My outline from the recent Greyfriars Hall preaching retreat. All of us were given the same text and each got around 15 minutes to preach a short sermon on it. This semester’s text was on Philip and the Ethiopian Eunuch a very interesting text to explore.
And the angel of the Lord spake unto Philip, saying, Arise, and go toward the south unto the way that goeth down from Jerusalem unto Gaza, which is desert. And he arose and went: and, behold, a man of Ethiopia, an eunuch of great authority under Candace queen of the Ethiopians, who had the charge of all her treasure, and had come to Jerusalem for to worship, was returning, and sitting in his chariot read Esaias the prophet. Then the Spirit said unto Philip, Go near, and join thyself to this chariot. And Philip ran thither to him, and heard him read the prophet Esaias, and said, Understandest thou what thou readest? And he said, How can I, except some man should guide me? And he desired Philip that he would come up and sit with him. The place of the scripture which he read was this, He was led as a sheep to the slaughter; and like a lamb dumb before his shearer, so opened he not his mouth: In his humiliation his judgment was taken away: and who shall declare his generation? for his life is taken from the earth (Is. 53:7-8). And the eunuch answered Philip, and said, I pray thee, of whom speaketh the prophet this? of himself, or of some other man? Then Philip opened his mouth, and began at the same scripture, and preached unto him Jesus. And as they went on their way, they came unto a certain water: and the eunuch said, See, here is water; what doth hinder me to be baptized? And Philip said, If thou believest with all thine heart, thou mayest. And he answered and said, I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God. And he commanded the chariot to stand still: and they went down both into the water, both Philip and the eunuch; and he baptized him. And when they were come up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord caught away Philip, that the eunuch saw him no more: and he went on his way rejoicing. But Philip was found at Azotus: and passing through he preached in all the cities, till he came to Caesarea.
I want to direct our attention to the amount of action and motion taking place throughout this passage. In conjunction with this, it is interesting to note that this is the third to last specific reference to “the angel of the Lord” found in the Scriptures (the final two coming in Acts 12:7 & 12:23). There are certainly many angelic beings mentioned in John’s apocalyptic vision. But aside from those, the messenger work assigned to angels in the Old Testament seems to be being transferred from them to the church.
The Dark Gentile Sky
In Romans 10:14-15, the Apostle Paul is dealing with the necessity for the Gospel to go forth and be heard in order for it to be believed, to make his point he quotes Psalm 19:4. This Psalm begins with the famous statement that “the heavens declare the glory of God (Ps.19:1)”. Paul draws upon the fact that the heavenly host is proclaiming God’s greatness and handywork to make the case that the Gentiles are intended to hear the Gospel.
Creation leaves all mankind without excuse for not seeking after the living God (Rom. 1:20). Thus, although Israel had the benefit of having the oracles of God declared to them through Moses and the Prophets, they did not believe the report of the Gospel (Rom. 10:16 & Isa. 53:1).
Paul has stated that “whosoever [Jew or Greek] shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved (Rom. 10:13)”. This begged the question: how could the Greek call upon the Lord, whom he has not heard? Paul’s answer is to quote Psalm 19:4; the point being, the heavens have been saying something to the “ends of the world”.
Though the heavenly host’s message was clear, it was incomplete. Now that the Gospel was being preached in all the earth, faith in God was now possible to the Greek, because they were now able to hear the clarion call of the glad tidings of Jesus Christ. Matthew Henry points out that the while the heavens declared God’s creative work, now Gospel messengers were like a new starry host, declaring the greater glory of God’s redemptive work.
Christ Welcomes the Outcast
The Eunuch was not a large, generic people group; he was an individual. God certainly deals with nations and tribes, but He also comes with tender attentiveness to the individual. You are not merely a number in the innumerable host of the elect. God knows you; and through the Gospel preached to you intends to save you, because He loves you.
It should be noted that eunuchs feature prominently in Isaiah 56 (a few passages after the text the Ethiopian Eunuch was reading). What Isaiah outlines there in Chapter 56 is that the sufferings of the Servant of ch. 53, opened the way for the “eunuch” and “the stranger” to be included in the “sabbath” of the Lord. This sabbath is more than just the weekly holy day for the Jewish people. Here in Isaiah it stands for the whole program of mankind’s life & culture revolving around the covenant which the Suffering Servant purchased.
Neither let the son of the stranger, that hath joined himself to the LORD, speak, saying, The LORD hath utterly separated me from his people: neither let the eunuch say, Behold, I am a dry tree. For thus saith the LORD unto the eunuchs that keep my sabbaths, and choose the things that please me, and take hold of my covenant; Even unto them will I give in mine house and within my walls a place and a name better than of sons and of daughters: I will give them an everlasting name, that shall not be cut off. Also the sons of the stranger, that join themselves to the LORD, to serve him, and to love the name of the LORD, to be his servants, every one that keepeth the sabbath from polluting it, and taketh hold of my covenant; Even them will I bring to my holy mountain, and make them joyful in my house of prayer: their burnt offerings and their sacrifices shall be accepted upon mine altar; for mine house shall be called an house of prayer for all people. The Lord GOD which gathereth the outcasts of Israel saith, Yet will I gather others to him, beside those that are gathered unto him.
In essence, Isaiah’s prophesies of the Christ were far broader than merely the salvation of the Jews. The King, Servant, and Anointed Conqueror which Isaiah tells us of was coming to welcome all nations into the “sabbath” (i.e. rest, peace, order) of His kingdom.
Deuteronomy 23:1 forbade a eunuch to join the congregation of the Lord; but Isaiah is declaring that when the Anointed One comes, those who were once far off will be brought in to keep the Lord’s sabbath, choosing the things that please God, and clinging to the covenant of grace (Is. 56:4). The exclusion of the Deuteronomic law is overturned in the promise of the coming Kingdom of the Messiah.
A Word about the Messenger: Philip
In John 12, we read that it was Philip who brought the Greeks to Jesus, when they requested to “see Jesus”. Philip & Andrew bring them to Jesus, and we then read the last public sermon of Jesus in John’s Gospel. It would seem that Greeks seeking out the Christ was a signal to Jesus that “The hour is come, that the Son of man should be glorified (John 12:23)”.
Also, of note is that in this passage in Acts 8, God picked Philip’s text, and from it, Philip preached Jesus. This is a sure mark of a true Apostle, everywhere they went, whomever they spoke to, they all preached Christ. If we would follow Philip (and the other Apostles) example, we would do well to remember that, as Spurgeon once pointed out, a sermon without Christ is like bread without flour. The law, prophets, gospels, and the Apostles teachings all have one profound theme: Christ, Christ, Christ. Philip was always bringing persons to Jesus (Jn. 1:46, 6:7, & 12:21); but here the angel of the Lord sends Philip to the person.
Now, as before noticed, this passage is full of movement and motion, and it ends most peculiarly with a man being whisked about as only an angel was known to.
As Stars in the Heavens
Luther once said, “The Law was delivered by angels (Hb. 2:2), but the Gospel by the Lord Himself.” Moreover, Paul tells us that the law was “ordained by angels” (Gal 3:19), through the mediation of Moses; meaning the oversight of the law was appointed to the angels, for them to order and arrange. But now, God has handed over the proclamation duties of the covenant of Grace into the hands of Christ, and we are those hands, those feet, that mouth. God used the swift-winged angels as Old Covenant messengers; but now he has chosen the weak things of this world to be the messengers of the New and Better Covenant of Redemption.
The sum is this, go forth and preach Christ: the glory of His work, the splendor of His nature, the wonder of His salvation are to be declared to every creature. At the beginning of the universe the morning stars sang together for joy in the handiwork of God’s creation (Job 38:7); now, in this new creation of God through Christ, He has flung out his Gospel messengers in the form of earthen vessels holding a great treasure (2 Cor. 4:7), and singing a greater chorus than the angelic host did at creation; it is the triumphant song of redemption! Christ is filling the earth with the children of Abraham, and they shall number more than the stars in the night sky.
We are the messengers of the glad tidings. We are the starry host that are to fill up the dark sky of man’s sin with the glorious declaration of Christ’s conquest. And most wonderful perhaps of all is that we are held in the right hand of the one who stands amongst the golden lamp stands, whose word is a sharp two-edged sword, and whose countenance is as the sun in all its strength. This is the King whom we proclaim, and whose Kingdom we bring glad tidings.