Two weeks from today we are going to have “Friend Day” here at Britton Christian Church. For the past ten years or so we have always had “Friend Day” on the Sunday that we set our clocks back one hour. We do this because church growth gurus tell us that on time change Sunday there are more unchurched people in church than any other Sunday outside of Christmas and Easter. “Friend Day” is an opportunity for you and me. An opportunity to spend a few weeks in prayer asking the Lord to show us which of our friends we should invite to worship with us. For those of you who are new to BCC let me give you a little direction about “Friend Day.”
• First of all, please do not invite your friends who already have a church home. We are not trying to pack out the sanctuary or take folks away from the church where the Lord is using them. “Friend Day” is an intentional effort to draw us together for one purpose on one Sunday. That purpose is to invite our unchurched friends to share in worship with us.
• Secondly, I want to encourage you to join me in beginning to pray this very morning about who the Lord would have you invite to church on November 2.
• Third, when you decide who you are going to invite to church spend time in prayer asking the Lord to give you the right words to say and for your friend to be receptive to your invitation.
• Last of all, invite your friend to join us for breakfast at 9:30 am and for worship either at 8:30 or 10:40 am. Inviting your friend to breakfast gives our staff the opportunity to meet them and welcome them to “Friend Day.”
I am super excited about “Friend Day” and I want you to be excited. Some of you may be thinking that my instructions sounded kind of “spooky” or “corny.” You are thinking, “What is there to pray about? Why not just go and ask somebody to go to church with me?” Well, that is one way to invite your buddy to church, but I believe that we need to pray about all things. Paul told the folks in Thessalonica, 17 Pray continually. (1 Thessalonians 5:17 NIV) Not only are we to pray about all things, but we find examples in God’s Word where Paul prayed for the Lord to open doors for him to be able to visit certain places or to be able to speak about Jesus. In Romans 1:9-10 we read,
9 God, whom I serve with my whole heart in preaching the gospel of his Son, is my witness how constantly I remember you 10 in my prayers at all times; and I pray that now at last by God’s will the way may be opened for me to come to you. (Romans 1:9-10 NIV)
And then, in Colossians 4:2-3, Paul asked the folks in Colosse to pray that the Lord might open a door for Paul and his companions to be able to share the message of Jesus. Paul wrote,
2 Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful. 3 And pray for us, too, that God may open a door for our message, so that we may proclaim the mystery of Christ, for which I am in chains. (Colossians 4:2-3 NIV)
So, you see, we are not the first to ask God to open a door and prepare a heart for our invitation. What we are really talking about is applying the lesson we learned last week to our lives. If you will remember, last week we were studying Romans 8, the chapter of the Holy Spirit. We learned that the Spirit has been given to us to provide numerous resources for the followers of Jesus. The Spirit has been given to convict us of our sin (John 16:8), to produce His fruit in our lives (Galatians 5:22-24), to teach us and remind us of all that Jesus has taught us (John 14:26), and to lead us (Romans 8:14). The Spirit of God led Jesus into the wilderness to be tempted for forty days and forty nights (Matthew 4:1). In our lesson for this morning we will see another example of how the Spirit of God led one of the followers of Jesus. Before we take a look at our lesson for this morning let me tell you that the Spirit of God is still leading God’s people today. Turn with me to Acts 8:26-40 and let’s begin our study.
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.” 27 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, 28 and on his way home was sitting in his chariot reading the book of Isaiah the prophet. 29 The Spirit told Philip, “Go to that chariot and stay near it.” 30 Then 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. 32 The eunuch was reading this passage of Scripture: “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. 33 In his humiliation he was deprived of justice. Who can speak of his descendants? For his life was taken from the earth.” 34The eunuch asked Philip, “Tell me, please, who is the prophet talking about, himself or someone else?” 35 Then Philip began with that very passage of Scripture and told him the good news about Jesus. 36 As they traveled along the road, they came to some water and the eunuch said, “Look, here is water. Why shouldn’t I be baptized?” 37 38 And he gave orders to stop the chariot. Then both Philip and the eunuch went down into the water and Philip baptized him. 39 When they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord suddenly took Philip away, and the eunuch did not see him again, but went on his way rejoicing. 40 Philip, however, appeared at Azotus and traveled about, preaching the gospel in all the towns until he reached Caesarea. (Acts 8:26-40 NIV)
This is a powerful story that contains so many lessons for you and me. I have been teaching through the book of Acts in Sunday school and we covered the story of the Ethiopian eunuch about three weeks ago. Just last week, I was teaching on the story of Cornelius in Acts 10 when the Ethiopian eunuch came to mind. Let me tell you why he came to mind. Just last summer I went with a group of folks to the Holy Land and our first stop was in Caesarea by the Mediterranean Sea. It was the place where Simon Peter went to visit Cornelius, a Gentile, who had had a vision and was told to send for Simon Peter. It is a powerful story, an amazing story in which many Gentiles came to know Jesus as Lord and Savior of their lives. It has been widely held that Cornelius was the first Gentile convert to Christianity. As a matter of fact, I stood right there in Caesarea and spoke those very words. I told our crew, “This is the soil where the first Gentile came to know Jesus. This is the place from where Christianity spread from those Gentiles to folks like you and me.”
When I was teaching on Cornelius last Sunday I was standing in front of my class teaching the same lesson when the thought came to mind, “What about the Ethiopian eunuch?” Sunday afternoon I reread the scripture. Monday morning I called my friend Dr. Darnell and asked him about it. Dr. Darnell said, “It’s always been said that Cornelius was the first Gentile convert, but in actuality it was the man from Ethiopia who came to Jesus before Cornelius.” I’ve learned something this week. It just goes to show you—you never stop learning.
I want us to take a deeper look at the story this morning because it holds a powerful lesson for us, those of us who want God to use us and work through us in these next two weeks leading up to “Friend Day.”
There are two main characters in the story—Philip and the Ethiopian eunuch. Philip was a deacon who was also an evangelist. In Acts 6, Philip was one of the seven men chosen by the disciples to wait tables for the widows who were Grecian Jews. We learn from this section of God’s Word that Philip was “full of the Spirit and wisdom.”
In Acts 8 we learn that there was a great persecution that broke out against the followers of Jesus. Stephen was stoned to death and many of the followers knew that they needed to get out of town. In Acts 8:4-8 we learn that even though the followers of Jesus left Jerusalem for other cities, they continued to tell the story of Jesus wherever they went. Read with me and we’ll find out what happened to Philip.
4 Those who had been scattered preached the word wherever they went. 5 Philip went down to a city in Samaria and proclaimed the Christ there. 6 When the crowds heard Philip and saw the miraculous signs he did, they all paid close attention to what he said. 7With shrieks, evil spirits came out of many, and many paralytics and cripples were healed. 8 So there was great joy in that city. (Acts 8:4-8 NIV)
So, Philip went to Samaria. To the hated Samaritans. I have shared with you before how the Jews and Samaritans despised one another. The reason for the hatred coming from the Jews was because the Samaritans had intermarried with other folks, polluting the gene pool in their opinion. After the fall of Jerusalem in 722 B.C. many Jews were carried off by the Assyrians and used to repopulate areas around their empire. Many of the Jews intermarried with the folks already in the area. The Jews saw these folks as half-breeds and they hated them. The fact that Philip was willing to go to a city in Samaria tells us a lot about Philip and his openness to other people.
God honored Philip’s willingness to go to Samaria and many people believed. As a matter of fact, so many people believed that word got back to Jerusalem and the apostles sent Peter and John to check out what was going on. It must have been something to see. Those whom the Jews believed were outside of the grasp of God’s grace were coming to know Jesus! Miracles were being performed, people were being healed, and the gospel was being received by the people of Samaria. What was happening in the lives of the Samaritans must have caused incredible excitement because we read in Acts 8:25,
25 When they had testified and proclaimed the word of the Lord, Peter and John returned to Jerusalem, preaching the gospel in many Samaritan villages. (Acts 8:25 NIV)
Philip had originally gone down to Samaria, but by the time we get half way through Acts 8, we find Peter and John sharing the gospel in many Samaritan villages. You just never know do you? Who would have thought that God would work among the Samaritans? Who would have ever thought that the Samaritans would embrace Jesus as their Messiah? You just never know!
While this great work was going on and mega-churches were being built all over Samaria, God came to Philip.
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.” (Acts 8:26 NIV)
This story is so fascinating to me for a number of reasons. First of all, Philip doesn’t ask God any questions. God calls Philip away from a very exciting ministry in Samaria. The Samaritans were an unreached people group that was coming to Jesus by the droves! It was the greatest mega church ministry since Pentecost! Then, all of sudden, God called Philip to leave the masses and go to the desert? What sense does that make? Why would you want to leave a prospering, vital ministry to go to an out-of-the-way place like Gaza? Let me read you a quote so you can gain a little more insight into where God was calling Philip.
Gaza was one of the five chief cities of the Philistines, along with Ashdod, Ashkelon, Ekron, and Gath. Old Gaza had been destroyed early in the first century B.C. and a new city was built nearer the coast. A road from Jerusalem to Egypt, however, still ran through the ruins of old Gaza. Luke’s footnote that this is a desert road underscores the strangeness of the Spirit’s command to Philip. There were two roads from Jerusalem to Gaza, and the Spirit commands Philip to take the one that was seldom used. (Simon J. Kistemaker, New Testament Commentary: Acts [Grand Rapids: Baker, 1990], 311).
The Lord was giving Philip very clear instructions to leave the limelight and head to the shadows, to leave the vibrant ministry in Samaria and head out to the middle of a desert. There is something else very interesting about the Lord’s command that I want to show you. See the instruction, “go south,” there in verse 26? It is the Greek phrase, “kata mesembrian.” “Kata” is a preposition and “mesembrian” is a noun which is most often translated, “noon” in both the Greek version of the Old Testament and the New Testament. So, we could read Acts 8:26 like this:
26 Now an angel of the Lord said to Philip, “Go south (at noon) to the road– the desert road– that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.” (Acts 8:26 NIV)
If this is right then it would make God’s instructions even more strange, even more bizarre. Who would be on that deserted desert road in the heat of the day? But, God said, “Go!” so Philip went. Read verses 27-28 with me.
27 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, 28 and on his way home was sitting in his chariot reading the book of Isaiah the prophet. (Acts 8:27-28 NIV)
Philip grabbed his sunglasses, his big brimmed hat, lots of sunscreen, and headed out in the heat of the day on the desert road at the appointed time. At some point on his journey he runs into a man from the nation of Ethiopia. It is highly unlikely that the man was by himself. There was probably a caravan of folks traveling with him since he was such an important man. Luke tells us that the man was a eunuch and an “important official in charge of all the treasury of Candace, queen of the Ethiopians.” We are told that this man had traveled to Jerusalem to worship. Folks you think you drove a long way to get to church this morning. The Ethiopian eunuch had traveled more than 500 miles to worship in Jerusalem. 500 miles! Do you think that the Ethiopian eunuch was hungry for God? His soul thirst for God, for the living God (Psalm 42:2) and so he traveled that long distance to go to Jerusalem to worship. Evidently he left Jerusalem still hungry, not satisfied. As a Gentile he would not have been allowed outside of the court of the Gentiles, the nose-bleed section of the temple if you will. Also, Deuteronomy 23:1 addressed another problem the Ethiopian eunuch would have run into when he arrived at the temple.
1No one who has been emasculated by crushing or cutting may enter the assembly of the LORD. (Deuteronomy 23:1 NIV)
The man was making his long journey back to Ethiopia and he was reading the prophet Isaiah when his life was changed forever. God spoke to Philip once again and said,
29 The Spirit told Philip, “Go to that chariot and stay near it.” 30 Then Philip ran up to the chariot and heard the man reading Isaiah the prophet. “Do you understand what you are reading?” Philip asked. (Acts 8:29-30 NIV)
Philip was listening to the man reading out loud, which was customary for the day. He asked him, “Do you understand what you are reading?” The man said,
31 “How can I,” he said, “unless someone explains it to me?” So he invited Philip to come up and sit with him. 32 The eunuch was reading this passage of Scripture: “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. 33 In his humiliation he was deprived of justice. Who can speak of his descendants? For his life was taken from the earth.” 34The eunuch asked Philip, “Tell me, please, who is the prophet talking about, himself or someone else?” 35 Then Philip began with that very passage of Scripture and told him the good news about Jesus. (Acts 8:31-35 NIV)
Isn’t God amazing! This is a wonderful, powerful story of how the Ethiopian eunuch came to know Jesus, but how did it happen? God orchestrated the whole thing didn’t He? The Ethiopian man was heading back home and God moved Philip away from the action to the lonely desert road so that one man might come to know Jesus as Lord of His life. He moved Philip so that one man, hungry for God, might find the fulfillment of his deepest longings. The Ethiopian man knew that he needed something, he felt that void in his soul in the quiet of the night, but he never found anything lasting to fill it up—not until he met Philip on the desert road heading back to Ethiopia. Luke goes on to tell us more about what happened to the man from Ethiopia. Read with me.
36 As they traveled along the road, they came to some water and the eunuch said, “Look, here is water. Why shouldn’t I be baptized?” 37 38 And he gave orders to stop the chariot. Then both Philip and the eunuch went down into the water and Philip baptized him. 39 When they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord suddenly took Philip away, and the eunuch did not see him again, but went on his way rejoicing. 40 Philip, however, appeared at Azotus and traveled about, preaching the gospel in all the towns until he reached Caesarea. (Acts 8:36-40 NIV)
I love this twist to the story. The Ethiopian asks Philip to baptize him and then the Spirit whisks Philip away. The reason I love this twist is because of what happened after Philip left the man from Ethiopia. Do you see it? It’s in verse 39. “…the eunuch did not see him again, but went on his way rejoicing.” God used Philip in a powerful way, but Philip was not the source of the Ethiopian man’s newfound joy. The man had met Jesus, he had found what he had always been longing for, and his joy was spilling over on that desert road.
I told you when we began this study that there are some incredible lessons found here for you and me as we live our lives from day to day. The Ethiopian man was searching for something, but he needed someone to explain to him, to point him in the right direction. I see people like the man from Ethiopia all around us my friends. They are searching, trying to find something to quiet the noise, something to fill the void they feel in their soul. The world will make all kinds of suggestions about what it is that we need to indulge in to fulfill us, but they just don’t do it, they can’t do it. Jesus alone can fill the emptiness in their soul, and our soul as well. Do you have any friends like the man from Ethiopia? Put them on your prayer list and begin praying today for the Lord to give you favor with them, to open their hearts to the message of Jesus.
The second pertinent lesson for us is this: Philip was a man, just a man, but he was open to what the Lord wanted to do in his life. Jesus would say, “For those who have ears to hear, let them hear.” Well, Philip had ears to hear. He was willing to block out the noise of society so that he could “hear” the voice of God. I’ve never “heard” the voice of God like Philip did, but I can assure you that there have been times in my life when I knew that God was leading me to do something specific. Connie calls it the “promptings” of the Spirit. Let me give you an example. You are minding your own business and all of a sudden someone’s name comes to mind. What do you do? Categorize it as merely a random thought or act on it? Do you call them and let them know you were thinking about them and see how they are doing? Pray for them? I’ve learned not to let those random thoughts remain random, but to use them as specific opportunities to reach out to someone the Lord brings to mind.
Folks, we have no idea what God is doing. You have no idea what God might do with your invitation to your friend to join you on “Friend Day.” You just never know. Years ago I had just graduated from high school when I got a phone call from a guy asking me if I would like to be his work-out partner for the summer. I needed somebody to work out with, to keep me accountable, so I said, “Yes!” We met together every morning and every evening throughout the summer. I reported for two-a-days in great shape at the end of that summer, but something much more powerful than that happened to me that summer—I gave my life to Jesus. I thought I was going to run and lift and run pass routes, but you just never know do you? The course of the rest of my life was changed that summer and I had no idea that that was what God was up to. To be honest with you I wasn’t even giving God a thought.
Who knows but what God might be getting ready to change your friend’s life in the next few weeks if you will pray for them and invite them to worship with you on “Friend Day.” You just never know and you will never know if you don’t commit to pray for your friends and allow the Lord to use you in their life.
Britton Christian Church
922 NW 91st
OKC, OK. 73114
October 19, 2008