Evangelizing in the Wilderness

  I.      Introduction

We’ve been studying the early church as witnessed in the Book of Acts, and before I begin today’s lesson, I want to review where we’ve been and then maybe we’ll have a better idea of where we’re going.

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I think it’s important to know where we are before we begin a journey.  If somebody asks you how to get to Texas, do you tell them to head west?   Or maybe south?  The directions depend on where we’re starting from.

In Acts 1, Jesus has competed his ministry after His death and resurrection and He has ascended into Heaven.  Acts 2 saw the arrival of Pentecost and the arrival of the Holy Spirit who has come to dwell in His temple, the body of the believer, now considered righteous due to the sacrificial death of our Lord.  Peter gives his first sermon, and 3000 people accepted Christ as their Savior.  The Holy Spirit is powerful in this first church, and the believers share everything according to those in need.  Then in Acts 3 Peter gives his second sermon about the miracles in the church and the purpose of the crucifixion and resurrection.

In Acts 4, Peter and John are arrested for teaching in the synagogue, and the persecution of the church begins.  In Acts 5, we see some issues in the church, and Bananas and Sopapilla, I mean Ananias and Sapphira, put their selfishness and pride ahead of the Lord.    In Acts 6, which Theresa taught last week, we learned that every Christian is given a gift and a ministry by the Holy Spirit (though it’s up to us whether we want to serve in that ministry).  In Acts 7, Stephen preaches the gospel and is stoned to death by angry Jews (including a self-righteous Pharisee named Saul), and becomes the first Christian martyr.  In the beginning of Acts 8, Saul is still persecuting and killing Christians, and the apostles and leaders of the church are forced to scatter. Slide3

One of those forced to scatter is Philip the Evangelist, who first heads up to Samaria Acts 8 to preach the Gospel.  Now, one of the original 12 apostles is named Philip, but this is a different Philip.  This Philip was introduced back in Acts 6 when Theresa mentioned the gifts of the Holy Spirit, and seven men were chosen to serve meals to the widows and deal with financial matters.  This is that Philip, and he’s often referred to as Philip the Evangelist to distinguish him from Philip the Apostle.

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In says in Acts 8:4 that even though the Christian leaders were forced to scatter, they went on their way preaching the message of good news.  First Philip went to Samaria, then after he finishes preaching there, God has a new plan.  Let’s pick up our study in Acts 8 verse 26-29 –

Now an angel of the Lord said to Philip, “Go south to the road – the desert road – that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.”  So he started out, and on his way he met an Ethiopian eunuch, an important official in charge of all the treasury of the Kandake (which means “queen of the Ethiopians”). 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.  The Spirit told Philip, “Go to that chariot and stay near it.”

There is a subtlety that escaped me when I first read this passage, but you might recall a few weeks ago we discussed Acts being a book that is unique as a transitional book between Old and New Testament.  In the Old Testament, because the people did not have the Holy Spirit indwelling because of their sin nature, God often sent an “angel of the Lord” to speak His message to a prophet.  Here, the angel of the Lord tells Philip to take the road to Gaza, and when he approaches the Ethiopian, the Holy Spirit tells him to stay near the chariot.

The desert road in our scripture is a desert road.  Gaza is a small town about two and a half miles from the Mediterranean Sea, and it’s the last town which a traveler would pass through on the way from Jerusalem to Egypt, and it was the entrance to a wilderness desert.

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The angel of the Lord tells Philip to go south to the road.  The phrase “toward the south” in the original Greek is “kata mesembria” which is also translated “at noon”.   Your bible translation may say “noon” instead of “south”, which makes the angel’s command even more unusual.  The angel of the Lord told Philip to go stand in the desert at noon.  Why would travelers even be on the road at noon in a desert?  But God had a divine appointment for Philip to meet one man, an Ethiopian eunuch, who was on his way back home after worshiping in Jerusalem.

So Philip is participating in a good old-fashioned church building, preaching the gospel to the Samarians, and God says, go out to the desert road at high noon and stand in the sun.

So Philip arose and went.  No questioning, no arguing, no mumbling under his breath.  He just went.  And he meets the Chief Financial Officer of the Bank of Ethiopia.

Now, Ethiopia was a long way off.  Also called Cush, Ethiopia at the time was massive kingdom that covered from the Red Sea to the great desert west of Africa and from Egypt to further south.  The Romans and the Jews considered Ethiopia (or Cush) to be the very rim of the edge of the Earth.

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Do you remember the Great Commission from Acts 1:8?  Jesus says,

and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.

Following the lead of the Holy Spirit, that’s exactly what Philip is doing.

Now, the Ethiopian was a eunuch – well, you can look up that term yourself, let’s just say the Ethiopian eunuch won’t be getting any Father’s Day cards, if you get my drift.  But he’s coming from Jerusalem where he had been worshiping.  This would have been a problem for him, since Deuteronomy 23:1 prohibits eunuchs from entering the temple.

Now he’s on his way home, riding in a chariot full of wealth, and reading the book of Isaiah.  To even possess a sacred scroll showed both how rich and how devout this Ethiopian was.

He’s reading from Isaiah aloud which was common among Hebrews who still read the scripture aloud.  Philip recognized the text, and in Acts 8:30-35,

Then Philip ran up to the chariot and heard the man reading Isaiah the prophet. “Do you understand what you are reading?” Philip asked.

“How can I,” he said, “unless someone explains it to me?” So he invited Philip to come up and sit with him.

This is the passage of Scripture the eunuch was reading:

“He was led like a sheep to the slaughter,
and as a lamb before its shearer is silent,
so he did not open his mouth.
In his humiliation he was deprived of justice.
Who can speak of his descendants?
For his life was taken from the earth.”

The eunuch asked Philip, “Tell me, please, who is the prophet talking about, himself or someone else?”  Then Philip began with that very passage of Scripture and told him the good news about Jesus.

Consider this, why Philip was called the Evangelist: he recognized the scripture.  Would you have recognized that the eunuch was reading from Isaiah 53?  To know the Word, you must read the Word.

These words from Isaiah 53:7-8 were written 800 years before the crucifixion of Jesus Christ, yet it reads like an eyewitness account.   Let’s look at more of Isaiah 53 beginning in verse 4 –

Surely he took up our pain
and bore our suffering,
yet we considered him punished by God,
stricken by him, and afflicted.

But he was pierced for our transgressions,
he was crushed for our iniquities;
the punishment that brought us peace was on him,
and by his wounds we are healed.

Whatever our sin is, Jesus paid the price, and His punishment has brought us peace with God.  Where we once we enemies, now we are adopted children.  At the end of Isaiah 53, Jesus has paid the price and God has exalted Jesus, beginning in Isaiah 53:11,

After he has suffered,
he will see the light of life and be satisfied;
by his knowledge my righteous servant will justify many,
and he will bear their iniquities.

Therefore I will give him a portion among the great,
and he will divide the spoils with the strong,
because he poured out his life unto death,
and was numbered with the transgressors.

For he bore the sin of many,
and made intercession for the transgressors.

This is the gift that Jesus brought to those who place their faith in Him.  Jesus Himself didn’t leave this interpretation open, He quotes Isaiah 53 in Luke 22:37, right after He tells Peter that Peter will deny Him three times:

It is written: ‘And he was numbered with the transgressors’; and I tell you that this must be fulfilled in me. Yes, what is written about me is reaching its fulfillment.”

Jesus fulfills the prophecy of Isaiah perfectly.  The Eunuch didn’t seem to have a problem interpreting the words, but about who the prophet Isaiah is talking about.  Is Isaiah talking about Isaiah?  Or is he talking about someone else?

And Philip, moved by the Spirit and having the Word of scripture in His heart, proceeds to explain to the eunuch that the prophecy is of Jesus, that because we cannot atone for our own sin, we need a perfect Savior to pay the price for us.  And that Jesus died not just for the many, but in particular Jesus died for the Ethiopian.

Now, the first and only thing we must do for our salvation is to place our trust in the Lord Jesus Christ.  But the first step of sanctification, of growing in our faith, is obedience to His divine commands and for many of us that is baptism.

But Philip and the eunuch are in the desert, on the road to Gaza at high noon.  It’s not possible to be baptized without water.  And it would take a miracle to find water like that in the desert.

Acts 8:36 –

As they traveled along the road, they came to some water and the eunuch said, “Look, here is water. What can stand in the way of my being baptized?”

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You know, a miracle like that.  Like water in the desert.

The eunuch’s question is not a rhetorical one. While he has already been to Jerusalem to worship God, as a eunuch he was prevented from being in the temple.  In the past, he has encountered obstacles between himself and the God of the universe.  His question isn’t idle; he’s looking for the list of reasons why he cannot worship the Lord.  Or to phrase it another way, “I know I cannot be baptized, I just want to know why.”

Acts 8:37-38 –

And Philip said, “If you believe with all your heart, you may.” And he answered and said, “I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.”  And he gave orders to stop the chariot. Then both Philip and the eunuch went down into the water and Philip baptized him.

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Your translation of the bible may not contain verse 37; of the earliest manuscripts available, many of them do not contain this verse and many modern translations don’t include it.  But regardless, the first step of obedience for the eunuch was to trust in Jesus and be baptized.  There are no barriers, nothing preventing the eunuch from being baptized.

I think this misconception today prevents people from trusting in the Lord.  They believe that they are somehow “not good enough” to be a Christian.  And they’re right.  They’re not good enough.  Neither are you.  Neither am I.

I freely admit I’m not good enough.  But you know what?  That’s the whole point.  If “good enough” were “good enough”, then I wouldn’t need my Redeemer.  Here’s a list of people in the bible who are good enough to get to Heaven on their own:

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For Romans 3:10 say,

There is no one righteous, not even one.

And Romans 3:23 –

for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.

Wow.  All have fallen short.  That means you, me, Philip, and the eunuch.  Every single one of us since the day that Adam and Eve first rebelled against God by eating the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil has fallen short of being good enough.  And the beauty of this is that God knows it already.  God knows what a mess I am.  God knows my lying and cheating as a child.  God knows the relationships I poisoned.  God knows me.  And whether you’re struggling with an addiction, a felony, anger, sex, selfishness, God knows.  If we are going to be honest with ourselves, calling myself a friend of Jesus is way out of my league.

So many think they have to clean themselves up first before they come to church and meet Jesus, and it becomes an excuse.  I can’t meet Jesus today because I’m not good enough.  But that’s the whole point.  Jesus died for losers like us who can’t earn our way to Heaven.  Jesus doesn’t ask me to get sober, get clean, get out of debt, whatever my biggest regret is, Jesus doesn’t ask me to clean myself up before I come to Him.  When Peter first met Jesus, Peter was a fisherman.  Jesus’ first words to Peter weren’t, “Whew, man, could you use a shower.”  They weren’t, “goodness, what’s that smell?”  They weren’t, “a sprinkle a day helps keep odors away.”  No, Jesus said, “Come, follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.”  Throughout His ministry, Jesus hung out with tax-collectors, lawyers, telephone solicitors, people who change lanes without signaling, and people who don’t tip at restaurants.  Because Jesus didn’t come to just hang out at church with people who are good enough.  Here’s who Jesus hangs out with in Mark 2:15-17 –

While Jesus was having dinner at Levi’s (the tax-collector’s) house, many tax collectors and sinners were eating with him and his disciples, for there were many who followed him.  When the teachers of the law who were Pharisees saw him eating with the sinners and tax collectors, they asked his disciples: “Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?”

On hearing this, Jesus said to them, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”

It is not the healthy who need a doctor.  You don’t get cleaned up to meet Jesus.  You meet Jesus, and He cleans you up.

II.      Conclusion

We are fascinated by a chance encounter.  Along a lonely road in the desert, a man suddenly appears and asks, “Can you tell me who Jesus is?”

And we have all walked the eunuch’s spiritual journey.  In a wilderness, scorched and dry, looking for spiritual truth.  Parched and dry, we are all seeking the Living Water that can only come from faith in Jesus. Alone in the desert wilderness, we will never find salvation.  Even at the Temple in Jerusalem, the eunuch didn’t find salvation.  Only by trusting in Jesus.

As you walk with Jesus throughout your life, you may find times when you realize you’re no longer walking in the spiritual wilderness like the eunuch.  You’re living the abundant life, full of hope and promise of an eternal future where there are no more tears, and no more pain.  When you find yourself living the abundant life, then you’re no longer the eunuch.  Then you’re like Philip.  Look for another who believes they have to get cleanup up first.  Tell them that Jesus loves them and died for their messiness, and all they have to do is trust that Jesus is the son of God.

Acts 8:39,

When they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord suddenly took Philip away, and the eunuch did not see him again, but went on his way rejoicing.

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Once we have accepted our Savior and put our trust in Him, then we, too, have great reason to go on our way rejoicing.

To God be the glory.

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