God uses a whole variety of ways to bring people to himself. Some come to faith through the witness of Christian parents, but others come from homes where their parents do not believe the gospel. My friend Mucky was a loyalist paramilitary who cried out to God in desperation when he was in a remand centre. My friend Neill was influenced by a godly teacher who took young people for Bible Study. In London I met a former Muslim whose interest in Christianity began when he heard that the Bible taught people to love their enemies, and pondered on how this was different than anything he had read in the Qur’an.
This evening's passage gives us one of the most exciting stories of someone coming to faith. But it is not the miraculous nature of the events described that make this conversion so special, it is the fact that this conversion demonstrates Christ's commitment to bring the good news to the world.
Jesus is committed to building a diverse community through the sharing of his word.
1. Jesus will build his church (8:1-8)
We have seen that Acts is primarily a record of what the risen Jesus continued to do and teach in this world after he ascended to heaven and has sent the Holy Spirit. In the first chapter we are given a table of contents for this book, anticipating how his people will be his witnesses in Jerusalem and all Judea, throughout Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.
So far the action has been confined to Jerusalem. The gospel has not yet gone to stage two. Then something awful happens. Stephen is martyred and his death is followed by a wave of persecution. All but the apostles are scattered throughout the surrounding regions. And these ordinary people speak about Jesus wherever they go. Many in Judea and Samaria Are brought to faith. While wicked people had oppressed the church Jesus used that pressure to further his purposes.
Jesus has promised that the gospel will be preached to the ends of the earth. We are told that there will be people from every ethnic group in heaven. The remaining unreached groups will hear about Christ and then he will return. As we witness the book of Acts progress from stage one (Jerusalem) to stage two (Judea and Samaria) we get to see Jesus' commitment to fulfilling this mission. We also how he uses people like us to bring about his purposes.
2. The church is a diverse community (8:26-40)
At the end of the chapter Philip is sent on an extra-ordinary mission. We are told three things about the person he is to approach. We are told that he is an Ethiopian (once). We are told that he is an important official (once). We are told that eunuch (five times). Why is there such an emphasis on the fact that this man has been castrated? The answer lies in the Old Testament.
In the book of Deuteronomy we are told about a God who is perfect. This perfect God does not allow imperfection to approach him. Therefore, castrated men were only to be allowed in the outer courts of he temple.
But this perfect God is also kind and merciful. He has a plan for imperfect people. The eunuch was reading from a scroll of Isaiah. In that book he will have read that the ends of the earth will hear the salvation of The Lord (52:10). If he was to continue reading he would see that eunuchs will be among those to be fully blessed in God (56:3-4).
A perfect God has a plan for imperfect people. A merciful God intends to bring broken people to himself. A forgiving God wants to forget our past. A living God wants to give us hope. A joyful God wants to rejoice over us. A holy God wants to wash us. A mighty God wants to transform us. But how?
3. People are saved through the gospel (8:26-40)
A holy God may have taught his people about his perfection by restricting castrated men to the outer court of the temple but this perfection of God was a problem for us all. God is not primarily interested in outward appearance but looks at the heart. Morally all of us were broken. How can a God who will not let imperfection approach him accept people who are spiritually blemished? The answer lies in the text that the eunuch is reading
Hundreds of years before the Roman Empire gained power and made crucifixion an art form, hundreds of years before Jesus was born in Bethlehem, Isaiah predicted the death of Christ in graphic terms. He was led like a sheep to the slaughter. He was silent. Justice was denied him. Like the eunuch, he was denied physical descendants. Beginning with this passage Philip told him the good news about Jesus.
Jesus lived the perfect life and died for our imperfections. He took the punishment for all our spiritual blemishes. Now God invites all sorts of people to approach his throne with confidence. We can approach a perfect God with the perfect righteousness of Christ. Jesus was pierced for our transgressions, Jesus was crushed for our iniquities, the punishment that brought us peace was upon him.
Jesus is committed to building a diverse community through the sharing of his word. There is no other name given by which people must be saved (4:12).
This message was for Jews in Jerusalem, and their enemies in Samaria. Jesus is committed to bringing to good news to the ends of the world. He uses people to bring that good news. It is news that tells us how a perfect God can accept blemished people. It is news that centres on the life and death if Jesus.
John Wesley lived in the 1700s. He was a Church of England vicar but he did not know peace with God. He could see his imperfections and didn't grasp how a perfect God could accept him. Then he went to a meeting where the gospel was explained clearly. He explained in his journal:
'I felt I did trust Christ, Christ alone, for salvation; and an assurance was given me, that he had taken away my sins, even mine, and saved me from the law of sin and death.'
Experiencing that reality compelled him to travel the world with the good news of Christ's love for all people.