And He was Reading (Acts 8:26-40)
Topic: Acts Passage: Acts 8:26–8:40
New Year's Message
And He was Reading
(One Truth: Your Word is Truth)
December 29th, 2013
I. Receiving the Gift of the Word
This morning I would like to 'piggy back' off of an idea we talked about last Sunday. As we finished up with our “Season of Giving” series, we discovered together, or were reminded of, the fact that the greatest gift we can give to any person is the word of God. Working from Psalm 119, we talked about how the word of God is so sweet because it gives us understanding of what is truly life, in order to rescue us from the horrible consequences of being lost forever in spiritual darkness.
I pray that even this past week you, in some way, were able to give a gift or gifts of the word to those on your path. And I pray that each of us seen the reality of God's blessings in our life, and have counted ourselves as truly blessed, as we've given to others in faith.
But here's the transition from last Sunday to this Sunday. Last week, I shared this statement with you: in terms of you giving others the word, the greatest need the people in your life have is for you to be a person who is receiving the word. Do you remember that? It's fairly obvious, isn't it? We cannot give what we have not received. We cannot pour into others lives unless we are being filled up, right?
In light of this idea, and in light of the fact that a brand new year is beginning on Wednesday, let's dig deeper into this idea by looking together at Acts 8:26-40.
II. The Passage: “Beginning with this Scripture” (8:26-40)
So let me first read through this passage, then we circle back and look more carefully at several key points from the text. Verse 26...
Now an angel of the Lord said to Philip, “Rise and go toward the south to the road that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.” This is a desert place.  And he rose and went. And there was an Ethiopian, a eunuch, a court official of Candace, queen of the Ethiopians, who was in charge of all her treasure. He had come to Jerusalem to worship  and was returning, seated in his chariot, and he was reading the prophet Isaiah.  And the Spirit said to Philip, “Go over and join this chariot.”  So Philip ran to him and heard him reading Isaiah the prophet and asked, “Do you understand what you are reading?”  And he said, “How can I, unless someone guides me?” And he invited Philip to come up and sit with him.  Now the passage of the Scripture that he was reading was this: “Like a sheep he was led to the slaughter and like a lamb before its shearer is silent, so he opens not his mouth.  In his humiliation justice was denied him. Who can describe his generation? For his life is taken away from the earth.”  And the eunuch said to Philip, “About whom, I ask you, does the prophet say this, about himself or about someone else?”  Then Philip opened his mouth, and beginning with this Scripture he told him the good news about Jesus.  And as they were going along the road they came to some water, and the eunuch said, “See, here is water! What prevents me from being baptized?”  And he commanded the chariot to stop, and they both went down into the water, Philip and the eunuch, and he baptized him.  And when they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord carried Philip away, and the eunuch saw him no more, and went on his way rejoicing.  But Philip found himself at Azotus, and as he passed through he preached the gospel to all the towns until he came to Caesarea.
Okay, so clearly the main character here is Philip. But who is Philip? This is not Philip the Apostle. This is Philip, one of seven men from the Jerusalem Church who were selected by the Apostles to oversee the food distribution for those who were in need. This is most likely how the office of deacon arose in the early church.
But out of those seven, Luke (the author of Acts) goes on to highlight two of these men by describing other ways in which God used them. Chapter 7 was all about how God used one of these men, named Stephen. But here in chapter 8, the focus is on Philip. For example, look at verses 4-7:
Now those who were scattered went about preaching the word.  Philip went down to the city of Samaria and proclaimed to them the Christ.  And the crowds with one accord paid attention to what was being said by Philip when they heard him and saw the signs that he did.
So like the Apostles, Philip is proclaiming the word of God and even confirming the message through signs and wonders. But at the end of chapter 8, we see discover that God has another mission for Philip, one that also involves pushing out the boundaries of the church's witness for Christ. You see, Philip was doing what the Apostles had not done: he was going out to the very places Jesus had spoken of, to the Apostles, just before He returned to the Father. He said this in 1:8:
"But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”
So here's Philip, taking the gospel to Samaria. But in our main passage, we also see a fulfillment of Jesus' words. In those days, Ethiopia, or the Nubian kingdom, was considered the “end of the earth” going south. Even as far back as Homer's Odyssey, the Ethiopians were called “the last of men”. So in sharing the word with this Nubian court official, Philip has played an integral part in sending the gospel to the “end of the earth”.
But let me draw out four points from Acts 8:26-40, four points that I believe are wonderful reminders to us in regard to this topic of personally receiving God's gift of the word. Now, let me be clear. I don't think the main point of this passage is to encourage us to receive the gift of God's word. But I do think there are principles at work in this passage, principles that, along with other verses in other books, principles that should encourage us in terms of God's word and God's work.
What is the main point of this passage. Well let's talk about that by looking at together at point number 1:
1. God's gift of the word always comes according to His power and purposes (vs. 27-29, 32, 39).
One thing that it is crystal clear from this passage is the fact that God is at work to arrange things here according to His power and His purposes. Do you see that? Philip is supernaturally told where to go. And when he finally gets there he is, once again, supernaturally directed to go over to a particular chariot just as the Ethiopian official is reading Isaiah chapter 53, verses 7 and 8. Everything is lined up so that the gospel can be proclaimed and this man can receive new life. Even the timing of the watering hole (in the middle of the desert) is providential in terms of the man's desire for baptism.
You see, this point is central to the main point of this passage. Since the book of Acts is an account of how God worked to expand and establish the gospel through the expansion and establishment of the early church, this passage is a wonderful example of how God was at work to do that very thing.
But let's go back to point 1: God's gift of the word always comes to according to His power and purpose. But do we believe this about OUR time in God's word? Do you believe that God is at work, powerfully and purposefully when you open the Scriptures? Like the Ethiopian, do you believe that when you read, God has you reading a specific passage for a specific reason? Do you think about your reading in that way? Let's build on that by looking at a second point that comes from this passage...
2. God's gift of the word always involves the gift of fellow recipients. (vs. 30, 31)
We are not alone in regard to the word. We are not the only ones who have received God's gift, or are receiving God's gift. As we see here, God not only arranged the 'what' and 'when' of the Scripture reading. He also arranged for Philip to come alongside of this man at just the right time.
And why was Philip sent to this man? He was supernaturally sent to this official because he too was a recipient of God's word. The only difference was that Philip had received more of the word than this Nubian treasurer. And because he had a fuller knowledge of what God had revealed, Philip was sent to help this man understand.
Isn't this true for us as well? Hasn't God placed people in your life who have sat with you and helped you understand God's word? Not only has God given pastor-teachers to the church, but as we've talked about over the last two Sundays, He also calls every single one of us to “speak the truth in love” to one another. You might no receive a message from an angel, but God's Spirit is still at work to empower all of us to come alongside each other in this way.
But there's more we can say about how God has arranged things here. Here's the point 3:
3. God's gift of the word should always point you to Jesus and his gospel. (vs. 32-35)
Notice why God has arranged for the Ethiopian official to be reading that passage at that time. Clearly He wanted this man to hear the Good News about Jesus.
Of all the verses in the Old Testament, could there be any better verses than these from which to declare Jesus? The British scholar F.F. Bruce puts it this way,
“At a time when not one line of the any New Testament document had been written, what scripture could any evangelist have used more fittingly as a starting point for presenting the story of Jesus to one who did not know him?”
But isn't the same true for us, no matter what verse or passage we are reading? We have any easier time seeing this in the New Testament. But is this true for the Old Testament as well? Remember what Jesus himself taught us about the Old Testament:
“You diligently study the Scriptures because you think that by them you possess eternal life. These are the Scriptures that testify about me, 40 yet you refuse to come to me to have life.” (John 5:39, 40)
“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.” (Matthew 5:17)
Power and purpose. God’s power is at work through His Holy Spirit in your life in order to accomplish His purpose of pointing you to Jesus Christ. Are you looking for Jesus whenever you open the word? Are you listening for His gospel whenever you read? But there’s one more point I want to draw out of this passage from Acts 8…
4. God's gift of the word should always lead to eager obedience. (vs. 36, 38 (26, 27a, 40))
Don’t you love the way the Ethiopian official responds to the message about Jesus? Do you think he understood the gospel that Philip was sharing with him? Yes! But how do we know? Well, his reaction is extremely persuasive, isn’t it? Notice that Philip doesn’t suggest baptism here. The initiative is completely the Ethiopian’s! As soon as he sees the water, he is ‘chomping at the bit’ to get into that water and publicly profess his faith in Christ.
When we truly receive the gift of the word that God wants to give us, this should be our response as well. We should be eager to obey. Why? Because when we truly SEE through the lens of Scriptutre, we SEE both the goodness of God and the goodness of His will. We SEE joy. We SEE hope. We SEE freedom. We SEE peace. All the things we run here and there for, all the things we desperately desire, through the word, we SEE them in Christ and in God’s will for our lives.
III. New Year, New Gifts
And so if you believe those two statements from last week:
The word of God is so sweet because it gives us understanding of what is truly life, in order to rescue us from the horrible consequences of being lost forever in spiritual darkness. AND…
In terms of you giving others the word, the greatest need the people in your life have is for you to be a person who is receiving the word.
If you believe both of those statements, then I want you to get excited about 2014. There is a brand new year up ahead of us, and in light of what we’ve seen this morning, we must believe that God has an amazing amount of new gifts for us in the new year. You see, whenever we receive the gift of God’s word, we are blessed by gifts of insight, encouragement, hope, wisdom, and yes, even conviction.
Do you believe God has all of this for you? That like the Ethiopian official, God is at work even now to arrange circumstances in order to work powerfully and purposefully in YOUR life? He does!
I want to invite you, I want to strongly encourage you to join me as we, each day, receive the gift of God’s word in 2014. Let me talk very practically about how we can do this very thing:
1. Helpful Tips
First, the WHAT: the what of course is the word of God, but along with that, a tool that we call our Three-a-Day reading calendar. By using this schedule of readings, you will work through the entire Bible with us in 2014.
Second, the HOW: the calendar works by providing you with three chapters to read each day. Do you have to read all of them? No. Can you read just one or two tracks? Of course. What if you miss a day and get behind? Then just start again with the current day. The main goal is not that you check off every box in this book. The main goal is to nurture in you a regular devotion of hearing from God.
Third, the WHO: Just as God brought Philip to the Ethiopian to read and share with him, so God has people who can partner with you in 2014. Who will be your reading partner in the new year? Well, there is a sign-up sheet in back if you would like to be connected with a brother or sister. How does it work? Simple. Just figure out the best way for you to connect with a reading partner (in person, phone, e-mail, Facebook), commit to at least 15 minutes each week, and then use the Key Questions sheet to help you as you share thoughts, questions, praises and/or prayer requests with your Reading Partner.
2. Helpful Resources
And we’ve also got some helpful resources for you. We have copies of the reading calendar here, as well as on our website. We’ve got the Key Questions sheets for you. There are a number of books for purchase here or online that can assist you. And if you connect with our Facebook page or new Twitter account, you can get daily reflections on what you’re reading (as well as post thoughts and questions). And as you may or may not have noticed, every Sunday, our opening Scripture is always taken from our past week’s Three-a-Day readings.
What will 2014 be like for you? What’s in store for you in the new year? Well, there is so much we cannot predict. But one thing we can know: the word of God is a light to our path, and through it, by God’s grace, through His Spirit, we can find guidance and grace for whatever comes our way.
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