May 19, 2019
Pastor Jeff Struecker
John Dolan was a nobody. He’s a guy who lived on the streets of London. He was a homeless man for almost 20 years. Basically, he made some mistakes, made some poor choices, ended up in a life of crime, eventually got himself addicted to first alcohol; then he turned to drugs. Pretty soon he was a heroin addict, and he lived on the streets of London for 20 years.
Dolan would tell you the low point of his life, the part that it couldn’t get any worse than this: His only possession, his only real pleasure in life, is that he had a dog that kind of followed him around. Dolan named this dog George, and one day he got so low that he sold his dog, George (listen to this), for a can of beer.
So Dolan is heartbroken. He misses the dog, and he wishes that he didn’t make this mistake. So he starts to doodle, starts to sketch his dog. He’s making these little pictures. He’s selling them on the street, you know, basically just a little sketch of his dog, and he’s selling them for change in a coffee cup. Dolan starts to draw little doodles of his dog in front of famous London landmarks, and this is basically what he does all day long. He lives on the street. He’s hooked on drugs. He’s sketching his dog, George, this Staffordshire bull terrier that he sold for a can of beer, and one day, in one moment, John Dolan goes from a nobody to a somebody.
The Guardian newspaper says it this way: “As he was doodling, as he was sketching that day, a famous London art gallery owner, a guy by the name of Richard Howard Griffin, walks by, and he notices these sketches. He sees that there’s something special about them. So he asked Dolan if he could borrow a sketch. “I don’t want to buy it. Can I just borrow it?” He puts one of John Dolan’s sketches in his London art gallery, which sends shock waves across the art community of London. Because of this one moment, this one event when John Dolan’s sketch gets picked up by a London art dealer, John Dolan today (look him up on Facebook -John Dolan Art), he’s selling sketches for $5,000 a piece. He wrote a book about his life on the streets. He’s doing art galleries in London and Los Angeles. This man’s life took a radical shift in one day. He went from nobody to somebody when he met a London art gallery owner.
Let me tell you where we’re going to go with this sermon today. Today, I want you to see how, when somebody is introduced to Jesus, they go from being a nobody to a somebody, and what I’m going to use for you today, the thing that represents that whole transformation, is the word baptism.
Now, I want you to write this sentence down for just a second, will you? But I want you to put a little asterisk next to it, because this is a dangerous sentence if you don’t understand what I’m trying to say. Baptism alone doesn’t get anybody into Heaven. I’m using this one word, baptism, to describe the whole process of repentance and faith and being born again and becoming a child of God. The thing that represents that often in Scripture is when somebody makes their faith public by going through the waters of baptism.
Here’s what I’m saying: Baptism doesn’t send somebody to Heaven, but when they’ve genuinely encountered Jesus Christ, they go from a nobody to a somebody, and baptism shows people outside what’s already happened to them on the inside. I’m not speaking about a “second baptism” where you get the Holy Spirit later. No, no, no; that’s not what we’re talking about today. In fact, that’s not a thing. What we’re talking about today is genuine, saving faith. -what we see described for us in the book of Acts, chapter eight.
If you’re new to our church, we’ve been studying through the book of Acts. Today we’re going to end the chapter. We’re going to start with verse 26, and we’re going to see this guy who, when he gets to Jerusalem, realizes for the first time, he’s a nobody. And then all of a sudden, God supernaturally sends one of his followers, an everyday, ordinary Christian, to go talk to this Ethiopian eunuch.
I. Nobody is unloved by Jesus
Here’s how the story begins, but I’d like for you to write this down because this is true of all people who have encountered Jesus Christ: Nobody that you know is unloved. Nobody is unlovable by Jesus.
If there was a guy who fit this criteria and was unlovable by Jesus, the Ethiopian eunuch is this guy. Here’s the story. Acts chapter eight, starting in verse 26:
26 An angel of the Lord spoke to Philip: “Get up and go south to the road that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.” (This is the desert road.) 27 So he got up and went. There was an Ethiopian man, a eunuch and high official of Candace, queen of the Ethiopians, who was in charge of her entire treasury. He had come to worship in Jerusalem 28 and was sitting in his chariot on his way home, reading the prophet Isaiah aloud. 29 The Spirit told Philip, “Go and join that chariot.”
So, let’s talk about this Ethiopian eunuch for just a second. I don’t want to talk about all of the things that he has going for him, nor all of the things that he’s got that he doesn’t have going for him. But let’s just talk a little bit about how big of a deal this guy is back in Ethiopia, because Ethiopia (if you have a different translation of the Bible, it may use the word Kush), this is the region of Africa that really today is considered Ethiopia, Eritrea, and Sudan. -a big kingdom.
And in this kingdom, in Bible times, the king of the land is really just a figurehead. He’s considered by the people of the day to be a human representation of the sun god. What I’m trying to tell you is that it’s really the queen that rules in Ethiopia back in the day, and the queen would have a court. In her court, she would have very loyal, very faithful followers. These guys were often eunuchs. The Bible tells us that one of these eunuchs was in charge of her entire treasury. This guy is kind of like the minister of finance, and he is a really, really big deal in Ethiopia. He goes on a spiritual pilgrimage from Ethiopia to Jerusalem, probably trying to figure out who God is and get to know the creator more intimately.
He probably goes to the Temple in Jerusalem, and that’s where he realizes he’s actually a nobody. Let me tell you what the guy has going against him. When he gets to Jerusalem and when he tries to get into the Temple, he can’t. The reason he can’t get into the Temple is because he’s a Gentile (he doesn’t come from a Jewish family), because he’s a foreigner (in fact, this is an African man). Because he’s physically deformed, he can’t go to the Temple Mount. He can’t hear the priests in the Holy Place in Jerusalem. He goes to Jerusalem, and he returns home completely disappointed.
We know he’s disappointed because as he’s driving home, he’s reading the Bible, trying to figure out for himself what he went to Jerusalem to figure out. He’s leaving Israel, and if you go check out Gaza on Google Earth today, here’s what you’re going to see: This is the last stop on the train. There is nothing in front of you after you leave Gaza but desert and going back to Ethiopia. This is the last opportunity this guy will ever have in his lifetime to hear about King Jesus as far as he knows, and he’s on the road on his chariot, completely disappointed, because he goes to Jerusalem to learn about Jesus and leaves there completely unfulfilled. He leaves there as a nobody.
But God was working all of these circumstances out so that while he was in Jerusalem, God was already preparing a faithful witness, a guy by the name of Philip, to go meet him on this desert road. Now, let’s put this event today in the broader context of the book of Acts. Remember that back to Acts chapter six, there’s a crisis in the church. There are some Greek widows who are not getting food. They’re starving to death. The pastors of the church say, “It would be wrong for us to get so involved with this that we can’t focus on teaching and on preaching. So we’re going to find seven Greek guys who are skilled and able to meet this need.” Philip is one of those seven guys.
I’m telling you this because you have to picture in your mind what just happened in Jerusalem. An angel shows up and says, “Philip, I want you to leave those 99 Greek widows, and I want you to go meet this one guy on a desert road out in the middle of nowhere.” And now what you see in the book of Acts is exactly what Jesus said is supposed to happen. In Luke chapter 15, he says, “What shepherd, what man who owns 100 sheep, if one of those 100 sheep gets away from the rest of the flock, what shepherd wouldn’t leave the 99 [listen to Jesus’ language], leave the 99 sheep in the open field [vulnerable to attack by lions and wolves], who wouldn’t leave those 99 and go chase after the one? And when that Shepherd finds the one, he puts it over his shoulders, and he comes back and he tells his friends, ‘Rejoice with me. The sheep that was lost is now found.’” And then Jesus says it this way (Luke chapter 15, verse seven): “I tell you the truth. There is more rejoicing in Heaven over the one sheep [this man on the desert road], than over the 99 that are already found.”
I’m telling us this today because I’m going to challenge you, Church. We really have to take a hard look at ourselves right now. In fact, I want to ask you to do something. When this service is over with today, walk through those doors going to Hightower Hall. Go look at that board about baptisms and ask the question, “How are we doing, Calvary, leaving the 99 and going after the one?” Nobody is unlovable. Nobody is unloved by Jesus.
II. Nobody is unable to understand the message
If this man isn’t unloved, he isn’t unloved by Jesus, and nobody is unable to understand the message of the Gospel. They just need somebody to help them figure out what it says. John Polhill wrote a commentary about the Book of Acts. He says in Greek culture (300 years before this event), in Roman culture, at the time that this is recorded, Ethiopia was considered literally, the words that were used to describe Ethiopia is, it’s the end of the world. There’s nothing after Ethiopia.
If you were here last Sunday, I want you to put in your mind what just happened. Jesus (Acts chapter one, verse eight) says to his disciples. “You will be my witnesses. It’s going to start in Jerusalem. It’s going to go to Judea. It’s going to go to Samaria.” You heard about Philip meeting a Samaritan man, and today, literally, Acts chapter one verse eight is telling you now the witnesses are going to Roman culture and Greek culture. -the end of the world. The Gospel is spreading to every known corner of the world right here in front of us. Acts chapter eight, starting in verse 30:
When Philip ran up to it, he heard him reading the prophet Isaiah, and said, “Do you understand what you’re reading?” 31 “How can I,” he said, “unless someone guides me?” So he invited Philip to come up and sit with him. 32 Now the Scripture passage he was reading was this: He was led like a sheep to the slaughter, and as a lamb is silent before its shearer, so he does not open his mouth. 33 In his humiliation justice was denied him. Who will describe his generation? For his life is taken from the earth. 34 The eunuch said to Philip, “I ask you, who is the prophet saying this about—himself or someone else?” 35 Philip proceeded to tell him the good news about Jesus, beginning with that Scripture.
Now you’ve got to get the supernatural timing of what’s happening here because God can’t make this any easier today. It’s like he is putting the ball on the tee and saying, “Philip, I can’t do anything for you next but swing the bat. All you’ve got to do is just simply swing the bat. You can’t possibly miss it. He’s reading from the Bible, and not only is he reading from the Bible, he is reading from the one of the clearest passages in the entire Old Testament about King Jesus”
Check this out. Philip gets up in the middle of the day, in the middle of the morning, and he feels an angel prompting him, God directing him, “Leave Jerusalem. Go down to Gaza. Get on the desert road. I’ll tell you what to do next.” I’m convinced Phillip is confused. “I’m not really sure why I’m here, but I’m listening to the Holy Spirit.”
As he’s standing along the road going to Gaza, a chariot comes by, and the Holy Spirit prompts Philip, “Hey, go over to that chariot.” That’s all of the information that Philip gets. Philip goes over to the chariot. He hears this foreign guy, this true Gentile (absolutely first guy in the book of Acts that is outside of the faith completely), and he’s reading the Bible. He’s reading from the book of Isaiah. And this is what I’m convinced happens with Philip: “Ding ding ding ding ding! Okay, God. I got it. You can’t make it any easier than this. It’s not hard to figure out that I’m going to go ask the guy a simple question, a gospel question (hey, do you understand what you’re reading?)”
And here’s the truth: This guy is a smart guy. He really is well-educated because back in the day, very few people could read, let alone possess a book. And he has the wisdom to ask a very perceptive question. “Is this passage about the prophet Isaiah, or is it about somebody else?” And now Philip just simply goes into a gospel conversation. I’m convinced the conversation probably went something like this: “Hey, even though you may be a subject, a servant of the queen of Ethiopia, you are in rebellion against the King of Kings. Any time anyone lives for himself instead of for him, any time you do wrong, it’s called sin. All sin is rebellion against the King of the Kings. Sin is punishable by death. That’s what I deserve. That’s what you deserve. But here’s what the King of Kings did: Instead of sentencing you to die, he died in your place, and now he’s inviting you (yes, this Ethiopian, deformed Gentile) to become a subject of the King of Kings, to become a servant of the king.”
And Philip has to explain to this guy what your friends, what your next door neighbors, what the guy that you work with or the gal that you go to college with, they need you to explain as well. You see, this guy can’t figure it out for himself, and the Bible tells us why not. 1st Corinthians, chapter two, verse 14 says this: Spiritual things are unable to be understood by people who aren’t Christians. It’s spiritual, and they need the Holy Spirit to help them understand spiritual things. That’s why you and I, who understand Christianity, have to go explain these spiritual things to the people who don’t understand Christianity.
If we live in a city where 70 to 80% by all measures of this community are on their way to a Christ-less eternity in Hell, we have to go to them and help them understand spiritual things, because you can’t use the argument, “They’ve got the Bible; they could figure it out on their own.” If that was the case, Phillip didn’t need to go talk to this Ethiopian eunuch. God miraculously, supernaturally sends Philip out there to go meet this guy. And he sends me, sends you, today on the exact same mission that he sent Philip on. The mission is the Great Commission. Phillip’s assignment just happened to be Gaza. My assignment, your assignment, happens to be the Chattahoochee Valley or wherever God puts you next.
III. Nobody is too unclean for baptism
Nobody is unlovable. Nobody is unable to hear that Gospel message if you and I will just go to them, because nobody is too unclean for baptism. If a guy was too unclean, this is that guy. I want you to hear how this story ends when you read the rest of Acts chapter eight, but I want you to notice something. Something is missing from this story, and I’m not referring to verse 37. What we don’t get is Phillip’s gospel presentation. But you know what? We don’t need it, because we see the results of it. Acts chapter eight, starting in verse 36:
As they were traveling down the road, they came to some water. The eunuch said, “Look, there’s water. What would keep me from being baptized?” 38 So he ordered the chariot to stop, and both Philip and the eunuch went down into the water, and he baptized him. 39 When they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord carried Philip away, and the eunuch did not see him any longer but went on his way rejoicing. 40 Philip appeared in Azotus, and he was traveling and preaching the gospel in all the towns until he came to Caesarea.
Something is missing from this story. Now I should probably deal for just a second with your translation of the Bible in verse 37. Most of you probably have a footnote here, and it shows you at the bottom of the page that verse 37 is not included in this passage. It probably should not be included, is what most Bible scholars think. I tend to agree with them in this passage. Look, there’s nothing wrong, nothing bad about what verse 37 says. The people who translated the Bible are trying to get it as accurate as possible, and what they’re saying is, we’re pretty sure Luke, the guy who wrote Acts, didn’t write verse 37. It’s not wrong. It’s not bad. We just want to make sure you can trust the Bible that’s in your hands. So, we’re going to leave it out of the passage, and we’re going to put it in the bottom as a footnote.
Now we get a chance to see the results of Philip sharing his faith and explaining King Jesus to this Ethiopian eunuch. There’s a sense of urgency. Can you see that from the Bible today about baptism? In fact, I just want to tell you, if you’ve become a Christian recently but have not been baptized, you should be feeling this sense of urgency, and that’s probably part of what’s going on here. But I also think what’s happening here is, we’re in the middle of the desert. There’s not a lot of water around, and, “Hey, there’s some water over there. What’s preventing me from being baptized?” Philip says, “Nothing.”
What is so beautiful to me about this passage is the question that this man asks Philip and Phillip’s answer. -because what this man is really saying is, “Hey Philip, I went to Jerusalem, and I wanted to know if I was worthy. When I got up there, they said I wasn’t. And now I’m trying to figure stuff out on my own, and I can’t figure it out on my own. I understand what you say, Philip, and I believe what you said. So here’s some water.” And really, what I believe this man is asking is, “Am I worthy to God? Do I matter to God? Is he willing to accept me, a foreigner defiled in the flesh? Is he willing to accept me into his Kingdom?”
And when this man is baptized, it’s not Cornelius. This is the first true Gentile who is baptized in the book of Acts. This is a monumental step in the book of Acts, what you’re reading today. And this is a beautiful story of a man who’s asking the question, “Am I worthy to God? Does he really care about me? Is he willing to accept me as one of his children?” I’m telling you this because that stripper in Columbus, Georgia, that guy who just had an affair, that lady who’s hooked on prescription drugs, that kid who’s destroying his life, many of them are trying to ask the same question: Am I worthy? Does God love me? Could he possibly love a person like me? –And if this guy is acceptable to King Jesus, there is nobody in this community, nobody in the Chattahoochee Valley, that’s not acceptable to King Jesus.
I want to wrap up with this story. I just came across it in the news this week. It’s about Le-Ann Peterson. Le-Ann is a cleaning lady at an airport in New Zealand, and she stumbled across a precious, priceless treasure not long ago at the Invercargill Airport in New Zealand. Here’s the backstory: There was a lady who was traveling. She was wearing a family heirloom. -a ring that her mother had given to her, and her mother’s mother had given to her mother. While she was at the airport, she looked down, and she noticed that the center diamond, this 3.25 carat, old European cut, priceless center diamond (the diamond alone is worth at least $100,000), the center diamond was missing.
So this lady starts to panic. She looks all over the airport for this diamond, but she can’t find it. She’s got the airport staff, she’s got everybody around trying to find this diamond, but she can’t find it. She lets the whole airport know that she’s trying to find the diamond. She’s about to lose her flight, so the lady has to get on a flight. She lets the airport know, “Here’s who I am. Here’s where I live. If you find the diamond, please let me know. No amount of money can replace this family heirloom.”
Le-Ann Peterson is just doing her job. She’s cleaning in the terminal, and she sees a little light reflecting off of something underneath the seat. She’s cleaning it up, and she realizes this is the 3.25 carat, priceless diamond that’s missing from this lady’s ring. Eventually, the diamond makes it back to the owner. The airport staff wants to celebrate Le-Ann, so this photo is the moment that they give her a bouquet of flowers and thank her for reuniting this priceless treasure with this woman for whom there’s no amount of money that could pay to replace this diamond that was missing from the ring.
Here’s what I’m trying to tell you. This man feels unloved, unworthy, unclean, unacceptable…until he meets Jesus on a desert road, because Jesus sent one of his followers to go turn a nobody into a somebody. And Jesus is still doing that today. There is nobody in the Chattahoochee Valley that can’t be changed like this man has changed and become a somebody when they experience the living God.
I have never surrendered to King Jesus. Today, I pledge to him completely.
– I haven’t heard the voice of the Holy Spirit in a while. Pray for me to listen closely to him this week.
+ I will share my faith with somebody this week.
1. What (should) motivate us to share our faith with others? Responsibility? Love? Duty? Grace?
2. Is there anyone in your day-to-day life you pass by that you have not shared the Gospel with? How can you be more intentional about sharing your faith?
3. Read Matthew 28:16-20:
a. What does Christ require of us in The Great Commission?
b. What does it mean to “make disciples”? Are you in any disciple-making relationships currently?
c. What motivation and/or support do we have as we do The Great Commission?
4. Does sharing our faith require great understanding of all things? Are we required to be “professionals” of the faith just to share?
5. Is anyone unable to be saved by the Gospel of Jesus Christ? Can one be “too unclean”?
6. What is the purpose of baptism? What does it represent?
7. Pray for a heart for the Lost around you and pray for opportunities to share the Gospel with someone this week.