Acts 8: 1-8, 26-40
Isaiah 53: 1-12
We have been helped so far in these meetings with the thought of continuance. It is a very good thought because we all want to continue to the end. We have heard of Demas. It says, “Demas has forsaken me, having loved the present age”, 2 Tim 4: 10. We want to continue to the end, and we must keep our eyes on Jesus. The scripture says, “looking stedfastly on Jesus the leader and completer of faith”, Heb 12: 2. It is not looking on anything else, or anyone else, but “looking stedfastly on Jesus”. That is the Man who we are to have before our gaze; all others have failed, including ourselves. But the Man who has not failed is Jesus, who is perfect in every way, and did everything pleasing to the eyes of the Father. He never failed. He could say, “I have completed the work which thou gavest me that I should do it”, John 17: 4. There was no thought of turning aside, and we do not want to turn aside. It says, “that no one take thy crown” (Rev 3: 11); do not detour, make no deviation, but let us continue to keep our eyes on Jesus.
In the scripture in Acts, it is good to go back to the beginning of things. The Spirit came and persons were affected. They cast in their lot with those who were going on, and then the enemy attacked. The apostles were put in prison for speaking in the Name of Jesus, chap 4: 3. Then later we have Ananias and Sapphira (chap 5: 1-10), through whom the enemy attacked to weaken the position; then later we have Stephen. It speaks of him as “a man full of faith and the Holy Spirit” (Acts 6: 5), taken up by the Lord in His goodness for a reason. He was a first martyr for the testimony. In chapter 7 it says, “And hearing these things they were cut to the heart, and gnashed their teeth against him. But being full of the Holy Spirit, having fixed his eyes on heaven, he saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God”, v 54. That is where we are to keep our gaze. We need to fix our gaze on Jesus, the One who trod this scene, took all our sins upon Himself and bore them on the cross; and was laid in the grave, the silence of death. He could say, “My Father, if it be possible let this cup pass from me; but not as I will, but as thou wilt” (Matt 26: 39); what an obedient Man! It says of Him that He was “obedient even unto death, and that the death of the cross”, Phil 2: 8.
So Stephen suffered for the testimony and at the end he was stoned. Even at the end he says, “Lord, lay not this sin to their charge”, Acts 7: 60. The enemy thought he would overthrow everything, but that was not to be. So the scripture says, “on that day there arose a great persecution against the assembly which was in Jerusalem, and all were scattered”. As a result of the enemy’s activity in the stoning of Stephen the Lord had greater scope; persons were scattered and the testimony with them. The enemy was defeated right at that point. “All were scattered into the countries of Judaea and Samaria except the apostles. And pious men buried Stephen and made great lamentation over him. But Saul ravaged the assembly”. In the next chapter the Lord brings Saul down.
It goes on to say, “Those then that had been scattered went through the countries announcing the glad tidings of the word. And Philip, going down to a city of Samaria, preached the Christ to them; and the crowds with one accord gave heed to the things spoken by Philip, when they heard him and saw the signs which he wrought. For from many who had unclean spirits they went out, crying with a loud voice; and many that were paralysed and lame were healed. And there was great joy in that city”. It is one thing to be maintained in the spirit of joy; that will keep us going; not murmuring, but marked by a spirit of joy. The Lord says, “your joy may be full” (John 15: 11); not just limited joy, but full joy for the believer.
The next scripture say, “the angel of the Lord spoke to Philip, saying, Rise up and go southward on the way which goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza: the same is desert. And he rose up and went”. The thought here is of reading. We have had some of that earlier today; we were reading the scriptures. It is a good thing to read the scriptures; even if you do not understand, it will come. I read of one man who wanted to be saved. He was conscious of his condition and he read the gospel, and when he came to the part of the Lord being crucified, he felt that was the end of it. But then someone directed him, and he went on reading and he came to the part where the Lord was risen: He is alive, and He lives to die no more. Then also the apostle exhorted Timothy, “give thyself to reading”, 1 Tim 4: 13. It is an excellent thing to be occupied in, “give thyself to reading”. I would suggest that we make a point of reading church history. It is excellent to see something of the battles that were fought in the past, the principles that were established, and how the Lord came in for His people and steered a way through many difficult issues which had to be faced over the years. Faithful men had love for the Lord and they stood up for the truth and the Lord vindicated the stand which they took; so, “give thyself to reading”. If you do not understand, continue to read, read the scriptures, and get something into your souls, especially at the end of the gospels, what the Lord Jesus went through - they spat upon Him, buffeted Him - who could stand that? But the Lord bore it. Devote time to reading the scriptures, the ministry, the light that has come down to us at the present time, church history, so that no one can turn you aside. We can easily be turned aside; it speaks of some who “turn their minds to fables and interminable genealogies” (1 Tim 1: 4); we do not want that. Just read the scriptures and seek the Spirit’s help to understand and to continue in it. The enemy would like us to give up, and read all sorts of material which does not help the soul. But “give thyself to reading”. Do not just read casually, but read with a purpose, ’give thyself to reading’. What an exhortation to a young man. We have young men here with us, and young sisters. I just want to encourage them to give themselves to reading, to be alert, and to be alive as to what is happening, and do not let the enemy get an advantage.
So, the eunuch was reading the prophet Esaias, and the section he was reading was about Jesus being led as a sheep to the slaughter, “and as a lamb is dumb in presence of him that shears him, thus he opens not his mouth”. What a Man! He never found another man like that. It says in the gospels when all the accusations were hurled at Him, He said not a word; what a Man! He suffered “the just for the unjust, that he might being us to God”, 1 Pet 3: 18. That draws our affections to Him, such a lovable Person.
It goes on further to say, “He was led as a sheep to slaughter, and as a lamb is dumb in presence of him that shears him, thus he opens not his mouth. In his humiliation his judgment has been taken away, and who shall declare his generation? for his life is taken from the earth”. The reading of that affected the eunuch and he says, “I pray thee, concerning whom does the prophet say this? of himself or of some other? And Philip, opening his mouth and beginning from that scripture, announced the glad tidings of Jesus to him”. Luke’s gospel says, “glad tidings of great joy” (Luke 2: 10), no greater tidings. There is lots of news in the world, mostly bad news, but the glad tidings of Jesus are always good news. So, on the way they came upon water and the eunuch said, “Behold water; what hinders my being baptised? And he commanded the chariot to stop. And they went down both in to the water … and he baptised him … the Spirit of the Lord caught away Philip, and the eunuch saw him no longer, for he went on his way rejoicing”. The Man whom he had heard about, the Lord Jesus, had now got the prime place in his life. That is what we would like for each one of us, “that the Christ may dwell, through faith, in your hearts” (Eph 3: 17), dwelling in the heart, not just a casual visitor, but Christ dwelling in the heart “through faith”. That is going to preserve us; we have a Man before our hearts: that is going to keep us going.
The passage in Isaiah fills out in a greater way what the Lord Jesus went through. Isaiah is referred to as the evangelical prophet, and how much this scripture has been used in the glad tidings. The Lord Jesus grew up before God as a tender sapling; think of His early years, contemplate His time in Nazareth. He went down, subject to His parents, Luke 2: 51. We have young persons here, and the Lord spoke of “my Father’s business”. He knew it early, He spoke about it, and that was ever before Him; and the more we have the Father’s will before our hearts, the more we will be preserved. If you give your ears and your eyes to what is without, the enemy can cause you to detour, cause a falling out. Many have fallen out by the way. So many have started, but they took their eyes off the Lord and put them on man. They have lost their way. We pray for many who have turned aside to the ways of men and have lost their way, but we want to be preserved in the testimony until the Lord comes.
It says of the Lord Jesus, “as a root out of dry ground: he hath no form nor lordliness, and when we see him, there is no beauty that we should desire him. He is despised and left alone of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief”. Think of when He came into this world; there was no room for Him in the inn (Luke 2: 7), but there were willing hearts and ready hands to receive Him. Think of Simeon and Anna, persons prepared of God to receive Him into their hearts and into their arms, Luke 2: 25-38. But the world came to it that they did not want this Man to reign over them; they said, give us Barabbas, Luke 23: 18. The condition of the world has not changed; they will have everything else but Jesus. My simple desire is to help us to hold to that blessed Man, “looking stedfastly on Jesus”. Think of Him where He is at the present time: He is in the glory, seated at God’s right hand. Nothing of this scene can touch Him where He is; He has overcome everything.
It says, “he hath borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; and we, we did regard him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities; the chastisement of our peace was upon him, and with his stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray, we have turned every one to his own way; and Jehovah hath laid upon him the iniquity of us all”. Think of the weight and the burden of what He bore, but it was for you and for me, and He bore it all in love. “Him who knew not sin he has made sin for us, that we might become God’s righteousness in him”, 2 Cor 5: 21.
It says of Him further, “He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, but he opened not his mouth; he was led as a lamb to the slaughter, and was as a sheep dumb before her shearers, and he opened not his mouth. He was taken from oppression and from judgment; and who shall declare his generation? for he was cut off out of the land of the living”. He tasted death for everything, Heb 2: 9. Here is a Man who had every right to live, wholly spotless, perfect in every way, but He “bore our sins in His body on the tree” (1 Pet 2: 24); the question of sin had to be settled before God. He bore it all before a righteous and a holy God. But thank God it says of Him, “He shall see of the fruit of the travail of his soul”. The fruit is right here at the present time, persons who love the Lord Jesus, appreciate Him for the work He has done, and for who He is. At the present time, He is in the glory, but think of Him being interested in this little gathering, this little town of Villa Grove. The Lord is looking on, He is looking into our hearts, our hearts ready to crown Him. He needs to be enthroned in our hearts; He wants to have the first place - “see of the fruit of the travail of his soul, and shall be satisfied”. Later on it says, “Therefore will I assign him a portion with the great, and he shall divide the spoil with the strong, because he hath poured out his soul unto death, and was reckoned with the transgressors” - the word “poured” I link with what the Lord Himself said, “in my blood, which is poured out for you”. The way that the Lord faced this matter of sin and sins was unstinting. His blood was poured out so that the will of the Father might be met and persons secured for the pleasure of God. So, on the morrow, as we have to do with the Lord at the Supper we think of, “This is my body which is given for you … my blood, which is poured out for you” (Luke 22: 19, 20); there was no holding back with Jesus.
My simple desire was to help us to see the attractiveness of Jesus. If you take your eyes off Him then you are in deep trouble, but we must keep our eyes more on Him, “looking stedfastly on Jesus”. Do not take your eyes off Him, look stedfastly at Jesus.
It says he, “was reckoned with the transgressors; and he bore the sin of many and made intercession for the transgressors”. I did not read the section in Acts, but in chapter 9 Saul of Tarsus was brought face to face with the Man in the glory; he said, “Who art thou, Lord? And he said, I am Jesus whom thou persecutest”, v 5. He was there in the saints in Damascus. Wherever Saul had gone in the houses he was dragging out persons, having persons put in prison, persons who loved the Lord; but you can imagine the prayers that went up in relation to the condition that the brethren were passing through. And the Lord heard, He says, “my assembly, and hades’ gates shall not prevail against it”, Matt 16: 18. For our part we need to keep our eyes on Jesus.
That is my simple message, keep your eyes on Jesus to be preserved: young men and women, keep your eyes on Jesus! Read the scriptures, read the ministry, keep company with those who are going on and can help you, and have a heavenly outlook. Everything in this world passes away, but have your eyes on Jesus; that will preserve us until He comes.
May the Lord help us; for His Name’s sake.
30th August 2008