Philip and the Eunuch
August 21st, 1977 @ 8:15 AM
PHILIP AND THE EUNUCH
Dr. W. A. Criswell
8-21-77 8:15 a.m.
Thank you choir. And now once again we invite all of our people here and on radio to turn in your Bible to Acts chapter 8; the eighth chapter of the Book of Acts, and we are going to read out loud and together the passage that is expounded by the pastor this morning. It is entitled Philip and the Eunuch; and the reading is Acts chapter 8, beginning at verse 26 to the end of the chapter. In our preaching through the Book of Acts, we have come to the latter part of this eighth chapter, which has in it one of the most beautiful messages and most meaningful that we could find in all the Word of God. And instead of my reading the text just by myself, you are going to see in the message why it is that I want all of us to read it together. Acts chapter 8, beginning at verse 26, now all of us together:
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, a 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 Isaiah 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 Isaiah, 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 He opened 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.
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.
Now Philip was found at Azotus: and passing through he preached in all the cities, till he came to Caesarea.
First: the strange ways of God. Reading the entire chapter, the eighth chapter of the Book of Acts, Philip, this deacon layman, was in a tremendous revival meeting in a city in Samaria [Acts 8:5-13]. And in the midst of that revival meeting, an angel of the Lord spake to him and said, “Leave this city, and this great outpouring of the presence and Spirit of God upon the people, and go into the desert, into a place that I will show thee” [Acts 8:26]. What an amazing and inexplicable thing! God takes away the preacher in that tremendous revival. But isn’t it a wonderful thing that this man Philip was on speaking terms with angels? And when one of the angels of God spake to him and bid him go out into the desert, this man Philip obeyed, not knowing whither he went [Acts8:27]; just like Abraham [Hebrews 11:8-10]. “For we walk by faith, not by sight” [2 Corinthians 5:7]. Not that we’re able to explain, but God can. Not that we know, but He knows. And so Philip, listening to the voice of the angel, made his way into the loneliness and stillness of the desert; nothing there but the far away stretching sands, the emptiness of the solitude and stillness of the vast expanding desert, standing there alone by the side of a road [Acts 8:26-27].
But God has a purpose, always, in what He does, how He does it, and what He speaks to us. There was a man coming by in a chariot [Acts 8:27-28]. And God has a love and a care and a compassion for the one just as much as He does for the masses and for the multitudes. He has that love and compassionate care for you, individually. He knows your name [John 10:3], and all about you; and He watches over for good in your life, if you will listen to His voice, and follow His will. God cares for you. And He did for this man who was to come by in a chariot on that road.
Next we have this meeting in the desert. The story begins with a, “Behold,” an exclamation, “Behold” [Acts 8:27]. I would take that to mean that as Philip stood there in the desert by the side of a road, wondering at the purpose and meaning and plan of God, he was startled, as looking up the road he sees a cartage: there is a man coming with his attendants, “Behold,” and the sight began to take form and shape as it drew nearer to him. Who is this man? What is he? And the verses immediately follow describe him. First of all, he’s described as a eunuch of the court of Ethiopia [Acts 8:27]. One of the attendant evils of the Oriental harem was that ever present eunuch. This Ethiopian was a victim of that terrible institution. He was an emasculated man; he was a dry branch, he was a withered limb; no hope of posterity or family or issue. But, he was a great man. He is described as a man of great authority under Candace, queen of the Ethiopians, who had the charge of all her treasure [Acts 8:27]. He was the secretary of the treasury in his country. He was like Daniel, who also was a eunuch [Daniel 1:3, 6-7], in the court of the Babylonians. This man was a eunuch in the court of Candace, the ancient kingdom of Ethiopia [Daniel 8:27].
But he also was a man with a heart hunger for God. Meroë, the capital of ancient Ethiopia, in the upper Nile, was a long way from Jerusalem. But somehow this man had been won to the faith of the true Jehovah God, and had made that long journey to Jerusalem, as the King James beautifully says it, “for to worship” [Acts 8:27]. That is, he was a proselyte of the temple, not of the gate. A proselyte of the gate would be like Cornelius, a man who had just embraced the moral magnitude and spiritual elevation of the Mosaic legislation [Acts 10:1-6]. But this man had given his whole life to the true God; he was a proselyte of the temple, and he had gone to Jerusalem, maybe as many times before, “for to worship” [Acts 8:27]. But even though he had found the true God, and even though he’d made that long journey to Jerusalem to worship the Lord, there was still a hunger in his heart. There was an emptiness in his soul, longing after God [Acts 8:27].
Isn’t that a strange thing, that religion does not supply that ever famishing spirit in the soul? Religion, dear me, Jerusalem was filled with religion. There was the incomparable temple, the sacrifices, the pageantry, the processions, the paraphernalia, the ceremonies, the rituals, all of the accouterments of worship. And yet this man was still heart hungry for God [Acts 8:27].
As I look over the whole world, no wonder that man wrote the volume entitled This Believing World, This Religious World. I was the guest of a rich family in Old Mexico City. They belonged to the state church. But they found an emptiness in it that just broke my heart, and they said, “We go to church just for a funeral or just for a wedding.” I stood, looking at Notre Dame, trying to visualize all of the tremendous events that had swept through that startling edifice for God. I could not because wherever I walked I was hounded and pressed on every side by men who were selling pornographic cards and pornographic literature. I stood in front of one of the most beautiful temples in the world, the Kali heathen temple in Calcutta, India. There above the main entrance was a great placard, a large sign. Did it say, “This is the house of God”? No. Did it say, “Enter His courts with worship”? No. Did it say, “This is the gate to heaven”? No. Did it say, “Come unto Me all ye that weary and are heavy laden”? [Matthew 11:28]. No. You know what the big caption was? “Beware of pickpockets”—a den of thieves.
Somehow this man found his heart still empty after all of the ceremony and ritual and pageantry of priesthood and outward worship. In the city of Jerusalem, he had somehow found a copy of the scroll of Isaiah [Acts 8:28]. When I see that scroll of Isaiah, in the shrine of the book in Jerusalem, on the campus of the Hebrew University, I think of that man. It was a like scroll, exactly like that, that this statesman of Ethiopia had found in the city of Jerusalem. And sitting in his chariot, riding back to Meroë, his capital city, he was reading the prophecy out loud. You see, the old rabbis had taught their people that the Word of God must be read aloud. Haven’t you heard me say a thousand times, that every syllable of the Bible was written to be read aloud? Every book in it, every paragraph and verse, written to be read out loud. And this Ethiopian statesman, this secretary of the treasury, was seated in that chariot, reading out loud the prophecy of Isaiah [Acts 8:30].
And when the chariot came where Philip stood, he was in the fifty-third chapter. “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the Lord hath laid on Him the iniquity of us all. . .He was led as a lamb to the slaughter, and who shall declare His generation? For He was cut off from the earth” [Isaiah 53:6-8; Acts 8:32-33]. The eunuch read that, and as he read it he was filled with bewilderment and doubtings, “What is this? And to whom does this refer?” [Acts 8:34]. And his heart longed for someone to bring light to his darkened and ununderstanding mind. Isn’t that a glorious thing, that the man is teachable? He longs for light and would follow it if he could find it. How many people do you know – and they’re everywhere – they exalt in their doubts, they magnify their agnosticism, and they look with contempt upon inferior intellects that are pleased with solutions that to them are unacceptable. This man was teachable in his bewilderment, longing after ultimate and final answers from heaven [Acts 8:34]. And this is God: whenever a man searches for God, God reveals Himself to him. If a man wants to do the will of God, he’ll know the will. The Lord Himself said, “He that willeth to do His will shall know the teaching, the doctrine, the way thereof” [John 7:17]. And isn’t that the goodness of God? At that exact time, in that exact spot, in that exact space, in that exact place stood God’s man with God’s message [Acts 8:26-27]. That’s always true. If a man wants to know God and God’s will and God’s way, the Lord will purposely, plannedly make it possible for you to know.
And there stood God’s man. Somehow the statesman sensed that this stranger, walking by his chariot as he read the prophet, was somehow an authority sent from heaven, and he invited him to come and sit with him in the chariot [Acts 8:31]. What did Philip preach? What did Philip say? Seated there with that open scroll in their hands, looking at the Word of God, the eunuch said, “I pray thee, Of whom speaketh the prophet this? Is he speaking of himself, or of some other?” [Acts 8:34]. Then Philip opened his mouth and began at the same Scripture,” and preached to him about a terrible institution of emasculation; that’s what would have happened today. “And Philip opened his mouth and began at the same Scripture,” and preached unto him about the terrible institution of slavery; man, three out of five in the Roman Empire were slaves. “And Philip began at the same Scripture, and opened his mouth, and preached unto him,” about poverty and civil rights and a thousand other social issues that burden the life of the Greco-Roman Empire. That’d be the modern way. That’s the modern church, the modern preacher, the modern denomination, the modern whole gamut of Christianity. What does the Book say by inspiration? “Philip opened his mouth, began at the same Scripture, and preached unto him Jesus” [Acts 8:35]. Man, you don’t have to worry about all of these social curses if people knew Jesus, if they gave their hearts and lives to Jesus. You wouldn’t have to worry about the governorship or the legislature or the presidency or anything else in the world if you had men who had given their lives to Jesus.
“And beginning at the same Scripture, he preached unto him Jesus” [Acts 8:35]. Why, I can just, I can just hear Philip. Taking that fifty-third chapter of Isaiah that points to Jesus: first, talking to that eunuch about sin; and then talking to that eunuch about death; and those two God has forever linked together, and no man can break it. “The wages of sin is death [Romans 6:23]…And the soul that sins shall die” [Ezekiel 18:4], and we are a dying people—sin and death. Then I can hear Philip as he speaks to that statesman about the atonement: “Jesus, coming into this world to die for our sins according to the Scriptures” [1 Corinthians 15:3]. Then I can hear him as he speaks to that eunuch about the resurrection: “And He was raised for our justification by the Holy Spirit of God [Romans 4:25]; raised from the dead, declared to be the Son of the Blessed” [Romans 1:4]. Then I can hear Philip as he describes to that deacon, and that whole gospel message is portrayed in the holy ordinance of baptism: our sin and our death to sin in Christ, and our resurrection to a new life in Jesus [Romans 6:3-7]. And when he got to that, the eunuch broke in and said, “Look, here is water.” Somewhere in the desert they had passed an oasis, and there was a fountain of water. “Here is water. What doth hinder my being baptized?” [Acts 8:36]
You know I had an experience like that, almost exactly like that. There was a man who was the most difficult kind of a man I ever tried to work with. And to my amazement, at a morning service, eleven o’clock service, he came to church. And to my further amazement, after the service he stayed to talk to me. And he was amenable because of a tragedy that had come into his life, a great sorrow; he was amenable to my speaking to him about the Lord and about the forgiveness of sins in Him. And when I had testified and witnessed, we knelt down there in the empty church, we knelt down together. And while I was praying, praying for that man’s soul, while I was praying, he put forth his hand, and took my knee, and shook it. And he said, “Preacher, preacher, stop, wait.” I had just poured out my heart in prayer. “Stop,” he said. “Something marvelous has happened to my heart. I have accepted Christ as my Savior, and I want to be baptized.” I baptized him that night. What a wonderful thing!
While this deacon layman Philip was witnessing to the meaning of baptism, our death to the world in the forgiveness of our sins, our resurrection in Christ to a new life in Him [Romans 6:3-7], “I want to be baptized.” And there on the spot, immediately, “They went down into the water, both Philip and the eunuch; and he baptized him” [Acts 8:38], buried with the Lord in the likeness of His death, raised with the Lord in the likeness of His resurrection [Romans 6:5]. And when they came up out of the water, the eunuch turned to thank the preacher; and when he turned to thank the preacher, the preacher had gone: God had removed him [Acts 8:39]. Isn’t that a wondrous thing? No one there left but Jesus only.
You remember the story of the transfiguration? When Peter and John saw the Lord’s face as it had been the face of the sun, transfigured, and the voice came out of the glory, “This is My beloved Son; hear ye Him,” Peter and John fell prostrate in fear at the voice of God Almighty. And the Lord laid His hand upon them, and when they lifted up their faces, they saw no one but Jesus only [Matthew 17:5-8]. Exactly with this eunuch: turned to thank the preacher, God had taken him away; no one left but Jesus only [Acts 8:39]. And down the road did he go [Acts 8:39]: a few moments before desperately needing, indispensably so, a guide [Acts 8:31]; but now in his hand the Word of God, and in his heart the Spirit of Jesus [Acts 8:37]. And we watch him as he goes down that road in his chariot [Acts 8:39]. And we look. And we look closely, and steadily, and in amazement! Why, there were just three in that chariot. There was that Ethiopian statesman, there was the driver, there was the attendant, but I see a fourth One: and the fourth One is like unto the Son of God. What a wonderful thing. “And he went on his way rejoicing” [Acts 8:39]. Coming into their capital city of Meroë, singing, happy, blessed of God; the beginning of the Coptic church.
Isn’t that the sweetest thing you’ve ever heard of? And that happens in every man’s life who will open his heart to the blessed Jesus. God fills his soul to overflowing, and He does it again and again and again. Today it’s like heaven, and the next day it’s another vision of glory. And the third day is more wondrous than the day before, and so through the days that multiply, till we see Him face to face [1 Corinthians 13:12; 1 John 3:2]. That’s our invitation to you. Come, pilgrimage with us to glory. It’s the happy way. It’s the heavenly way. It’s the glory road. Give your heart and your life to Jesus [Romans 10:9-13].
On our first note of this invitation hymn, when you stand up to sing, stand up walking down that stairway, walking down this aisle. “Pastor, today, I have decided for God, and here I am [Ephesians 2:8]. Pastor, I’m bringing my family; we’re all coming today.” Or just two, or just one somebody you, in this moment, make that decision for God. And when you stand up, take that first step; that’s the greatest step you’ll ever take in your life. “Here I am, pastor, I’m on the way.” Do it now. Come now, while we stand and while we sing.