Traveled About Preaching The Gospel
Key Verse 8:35
“Then Philip began with that very passage of Scripture and told him the good news about Jesus.”
This amazing chapter launches with the great persecution that began at the death of Stephen the martyr. We are told by Luke that a terrible sort of persecution suddenly swept through the whole region and championed by a man called Saul. We’ll see a lot of him in this book, so I will not introduce him just yet, but only what he was doing. The persecution carried many Christians across border lines from Judea to Samaria, and those who were being persecuted carried with them the gospel message of Christ and his salvation to the Samaritans. Among those who were scattered in that great persecution was a man called Philip, a fellow worker with Stephen and one of the seven together with Stephen who had been chosen to serve the church kitchen and food distribution duty. Already then, we knew much about him. He was a spirit filled and humble man to have been favored and chosen by all the Christian community in the Jerusalem church to serve their beloved widows. So when the persecution came and the large church of over 3000 people was hit hard, Philip being also a man of responsibility might have taken charge to assist many in escaping Saul’s violence. He ended up among the many who fled to Samaria. He wasn’t a coward nor the kind of person to run away from danger. It must have been the Spirit’s voice in his heart reminding him of Jesus’ words: “And you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” (1:8) Philip knew that God is sovereign, even in the terrible persecution which upended innocent Christian lives and dispersed them to Samaria. And so in obedient faith “Philip went down to a city in Samaria and proclaimed the Christ there.” (5) And the rest of the story is told in this chapter.
Philip’s story is one of the most amazing stories told in the book of Acts. We heard the first part of his story last week, as he stayed in Samaria and preached Christ among the town’s people he came to with all his heart. And this is what it means that he served them with his whole heart! He didn’t have the mindset of a fleeing victim among who’s lost home and family and possessions and dignity with no where to go, with a heart filled with pain and sorrow, and bitter regrets, and begging for sympathy and understanding. He had the mindset of Christ the Good Shepherd who lays down his life for the sheep. Unselfish, and completely selfless like Christ, Philip wasn’t thinking about himself and what he had lost nor left behind. He was thinking only of the name of Christ and the life the gospel message he carried could bring these people. Here’s another thing it means that he served them with his whole heart. These people were Samaritans, despised outcasts, half breeds and idolaters, rejected especially by the Jewish religious community as unfit for God and the heavenly kingdom. But how often has God shown us that what men reject as unholy God accepts as holy, and what men deem holy God rejects as unholy! (Luke 18:9-14) So ever since Christ came here to Samaria and declared this place ripe for harvest (John 4:35-38), Philip was certain that the Spirit of God had gone ahead to prepare the way for these most unlikely men and women to believe and become children of God. And so the whole town heard the gospel and believed!
This is not just a story. It’s a faith! If you believe the word of God, trust the work of the Spirit and act accordingly, you will find that the word of the Lord is living and active, and True to the core. The failure of Christian ministers (and I am not talking about pastors only, but those who are called to minister the word of God to others) is not the darkness of the age, nor the sorcery (as we see in Philip’s story), not even the spiritual ignorance of people. The failure of Christian ministers is the lack of their faith in the word of God and their lack of trust in the work of the Spirit— as well as lack of prayer in preparing the way before them. Philip didn’t think nor plan nor calculate nor strategize. He simply believed the word of the Lord about the readiness of the harvest among the people he arrived at, and trusted that it was not his skill nor his ability nor his charm nor his charisma that would move their hearts to believe, but the Holy Spirit working in them. So he simply preached what he believed to be the truth— the gospel of Jesus’ death and resurrection. He knew that what was accomplished through his labor in Samaria could never be done through any man. Finally, as we read, Peter and John join him in Samaria to bring about the coming of the Holy Spirit upon the believers there, and in doing so, to seal an age old rift between two peoples, and to reconcile them and to make them one in the Lord. Because of a man called Philip, now the Samaritan Christians belonged to the body of Christ, as one people together with the Jewish Christians— belonging to one church.
What an incredible man this Philip. He certainly doesn’t ask for any recognition nor praise at all. But how can we but look closely at his story! It was told to us by Luke for a good reason. Look, his story begins with him establishing a large town-size church community in Samaria and then ends with him having a one on one Bible study with an Ethiopian Eunuch. In this second part of this chapter about Philip’s encounter with this first African convert to the Christian faith, there is so much to study, and so much to learn, and we regret that we will not have the necessary time to explore everything God wants us to see. There is a reason why a story is told in the way it is told in the Bible. Especially when a large portion of Scripture is given to you and me in such detail, it is intended not only as a historical marker which has its place in the Biblical story (in other words, it fits in the larger map of God’s overall plan), but it is also told to lay down foundational truths in our hearts that cannot be shaken. Ever since the Christian faith was established through the Lord’s gospel, heresy and false gospels began their continued attempt to corrupt it. Yet, by God’s grace and mercy we have here these fundamental truths. In this story, for example, we see the journey of a soul to salvation. There is a big difference between a person who is deeply religious (and mistaken for being godly, saved and in God’s good graces) and one whose soul is actually redeemed and saved to eternal life. We see how a soul is delivered from Satan’s death trap. We see what it takes for a soul to make that leap from death to life. In other words, what are the agents God uses to bring that soul over to himself (and there are three; the word of God, the work of the Spirit, and the human messenger). The Bible leaves no doubts as how God works in that area at all. Whatever men may say, or however real their counterfeit gospels may seem, we have the real thing here which is eternal, unchangeable, and incorruptible, like a shining beacon. More than that, we also see Philip, and how a man or woman may be used by God in the real sense of the word. You may want to be used like Philip because you can be— if you want! There’s more. But let’s review what we can.
Look at verses 26-29. “Now an angel of the Lord said to Philip, ‘Go south to the road— the desert road— that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.’ So he started out, and on his way he met an Ethiopian eunuch, an important official in charge of all the treasury of Candace, queen of the Ethiopians. This man had gone to Jerusalem to worship, and on his way home was sitting in his chariot reading the book of Isaiah the prophet. The Spirit told Philip, ‘Go to that chariot and stay near it.’” Imagine having a large fruitful and successful and ever growing ministry in a town where everyone knows you and loves you for who you are! Imagine your joy to see the countless disciples you’ve raised greet you as their shepherd, and eagerly wait another lesson about Christ and his kingdom. Imagine in that large town ministry, how much they need you to stay with them and train mentors and teachers to serve the ever growing churches that have sprung up because of you. How difficult would it be for you to leave them when they most need you? Now imagine the voice of an angel telling you to give it all up and “Go south to the road— the desert road— the one that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.” It’s not as amazing as it sounds that Philip would do so according to the Lord’s direction. It’s not so amazing when you know there’s another world, a world we cannot see, in which God’s angels minister to God’s children here on earth. (Hebrews 1:14) And when one knows this fundamental truth as Philip does, he also knows that God is in charge of all things in heaven and on earth. His plan is sovereign. His plan always prevails. When you’re armed with this kind of faith like Philip, you can entrust the whole town church community to God and obey his direction to leave this place, for your mission here is done. What an eye opener is this for those who would serve God as Philip does. God who resides in unapproachable light has a plan I can trust with my whole heart.
And what an all knowing sovereign God we have whose glorious plan is beyond our imagination! “Go south to the road— the desert road— that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.” The angel bearing God’s instructions to Philip was specific about what road he should take, otherwise he would have missed meeting this Ethiopian official. So what do we know about this man? Actually there is so much to say, but we must be brief. He didn’t really come from the Ethiopia we know of today. Actually it was more like ancient Nubia towards the south of today’s Sudan. Nonetheless, he was a very important official in the African kingdom of Queen Candace, her treasurer. You cannot entrust a kingdom’s treasury to anyone. The person must be trustworthy, reliable, respectable, honorable and more. One doesn’t need to go too far to imagine the kind of life court officials lived in any age. We can say that he was a man to be envied and feared in his own country, a man whose position gave him every comfort, privilege and authority. We are saying all this about him so that we might better understand what kind of a man he was. The Bible describes him as a eunuch. In spite of his unimaginably high position in society, he was also a man whose manhood had been cut off. We have no idea why that might have been so, but regardless of reason, a man in that situation might be reserved, and sensitive even bitter about his situation. But here we have a man who seemed to defy everything we imagine a man in his situation to be and to do.
He was a eunuch, but he was also a worshiper of God. When Philip found him, he had been to Jerusalem to worship God and was now on his way back to the African continent riding with his entourage. He was a eunuch, but also a worshiper of God! Why is this so strange? Because to start with, he wasn’t a Jew, nor was he allowed to convert to one even if he wanted to since he was a eunuch according to the Jewish Biblical Law. (Deuteronomy 23:1) He was considered a “God fearer”, but never a full convert. What a disappointment and a tragic shame for a one who was in search of God! Yet this man, who was considered by many to be only half a man or no man at all had abandoned the worship of idols and had made a very long journey to Jerusalem looking to worship God. During his stay, he became familiar with God’s laws and ways and took them to heart. He even accepted the law regarding his own rejection into God’s assembly as a eunuch. What a humble man he was to value God and the worship of God above his own thoughts and feelings. And being so wealthy and influential, he could even own his own copy of the hand written Scriptures. Because as we see, when Philip found him, and began running along side his chariot, the man was reading aloud from the scroll of Isaiah the prophet.
Look at verses 30-31. “Then Philip ran up to the chariot and heard the man reading Isaiah the prophet. ‘Do you understand what you are reading?’ Philip asked. ‘How can I,’ he said, ‘unless someone explains it to me?’ So he invited Philip to come up and sit with him.” He was a lover of God and a true worshipper of him, spending much of his time in reading the Scriptures. It must have all been new to him, a Gentile African man learning God’s history in the Bible beginning with Genesis through Noah’s flood and the slavery and emancipation of the Jews from Egypt by the living God. The story of the rise and fall of the Jewish kingdoms, their exile and return to the holy city. The prophets whose message was often to chastise the people and to call them to humble themselves, repent and return to the Lord from whom they have strayed. It helped him learn of the God he so much wanted to worship. But whatever knowledge he may have gained about God, and whatever religious fervor he may have had, and whatever good and pious person he may have become, it neither satisfied the longing of his soul, nor did it answer the many questions he had in his heart. His soul was still in the dark and suffering from the effects of sin with the rest of mankind. But he was a man genuinely seeking God, and God never turns away from such a person. (Jeremiah 29:13) It was the sovereign will of God that as the eunuch reached in his Bible reading the prophetic Isaiah 53, Philip was there to ask him a very important question: “Do you understand what you are reading?” There are those who don’t think they need anyone to explain Scripture to them, for they trust no teacher but their own interpretation. But if teachers aren’t needed, why then would the Holy Spirit gift his beloved church with so many teachers? Rather the eunuch was a humble man. He was honest enough with his own soul to know that some Scripture requires explanation, and invited Philip to sit with him and teach him the Bible. It is to people like this eunuch that Jesus promised: “The knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of heaven has been given to you, but not to them.” (Matthew 13:11)
Look at verses 32-35. “The eunuch was reading this passage of Scripture: ‘He was led like a sheep to the slaughter, and as a lamb before the shearer is silent, so he did not open his mouth. In his humiliation he was deprived of justice. Who can speak of his descendants? For his life was taken from the earth.’ The eunuch asked Philip, ‘Tell me, please, who is the prophet talking about, himself or someone else?’ Then Philip began with that very passage of Scripture and told him the good news about Jesus.” If you haven’t read or meditated on this great chapter of Isaiah, you need to because in it is described the Lord’s suffering servant, the Messiah’s immeasurable and unfathomable sufferings at the hands of the sinful people of our world. In this chapter the prophet retells in detail the agony of the Messiah to come in accurate detail. He tells of his birth and humble humanity (1-2). He tells of the Messiah Jesus’ sorrowful and sacrificial life and his servant ministry overshadowed by sinful men’s rejection. (3) Isaiah tells us of the Messiah’s quietly suffering humiliating death, being pierced and punished for the sins of humanity, in order to bring healing to broken hearts and peace to troubled souls that have gone astray from God. (4-9) Isaiah also tells of the Messiah Jesus’ defeating death and the great victory his resurrection would bring to the world. (10-12) Isaiah’s message speaks the same gospel message which the Lord Jesus fulfilled and is now being passed on by his apostles. It is a message of new life not only for Jews (for Christ is the God of all men), but for all who believe in him, who turn away from their sins, are forgiven and are born again by the Holy Spirit as God’s children into a new life in the kingdom of God.
Look at verses 32-33. “He was led like a sheep to the slaughter, and as a lamb before the shearer is silent, so he did not open his mouth. In his humiliation he was deprived of justice. Who can speak of his descendants? For his life was taken from the earth.” This is what the eunuch was reading when he asked Philip who the prophet was talking about. He had been through the chapter, and now he was dwelling on verses 7 and 8 of Isaiah 53, which describes the Messiah’s willing sacrifice at the great cost of his own humiliation and shame to be punished and killed for the sins of all people. It certainly didn’t sound like good news, but like the most tragic thing that had ever happened to an innocent man. But Philip began to tell him the good news about Jesus. It was good news because it was a message of hope and deliverance to all people, especially to this eunuch. As Philip taught him the word of God, explaining the life and works of the Lord Jesus, his suffering and death and resurrection, his ascension and the Kingdom he established, this eunuch’s heart was moved. The Holy Spirit put it on his heart to believe what Christ has come to do for him, that he died for his sins, that he rose to give him new life and that his life no longer is grounded in this perishing world, but that his life is now a living hope in God’s kingdom. Many things were happening in his heart through faith to lead him to the decision of his life that would not only change him but would also change the African nation he belonged to. Here we see all the elements or agents that work to bring a man from death to life, to be born again as child of God. The gospel message of Christ was being read or preached. There was a human messenger there to deliver it and explain it. And the Holy Spirit was working to convict the eunuch’s heart to believe it. We see this pattern of God’s truth working everywhere in the Bible.
What happened next was also fundamental and universal in the journey of this man’s soul. Look at verses 36-40. And especially pay attention to verse 37 which is a footnote in your Bible. “As they traveled along the road, they came to some water and the eunuch said, ‘Look, here is water. Why shouldn’t I be baptized?’ (37) [Philip said, “‘If you believe with all your heart, you may.’ The eunuch answered, ‘I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.’” And he gave orders to stop the chariot. Then both Philip and the eunuch went down into the water and Philip baptized him. When they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord suddenly took Philip away, and the eunuch did not see him again, but went on his way rejoicing. Philip, however, appeared at Azotus and traveled about, preaching the gospel in all the towns until he reached Caesarea.” His question to Philip ‘here’s water, why shouldn’t I be baptized’ is heart moving. He couldn’t become a Jew, a true follower of God in the assembly of God’s people even if he wanted to because he was a eunuch, a man marred and disfigured by men and shunned by the assembly of God. But when he heard the gospel, he knew that Christ had come not only to take away his sin and any shame he carried in his life, but he also knew that Christ came to make him a child of God and bring him home to God’s embrace. Faith grew in his heart and he realized that there is no reason for him to be left out anymore. So in the omitted verse, Philip helps him make a public confession of Christ. His baptism ceremony in front of all his attendants was a public renouncing of his old sinful life and embracing the new life Christ offers repentant sinners. So he gladly welcomed baptism as a testimony of his faith in Christ and of his becoming a Christian convert. When he came out of the water, he was the first African convert to the Christian faith. His story may have begun in sorrow because he’s a eunuch, but in verse 39 it is a story that ends in rejoicing.
Philip’s life inspires us as much as Stephen’s life does. Stephen died a martyr for what he believed in. Philip lived a martyr’s life for what he believed in. Both lived for Christ to serve his gospel in whatever way God so chose for them to serve. Philip established a ministry in Samaria and then was called to be a one to one Bible teacher to an Ethiopian eunuch. He went willingly and served this man until he too accepted the gospel, and became a nation. In verse 40 we get a glimpse of Philip’s life. He traveled about preaching the gospel. How are our lives going to be described? That’s why we need to ask God to help us submit to God’s leading as Philip did so that we may be used in this generation as his kingdom workers in any way he so wills.