By Simon ManchesterSunday 1 Jan 2017Christian Growth with Simon ManchesterFaithReading Time: 19 minutes
I want to ask you whether you know, or your friends know what gets you excited. Because what gets me excited is seeing people get converted. There is nothing, in my opinion, greater than seeing a person for whom the light of the Gospel, the light of the Lord Jesus, begins to shine in their mind and heart and the life that begins in that person. There is nothing like it. And in my own strange, weird, awkward and subdued way, I get quite excited when I see people get converted.
A friend of mine in the UK met a man from the Ukraine – the man from the Ukraine is in his 20s. He has a very highly significant business role, and he became a Christian because when he was at university, he was reading the philosophy of Nietzsche and he discovered of course that Nietzsche was hostile to Christianity and especially hostile to the Christian Augustine.
And so this Ukrainian man decided that he would read Augustine to find out what Nietzsche was so upset about, and in reading Augustine, was converted to Jesus Christ. For the first four years of his Christian life, he had a Bible and almost no Christian fellowship. And now, of course, he travels the world and he intersect with many other Christians and is God’s man in God’s place, rejoicing to know God through Jesus Christ. And there is nothing more wonderful than to see the sovereign way God brings people to know Himself and the way He uses His representatives as He uses you in a particular place which no-one else goes to but you to be His representative.
Now we are going to see, in Acts 8, a man who God sovereignly saves, the well-known Ethiopian eunuch. Now I want to suggest to you that this is not just one old story, but has been given to us to be very instructive. There are lessons in Acts Chapter 8 which will teach us timeless truths.
Now we began the Book of Acts many weeks ago on Sunday mornings. We saw Jesus ascend. We saw the Spirit descend. We have watched the Lord Jesus spread the Gospel out. The Gospel to the Jews (Acts 2), then the Gospel goes to the half-Jews, as we saw last week and then the Gospel today to the would-be Jews and then (at Acts 10), the Gospel to the non-Jews and this tremendous spread, as the Lord Jesus sends His Word out to the world. There is nothing more wonderful than to see the Word go out, as it does, and people receive it.
Now what I want to do this morning is I want to look at the Ethiopian eunuch’s conversion under two headings. The first is, The Divine Side of Conversion – what God normally does to convert someone. And the second thing is The Human Side of Conversion – what normally happens when a person becomes a believer, because both of these sides are in the story.
The Divine Side of Conversion
You may remember that God’s people in Acts Chapter 6 had chosen some administrators. One of them was Stephen, who was eventually martyred. We saw him a couple of weeks ago. And then there was Philip. Last week, we saw Philip, the preacher, go down to Sumeria to preach. We are told, in Acts Verse 26, that in some remarkable way, God told Philip to go south to the road, the desert road, that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.
Now we know that God can convert people any way He wants to, but there are normal things that He does, or there are common things that He does, frequent things that He does, in bringing a person to be a believer. And I cannot tell you how important it is that lives be changed. It’s interesting, isn’t it, that we are in the world at the moment, and God is greatly humbling us. We want to keep boasting. This is a very boastful country that we live in, and yet we cannot solve something as simple as water. We cannot solve terrorism. This great God, who runs the universe, makes sure that we stay humble, one way or the other. And one of the ways that God works through people, reaching people, is to take up His humbled instruments, who have learned to bow the knee to Jesus and to bring the news of a great God to other people.
And so the first thing God does, in bringing people, is He uses another person. He normally uses an instrument, a person. And there is His servant, Philip, reaching this Ethiopian on his journey. Now God may save people with no other people involved. You may be one of those rare people who became a Christian by just reading your Bible, or thinking, or reading a book, or something like that. But normally, He reaches people through other people. And if I was to ask you this morning (but I won’t), but if was to ask you to wave your hand if you became a Christian through another Christian, my guess is that about 80%, maybe more, of the people here this morning would wave their hand.
We don’t know much about Philip, the man God used. We know that he was probably Greek by background. He was picked for his administrative skills. He was obviously something of an evangelist, and we are told in Acts Chapter 21 that he finished up in Caesarea with four wonderful daughters.
Now the man that God is going to save, through Philip, we discover in this second half of Chapter 8 is a true convert. Last week, we saw a false convert – Simon the Sorcerer. This week, a real convert. Simon the Sorcerer was part of the crowd. This man is on his own. Simon is given a name. This Ethiopian eunuch is not named. Simon was a proud man. This man is a humble man. Simon was part of the Samaritan non-Jewish world. This man wants to be part of the Jewish world. Simon wants power. This man wants answers. Simon, in the end, is unchanged, unconverted. This man is wonderfully converted.
And we are told in Verses 27 and 28 that he had a number of human qualities. First, he was Ethiopian, probably from the area that we would know as the Sudan. The Ethiopian Orthodox Church traces itself back to Acts Chapter 8. The area was probably more closely resembling the Sudan. The man was a eunuch, a requirement for looking after the palace affairs of the Ethiopian queen. According to the Jewish law, in Deuteronomy 23, he would not then have been able to enter into the assembly of God’s people. But there was an outer court to the temple, where any foreigner could come – anybody could come – and hear the Word of God, and that’s obviously where he went, to stand in the outer court, and hear the Word of God. And Isaiah the Prophet tells us in Chapter 56, that he looked forward to the day when even the eunuch, who was excluded from the assembly and felt his exclusion, would one day be, in the words of Isaiah, ‘…better than a son or a daughter’.
Now this man was in charge of the treasury of Ethiopia. He was what we would call the treasurer. As we have a treasurer, this man was the treasurer of his country. And there may be a play on the words here, because Gaza is a word which means ‘treasure’, and so Philip goes to a place called Treasure to tell a man who is the treasurer about a greater treasure which is called Jesus Christ. That’s God’s choice of this man. He is an Ethiopian, because God is interested in the world. He is a eunuch, because God is a God of grace. And he is going to be told the treasure of the Lord Jesus. Philip travels about 100 km to find this man travelling in his chariot. I am told (for those of you who wonder how Philip could have run beside the chariot and you picture something out of a Ben-Hur movie), but this was probably almost certainly an ox-drawn chariot, and therefore you could walk beside it and he discovers of course that the Ethiopian is reading (perhaps aloud) the Scriptures. There is God’s hand, using an instrument called Philip.
Now the other thing God does, usually, is to communicate through the Scriptures. How are you going to find out about God? Normally, through the Scriptures. And this Ethiopian has been privileged to get a Bible. We don’t know how much of the Bible he had, but he certainly had Isaiah 53. And those who know their Bibles well will know that Isaiah 53 could hardly be a better place to begin, in the Old Testament, if you wanted to get to know the Saviour, because Isaiah 53 is about the Saviour, the servant who will die for His people. And the quote (Acts 8, Verse 32) – He (this servant) was led like a sheep to the slaughter and, as a lamb before the shearer is silent, He did not open His mouth. He was deprived of justice; His life was taken. And the eunuch who was reading this passage says to Philip, ‘Who is this?’ And Philip, who has climbed into the chariot, begins with the passage and probably goes all over the Old Testament and tells this Ethiopian treasurer about Jesus.
Isaiah Chapter 53 is a very great Chapter, as most of you know, and if you are reading it, you will discover that it tells us that we have all (like sheep) gone astray, and God has raised up a lamb who is willing to stand-in and pay the price of the stray sheep. Now we know, of course, that the lamb is Jesus Christ. Down the track, John the Baptist points towards Jesus and says, ‘Behold, the Lamb of God’. So the lamb, Jesus, willing to suffer and die so that the sheep, who have gone astray, who put their trust in the Lamb, will not die.
Samuel Carson, who is the father of Roger who comes to this congregation, has written a little book on Isaiah 53 and he says that we should see here a comparison and contrast. The comparison is that because, like a sheep, Jesus was silent under trial. The farmer will tell you that the sheep is normally quiet. The pig squeals, but the sheep is quiet. And Jesus, at His trial, was silent. He did not speak up to defend Himself. He did not speak up to crush His enemies. He was quiet, so that He might go through with the crucifixion, so that He might go through with the salvation. But there is also a contrast, because a sheep does not know what it is going to. It has no conscious understanding of what it is going to, but Jesus, the Lamb of God, knew exactly where He was going to. He predicted exactly what He was going to do, to the disciples. And in the Garden of Gethsemane, you remember, He knelt down, and He said: Dear Heavenly Father, if it is possible, take this judgement away. May it not be so that I will have to go through the judgement. Nevertheless, if You want me to go through the judgement, I will go through the judgement.
And as Jesus went to the crucifixion willingly and knowingly and successfully, He achieved salvation. He achieved it. He paid for it. He organised it. He fixed it, so that a person need only believe.
I was hearing a man, during the week, talk about a great Chess game. He said, ‘Can you imagine a Chess game between two men, and suddenly, one of the men pushes back from the table and calls to his opponent, “It’s over”. And the other guy is very angry and upset and says, ‘It’s not over. I have got many moves”. And the first guy says, “You can move anything you like, but the game is over. It’s just a matter of time”’. And the speaker said that when Jesus died on the cross, He pushed back, as it were, and He said – it’s over. The battle is won. Sin is paid for. The door of glory is opened. It’s just a matter of time now before evil, the devil himself is fully subdued.
Here is God’s great communication in Isaiah 53 and this Ethiopian is reading it. The third thing that God normally does when He is saving somebody – not just an instrument, a person… not just the Scriptures – but the third thing He normally does is He gives them, when they believe, great joy. And we see, in Verse 39 that the Ethiopian, having put his faith in Jesus, went on his way rejoicing. He was not to see Jerusalem again, probably, for worship. He was probably not going to see Philip again, the great buddy who had brought him to Jesus. But he didn’t need either of them, because he was going on in a relationship with Jesus Christ and he was filled with joy. He had the treasure of the universe. And you may remember in Verse 8 of Chapter 8, that when the Samaritans heard the message, they rejoiced. There was great joy in the city. And here at the end of the Chapter, this Ethiopian hears and believes and is filled with joy. Now we are meant to enjoy Jesus. I know that it doesn’t look like we do when you see people sing in this Church. But there are some people who look like they are people enjoying Jesus. Just look around. You may find one or two during a hymn. But we are meant to enjoy knowing the Lord Jesus. It is a great, great privilege. And the more we get to know Him, the more we are joyful. And the joy is connected to Jesus. Verse 39 – joy springs out of Verse 35 – knowing Jesus Christ.
One of the things that worry me in the Church today is that we have made enjoyment the new benchmark of a meeting. It worries me that we are separating ‘joy’ from Jesus Christ. So, somebody will say: how was the Church service? … Oh, I enjoyed it. How was the wedding? … I enjoyed it. How was the sermon? … I enjoyed it. Nothing wrong with enjoying things… hear me rightly. We are meant to enjoy. God has given us all things, richly, to enjoy. But it would be a great mistake if we made enjoyment, separated from Jesus, the new benchmark for our meetings. I will tell you why… because it is so easy to organise enjoyment. Just get the right number of songs and the right band and the right tempo and the right volume and get a few more things thrown into a service… we can orchestrate enjoyment for you. And, at the end of the day, the fact that we have enjoyed it is not a bad thing. But our joy should come out of knowing the Lord Jesus. That is where joy is found. And I think it is a much better thing for us, at the end of a Bible reading on our own, or a Bible study, or a sermon or a service, to be asking questions like this – how was God gracious? Was it faithful? Was it helpful? Because the ‘enjoyment tick’ is so easy and can be so superficial and so frothy.
I don’t want you to stop enjoying. Enjoy all you like. But if we just go for enjoyment, I tell you, we can do it without Jesus… there is a sense in which we can do it without Jesus. And we need to make sure that we don’t cut the connection between true Christian joy, which is learning of Him, seeing His greatness, appreciating Him and growing in joy for Him, of which, of course, everything else becomes secondary.
Well, there is the conversion. God wonderfully uses a Servant. The Scriptures give joy.
The Human Side of Conversion
What happens, on the human side, when somebody is becoming a Christian? Well, sometimes they are unwilling, of course, to become a Christian, but that doesn’t stop God from converting people. David Cook came and spoke to our Men’s breakfast some weeks ago, and he spoke on Acts 8. And he told us, in the course of the talk, how his father became a Christian. He said his father was an unbeliever. He was part of the building industry. He said he was a smoking, drinking, swearing, Christian-mocking man. And then the building industry had to put him off, and so he decided to take a job with insurance, and he was taken on by an insurance firm, and he was the twelfth of twelve men they employed. And they were going to send these twelve out, in twos, door-to-door. And there was one of the twelve called Ernie, who was a Christian, and nobody wanted to go door-to-door with Ernie. And so they said to David Cook’s father – Cookie, you were the last to apply. You go with Ernie. And so David Cook’s dad went off with Ernie the Christian, door-to-door, selling life insurance. And David said, some months later, his father came into his room, sat on the end of his bed and said to him, ‘I have become a Christian’. Ernie had shared the Good News with David’s father, and David’s father had become a Christian. And David said, ‘We watched the transformation. This went… and this came… and this went… and this came’. And his father became a transformed believer. And then of course, down the track, urged David himself to head off to a Christian camp, where David was converted, and now he is the Principal of the Sydney Missionary and Bible College.
Now there was an unwilling man, who God converts. But the Ethiopian, in Acts Chapter 8, has started to be willing. God, it seems, has turned him, and this Ethiopian has become willing. We see in Verse 27 that he is interested in the God of Israel. He travels all the way to Jerusalem to worship the God of Israel. Of all the gods – the Greeks gods, the Roman gods, the African gods – something, someone has prompted this Ethiopian to begin to seek the God of Israel.
We also see in Verse 28, that he has started to read the Scriptures. Of all the places to try and find out about the God of Israel, the Scriptures are the best. John Chapman used to say: if God rings you on the telephone, do not put your head in the microwave… rather, listen to the telephone, which is a neat way of saying that when God is going to call a person, it will normally be through the Scriptures, and therefore put your head at the Scriptures. And that’s what this Ethiopian does.
Now I want to say two things about this, putting his head to the Scriptures, because you have heard me say a million times how important the Scriptures are, and I want to say it again to you this morning, that I hope everybody who takes Jesus Christ seriously, seeks to read their Bible on a daily basis. I don’t think you should set the standard any lower than that. I think whether long or short; you should seek to read your Bible every day. It’s more important than cleaning your teeth, and it’s more important than a three-course meal. That’s the way. But you will notice in the Book of Acts that we are being told that the Ethiopian is reading the Scriptures for more than interest alone. You see it’s not good enough to say that Acts 8 is a story of a man intersecting with another man, and therefore we should go out and see who we intersect with. That is great, but there is something much bigger going on in the Book of Acts. And what is going on in the Book of Acts in the Word of God is going out, from God, across the world, and people are taking it in all over the world… and people are not taking it in all over the world. And you have to ask yourself whether you are a receiver of the Word or a rejector of the Word. And so we have seen, for example, in Acts Chapter 6, that the Apostles say, ‘We are not going to neglect the ministry of the Word’. In Acts Chapter 7, Stephen Speaks. And what does he do? He preaches a sermon based on the Word of God, because the people have stopped listening to the Word of God. And then in Acts Chapter 8, we are introduced to Simon the Sorcerer, and he’s not interested in the Word of God. And then in the second half of Acts Chapter 8, we are introduced to the Ethiopian and he is deeply interested in the Word of God… because the plan of God is to send out the Word of God, about the Son of God, in order to raise a people of God to the glory of God. So that is what is happening in the Book of Acts. And at regular points through the Book of Acts, you will see the Word of God spread, the Word of God spread, the Word of God spread.
Well, this Scripture is taken up by the Ethiopian. The other thing to say about this is that it is the best way to get to know God properly.
Yesterday I spoke here at a wedding, and I was given a wonderful passage to preach on, from Colossians 2, where the Apostle Paul talks about being planted in Christ, if you are a believer, planted like a plant… and then he says – established in the faith. And actually, I thought of the large crowd that came … many unbelievers, and I thought to myself – it’s going to be hard enough to explain what it means to be planted in Christ. I don’t want to have to explain the extra bit about being established in the faith, established in the Scriptures… I wish I just had one phrase, and not two. But God is much smarter than me, and actually, it is a fact that the Christian is not only planted in Christ but has been established in the truth. And I know that one is the Living Word – Jesus and I know one is the written Word… but they cannot be separated because everything that we know about the living Word, Jesus, we discover from the written Word, the Scriptures. And every person who is going to grow to know Jesus better is going to be a person who gets to know the Scriptures better. Now you may say, well this is very ordinary, this is very obvious, this is very common. I want to remind you this morning that there is a great distortion of Jesus in so many parts of this city. I am not cynical. I don’t want to fire guns just recklessly. But surely, you must have worked out that there are people who have a view of Jesus which is very, very different from the Biblical view.
This Ethiopian, by the time he went home, he knew quite a bit of Jesus, from the Old Testament, and he especially knew that Jesus suffered and died. And because he knew that Jesus suffered and died, he knew the very centre of His work, the cross. But there are many people who do not even take the cross seriously, and they are in the very midst of churches. We have people today who have the view of Jesus that He is the chauffeur. He is on the payroll. He drives me. He takes me from here to there… that’s His job. We have people with the view of Jesus that He is my patron. I am working. I have Him as my patron. He backs and endorses what I do. I don’t much listen to what He tells me to do, but I do want I want, and He is my patron. And then we have people for whom Jesus is the stimulant. We gather…we want to have a great time. We have a great time on the stimulant of Jesus. I don’t want to be cynical. I just want to ask you the question – would you say, looking at the chauffeur view of Jesus, or the patron view of Jesus, or the stimulant view of Jesus… that we are talking about the Lord Jesus, who made the Heavens and the earth, the King of kings and the Lord of lords, who came into this world in the form of a human, and died on the cross, and rose from the dead…He is throned and will come again? Because the view, the Biblical view of Jesus is a great, great view.
The final step this Ethiopian makes, having heard about Jesus, is that he makes a decision. We are told that he hears of Jesus (Verse 35) in the very next verse, he wants to be baptised. He wants to begin as a Christian. God has begun a work in his heart, and he wants to begin to be a disciple. So there is the convert. God uses a person to bring him the explanation of the Scriptures, and God puts a new life, with joy, in his heart. That’s God’s normal plan on a person – a friend… the Scriptures… new life.
And the human side is a man who decides to take God seriously and turns to find out about God in the Bible. And, finding out about Jesus, makes his decision. And this treasurer, looking after all the treasure of Ethiopia, goes home, richer than he has ever been, because he knows the Lord Jesus. And it is our privilege to be ambassadors for the same Lord Jesus.
Well, let’s bow our heads. Let’s pray. Our Heavenly Father, we thank You for this account, in Your Word, of Your sovereign, loving, wonderful hand, in bringing a man into your family – undeserving, unworthy, saved by grace. And we pray that You would give to those we love, who are not yet believers, a desire from You to seek You, to seek You in Your Word, and to respond to the Lord Jesus and receive eternal life. We pray that You would help us, as Your servants, as we seek to live for You in this world, that we might represent You well, and we earnestly pray that in these next days, for Your glory, and for the good of many, You would cause people to turn and live. And we ask it in Jesus’ name. Amen.