ACTS8v26to40: THE ETHIOPIAN EUNUCH.
(A) Introduction (Read the reference.)
This is a powerful story about a powerful man. We shall see how two of the qualities that made him an effective statesman in the Sudan contributed to his conversion to Christianity. He was obviously willing to consult experts and used to taking decisive action. Both these qualities facilitated his confident entry into the Kingdom.
(B) A man who took his relationship with God seriously.
The Ethiopian eunuch was the financial adviser to Candace - the Queen Mother of Sudan. He was probably black and certainly an eunuch - a far from ideal state of manhood although he would have been free from the sex drive that proves such a distraction for many of the better endowed.
Candace's finance minister probably made contact with Jews in the course of his job. There were colonies of Jews throughout the Roman Empire and beyond. They acted as money lenders, commodity brokers and merchants. The eunuch may have learned of the one true God from a principled and respected Jewish business acquaintance. He was sufficiently interested in his relationship with God to:
(b) To purchase a Greek version of the Old Testament so that he could study it for himself. We read about what we are interested in. My interest in Japan was so aroused by a recent visit that I borrowed all the books in the Bury St Edmund's library on that country and read them avidly.
(c) Read out loud as he journeyed home in his chariot. On my travels to the Far East I did not hear anyone reading the Bible aloud. I was immensely irritated by numerous flash, loud-mouthed Americans doing business deals on their mobile phones!
The British know all there is to know about a wide range of unlikely subjects - lilac trees, growing leeks and Greek aircraft numbers. Yet most of the inhabitants of this once Christian country are totally ignorant of God. They haven't the slightest idea of how to enjoy a meaningful relationship with their Maker - nor do they wish to find out.
A man who was willing to learn.
When Philip overheard the eunuch reading from Isaiah he asked, "Do you understand what you are reading?" He replied, "How can I, unless someone explains it to me?" So he invited Philip to come up and sit with him. v30and31. The eunuch was prepared to learn. In order to learn you need:
There was a very depressing article in the Daily Telegraph on June 12th 2002 entitled, 'Bullied out of Britain.' It described the experience of a teacher from New Zealand in a Colchester comprehensive school. This is part of what she had to say: Until now, I had always found classroom discipline effortless. Yet here, it was a struggle to get, let alone hold, the pupils' attention. Most didn't want to work; many could not read properly; and nearly all of them found everything "boring."
"Your first lessons will be easy," I had been told. "Just tell the kids about New Zealand - they'll be fascinated." They were not remotely interested.
The lack of interest of those pupils in Colchester did not reflect badly on the teacher but on the sad children. There is one subject guaranteed to switch off even more students than New Zealand and that is Christianity. Young people think they know all they need to know about religion and resist learning more about the only way to eternal life. The British as a whole are experts on football, the weather and religion and know damn-all about any of them - nor can they be told!
(b) To be humble.
It is always humbling to accept help. In Japan my performance with the chopsticks made even the polite Japanese ladies giggle. One pretty little thing asked, "Who taught you how to use chopsticks?" I had to admit that I was self-taught. She said, "We hold them this way." I allowed her to place the chopsticks in my hand - the Japanese way. I quite enjoyed it! If I had persisted with my self-taught method I would have held the chopsticks upside down, woven through my fingers like warp through weft. 'I did it my way,' could not have been a proud boast!
We should be prepared to learn from anyone. I have an old friend who is a fine gardener. I tease him sometimes by asking, "Have you picked up any tips from Alan Titchmarsh lately?" In case anyone doesn't know - Alan Titchmarsh is a TV gardening pundit. My friend replies with disgust, "Alan Titchmarsh! Tcha! He don't know narthin." Excellent gardener though he is, perhaps, my friend could do with a pinch more humility!
Only the poor in spirit find the narrow gate that leads to life. Only the humble-hearted ask the Saviour to help them. Only the childlike ask questions about the meaning of Bible passages.
(c) A good teacher.
A good teacher makes things clear. There used to be two very popular English teachers at Debenham High School - Mrs Sibley and Miss Arnall. Miss Arnall rarely approved of my sport's reports for the school magazine censoring all reference to pulsating thighs but in spite of this she and her friend were valued by their pupils for explaining things clearly. I have always believed that when an explanation is confused so, too, is the person giving it. A sound Bible teacher makes the meaning of Scripture clear.
I think a competent teacher welcomes questions. I was only rarely asked questions at school about the subject I taught. Questions about the Bible from members of my church or the folk to whom I preach are even more infrequent. Yet, the lecturer on the course I attended on web site design was asked dozens of question every week. We were eager to learn. Folk who really want to learn will ask questions. What does that say about our churches? Things were better in Christ's day. He got asked questions.
Philip told the Ethiopian the good news about Jesus. It is a pity that we are so reluctant to speak about Jesus. When my friend Tommy and I were in Tokyo we met up with a Japanese women called Pauline. She took us to visit the Buddhist shrine at Asakusa. Pauline wished to show us a monument to her grandfather located in that area. He was a famous Japanese poet and she was so proud of him. Christians should be so proud of Jesus.
A follower of the lamb?
And shall I fear to own his cause,
Or blush to speak His name.
Philip must have dealt with the mercy of Jesus as he expounded Isaiah 53. That is a wonderful subject.
In Esther4v1to3 we read that Mordecai put on sackcloth and ashes because his people faced annihilation at the instigation of Haman. But he went only as far as the king's gate, because no-one clothed in sackcloth was allowed to enter it. King Xerxes' happiness could not be disturbed by the smallest hint of trouble and distress. God did not shield his son in heaven from the pain and distress on earth.
The Japanese are a very gracious people. They are incredibly welcoming and hospitable. They had no trouble from English football hooligans during the World Cup because they were so nice to them. But they lack mercy. The Japanese have solved many problems to create a safe, orderly, clean and cheerful environment. It is a country of protected calm. It seems that they have established such an orderly, friction free society that they cannot easily grasp the details of a world of pain and privation. The Japanese are relatively indifferent to refugees, famine victims and the demands of the world at large. They are not compassionate towards their own inadequates and unfortunates.
There were no problems for Jesus in heaven. There was no pain or friction there. But still he came to earth on an errand of mercy. He did not remain unmoved by the awful state mankind had got itself into.
So free, so infinite His grace;
Emptied Himself of all but love,
And bled for Adam's helpless race;
'Tis mercy all, immense and free;
For, O my God, it found out me.
(b) Just as the Good Samaritan bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine so Jesus binds up the sinner's wounds pouring in the oil and wine of his compassion. He was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities; Is53v5. AV.
There are still very old people in Britain who cannot forgive the Japanese their brutal treatment of prisoners of war because there has been no heartfelt admission of guilt. The Japanese find it incredibly difficult to lose face.
Men and women must lose face to benefit from Christ's mercy.
(E) A man who made a commitment to Jesus.
After the eunuch had listened to Philip he said: "Look, here is water. Why shouldn't I be baptised?" v36. He was baptised because he believed in Jesus as the Son of God and Saviour of mankind. Baptism is something we do to show that we are disciples of Jesus. It is something done to us to indicate that Jesus has accepted us as a follower and member of his church. The Ethiopian: gave orders to stop the chariot. v38. It was his chief priority to make a public commitment to Jesus.
After I came home from Japan I read a fascinating book by Pico Iyer entitled, 'The Lady and the Monk.' It was the story of a relationship between the American Pico and a Japanese woman called Sachiko. Pico Iyer was stopping in Kyoto to research a book when he met the 30 year old, married woman, Sachiko. Initially they were friends but gradually Sachiko, who was using the relationship to break free from the restraints of traditional Japanese life, loses her heart to Pico. There are two incidents that I found very moving.
One day Sachiko asks Pico to visit her and he finds her at home sobbing convulsively. This is what he writes:
"So," I said, as gently as I could, "you think that you must make all the sacrifices and I don't have to make any."
It was true - Sachiko was making all the sacrifices. It was hard, with her family responsibilities, just to make the time to see Pico.
If Jesus looked down at us I wonder if this is the word he would have to put his finger upon. If we take advantage of his sacrifice - he expects us to make sacrifices in return. Jesus said: In the same way, any of you who does not give up everything he has cannot be my disciple. Luke14v33. Jesus calls for a commitment! And anyone who does not carry his cross and follow me cannot be my disciple. Luke14v27.
On another occasion Sachiko gave Pico a present - some chocolates wrapped in a stylish green pouch. He tore open the bag and gobbled down the chocolates. But the value of the present did not lie in the chocolates but the bag: Giving someone a present wrapped in a bag of spinach green was the most eloquent way of giving him ones heart.
That summed up the relationship of the Japanese woman and the American author. Pico gobbled down the chocolates but rejected the green bag. He took much from the relationship but did not yield to Sachiko's love. Pico was very attracted to Sachiko. So was I. I only read about her but loved her! He admired Sachiko - who couldn't. But he wasn't prepared to commit to her. It is all in the title of the book: 'The Lady and the Monk.' I felt very sad for her. I understood why Pico was unwillingly to make a commitment: he did not wish to lose his freedom.
Today there are many, many young people who are attracted to Jesus Christ. They admire him for the life that he lived. They are fully aware of the sacrifice he made for them and the love he bears them. But they will not commit to him. They will not take his yoke upon them - however light!
That a time could ever be,
When I let the Saviour's pity
Plead in vain; and proudly answered,
"All of self, and none of Thee.
(F) A man who went away happy.
The eunuch went on his way rejoicing. v39. Happiness always results from being committed to the good; it may be a good woman in marriage, a good cause or good work like nursing the sick. When we commit to Jesus we commit to the ultimate good. No-one who gives their heart to him is ever disappointed. Jesus said, "I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will never go hungry." John6v35.
And found in Thee alone,
The peace, the joy I sought so long,
The bliss till now unknown
Now none but Christ can satisfy,