Menu Keys

On-Going Mini-Series

Bible Studies

Codes & Descriptions

Class Codes
[a] = summary lessons
[b] = exegetical analysis
[c] = topical doctrinal studies
What is a Mini-Series?
A Mini-Series is a small subset of lessons from a major series which covers a particular subject or book. The class numbers will be in reference to the major series rather than the mini-series.
Acts 8:26-40 & Isaiah 52:13-15 by Robert Dean
The Ethiopian eunuch has a lot to tell us about personal evangelism. But be careful; our age is not one of transition and the object of our message may be sorely lacking in information unlike the Ethiopian eunuch. What did he already know that is absent or distorted in our culture? What is the advantage that comes from the experience of failure in our efforts? Can we relax in our efforts to evangelize because we know who is ultimately responsible for bringing in the crop? Where are we responsible to be vigilant when we evangelize? Our challenge is, in the power of the Holy Spirit, to illuminate the truth surrounding “My Servant” as central in God’s message to the unbelieving world and to focus on Isaiah’s description in its uniqueness to Christ.
Series:Acts (2010)
Duration:1 hr 0 mins 59 secs

The Exaltation and Suffering of "My Servant." Acts 8:26-40, Isaiah 52:13-15


What we essentially see in this passage in Acts chapter eight is one of numerous situations in the book of Acts where we have personal evangelism. There has been some group evangelism that has taken place previously in terms of Peter preaching, proclaiming the gospel to large audiences in the temple precincts in Jerusalem, and then we have seen the witness of Philip in Samaria to apparently a large group. But here and in some subsequent situations we see more of a personal evangelism. One of the things we are cautioned about in studying Acts is that Acts is descriptive, it is not prescriptive. It described what happened but the description of what happened is not a prescription or command for how things should be. This is not stating an idea pattern for how things should be in Christianity or in the Christian life, it is a period of transition from the Old Testament economy, the dispensation of the law and the age of Israel to the age of the church and the dispensation of grace. So in this transition there are some things that are going on during this initial period from the resurrection of Christ and the day of Pentecost, the descent of the Holy Spirit, in AD 33 to the destruction of the temple in AD 70 which effectively ends the focus on Israel for the time being, and the death of the last apostle, John, in the 90s. This is the transition period and we refer to it as the apostolic age. There are lessons to learn historically but we have to be careful what lessons we learn. 

One of the most important things to have in personal evangelism is wisdom, and often wisdom in person al evangelism only comes from experience. We have all made lots of mistakes and errors when we have tried to communicate the gospel to others. That is how we get challenged to do better next time, to learn a little more. Ultimately we recognise that it is never up to us. We have to realise that the most well crafted intellectual, historically supported, evidentially supported argument is not going to win the day. This is because it is not about logic per se, not about evidence per se, not about how clearly we articulate the gospel per se; it is about God the Holy Spirit who is working in and through that. That does not excuse ignorance of apologetics or sloppy presentations of the gospel, and it is not a justification for doing drive-by evangelism. We are to be involved with other people and ninety per cent of the time personal evangelism in our lives is going to be done in the context of developing relationships with people. The more our culture around us has become biblically ignorant and illiterate the more time it is going to take to communicate the gospel to people because they are so ignorant of a lot of things. They are not like the Ethiopian eunuch.

Some studies, done by talking to believers and asking them how many times they heard the gospel before they trust in Christ as saviour, is that the average is about four or five times. That would stand to reason because like anything else in life we have to come to understand something in order to believe it. Understanding can be a trap for some people. It is not the understanding of a theologian with a Ph D in systematic theology; it could be the understanding of a child. It is just basically understanding the basic facts of the gospel. But there must be understanding, you can't have a misunderstanding. You can't really believe something is true if you don't understand what the something is that you are believing. That doesn't mean that you understand it comprehensively or exhaustively, but it does mean that you understand it to the point where you grasp the essential meaning of it.

  1. The Ethiopian already believes in the God of the Torah, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Philip doesn't have to stop and tell him who the God is that he is reading about in Isaiah 53. He has to explain to him the answer to his question which is, "of whom does the prophet speak?" But in terms of understanding who the God of the Hebrew Scriptures is there is no need, he understands who that is.
  2. The Ethiopian eunuch already believes in the authority of the Hebrew Scriptures. He has become a proselyte of the gate, and that was a term to indicate someone who was a follower of the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, a believer in the God of the Torah, and he believed in the authority of Scripture; but for one reason or another and among males in that culture at that time undergoing the rite of circumcision was something that kept many from taking the final step of being a full proselyte and converting to Judaism.
  3. As such he already believes in the reality and the veracity of biblical prophecy. He believes that God speaks through His prophets and those prophets have accurately foretold the future and the biblical prophecy is indeed history written beforehand. So he doesn't need to be convinced that Isaiah writing in the 8th century BC was writing about events that would not transpire for another 700 years.
  4. He believes in the validity of animal sacrifices just like any Jew, and that God was perfectly righteous and just in calling for an animal sacrifice for ritual cleansing.
  5. The Ethiopian already accepts the fact that there is a need for a sacrifice for the forgiveness of sins. He believes that all through the Torah and all of the different sacrifices that are outlined in Leviticus are instructions from God on how to be ritually cleansed when a person comes into the presence of God, and that this is done on the basis of a sacrifice for the forgiveness of sins.
  6. He also already believes in the need for redemption and atonement. He knows that he has to have his sins paid for. He believes in the validity of substitutionary atonement as a legitimate, legal principle. He believes that one person can commit an infraction for which another person can be punished in his place. That is something that is lost in modern jurisprudence. In fact, when you or I are talking to anybody in our culture that is a principle that is not accepted at all. Our judicial system completely rejects the idea that one person can pay the legal penalty for another person.
  7. God the Holy Spirit is obviously already working on the mind and in the heart of the Ethiopian. He has set up this whole encounter between Philip and the Ethiopian to give the Ethiopian clarity in understanding what the Scripture is teaching.
  8. The Ethiopian already has a concept of a literal human Messiah. Very important. He understands this concept. He has been reading his Old Testament Hebrew Scriptures; he understands the predictions related to a Davidic Messiah. He may be fuzzy and not really sharp and clear but he has at least some vague notion that God has promised to the people of Israel a saviour, a deliverer who is a descendant of David.
  9. The one thing he doesn't know and is not yet informed is about the incarnation of God the Son in Jesus of Nazareth. He is not informed about Jesus' crucifixion, burial and resurrection and he is not informed about the fulfilment of the Isaiah prophecy. But everything else, the points above, has been well established in his thinking.

Today when we hear some people talk about evangelism this is what they would call pre-evangelism. Before we can talk to somebody and tell them that Jesus died for their sins they have to have some understanding of sin and what it is, some understanding of Jesus and who He is, and as soon as we get into identifying who Jesus is and use phrases like Son of God and God, in the mish-mash between the ears of so many people in our culture today due to the dumbing down of education, there are lot of people who just have extremely nebulous, extremely erroneous and extremely fuzzy concepts of deity, of God, of the Bible, of the Ten Commandments.

There is this portrayal of the Bible and Christianity by those who are antagonistic to both Orthodox Judaism or Judaism based on the Old Testament Scriptures, and Christianity, that wants to make the God of the Old Testament into this horrible, mean, self-righteous, vindictive being who doesn't want anybody to enjoy life at all. That is a complete distortion and misrepresentation of Scripture. 

We can't just jump into a circumstance like Philip did because a lot of ground work has been already laid in that case. Paul talks about it using an agricultural metaphor in 1 Corinthians that one person comes along and plants, another person waters, but it is God who gives the increase. There are many different things that have to come together in terms of believing and understanding the gospel and it doesn't come together apart from the work of God the Holy Spirit in a person's life. We always have to remember when we are talking to people that they may not have a very clear understanding of what it means to believe in God.

If unbelievers do have a concept of God it is probably not a biblical creator God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, a God who is righteous and just and love and there is not a contradiction in those attributes. We live in a world today that has front-loaded the thinking of many people with the idea that a God who is righteous can't be loving and a God who is loving can't be righteous. So many people who start hearing the gospel look at us and say that we are putting together ideas that are mutually exclusive. But wait a minute, we have to go back and learn to think all over again. We live in a post Christian world today where there has been at least 150 if not 200 years of sophisticated development in anti-Christian arguments that have filtered their way into and permeated the culture. People growing up have heard these things so many times that they have shaped their thinking. So we have to explain what righteousness is, what justice is, and what love is patiently and humbly, and recognise that the God of the Bible is not a God who sort of overlooks people's flaws and peccadillos. That is how most people think of sin: Well, we all have our flaws and failures but we are not really sinners. This is because they identify sin as certain kinds of horrendous action. That is what is embedded within the thinking of many people.

We live in a world today where few people believe in the legitimacy of biblical predictive prophecy. Over and over again they have been told that these people who wrote prophecy in the Old Testament wrote after the fact and they just claim to have been written by people who lived before the event.

A lot of people don't believe in sin or total depravity. They don't believe that we are born corrupt, that everybody is a sinner. That doesn't mean that you always commit evil things. Many times they do good things, and they have a very weak view of what sin is. They don't have a concept of the need for atonement for sin. This is in contrast to the Ethiopian who knew clearly there had to be atonement for sin. People today don't have any sense of that. They don't believe in a substitutionary payment for sin or they reject is as a concept that is totally unfair and completely fraudulent in jurisprudence.

They certainly don't believe animal sacrifice is a good thing. They think that this is evil and cruel, and all that Old Testament religion was such a bloody thing and there were all of those poor animals that were just slaughtered. They don't understand what any of that is related to. They don't understand anything about the need for a substitutionary atonement and that they are incapable of providing a solution themselves and so someone else needs to provide it. They may not at this point in time have God the Holy Spirit illuminating their minds to the truth of Scripture. They may just be completely negative and just don't want to hear. 

Establishing the truth of many of the points of the gospel may take time, depending upon where a person is in their prior understanding. 1 Peter 3:15 NASB "but sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts …" That is a command. We are to set apart God in our thinking. "… always {being} ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence." That word apologia [a)pologia] is where we get our word apologetics, it just basically means a reasoned, organised explanation, a rational, with evidence of why we believe what we believe.

In Acts chapter eight we have an exampled of an individual who has already put into place most of the ideas in the gospel and he accepts those as true. He just didn't have that final piece of information that Jesus of Nazareth was the incarnation of the eternal second person of the Trinity and that His entire life was a fulfilment of well over a hundred prophecies about the Messiah from the Hebrew Scriptures. There are more than 400 prophecies in the Old Testament related to the Messiah. Some of those have not been fulfilled yet because there is a distinction that must be made in the career of the Messiah. He is a suffering Messiah and He is a ruling Messiah. There is a glorious aspect to the messianic rule and there is a suffering aspect, and Isaiah 53 focuses on that.

In Isaiah 52:13ff the question is: who is the servant? According to Isaiah there are many different people identified as a servant. But a shift takes place by Isaiah 49 that the Jewish people have failed in their servant function. They cannot redeem themselves because they are spiritually blind and disobedient and they have pursued the idols of the Babylonians. So part of the problem that Isaiah is dealing with is a problem that Zechariah has to deal with after the exile. Isaiah is focusing on it ahead of time, i.e. if you get the Jews out of Babylon how do you get Babylon out of the Jews? They have absorbed that way of thinking. So according to Isaiah 42:14, 15 we see that God's servant suffers for the people of Israel—indicating that He is distinct from the people of Israel—and that His blood also will sprinkle many nations.

This passage starts off by identifying who the servant is, and there clearly are passages like Isaiah 41:8, 9 that identify Israel as the servant, and Isaiah 44:2, 21 identify the servant as Jacob or Israel. But there are also passages all through Isaiah that indicate Israel is too corrupt and sinful to be the servant who accomplishes redemption for the nation—Isaiah 1:4; 29:10; 48:1. Instead only the servant who is righteous can deliver Israel. Isaiah 52:9 speaks of this individual, that He will redeem Jerusalem. He is the one in Isaiah 42:7 who opens blind eyes and brings prisoners out of prison. Isaiah 53:11—"By His knowledge the Righteous One, My Servant, will justify the many …" So how can "righteous servant" describe Israel when throughout this prophecy Israel is described as being disobedient and unrighteous? 

Isaiah 52:13 NKJV "Behold, My servant shall deal prudently…" The word prudently really should be translated with the idea of success. It has the idea of wisdom when it is prior to application, success when it is after application. It is parallel with Jeremiah 23:5, "…And He will reign as king and act wisely [be successful]…" So it is a proclamation that the servant will be successful in accomplishing the mission that God gives Him.

Isaiah 52:14 NASB "Just as many were astonished at you, {My people,} So His appearance was marred more than any man And His form more than the sons of men." There is a lot of debate over the meaning of the word "marred." A clue before we deal with this next time, we think marred is a correct translation. The problem is there are words in the Hebrew text that aren't used a lot and so there is good scholarly debate over the meaning of some of these words. But the evidence is that this is best understand and translated as "marred." Verse 15: "Thus He will sprinkle many nations." "Sprinkle" is a second word where there is a lot of debate. There is a cognate word and a form of that word used that does indicate being startled, and there are those who will translate this, "He will startle many nations"—because of His presence; He surprised them. So a case could be made for that but that doesn't mean it is legitimate.

What does in mean in verse 14, "Just as many were astonished at you"? In English we say they were amazed, it is a wonder. But this is not the case. That word translated "astonished" is the Hebrew word which means to be desolate or appalled. It is used in that well-known phrase "the abomination of desolation" in Daniel chapter nine. It is a word that is used of divine judgment and the consequences of divine judgment, and it is also applied to those who witness the horrors of divine judgment and are just appalled at what they have seen. So the translated "many were astonished at you" doesn't convey the right nuance. When we understand it as "many were appalled at you" it does shape where this passage is going. "His appearance was marred." If that is translated as "anoint" it doesn't fit with the first line where a word is used that is setting up judgment. There is a remote possibility of translating it "anoint" (and some do want to translate this "anoint"—He was anointed more than any man) but it is the idea that there has been a disfigurement that has taken place of His face. And that fits with what we read in Isaiah 53, that there is no form or comeliness when we see Him, no beauty that we should desire Him, we hid our faces from Him, we esteemed Him not. Then we get into that last verse where it talks about Him sprinkling many nations. This is foundational for understanding the setup. He is going to provide cleansing for the nations.