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Minor Men With a Major Message: Philip – The Man Whose Faith Was Too Big To Hold

Acts 8:26-39

There is an old saying that “truth is stranger than fiction.” Well, here is a strange, but true, story told by Bishop Earl Hunt.

Some years ago in Chicago there was a woman whose child was desperately ill. The woman read in the paper that a famous orthopedic surgeon from Europe, Dr. Adolf Lorenz, was visiting in Chicago. The woman prayed that God would somehow send this renowned specialist to care for her child. She had no influence to summons him and no money to pay him—only her prayers.

One day during his visit, Dr. Lorenz took an afternoon off and went walking along the residential streets of Chicago trying to get a feel for what life in that great city is like. In the midst of his long walk, a sudden rainstorm broke and the doctor sought brief shelter in a nearby cottage—the very house, it happened, where the praying mother and the sick child lived. He knocked on the door and asked if he might take refuge from the rain. The woman curtly refused to admit him. The next morning, the Chicago paper carried the story of how inhospitably this great doctor had been treated by a Chicago housewife. In the home where it all happened, this stunned woman, who had not really expected God to answer her prayers, realized that she had turned away the very doctor she had been praying would come—she missed the opportunity God provided.

Acts 8 tells us about Philip who never missed the opportunities God sent his way in life. Philip had a faith in Jesus Christ that was just too big to hold. Charles Spurgeon once said: “We have a great need for Christ, and we have a great Christ for our needs.” Philip would have agreed. He had a great faith in a great Christ. And he had to share that faith with others whenever he got the opportunity, even when the opportunity did not seem very promising. And thereby hangs a fascinating tale…

Philip, you see, was completely unbiased toward any potential Christian.

When first we meet Philip in the Book of Acts, he was engaged in preaching Christ in the city of Samaria. The results were staggeringly successful. A spiritual revival of unprecedented proportions was taking place there and, as the Bible notes, “there was much joy in the city.” But suddenly, an angel of the Lord said to Philip, “Leave Samaria and head down the desert road toward Gaza.” Now that area is even today a wasteland, a wilderness, a desolate, uninhabitable place. Philip must have wondered why on earth God would tell him to leave the great work he was doing in Samaria and go to a place where nobody was! But the Bible says that Philip, who was always open to God’s opportunities, “arose and went.” It turned out that God sent Philip down into that God-forsaken place so that Philip could touch the life of just one man. He was, however, a most unusual man.

We do not know the man’s name, but we do know three things about him, and those three things combined to make him a lousy candidate for the Christian faith. We know first that he was from Ethiopia. That means that he was black. He was by race, by nation, by geographical locale a stranger, a foreigner, a man with whom Philip would have had nothing in common. Racial prejudice against blacks existed then, as now, and Philip would not have been excited about associating with him. We know next that this man was a eunuch. He was in the service of Queen Candace of Ethiopia, and in order to remove any possibility of an irregular and immoral relationship with the queen in Ethiopia, the men in her court were mutilated by radical surgery. In Philip’s eyes, the man’s condition would have rendered him ineligible to be a person of faith. Philip would have remembered Deuteronomy 23:1 which states that a person whose flesh had been so mutilated could never be a child of God. And we know, finally, that this man was very rich and powerful. He was what we would call today the secretary of the treasury in Ethiopia. He was a man of high station in life and he traveled with a huge chariot and a whole retinue of servants. Surely Philip would have remembered Jesus’ warning about how difficult it is for the rich and famous to come to Christ in faith. So you see, everything about this Ethiopian eunuch made him a less-than-promising prospect for Philip.

But here is the point I want you to grasp. Quite obviously, Philip never turned away from any opportunity God sent his way, even if the opportunity was unpleasant for him. Philip grew up in a bias, bigoted society, but he overcame it in Christ. He understood John 3:16, that God so loves the world—not just a part of the world, not just the part that looked and talked and acted like Philip—but the whole world that He sent His only son. Philip understood that every person, no matter who they are, has the need and the right to know Jesus Christ!

It did not matter to Philip if this fellow looked a little different. It did not matter if his background and circumstances were a bit repulsive. It did not matter if he was a V.I.P. The man needed Jesus Christ and Philip was determined to make the introduction. This is the way the torch of the Gospel is passed. This is the way the flame of faith is spread. If God through Philip could reach this man for Christ, God can do the same for anyone. And if God could use someone like Philip to reach him, then God can use you and me to reach anybody. But let us continue this fascinating tale…

Philip was completely unafraid of any personal contact.

What happened at this point in the story is downright funny when you get the picture. The Spirit of the Lord said to Philip: “When the Ethiopian comes riding by in his chariot, you run alongside and try to engage him in conversation.” So the Bible says that the chariot came by and the eunuch was sitting in the chariot reading. Suddenly he looks up and here is this fellow jogging alongside the chariot, looking at him. The eunuch must have been surprised and Philip must have felt awfully foolish. Nevertheless, Philip did what God told him to do. Even under those outlandish circumstances, he engaged this distinguished black man in conversation. Philip inquired as to what the man was reading. The answer surprised him.

The Ethiopian was not reading the latest state budget or policy paper. Instead he was reading the brooding, mysterious words from Isaiah 53 about one who is called “The Suffering Servant”—one who would be slaughtered like a lamb, one who would be humiliated and whose life would be taken away. Now notice carefully what Philip did at that point. He did not say to the man: “Let me tell you about Jesus.” That would come later, but that is not where Philip began. Rather he began at the place where the eunuch was. Philip asked “Do you understand what you are reading?”

The man was touched by this direct, personal encounter. So he said to Philip: “Climb up into the chariot and talk to me.” Do you see that? Philip had to get inside of this man before he could share Christ with him. He had to get to know him. He had to find out his needs and his hopes. In other words, Philip began by making a genuine actual personal contact with this Ethiopian eunuch.

So many times we say: “I don’t have to actually visit with someone to share Christ. I can just make a phone call or send a brochure, or invite them to come to church.” Friends, that is not good enough. The Gospel is most effectively shared through personal contact, through developing a relationship with another person.

I came across three news items in the paper not long ago. The first was a United Press release. It read: “Police received an alarm signal indicating a robbery was under way at the Mercantile and Industrial Bank. When the police dispatcher telephoned the bank to check it out, one of the bandits inside answered the phone and calmly stated that it was a false alarm. They got away with $3,700!” The second item, also a U.P. release, said: “A young man in Taiwan had written 700 love letters to his girlfriend over the past two years trying to get her to marry him. His persistence finally brought results. The girl has become engaged to the postman who faithfully delivered all those letters!” The third item, from Reuters read: “Edmundo Marino, age 59, respectfully raised his hat as a funeral cortege passed, little knowing that he was supposed to be in the coffin. He was spotted by his grieving daughter as she accompanied what she thought was her father’s body. She later explained to reporters that she had been told that her father was dead when she went to visit him in the hospital, so she had made arrangements for the funeral. Authorities were left with the unpleasant task of identifying whose body was in the coffin.”

Now the common thread in those three items is the value of personal contact. The policeman tried indirectly, by phone, to see if there was a robbery at the bank and the robbers got away. The man who wrote all those love letters lost out because the postman was the one making the personal contact. And the grieving daughter never bothered to check for herself and a terrible mistake was made.
That is a parable of what happens in the faith. We are reluctant to make direct personal contact with the people around us, and, consequently, many of those people are not finding the abundant life that comes with Jesus Christ. Philip understood that in order to be able to share his overflowing faith with this Ethiopian eunuch, he needed to make genuine, sensitive, direct personal contact with the man, even if he felt and looked foolish doing it. But the tale is not yet fully told…

Philip was also completely unashamed of openly proclaiming Christ.

Once Philip made the personal contact and received the invitation to talk with the eunuch, he proceeded to share a Christ-centered testimony. Now I want to look closely at the way Philip worked. It is absolutely amazing. He started with the verses the eunuch was already reading, and encouraged him to read on a bit in the prophecy of Isaiah, especially to read on to chapter 56 of Isaiah. There, the Ethiopian eunuch would have read these words: “Thus says the Lord, to eunuchs who keep my sabbath and choose things that please me and hold fast to. my covenant…I will give them an everlasting name which shall not be cut off. And the foreigners who join themselves to the Lord and who love the name of the Lord, these will I bring to my holy mountain and make them joyful…” You can imagine how that would have captured the eunuch’s attention. And then Philip began to talk to him about Jesus and about how Jesus was the way to find the fulfillment of those promises made in Isaiah.

It was as simple as that. You see, Christian witness does not take a lot of theology. It does not take a lot of technical explanation. It simply takes saying: “There is one person, one power, one spirit, one way to fulfill every hope and meet every need in your life—Jesus Christ.” Remember, please, that Jesus never asked us to win the world by argument or debate. Instead, He asked us to simply say what we know, what we have seen, what we have heard, and what God has done for us in our lives. All we have to do is pray: “Lord, use me; help me to say the right thing at the right time in the right way”—and He will! In other words, if we are too shy to talk to others about what Jesus means to us, then we are probably shy the experience of Jesus which we ought to have had in our lives.

Philip simply told the eunuch about Jesus. That was all, but that was enough. The Ethiopian eunuch then pledged his faith in Christ, and Philip baptized him. And the Bible says that “the eunuch went on his way rejoicing.” Not only that, but the ancient historian, Eusebias, tells us that this converted eunuch then carried his new faith and joy in Jesus Christ home with him and introduced Christianity into his native Ethiopia. All because a man named Philip had a faith too big to hold and took advantage of every opportunity to share it.

Well…

Let me try to say in laughter what I may not have been able to say in seriousness.

There was once a little monk in a monastery in Canada. This little monk was very faithful in doing all the duties of monastery life, but he lived in mortal fear of being ordered to preach in chapel. His fear finally gripped him so tightly that he went to the Abbot of the monastery and said: “Sir, I will do anything you ask me to do here, but I beg you, please do not ask me to preach in chapel.” The Abbot, immediately recognizing the little monk’s need, said to him: “You will preach in chapel tomorrow.”

The next day, the little monk crawled up into the pulpit and looked out over the congregation of his fellow monks. He was silent for a moment, then nervously he asked: “Do you know what I am going to say?” All of the monks shook their heads “no.” The little monk said: “Well, I don’t know either. Pax vobiscium. Peace be with you. Chapel is dismissed.”

Needless to say, the Abbot of the monastery was a bit perturbed at that, so he said to the little monk: “You will preach in chapel tomorrow, only this time, do it right.” The following morning, the little monk climbed up into the pulpit, looked out at the congregation, and said: “Do you know what I am going to say?” This time, in order to encourage him, all the other monks nodded their heads “yes.” The little monk said: “Well, if you already know, then there is no need in my saying it. Pax vobiscum. Peace be with you. Chapel is dismissed.”

Now the Abbot is livid. “Tomorrow,” he said, “is positively your last chance.” So once more, the little monk crawled up into the pulpit. Once more he looked out at the assembled congregation. And once more he said: “Do you know what I am going to say?” This time some of the monks shook their heads “no,” and some of the monks nodded their heads “yes!” The little monk then said: “Well, will those of you who know kindly tell those who don’t. Pax vobiscum. Peace be with you. Chapel is dismissed.”

There it is. Will those of you who know Jesus Himself—ever so kindly—tell those who don’t? And the peace of God will be with you…

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