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Last week we observed that when the Word of God’s Gospel came to Samaria and set the people free from their sins and the evil spirits dominating them, their city was filled with joy (8:8). Likewise, when the Ethiopian in the passage before us hears the Good News he “goes on his way with rejoicing.” Do you want real joy in your life? This passage leads us to its sources.

 

Deep in the heart of every human being is an unquenchable desire for true joy. Such joy is not momentary giddiness, but real, deep, abiding joy which endures through the disappointments of life. It is the profound assurance in the midst of a broken world that you are right with God. There are times when that is more strongly felt than others, but it characterizes your life on the whole.

 

Everyone wants that kind of joy. It is the quest of every human being. That assurance which integrates life was a quest that the British Romantics in particular pursued, though most of them never found it because they looked for it in poetic expression, nature, or opium.[1] However, one student of the Romantics did find it. His name was C. S. Lewis, a professor at Magdalen College, Oxford in the 1940s and 50s. The autobiography recounting his conversion to Christianity is called Surprised by Joy. Early in his childhood he got a taste of joy which he called “an unsatisfied desire which is itself more desirable than any other satisfaction.”[2] He distinguished true joy from happiness and pleasure. The one characteristic he said that joy shared with happiness and pleasure was that “anyone who experienced it will want it again.”[3]

 

This text shows us how the Word leads us to real joy. There are innumerable enemies of joy in our world. Everywhere you turn there are people, diseases, natural forces, and spiritual enemies which seek to rob you of joy. Into this battle zone God speaks to you by means of his Word in order to lead you to real joy through a relationship with his Son. And because he is a good Father knowing the many different ways this world seeks to rob you of joy, he applies his Word to you in different ways so as to assure that his Word accomplishes the purpose for which he sends it. What does that mean for you? It means you must seek true joy in Christ with all your might.

 

I want you to look at a book with me today which will lead you to that kind of joy either for the first time or the thousandth.

I. Clearly (26-31)

God so much wants for you to be joyful in Christ that he speaks his Word to you clearly.

     A. Preached:

The primary way he does this is by the preaching and teaching ministry of the Church. He has equipped certain people in the Church at large to interpret his Word in such a way that it becomes clearly accessible to you so that you can apply it to your life. God sends his Word to us through messengers who make it plain for us. Paul says it is ordinarily impossible for someone to believe on Christ for salvation unless the Word is not merely read but preached to him (Ro. 10:14). God has surrounded you with professional Bible teachers, trained in theology and languages, who are able to help you interpret the Word. This Ethiopian eunuch would have been nowhere, humanly speaking, without Philip’s preaching. God shows us his love by giving us joy through his preached word.

    B. Personal

While the Spirit could have revealed the meaning of the text directly to this Ethiopian, he seldom does that. As in this case, God usually sends a personal messenger to make the Word plain. On the one hand, perhaps he wants us to receive the Word through a person so that we will understand God is personal. On the other hand, perhaps he wants to dignify his people by including them in the exciting task of spreading the Word. Augustine said that “the word of God finds us.” It often does so through another person.

    C. Proactive

God is proactive in his efforts to bring the Word to us. The man to whom Philip was sent was an Ethiopian eunuch. Ethiopia, or Nubia, covered a vast area in Philip’s day—the whole region of the upper Nile, from Aswan to Khartoum, which is now Sudan. The Queen of Sheba came from there. The King of Ethiopia was regarded to be the child of the sun and therefore too important to conduct daily duties involved with being a king. The Queen Mother wielded the real political and military power in the capitol city of Meroe. Her royal title was Candace or Kandake as it appears in ESV. As the keeper of the treasury, this man would have reported directly to the Kandake. As a eunuch he would have been excluded by Mosaic law from temple worship (Dt. 23:1). He was also a Gentile and therefore doubly an outsider. Greek was the language of the court, so this man was easily reading the Greek version of the Old Testament (LXX) he references. And Philip, a Greek-speaking Jew, was just the right man to explain the text to him. God proactively pursued this Ethiopian who otherwise would have been a religious outcast. He did it by preached his word to him through a personal messenger.

 

Before moving on, it is important to note Africa’s critical role in the birth, nurture, and growth of the Church. The first beachhead for the fulfillment of the Lord’s promise to take the gospel to the ends of the earth, was an African nation. Just north of the capitol of Nubia was Cyrene. Remember Simon of Cyrene was pressed into service to bear the Lord’s cross (Mk. 15:21). They were two of five early missionaries from the church in Cyrene to Antioch (Acts 11:19-26). Also, for the first five centuries of the Church, north Africa produced the greatest of theologians, including Clement of Alexandria (150-215), Origen (185-254), Tertullian (160-225), Athanasius (296-373), Cyril (d. 444), Cyprian (d. 258), Lactantius (d. 317), and Augustine (354-430).[4]

 

Today the continent of Africa is the epicenter of Christianity. Considering the growth of the early Church to the East originally and now the exponential growth of Christianity in the southern hemisphere and China, we must conclude that those of us who are melanin challenged will be the minority in heaven! The vast majority will occupy the majority of the spectrum from olive to brown to black. So I am being literal when I pray for this congregation to reflect the complexion of heaven!

 

In all of this do you see God’s eagerness to reveal his Word clearly? Here was one man from a very faraway place whom God moved to go to Jerusalem in order to acquire a copy of the Old Testament. He turned him to Isaiah 53. Then he brought Philip from Samaria where he was ministering to hundreds of souls just so he could lead this one man to salvation. Long before that he moved Greek scholars to translate the Scriptures into Greek so he would be able to read the Good News and receive the true joy of salvation.

 

And he has done the same for you. Long ago the Bible was translated into English. Men spilled their blood to provide an English translation for you. He moved your ancestors or you to this country where you could hear the Gospel readily. Then he brought someone alongside who explained the Scriptures to you. Such effort on God’s part calls you to seek your joy in him through his Word with all of your might.

II. Repeatedly (32-35)

    A. From Beginning to End

Furthermore, God demonstrates his eagerness for people to come to true joy by repeating the message of salvation throughout all of history. The whole Bible is about Christ. For instance, the very first verse of the Bible reveals Christ when the text says, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” (Ge. 1:1). How so? Because the Bible also tells us, “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God” (Jn. 1:1). Later, that same writer reveals that God created everything through the mediation of Christ (Jn. 1:3,10). And the very last verse of the Bible ends with Christ saying, “And the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with you all” (Re. 22:21). The Bible is about Christ from beginning to end. God repeats the word that Christ is the source of true joy over and over.

    B. In Isaiah

Think of what this man probably read in his study of this prophet. In chapter 6, he would have been confronted by the concept of a holy God who cannot tolerate sin. There Isaiah saw a vision of the Lord in his temple. The Lord was resplendent in the glory of his holiness. What was Isaiah’s response? The same response that each of us must have when we see ourselves in comparison to the holiness of God, “Woe is me! I am ruined!” (v.5).

 

Is there any hope for a person who recognizes the depth of his depravity? Certainly. The very first chapter of the book holds out that hope: “‘Come now, let us reason together,’ says the Lord. ‘Though your sins be as scarlet they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson they shall be like wool’” (Is. 1:18).

 

But how can a holy God save a sinful people and remain just. The text Philip explains to the Ethiopian solves the mystery. Isaiah explains: “We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all. . .by his wounds we are healed” (vv.6,5). In other words, he exchanges our sin for his righteousness. He died in the place of sinners.

 

But how does that righteousness get from Christ to us? Do we merit it or pay for it in some way? Two chapters later, Isaiah clearly explains: “Come, all you who are thirsty, come to the waters; and you who have no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without cost” (55:1). That is rich imagery for the way we receive all the joyful blessings of salvation. We simply come to the Lord and ask for it. It is free of charge! It can only be received as a gift.

    C. For You

Do you hear the message of joy in Christ clearly repeated? Let me repeat it one more time. You are a sinner and must admit it. That is the reason for your lack of joy. You are living out of accord with the Father who made you to live for him. When you admit that basic fact then you must cry out to God to take your sin and put it on Christ. He will in turn put Christ’s record of righteousness on you and you will be immediately accepted as his child. Then Christ will move into your life and begin to rewire you to live for your Father and you will begin to experience real joy. In this way, God does not merely tolerate us and give us this joy, he has orchestrated all of his word in order to make us enjoyable. God delights in us, because when we are united to Christ, we are pleasing to him (Zeph. 3:17; Matt. 3:17).

 

III. Visibly (36-40)

Perhaps the most moving demonstration of God’s eagerness for our joy is the gift of the sacraments. A sacrament is a visible display of the promises of God’s Word in Christ. Sacraments are the way God physically embraces us. In this case, baptism is given to the Ethiopian as a confirmation that he is the recipient of salvation and the result is joy.

    A. Immediate Confirmation

This kind of immediate confirmation is given in this passage as the Ethiopian is baptized shortly after understanding Christ as the only savior. We may ask how he knew he was supposed to be baptized. Well, the text tells us that he was reading Isaiah. His Bible would not have had chapter divisions like ours, so he would have just read what we mark as chapter 52 where God has said that he will “sprinkle the nations” (Is. 52:15).

 

So how must we apply this? We must lay hold of the means of grace God has given us. He gives us the first day of every week to be freshly reminded of this joy he preaches to us repeatedly. By the end of each week, if not by the end of each Sunday, we forget God’s promise of joy, so he has lovingly given us weekly worship as well as the sacraments to seal to our consciences the joy available to us in the gospel.

    B. Qualitative Confirmation

We infer from what baptism symbolizes as well as the joy with which the Ethiopian departed that the Spirit who took Philip away is the same one who fell on the new believer (Ro. 14:17). Here is the next stage of fulfillment to Jesus’ promise to make his disciples witnesses. The Gospel has gone to Jerusalem, to Samaria, and now by coming to a Gentile returning to Africa it is making its way to the ends of the earth.

 

God gives you the Lord’s Supper and your baptism to confirm to your consciences that all of the joyful promises of your salvation are as certain as the taste, feel, and smell of the bread, juice, and water. These elements are not magical and convey nothing in and of themselves. However, what they communicate is very real because the Spirit accompanies their distribution and touches your mind in such a way that you are confirmed and strengthened. It all only reveals the lengths to which God eagerly goes to convey to you his child true joy in Christ.

 

Christ was lifted up on a cross and then raised from the dead by the heavenly Father all because he so loved the world he wanted to bring it everlasting joy. The great evangelist Reuben Torrey tells a story about a young woman who was drawn to that love around Easter. She was present at a series of meetings he was holding at the First Methodist Church of Chicago. When he gave out the invitation to come forward and learn how to receive Christ, a miserable looking woman, stood up but did not come. The next evening, seeing her there again, he slipped off the stage and walked back to where she was seated. After the close of the service he asked her why she had not come down. With a frivolous laugh she quipped, “Oh, you don’t know my life.” She laughed but it was obvious there was no joy in her life. Then without shame she told him how she had spent the last Easter. She related all the gory details of immorality. Torrey took out his Testament, turned to John 3:16 and asked her to read it. The print was fine so she had to hold it close to her face. Often Torrey would ask those he was ministering to like this to read a passage inserting their own name or using personal pronouns. She began flippantly, “For God so loved the world.” Torrey stopped her. “Read it with personal pronouns,” he said. She started again, “God so loved me.” She began to cry. Torrey said that the love of God conquered her.[5] And she went away rejoicing. Like the Ethiopian, God found this far off woman and preached a message just to her, and by the forgiveness of sins, resurrected her to joy.

 

He has now preached his good news to you. Believe it and allow him to raise you to new joy.

 

 

[1] William Wordsworth, “Lines Written a Few Miles Above Tintern Abbey, On Revisiting the Banks of the Wye, During a Tour, July 13, 1798”; C. S. Lewis, Surprised by Joy: The Shape of My Early Life (New York: Harcourt Brace Jovonavich, 1955) 17-18, 238.

[2] C.S. Lewis, Surprised by Joy.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Catherine Clark Kroeger, “Hidden Africans of the Bible and Early Church” (Winter 2000), 14:1.

[5] From The Uplifted Christ (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1965), 24-30. Quoted by Boice in The Gospel of John, 541-42.