“The Acts of… US – Tour Guides Through Scripture” – Acts 8:26-40
1. Tour Guides
First of all, I want to thank those of you who submitted places and sites where you have taken a tour with a guide. It has been a long time since I have visited a tourist site and used a guide. It was 15 years ago that we took a tour of the Alamo in San Antonio, Texas, and as a young adult I seem to remember a tour guide taking me and a group of tourists around the Plains of Abraham in Quebec City. When we visited Luther’s city – Wittenberg – in 2007, I don’t recall using a tour guide as we walked our way through Luther’s house. And when I visited old Jerusalem in 2005, I mostly toured the city on my own, but it might have been nice to have a tour guide. I would have learned a little more about the places where Jesus walked.
Tour guides can provide valuable historical, geographical, architectural, archaeological, military, and religious background to those significant sites that attract tourists from other cities or countries.
As we consider our Acts 8 Bible reading today, we are introduced to a man named Philip, who may be considered a tour guide, but not a tour guide of any famous site. Rather, Philip was a tour guide of the Bible, and it’s something that I would like to apply to our lives today.
2. Philip and the Ethiopian
First, let’s get some of the details straight. This Philip was not Philip the disciple. This Philip was one of seven men that the disciples set apart as deacons/servants in Acts 6 to look after the needy believers in Jerusalem, so that they could dedicate themselves to the proclamation of the Word of God. One of those seven deacons – Stephen – was the first Christian to die for the name of Jesus. That account took place in Acts 6 and 7. Up until this time, the Gospel was only being proclaimed in and around Jerusalem – just as Jesus had commissioned His disciples: “You will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and Judea.” Now, we’re in chapter 8 and Philip was taking the Gospel to the next audience – in Jerusalem and Judea… and then to Samaria. Philip spent some time in Samaria – north of Jerusalem – preaching Christ and performing miracles there. In our story that closes chapter 8, Philip was instructed by an angel of the Lord to go south of Jerusalem, toward Gaza. This is the beginning of that final audience – Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria and… to the ENDS OF THE EARTH!! He wasn’t exactly at the ends of the earth… maybe only 80 km. from Jerusalem.
But that’s when and where he met a man FROM the ends of the earth. It was an Ethiopian man, and that means he was different: although he had curiously come to Jerusalem to worship, he was from another country and culture; he was a professional – we might call him the Federal Minister of Finance, for he was in charge of the Queen’s treasury; he was a eunuch, which means his reproductive organs had been surgically altered to prevent him from making sexual advances toward the Queen; and although the Bible doesn’t say this explicitly, he undoubtedly had black skin. Have you met an Ethiopian that doesn’t have black skin?? This really begins the section of the Book of Acts that opens the door of the Gospel to be spread beyond previous boundaries. In chapter 9, Saul – a Christ-hater – was converted to the Christian faith. In chapter 10, Peter proclaims Jesus to a Roman soldier – we’ll hear that story next Sunday. Acts 13 – 28 are the story of Saul / Paul – the missionary to the Gentiles – taking the Christian message quite literally to “the ends of the earth.” Here in Acts 8, Philip connects with a black man. All this goes to show, as Peter said to that Roman soldier: “I understand that God shows no partiality” with respect to country and culture and appearance. Philip shared Jesus with the Ethiopian eunuch. That means Black lives matter… to God! Jesus died for that Ethiopian man with black skin. Roman lives matter… to God! Jesus died for that Roman soldier, Cornelius. Gentile lives matter.. to God! Jesus died for the Greeks in Ephesus, and Philippi and Corinth – the ones that Paul preached to. All lives matter… to God! Your life matters… to God!! Jesus died for YOU!
3. Philip the tour guide
Let’s understand how Philip was the tour guide for the Ethiopian eunuch. Philip had run along to catch up with the man’s chariot. He heard the man reading from what we know as Isaiah 53: “Like a sheep He was led to the slaughter and like a lamb before its shearer is silent, so He does not open His mouth.”
Philip asked him a really good question: “Do you understand what you are reading?” With perhaps only a Jewish understanding, the man admitted that he needed someone to explain it. “I need a Scripture Tour Guide.” That was true, he said, especially about whether the prophet Isaiah was talking about himself or someone else as that Suffering Servant of God, the silent sheep led to the slaughter. That was the open door that Philip needed to become a tour guide through Scripture.
I say tour guide because of that one little sentence that Luke records in verse 35: “Beginning with this Scripture he told him the good news about Jesus.” “Beginning with this scripture…” but not ending with it. Just so you know… Scripture for Philip and the Ethiopian man was what we know as the Old Testament. The New Testament – about Jesus’ life and ministry, death and resurrection – had not yet been written. That story was all still passed on by word of mouth, by the eye-witness disciples and women who had seen Jesus crucified and who had seen Him risen from the dead. So, Philip really took the man on a tour of the Old Testament and everything in it that pointed ahead to the promised Saviour, and then how it was fulfilled by Jesus, in Jesus.
4. Philip’s tour through Scripture
We can imagine that Philip took him on a tour of Bethlehem and passages that spoke of Jesus’ birth:
“But you, Bethlehem… from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel, whose coming is from ancient days.”
“There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse… and the Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon Him.”
“A virgin will conceive and bear a son and will call His name Immanuel.”
“For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and He shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.”
We can imagine that Philip took him on a tour of Jesus’ ministry:
“The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me to bring good news to the poor, he has sent me bind up the broken hearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives and the opening of the prison to those who are bound, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.”
“Your God will come and save you. The eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped; the lame man shall leap like a deer, and the tongue of the mute will sing for joy.”
Don’t those Old Testament passages accurately describe Jesus’ ministry?
We can imagine that Philip took him on a tour of Jesus’ suffering and death:
“He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief… Surely He has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; we esteemed Him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. He was wounded for our transgressions; He was crushed for our iniquities; on Him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with His stripes we are healed.”
“They have pierced my hands and feet – I can count all my bones. They divide my garments among them, and for my clothing they cast lots.”
“They made His grave with a rich man in His death.”
We can imagine that Philip took him on a tour of Jesus’ resurrection:
“You will not abandon my soul to Hades, or let Your holy one see corruption.”
“On the third day He will raise us up.”
5. The Ethiopian’s response
Each one of those tours was based solely and squarely on the Old Testament. Philip’s tour of Scripture was compelling enough for the Ethiopian man – upon seeing some water – to ask to be baptized. Now, our story misses one detail because verse 37 isn’t found in the oldest manuscripts of the Bible. But some later ones include its explanation, and that’s why we had it in square brackets as we read from Acts 8. Philip said, “Well, if you believe with all your heart, you may be baptized.” The man gave a brief, but beautiful, profession of faith: “I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.” He didn’t get everything about Jesus in that one afternoon of instruction, but he got enough to say: “I understand, and I believe, and I want to be a part of God’s family of faith in Christ.” So, Philip baptized him.
6. Another tour through Scripture
This isn’t the first time that Luke has documented such a tour guide approach to the Jesus story. In his first volume, in Luke 24, Jesus, Himself, is walking to Emmaus on Easter afternoon with a couple who had followed Him during His ministry, and who had hoped that He was the one to redeem Israel. They didn’t recognize him that afternoon, and they were baffled by reports that Jesus had come alive again. Then we hear this one-sentence, one-verse tour guide speech: “Beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, Jesus explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning Himself.” Like with Philip and the Ethiopian, Jesus took this couple on a tour of the Scriptures, the Old Testament, Moses and the Prophets, and He said that it all pointed to Him. Later, they would remark how their hearts burned within them as He opened the Scriptures on their journey home.
In her book, Secret Strength, Joni Eareckson Tada mentions these two tour guide stories, but she compares them to setting a jigsaw puzzle. She says that she has learned to start with the frame, the edge pieces, the ones with straight sides. Once you complete the frame of the puzzle, the inside pieces, the harder ones, eventually find their place. That’s like Scripture, the Bible. Once you understand that Jesus is the frame of the Bible’s message, all the other parts seem to find their place.
7. WE are Tour Guides through Scripture
So, let’s make an application to our lives. If someone from Brazil or Italy or Singapore came to Vancouver, would you feel qualified to be their tour guide? Oh, you probably haven’t gone to “tour guide school” and you don’t have your speeches memorized, complete with embellished but humorous stories. But because you’ve lived here, you could certainly inform them about and take them to the interesting sites and sounds of the city – Grouse Mountain, White Rock, Stanley Park, the Olympic Rings on Canada Place, and you might even take them to Whistler (but not during the pandemic). You don’t have to be an expert, you just have to have lived here for a while.
It’s the same with Jesus, and sharing your faith. You don’t need to be an expert in theology, you just have to have lived in Jesus for a while in order to be a tour guide for someone else – beginning with some passage of Scripture or some question, and telling them in simple but personal terms the good news about Jesus.
Let me give you a couple of examples. It was about four years ago now that I was considering starting a Block Watch on our street. I wanted to ask a couple down the street – I’ll call them Sam and Sofia – to be the co-captains with me. I invited them over for dessert on our back deck to talk about it. Sofia couldn’t come, so it was just Sam and me. I shared the information materials with him, and he took them home to read them more carefully and to share them with Sofia. But before he left, as we were just chatting, he asked me what church I pastored, and then, from his position of little religious knowledge, casually asked me, “So, what’s the difference between the Lutheran Church and… the Catholic Church?” WOW!! That’s a pretty open-ended question. I took the next ten minutes or so answering from both an historical perspective and from a Biblical / faith perspective. Basically, I told him the good news about Jesus as plainly and as simply as I could. He didn’t ask to be baptized… the only water we had in the back yard was the water in the bird bath, and that would have been OK. But for a few minutes, I was able to be his tour guide through the Scriptures, his tour guide to and about Jesus.
The second example is the Introduction to the Christian Faith class that I am teaching every week to about 6 – 10 adults, most of them immigrants, virtually all of them completely unfamiliar with the Bible, the Christian faith, and Jesus. We started in November, and I decided to take them on a tour of the Gospel of John – Jesus’ life and ministry, His death and resurrection, as recorded by the disciple that Jesus loved. As the context requires, I give them background to people, places and events, but it’s all about the good news of Jesus. I realize now that they need a tour through the entire Bible’s story! I don’t know if I should try to summarize the Old Testament in 3 or 4 lessons – you know, get to some of those famous characters and stories, like Abraham, and Jacob, and Moses, and David – so that they understand the history which leads up to the coming of Jesus and points to why He came and why He was crucified. Because remember Jesus is the frame for the Bible’s jigsaw puzzle message. Or, maybe I should take them through the Book of Acts, because, as I have been saying, it really is our Book – the continuing words and deeds of Jesus by His Holy Spirit through the apostles, and still today through us who follow Jesus. I do think I want to carry on teaching them, to deepen their understanding and their faith. But I also believe that there are some who – when Covid restrictions are lifted – are ready to say, “Why shouldn’t I be baptized?” And I will gladly say, “If you believe with all your heart, by all means let’s arrange for a Baptism.”
But since I am proposing that the Book of Acts is also the Acts of US, I commend you to your Christ-given role to be tour guides through Scripture. There are lots of people in our world who don’t know Scripture or who misinterpret it or who misunderstand it or who misapply it. There are lots of people in the spheres of influence in your lives who likewise do not know Scripture and do not know or believe in Jesus. It’s your role – as best you can – to know the Bible, especially the story of God’s grace in Jesus, so that when someone asks you, “What is this Bible verse talking about?” you can answer with some knowledge and clarity and purpose. There are over a dozen people currently reading the Bible Front to Back, and discussing it with me every Wednesday evening. If you want to jump in, it’s not too late. Three or four years ago, I preached a series of sermons called “The Essential 100,” to give everyone a sense of the Bible’s overall message. Remember that you already know a lot and the Holy Spirit will be your guide as you respond to comments and questions about Jesus from people who know very little. Take them to the most significant and memorable tourist attractions of Scripture – Jesus, and God’s grace. Jesus loves you – truly, madly, deeply. He loves that friend of yours in the same way. Share what you know and believe, even if it’s the simple profession of faith: “Jesus loves me this I know, for the Bible tells me so.” Amen.