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The Most Unlikely Candidate - Isaiah 56:1-8, Acts 8:26-40

How the most outcast of outcasts gets into the family of God

Isaiah 56:1-8, Acts 8:26-40

Jan 09, 2011 05:00 AM

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Let’s begin today by turning to the 56th chapter of Isaiah and reading verses 1 through 8 together.
 
    [56:1] Thus says the LORD:
    “Keep justice, and do righteousness,
    for soon my salvation will come,
        and my deliverance be revealed.
     [2] Blessed is the man who does this,
        and the son of man who holds it fast,
    who keeps the Sabbath, not profaning it,
        and keeps his hand from doing any evil.”
 
    [3] Let not the foreigner who has joined himself to the LORD say,
        “The LORD will surely separate me from his people”;
    and let not the eunuch say,
        “Behold, I am a dry tree.”
     [4] For thus says the LORD:
    “To the eunuchs who keep my Sabbaths,
        who choose the things that please me
        and hold fast my covenant,
     [5] I will give in my house and within my walls
        a monument and a name
        better than sons and daughters;
    I will give them an everlasting name
        that shall not be cut off.
 
    [6] “And the foreigners who join themselves to the LORD,
        to minister to him, to love the name of the LORD,
        and to be his servants,
    everyone who keeps the Sabbath and does not profane it,
        and holds fast my covenant—
     [7] these I will bring to my holy mountain,
        and make them joyful in my house of prayer;
    their burnt offerings and their sacrifices
        will be accepted on my altar;
    for my house shall be called a house of prayer
        for all peoples.”
     [8] The Lord GOD,
        who gathers the outcasts of Israel, declares,
    “I will gather yet others to him
        besides those already gathered.” 
(Isaiah 56:1-8 ESV)

This chapter continues with a theme that has already been addressed several times by Isaiah, that theme being the inclusion of the nations of the world in the redemption which the Holy One of Israel will accomplish.  The Messiah, the Son of David, the son of the virgin, the Son of God will not only bring salvation to the Jews, but to the Gentiles.  In chapter 52, we read these words:
 
    [15] so shall he sprinkle many nations;
        kings shall shut their mouths because of him;
    for that which has not been told them they see,
        and that which they have not heard they understand. 
(Isaiah 52:15 ESV)

That is a reference to the ministry of the Lord Jesus to the world, to those who have been previously excluded from the people of Israel.  In chapter 52, we read:

    [54:1] “Sing, O barren one, who did not bear; break forth into singing and cry aloud,
        you who have not been in labor!  For the children of the desolate one will be more
        than the children of her who is married,” says the LORD.
     [2] “Enlarge the place of your tent, and let the curtains of your habitations be stretched out;
    do not hold back; lengthen your cords and strengthen your stakes.
     [3] For you will spread abroad to the right and to the left, and your offspring will possess the nations and will people the desolate cities. 
(Isaiah 54:1-3 ESV)

That is also a reference to the inclusion of the nations among the people of God.  They too, will be members of God’s household.  Then in chapter 55, the Lord says:
 
    [55:1] “Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters;
    and he who has no money, come, buy and eat!
    Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price.
     [5] Behold, you shall call a nation that you do not know, and a nation that did not know you shall run to you, because of the LORD your God, and of the Holy One of Israel, for he has glorified you.
   (Isaiah 55:1-5 ESV)

Here is God’s invitation to all people who hunger and thirst for righteousness to come to Christ, to come a participate in the blessings of Israel. 

Now, in chapter 56, we see God’s merciful hand being extended yet again toward two particular kinds of people to bring them to Himself and to include them in the congregation of His people Israel: foreigners (vss 3&6) and eunuchs (vss 3&4).  By foreigners is meant Gentiles, anyone who is not a descendant of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; anyone not Jewish.  That is easily understood and we see their exclusion from Israel throughout the Old Testament largely because of their worship of idols and other gods.  That does not require a lot of explanation

But the second group of people he refers to as outcasts in Israel are eunuchs.  The Greek word for eunuch comes from two words that literally mean “bed keeper”.  This tells us what the role of a eunuch was in biblical times: a bed keeper, bed guard, superintendent of the bedchamber, chamberlain.  Well, who needs a superintendent of a bedchamber?  Generally speaking, kings and other very rich men who had harems, “the part of an Oriental house reserved strictly for wives and/or concubines”. 1

These men were chosen as supervisors of the females in a household specifically because they were incapable of having sexual relations.  Men became eunuchs either through injury, or in many cases intentionally by means of surgery.  They were trusted as “bed keepers” because there was no risk of them being sexually tempted by the king’s wives, concubines, daughters, or slaves.  Deuteronomy 23:1 sheds a great deal more light on this topic.  But suffice it to say that because of their physical condition eunuchs were not allowed to enter the assembly of the Lord.  They were excluded from worship in much the same way as Gentiles were. 

In Old Testament Israel, I suspect the only thing worse than being a Gentile or a eunuch, spiritually speaking, was to be a Gentile and a eunuch.  That was doubly condemning.  Either condition made one an outcast.  But here, in Isaiah 56, we see the hope of redemption for the greatest of outcasts.  Isaiah says the day is coming when not only the Gentiles, but even those who were the furthest removed, eunuchs, would be included among the people of God.

[4] For thus says the LORD:
    “To the eunuchs who keep my Sabbaths, who choose the things that please me and hold fast my covenant, [5] I will give in my house and within my walls a monument and a name better than sons and daughters; I will give them an everlasting name that shall not be cut off. [7b] . . . for my house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples.” [8] The Lord GOD, who gathers the outcasts of Israel, declares, “I will gather yet others to him besides those already gathered.”


Please turn with me to Acts 8.  This is a most remarkable story of the conversion of a man that had little reason to hope for inclusion in the house of the Lord, the family of God.

    [26] Now an angel of the Lord said to Philip, “Rise and go toward the south to the road that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.” This is a desert place. [27] And he rose and went. And there was an Ethiopian, a eunuch, a court official of Candace, queen of the Ethiopians, who was in charge of all her treasure. He had come to Jerusalem to worship [28] and was returning, seated in his chariot, and he was reading the prophet Isaiah. [29] And the Spirit said to Philip, “Go over and join this chariot.” [30] So Philip ran to him and heard him reading Isaiah the prophet and asked, “Do you understand what you are reading?” [31] And he said, “How can I, unless someone guides me?” And he invited Philip to come up and sit with him. [32] Now the passage of the Scripture that he was reading was this:      
 
    “Like a sheep he was led to the slaughter
        and like a lamb before its shearer is silent,
        so he opens not his mouth.
     [33] In his humiliation justice was denied him.
        Who can describe his generation?
    For his life is taken away from the earth.”
 
     [34] And the eunuch said to Philip, “About whom, I ask you, does the prophet say this, about himself or about someone else?” [35] Then Philip opened his mouth, and beginning with this Scripture he told him the good news about Jesus. [36] And as they were going along the road they came to some water, and the eunuch said, “See, here is water! What prevents me from being baptized?” [38] And he commanded the chariot to stop, and they both went down into the water, Philip and the eunuch, and he baptized him. [39] And when they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord carried Philip away, and the eunuch saw him no more, and went on his way rejoicing. [40] But Philip found himself at Azotus, and as he passed through he preached the gospel to all the towns until he came to Caesarea.
  (Acts 8:26-40 ESV)

We have no information that would help us identify this man from Ethiopia other than what we’ve just read.  Obviously, if he is Ethiopian, he is not Jewish.  He is what Isaiah refers to as a foreigner.  Not only is he a stranger to the commonwealth of Israel, he is also a eunuch.  From a Jewish perspective this man is as far from the kingdom of God as a man could get.  The Jews were accustomed to judging eligibility for inclusion in the Kingdom of God “according to the flesh”.  But God promised through the pen of Isaiah to save men like this Ethiopian eunuch.  In these verses, we see the fulfillment of a promise from God to redeem a particular kind of person.  The point being made is that any kind of person can be saved, and every kind of person will be saved.

God had set His redeeming love upon this man.  He sent an angel to direct Philip (one of the seven men in Acts 6 whom the church in Jerusalem had chosen to oversee the needs of the widows) to go out into a desert place and approach the Ethiopian’s chariot.  We read that he was a government official to the queen of Ethiopia, one entrusted with her treasury.  The Secretary of the Treasury, we might say.  No small task, and no small amount of responsibility.  Eunuchs were often entrusted with more than the supervision of the king’s women.  This man had access not only to the Queen, but to her money as well.

As Philip approached him, the text tells us this man had been worshiping in Jerusalem, possibly during Passover or some other feast.  According to the Law of Moses, Gentiles were not allowed to participate in the Passover, and eunuchs were not allowed in the assembly.  This man was both.  So to what degree he was able to enter into public worship we don’t know.  It is likely he was a proselyte Jew, but even so, he would still be banned from worshiping with the natural-born Jews.

When Philip arrives at his chariot, he is reading the prophet Isaiah, chapter 53.  It is impressive that he would have a copy of Isaiah.  (See Deuteronomy 17:18 ff.)  It may be it had been purchased by him for the Queen with her money.  Or he may have purchased it for himself.  We don’t know.  The particular verses he is reading refer to Someone he can relate to.  Someone who had no children because He was killed like a lamb sent to the slaughter.  When Philip asked him, “Do you understand what you are reading?”, he said, “How can I, unless someone guides me?”  And he invited Philip to come up and sit with him.“ 

Do you see the wonder in all of this?  This is a picture of how God works to prepare hearts to embrace the gospel message.  How many years had this man been an outcast in Israel, on the outside of salvation, looking in, wanting to know God?  How long had he understood that the God of Israel was the true God?  How many trips had he made from Ethiopia over the years to worship in Jerusalem even though he was never accepted by the Jews as a legitimate worshiper?  How is it that he was even able to do so?  Had he not been made a eunuch, had he not been purchased as a slave, had he not been trusted by the Queen of Ethiopia, given a chariot, and granted permission to go to Jerusalem, how else would this man have ever had access to these Scriptures? 

How is it that this man gets a scroll of the prophecies of Isaiah?  How is it that he is able to read it?  We don’t know.  It is highly unlikely that it was written in Ethiopian.  And how is it that he comes across a man out in the desert who is able to explain the gospel to him?  How do these things happen? 

Two words: sovereign grace.  These things happen because God made a promise to save such people as this man, and God will do whatever is necessary in order to accomplish that purpose and keep that promise.  All things are at His disposal to use as He pleases for His own purposes, and His purpose in this case is to bring salvation to this man.

While the text tells us Philip began explaining the good news at Isaiah 53, I strongly suspect he jumped ahead a few paragraphs and discussed chapter 56 at some length.  Can you imagine the look in this man’s face when Philip read these words to him: 

For thus says the LORD:
    “To the eunuchs who keep my Sabbaths, who choose the things that please me and hold fast my covenant, [5] I will give in my house and within my walls a monument and a name better than sons and daughters; I will give them an everlasting name that shall not be cut off. [7b] . . . for my house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples.” [8] The Lord GOD, who gathers the outcasts of Israel, declares, “I will gather yet others to him besides those already gathered.”


This is the good news which Philip shared with the Ethiopian eunuch.  He explained that Jesus was the Holy One of Israel spoken of in chapter 53 who was wounded for our transgressions.  Undoubtedly, Philip explained that Jesus came into the world as the Son of God to save foreigners and eunuchs, and to make them members of His Kingdom and His household.  “To the eunuchs who . . . hold fast my covenant, I will give in my house and within my walls . . . an everlasting name.”  A name that does not depend upon generating children, but a name that endures forever because of eternal life.

And as they were going along the road they came to some water, and the eunuch said, “See, here is water! What prevents me from being baptized?”

Nothing!  Jesus was sent into the world by God to die for men just like him!  Jesus secured redemption upon the cross for men exactly like him!  And this man responded to that good news with, “I want to be a follower of Jesus Christ.  Is there anything, is there ANYTHING that would prevent me from being one of His disciples?”  NO!  “Then let me be baptized now!  Here is some water!  I want to belong to Christ.  I want to be counted among His people.  I believe the Messiah of Israel died for me!  I don’t want to be an outcast any longer.”

And he commanded the chariot to stop, and they both went down into the water, Philip and the eunuch, and he baptized him.  And when they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord carried Philip away, and the eunuch saw him no more, and went on his way rejoicing.

Beloved, the Ethiopian eunuch’s conversion and baptism is a crystal clear picture of what God promised He would do in Isaiah 56, 600 years before this man was ever born.  God’s word cannot fail, God cannot lie, His word cannot return to Him void, and it will accomplish every purpose God intends for it.  It was God’s intention, not only from the days of Isaiah, but from the creation of the world, to save outcasts and foreigners, sinners of every kind, the most unlikely of people in order to put upon display the great vastness of His love and mercy and kindness and grace.

We don’t know what became of this African brother.  He certainly had the ear of his Queen.  Who knows what God may have done for the people of Ethiopia through this one man, placed by God in a strategic position in the government of that nation?  Maybe someday we can ask him.  "So what's the rest of the story??"

I don’t know if any of you ever struggle with the feeling that you are a spiritual outcast, beyond the scope of God’s redeeming love.  Maybe you know someone who believes they have sinned so greatly that God cannot, or will not forgive them.  If so, then the Ethiopian eunuch is their man.  He is a shining example of just how far-reaching God’s love is. 

Here also, is an answer to the question we sometimes hear: “What about those people in deepest, darkest Africa (or wherever) who have never heard the Gospel?  What will happen to them?  How will they be saved?“  They are saved the same way everyone else is saved!  God sends someone to them with the Gospel!  Sometimes, as in the case of Philip, He even uses angels to get the job done.  But the point is, if God can save an Ethiopian eunuch, He can save anybody anywhere.  No one is out of reach.   No nationality, no race, no sex, no caste, no kind of person anywhere in the world is beyond the reach of the sovereign grace of God. 

How did God save you?  Did not God put someone in your life who could tell you about Christ and explain to you what was inexplicable in your own mind?  How did that happen?

Or if you are not yet saved, why are you still on the outside, looking in?  What are you waiting for?  If you are one of those who hungers and thirsts for God, and you don’t understand what you are reading or hearing from Scripture, God has sent someone to help you.  Just ask.  God has people here in this room who can explain these things.  Invite us into your chariot, or your car, or your living room, so we can explain the wondrous promises of God for foreigners and eunuchs and people everywhere, just like you and me.

----
1. "harem." Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 10th Edition. HarperCollins Publishers. 08 Jan. 2011. <Dictionary.com http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/harem>.  “Concubine” - in the Bible denotes a female conjugally united to a man, but in a relation inferior to that of a wife. Among the early Jews, from various causes, the difference between a wife and a concubine was less marked than it would be amongst us. The concubine was a wife of secondary rank. There are various laws recorded providing for their protection (Ex. 21:7; Deut. 21:10-14), and setting limits to the relation they sustained to the household to which they belonged (Gen. 21:14; 25:6). They had no authority in the family, nor could they share in the household government.  The immediate cause of concubinage might be gathered from the conjugal histories of Abraham and Jacob (Gen. 16;30). But in process of time the custom of concubinage degenerated, and laws were made to restrain and regulate it (Ex. 21:7-9).  Christianity has restored the sacred institution of marriage to its original character, and concubinage is ranked with the sins of fornication and adultery (Matt. 19:5-9; 1 Cor. 7:2).  Easton’s Bible Dictionary  http://www.ccel.org/ccel/easton/ebd2.html?term=Concubine


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