Nazareth in 2009, that refutes those who say Jesus never existed…or the recent excavations in Israel that prove a high priest named Caiaphas and an apostle named James existed after all.

As former atheist D. E. Winget, once wrote:  “If I were to deny Christ, I might as well argue that gravity didn’t exist, or that the earth was flat.  But Jesus did exist—and He still does.  To place my faith in Him used to seem like the dumbest thing I could do, but now I know the truth.  I would be a fool not to.”

In the book of Acts chapter 8, we meet a man who was also searching for Jesus—an Ethiopian eunuch, a court official, the chief treasurer of Candace, queen of the Ethiopians.  If you would, please turn in your Bible to page 1166 to follow along.

“Now an angel of the Lord said to Philip, ‘Rise and go toward the south to the road that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.’  This is a desert place.  And he rose and went.”

Let me stop there for a moment, to give you a little context.

These words take us to the very beginning of the early church.  Just as soon as Jesus died and rose again, He commanded His disciples to go and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

So off they went to preach, and teach, and heal, and to proclaim the good news of Jesus’ saving name.

Now here in Acts chapter 8, we meet a man named Philip.

But this wasn’t Philip the apostle, one of the twelve.  This was Philip the deacon, the evangelist.  He was a godly man, and a Spirit-filled man.  And by the grace and power of God, he not only preached the gospel, he healed the paralyzed, the demon possessed and the lame.  And because he did, as the Bible says, there was much joy.

That’s when an angel of the Lord came to him and said, in verse 26, “Rise and go toward the south to the road that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.”

So off he went as the angel said.

Now this.  Verse 27:  “And there was an Ethiopian, a eunuch, a court official of Candace, queen of the Ethiopians, who was in charge of all her treasure.  He had come to Jerusalem to worship…”

An Ethiopian, it said.  Where’s Ethiopia? 

Today, it’s a relatively small country that lies on the eastern edge of Africa, about the size of our Midwest.  But in Bible times, it was much larger than that.  Historians guess it might have included everything south of Egypt—and that’s a lot of land!  Even more, it was a land known for its vast reserves of gold and iron and precious gems.

And, the Bible says, he was a eunuch.  What’s a eunuch?  Since this is a family-friendly church, I won’t go into details here.  But suffice it to say, for the sake of his queen and his royal harem, the king of Ethiopia liked it that way.

And speaking of the king of Ethiopia, the people of his kingdom believed he was a divine being, a “child of the sun.”  And because he was, he was too sacred to work.  That’s why his mother, the queen, Candace, ran the day-to-day business of the empire.

And, in verse 27, the Bible gives us one more clue about this man from Ethiopia.  It says he “was in charge of all her treasure.”  

And that’s a big deal.  It meant he was an extremely high-ranking dignitary, a senior court official.  He was the trusted, honored and respected CFO, the Chief Financial Officer of the kingdom of Ethiopia.

But, wonder of wonders, as it says in verse 27, “He had come to Jerusalem to worship.”

Apparently, somewhere, somehow, through his vast wisdom and experience in trade and public relations, he had come to know the true God, the God of Israel.  And he felt moved to go all the way, some 2,000 miles one way, to Jerusalem to worship.

So he hopped onto his chauffeur-driven, top-of-the-line, limousine of a chariot and, along with his entourage, made his way north along the White Nile and the Blue Nile, through the trade city of Khartoum and the Nubian Desert.  Then he crossed the great wilderness of the Sinai Peninsula, till he arrived, hot, sun-burnt, and weary, at his destination—Jerusalem.

And there he took in all the beauty the city had to offer--the temple with its rich marble, gold, and silver, the musicians, the priests, the people, and the sacrifice.  And he gave thanks to God for all that He had done.

And when he saw all there was to see, he was sure to take something along with him, something he bought at the very temple itself—the scroll of the prophet Isaiah.

Now for us, it’s really not that big of a deal.  Many of you have copies on your phone and iPad.  There are Bibles in every pew.

But in those days, scrolls were hand-written, word-for-word, letter-by-letter.  In today’s terms, it’s as if we would walk to New York City to buy a Jaguar.

But on his way home, imagine what he read!  He read the words of Isaiah chapter 1:  “Come, let us reason together, says the Lord:  though your sins are as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow.”  He read the words of chapter 7:  “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call His name Immanuel,” and the words of chapter 9:  “For to us a Child is born, to us a Son is given; and the government shall be upon His shoulder, and His name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.”  And he read in chapter 40:  “The grass withers, the flower fades, but the Word of our God stands forever.”

But when he came to chapter 53, that’s when he got stuck.  Look at verse 32:  “Like a sheep He was led to the slaughter and like a lamb before its shearer is silent, so he opens not his mouth.  In his humiliation justice was denied him.  Who can describe his generation?  For his life is taken away from the earth.”

That’s why it says in verse 34:  “And the eunuch said to Philip, ‘About whom, I ask you, does the prophet say this, about himself or about someone else?’”

So Philip told him.  Verse 35:  “Then Philip opened his mouth, and beginning with this Scripture he told him the good news about Jesus.”

Jesus was the One who, just days before, in the very city of Jerusalem, was despised and rejected by men, a Man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief.  As Isaiah wrote, He bore our griefs and carried our sorrows, yet we esteemed Him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted.  He was pierced for our transgressions and was crushed for our iniquities.  The chastisement that brought us peace was upon Him, and by His stripes, we are healed.

And in that moment, on that dusty road just outside of Jerusalem, the chief treasurer of Candace, queen of Ethiopia, believed.

Back in 2006, researchers dredged up a clam off the coast of Iceland, called it Ming the Mollusk, then tossed it into a freezer for future study.

So what’s the big deal about some clam?  When scientists thawed it out, they discovered that it wasn’t just a clam.  It was a quahog, a special kind of deep-sea clam.  And when they examined its shell and counted its growth rings, they found that it was old, really old, like 507 years old--seven years after Columbus discovered America, and before Henry VIII had even married his first wife in 1509.  That’s an old clam!

As one author wrote, “Too bad they accidentally killed the world’s oldest creature!”

So it is with the gospel.  Some might call it out-of-date, old-fashioned, not worth our money or time.  But for us, it’s the power of God, the wisdom of God.  It’s salvation for all who believe.

One more thing about that Ethiopian eunuch--now we can’t say for certain, but we suppose the story continues, because, from that moment on, his life changed.

You see, just a couple of months later, he made it back to Ethiopia and he sat down with Candace, his queen.  And he told her of all the things he had heard and seen—about the words he read from the prophet Isaiah and about Jesus, the sinless Savior of the world.

And soon, word caught on to those in his kingdom and those who would come after him—church fathers like Cyprian, Augustine, Athanasius and Tertullian—other African men who believed.

You see, this story isn’t so much about an Ethiopian eunuch or a deacon named Philip or even an angel.  It’s about the Lord.  He’s this story’s author, main character, and hero.  And by His grace, He calls even us to believe.  

In the words of a hymn:  “Waft, waft, ye winds, His story, and you, ye waters, roll Till, like a sea of glory, it spreads from pole to pole:  Till o’er our ransomed nature the Lamb for sinners slain, Redeemer, King, Creator, in bliss returns to reign.”

 

Almighty Father, through Your prophet Isaiah, You once called a eunuch to believe.  Even today, by Your Word, You still call us to believe.  Fill us with Your Spirit and strengthen our Christian faith, in Jesus’ name.  Amen

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