How can I?

by LA UBF   11/11/2006     0 reads




Acts 8:26-40

Key Verse 8:31a

31"How can I," he said, "unless someone explains it to me?"

At first in preparing this message I wondered what this passage had to do with vision.  The theme of this conference seems to be vision, but how does this passage fit in and thus why would M. Isaac want me to prepare a message on this?  But as I looked humbly and sincerely at the passage I came to find that the verses we’re looking at this morning are overflowing abundantly with vision.  Essentially what were studying here is a story of a one-to-one Bible study between a Jewish Christian named Philip and a eunuch from Ethiopia.  Yes, a Jewish Christian named Philip and a eunuch from Ethiopia.  This doesn’t sound like the most likely Bible study group even today but especially in those days when international travel was very rare.  But where there is the work of God everything is possible.  Let’s look at how it happened.

Let’s begin by looking at verse 26.

“Now an angel of the Lord said to Philip, ‘Go south to the road – the desert road – that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.

Just previous to this passage, in the same chapter, verse 4 through 8, we find that Philip had built up quite a ministry through his preaching of Christ to the people in Samaria.  He had proclaimed Christ, he had done miraculous signs, and he had healed people of both evil spirits and physical ailments.  When you put all of this together, you can see that he must have had quite a reputation and respect.  But suddenly the Lord had a special mission for him.  “Go south to the road – the desert road – that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.”  Why should he do that?  He had a ministry that was booming, yet suddenly he was asked to leave?  Philip didn’t know either why he was asked to go; but by faith he went.  He left the place where he was popular and well-respected, and obediently went.  Soon enough, he found out why the Lord had called him to go.  Verse 27 tells us, “So he started out, and on his way he met an Ethiopian eunuch, an important official in charge of all the treasury of Candace, queen of the Ethiopians.  This man had gone to Jerusalem to worship.

Obviously, this was the reason Philip was sent.  So who was this guy that Philip met that the Lord thought it important enough to call Philip away from a flourishing ministry to minister to him?  Let’s take a few moments to think about him.  These few verses tell us a lot actually about him.

First of all, if he’s an Ethiopian Eunuch, then obviously he is from Ethiopia.  It was a gentile area that had yet to be evangelized with the gospel message.  Through Philip, the gospel of Jesus had indeed been spreading very well in Samaria, where Philip had just been, but the gospel must not remain in Samaria.  Jesus told us to “Go and make disciples of all nations.”  So far in thinking about vision at this conference we have thought about what is big and amazingly numerous, like the stars in the sky.  But vision is not only about believing in what is big and having large numbers dance in our minds, but it is also about having hope for each individual person.  In other words, to have hope for a person is God’s vision.  We cannot have hope for each person by our own vision.   But with God’s vision we can.

When we think of where Philip and this Ethiopian were naturally located, then geographically and logistically this was a hopeless case.  Philip has the gospel message but he is busy in Samaria.  The Ethiopian is searching for the truth but is far away from where the truth is regularly preached.  Then is it an impossible case?  No.  God’s vision includes absolute hope for each person, especially for them to be saved through the gospel.  Through God’s hope and work a Bible study appointment was indeed arranged.

We also learn about his position.  He was a eunuch who was an important official in charge of all the treasury of Candace, queen of the Ethiopians.  An important official, in charge of all the treasury of Candace, queen of the Ethiopians.  To be placed in such a position over the treasury of a royal family meant that he must have been an expert of the region in finance and maybe economics as well.  The point is that he was an official who was in charge.  He was an important leader whose influence in the society was surely felt.  Does everyone know who Ben Bernanke is?  How about Alan Greenspan?  Ben Bernanke took over for Alan Greespan as chairman of the Fed at the beginning of this year, but Alan Greenspan is still more popular because of his legacy.  My point is this: like Greenspan and now Bernanke, whenever this eunuch made a financial decision people felt the effect.  In University Bible Fellowship, this is what God’s vision has been working to do.  He has given many servants his vision, showing them that college students are very important.  They are the ones who fill most of the top leadership positions like this eunuch in our society and world after they graduate.  Therefore, may God’s vision burn in our hearts that this college student movement would continue to grow and bless our world with many spiritual and influential leaders.  I don’t know if you are Republican or Democrat or what you thought of last Tuesday’s election results, but personally I’d rather have someone in charge like S. Robert Fishman who delivered this morning’s message or S. Jonathan Pyles who wrote last night’s drama.  Thank God that in many ways they are in charge, just not in politics.  Let’s not complain about leaders in our world who are corrupt but rather ask God that we may have his vision so that these positions would be filled with disciples of Jesus.

One final thing and perhaps the most important thing we find about this Ethiopian eunuch here is that he is someone with spiritual desire.  He was a truth seeker who was already actively searching for the truth.

Look at verse 27 again.  “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.”

Wow!  What a wonderfully prepared Bible student.  He was reading the Bible on his own.  He had also ordered his charioteers to take him to Jerusalem to attend worship service.  The only problem was that it was likely a Jewish worship service and nobody told him about Jesus there.  I think he went to Jerusalem full of so much hope and expectation, but then left there feeling frustrated.  He was seeking the truth.  It means that without knowing it, he was really seeking for Jesus who is the way and the truth and the life.  He had so many questions that he was just dying to have answered, like “who is the author in this scripture from Isaiah talking about?”  There are such Bible students like this.  There are such people who have this sincere spiritual desire whose hearts are just burning for someone to spend time with them and teach them the truth.

Philip’s calling to go to this Ethiopian man reminds me of the value of one soul, and God’s hope for each soul.  God saw this Ethiopian eunuch, and all his frustrations.  God saw him in his misery.  God saw that though his career was going just fine, he was miserable.  He didn’t know what he was living for.  He wanted to have a family but being a eunuch this hope was taken from him.  He wanted to find the meaning of life but nobody in Ethiopia seemed to know it, and he still couldn’t find it even after his trip to the holy city of Jerusalem.  He must have cried many tears.  Why?  Why?  What am I living for?  Is life completely meaningless?  He was like the Ancient philosopher Confucius who said, “If I know the truth today, tomorrow I can die.”  But nobody on earth was thinking of bringing this eunuch the gospel truth.  Nobody saw his frustration and misery.  But God saw him.

Let’s look at verses 29 through 31.  Shepherd Andy can you please stand up and read these verses to us really loudly.

“29The Spirit told Philip, "Go to that chariot and stay near it." 30Then Philip ran up to the chariot and heard the man reading Isaiah the prophet. "Do you understand what you are reading?" Philip asked. 31"How can I," he said, "unless someone explains it to me?" So he invited Philip to come up and sit with him.”

It’s been almost exactly 9 years since I’ve been seriously following Christ.  In these years, I’ve met a whopping 0 people who came to know and follow Jesus all on their own.  I’ve read about a few cases where somebody had very little influence from others and yet came to know Christ, but even then I believe there were likely some prayers from others that had instigated the great work.  But usually if I ask somebody how they became Christian they begin by mentioning somebody else, not themselves.  Let’s take some examples.  Shepherd Greg, did you come to know Jesus all by yourself?  Shepherdess Cari Del Casal, did you come to know Jesus all by yourself?  How about M. Isaac Kim?  It was the case of me too.

God very much designed for things to be this way.  Conversion into Christ is of course between that person and God alone.  But the process leading up to this point, is almost always, if not always a multi-party process.  So was the case with this Ethiopian Eunuch.

And this makes a lot of sense doesn’t it?  In fact Apostle Paul uses the same logic in Romans 10:12-15.  Shepherd David can you stand up and read this for us please?  (Romans 10:12-15)  You can turn there if you’d like, but he’s going to read it for you.

12For there is no difference between Jew and Gentile—the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on him, 13for, "Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved."[ HYPERLINK ";&version=31;" \l "fen-NIV-28187f#fen-NIV-28187f" \o "See footnote f" f]  14How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? 15And how can they preach unless they are sent? As it is written, "How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!"

Today there are surely these people like the Ethiopian Eunuch.  They may have tried several different religions and have been left frustrated.  They may have heard or even read some parts of the Bible but remain blinded with so many unanswered questions, saying “How can I, unless someone explains it to me?  Let’s hold God’s hope and vision for each person.  Let’s also take some of our time and explain about Jesus to them.


As Philip showed his willingness to teach the Eunuch, the Eunuch took full advantage of the opportunity at hand.  He invited Philip to come up and sit next to him on his chariot, and they began their one-to-one Bible study.  The content was Isaiah 53.  Please look down at verses 32 and 33.  This is what they studied from Isaiah, a passage which was previously very confusing to the eunuch.

“…He was led like a sheep to the slaughter, and as a lamb before the shearer is silent, so he did not open his mouth. 33In his humiliation he was deprived of justice. Who can speak of his descendants? For his life was taken from the earth."

Let me ask you a question.  Do you think this is very easy to understand?  Would you understand it if you were new to the Bible?  It is indeed a confusing passage of scripture if you don’t read other scripture, especially the gospel, as background. Still in the dark, “34The eunuch asked Philip, "Tell me, please, who is the prophet talking about, himself or someone else?" 35Then Philip began with that very passage of Scripture and told him the good news about Jesus.”

Philip’s example here is wonderful.  Again verse 35 says that Philip began with that very passage of Scripture and told him the good news about Jesus.  Prophecies of and stories of Jesus are strewn heavily throughout the Bible, so as we study the Bible with people and do our best to answer their questions, we need to keep focus and point them to Jesus.  This very passage they studied was in fact a prophecy of Jesus, telling of Jesus’ suffering, his death, and his resurrection and Philip must have explained this to him in detail and with great enthusiasm.  The result was sheer joy on the part of the eunuch.  He tasted the joy of salvation.  With this newfound joy, he wanted to move things along quickly.  He was desiring to grow as a Christian faster than his Bible teacher.  So as they traveled along the road, as soon as the eunuch caught sight of a body of water, he exclaimed, "Look, here is water. Why shouldn't I be baptized?"  I don’t know if it was a lake, a pond, or simply a large puddle of water, but whatever it was, it was water and the eunuch was ecstatic!


Something very interesting happened though after they came up out of the water.  The Spirit of the Lord suddenly took Philip away, and the eunuch didn’t see him again.  Why did this happen?  It seems verse 40 answers that for us telling us that Philip appeared at Azotus and traveled about, preaching the gospel in all the towns until he reached Caesarea.  It appears that the Lord simply needed Philip somewhere else, and since his mission there with the eunuch was complete it was time to get going.  But what I think is really interesting here is the latter part of verse 39.  It says, “and the eunuch did not see him again, but went on his way rejoicing.”  My wife Heather and I often like to joke that when I visit my parents’ house it usually takes at least a half hour to say good bye.  Saying good bye could be as simple as literally saying “good bye” which takes less than 5 seconds to say and wave.  But since we know we won’t see each other for at least a little while, people, especially my parents like to prolong it.  It’s even more extreme in Heather’s family, because they live back in Pennsylvania, and see each other even less often.  So a couple of years ago when Heather and her sister were leaving to drive out to California, Heather told me that her family and friends were out at the minivan with them saying “Good-bye” for about 3 hours before they departed.  And even when they did depart, everyone had tears in their eyes.  But it was not so with this eunuch from Ethiopia.  The eunuch went on his way rejoicing.  Why did he do that?  Was it because he cared nothing for Philip or because he had some guarantee that he would see him again soon?  No and no.  It’s because the joy of salvation is greater than the joy we can get from any other experience.  Yes he just lost connection with his friend who brought him to Christ, and he didn’t know when and if he’d get to see him again until the kingdom of God, but the joy of salvation was sufficient for him.  Sometimes, this breaking apart among people is necessary in order for the preaching of the gospel to advance.  But the joy of salvation is sufficient for us.  After committing sin against the Lord, the Psalmist King David confessed that the joy of salvation was what he really needed as he cried out for God’s mercy in prayer.  He prayed, “Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.”  May we accept that this joy of salvation is our most important joy as well.

One Word: How can I...unless someone explains it to me?