Acts 8:1-13, 26-40

Called to Tell a Lost World

ę 2007, J.W. Carter
Scripture quotes from KJV

The early church started with about 120 members who were filled with the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost following Jesus’ commission to the apostles and His ascension into heaven. The church experienced a time of fellowship and worship that attracted those around them. Through Peter’s preaching, and through the ministry of the church to their neighbors, the church grew to about 5000 members before any significant resistance was mounted up against them.

The first instance of resistance came from the religious leaders when they arrested Peter and John following the healing of the lame man at the entrance to the temple (Chapter 4). They were held over night and instructed not to preach about the risen Jesus. They stated that they would not obey, yet they were released. The church continued to thrive in the power of the Holy Spirit, and some organization was needed in order to distribute the gifts brought to the church. The congregation selected seven Hellenistic (Greek) Jewish men to help in this administration, particularly to the Hellenists who were being neglected. (Chapter 6). One of these, Stephen, became a dynamic witness for the gospel, moving outside of the congregation, preaching and teaching in the Hellenistic synagogues, much to the anger of the orthodox Jews who considered the Greeks as foreigners. The orthodox religious leaders could not make any attack on him directly, so they devised lies against him (vs. 11-18). In his defense, Stephen presents a speech, the longest in the book of Acts, in which he recounts Jewish history, and presents the gospel to the leaders. When he exposed their history of persecuting God’s prophets, they formed a "lynch mob" and took Stephen out of the city, and stoned him to death (Chapter 7). Had this not happened, Stephen would have most likely been one of the most fruitful witnesses for the gospel, comparing favorably with the ministry of Paul.

Acts 8:1-4.

And Saul was consenting unto his death. And at that time there was a great persecution against the church which was at Jerusalem; and they were all scattered abroad throughout the regions of Judaea and Samaria, except the apostles. 2And devout men carried Stephen to his burial, and made great lamentation over him. 3As for Saul, he made havock of the church, entering into every house, and haling men and women committed them to prison. 4Therefore they that were scattered abroad went every where preaching the word.

The stoning of Stephen ended the period of unity and peace that was experienced by the early church in Jerusalem. The violence of the persecution caused the people to scatter. Many of these people came to Jerusalem for the Pentecost feast, and were remaining with the church because of their love for one another, a love given by the power of the Holy Spirit. This persecution broke up the congregation, and many returned to their own lands, taking with them the gospel that would continue to spread.

Those Jews who lived in Jerusalem were left in their house-churches that were formed to meet the needs of their congregation. Saul, a zealous Pharisee, was given authority by the Sanhedrin to imprison any remaining followers of this Jesus cult in an effort to finally put down this challenge to the orthodox authority.

In the last several years the Church has been placing a greater focus on identifying "seekers." What is a seeker? This is an individual who has not made a decision for Christ, but is seeking for spiritual direction in their lives. There are a lot of religions and religious leaders who are motivated to locate seekers and recruit them into their fold. The New-Age philosophical movement has made the greatest strides in this arena because of the propagation of these philosophies in the media through celebrity testimonies and its liberal world view. Islam, Buddhism and Hinduism have also been resting places for seekers for the same reason. The occult uses the proselytizing of seekers as its primary source of recruiting.

Often we will find seekers in the morning worship services. They might even be church members, but more likely they are family or friends of church members who have been invited to come. Where are some other places that we might find people who are inquisitive about spiritual things? Why is it helpful to identify seekers? (It is much easier to witness to them and you are far more likely to plant seeds or bear fruit when the person is open to listen.

Philip was one of the seven Greek men who was chosen to serve the church. Upon its dispersal, Philip went into Samaria where he continued to preach the gospel and was used by God to reach many people, a people that the orthodox Jewish Christians were not able to reach. Philip was a deacon in the early church, not an elder or pastor. What is the purpose of ministry of the deacon? There is no scriptural evidence that deacons were administrators. This was the arena of the elders, or bishops, or pastors, each representing the same position. The deacons were laymen who ministered to the needs of the members of the church and who were always very active in a ministry of apostleship. Both men and women served as deacons in the early church. They were to have a reputation of faithfulness to the church and to the Lord, well-grounded in their faith and doctrine, and have their lives and families in order. They were not to have multiple spouses as was common for their pegan neighbors of the time.

Philip was one such person. The call of Philip as a deacon is recorded in Acts 6:5, and it is not clear whether or not that this Philip is the same as the Apostle, Philip, but some believe that it is. The scripture text refers to the 12 apostles telling the disciples to call out seven among them to help with the distribution of gifts, so if the English text is taken literally, it would not be Philip the apostle. Also as Philip went into Samaria, the apostles remained in Jerusalem, again identifying this man as another. Apostle or not, at this time, Philip is very busily engaged in exercising his gift of apostleship. Take a look at:

Acts 8:5-13.

Then Philip went down to the city of Samaria, and preached Christ unto them. 6And the people with one accord gave heed unto those things which Philip spake, hearing and seeing the miracles which he did. 7For unclean spirits, crying with loud voice, came out of many that were possessed with them: and many taken with palsies, and that were lame, were healed. 8And there was great joy in that city. 9But there was a certain man, called Simon, which beforetime in the same city used sorcery, and bewitched the people of Samaria, giving out that himself was some great one: 10To whom they all gave heed, from the least to the greatest, saying, This man is the great power of God. 11And to him they had regard, because that of long time he had bewitched them with sorceries. 12But when they believed Philip preaching the things concerning the kingdom of God, and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and women. 13Then Simon himself believed also: and when he was baptized, he continued with Philip, and wondered, beholding the miracles and signs which were done.

This must have been a very exciting experience for Philip. Where was he doing this ministry? (In Samaria.) What do we know about the people of Samaria? (They were hated by the Jews as "half-Jews" who had intermarried with the Gentiles during the period of exile, and utilized only the writings of Moses as their canon. They did not give much authority to the Prophets, but were looking for the coming Messiah. They were far more open to the gospel than the Jews, and there were many seekers among them.) Philip's crusade there was very successful as he brought the gospel to many people including at least one who was a well-known tool of Satan's evil arts. It might be interesting to note that the practice of "Simony", the purchase of power and position within the church is named after this magician convert, Simon, who attempted to purchase Philip’s source of power.

You would think that God would keep Philip there among the many people who were open to the Gospel. However, God's plan places the importance of an individual as high as the importance of a group. Also God can work through an individual to reach an entire nation. Go to Acts 8:26.

Acts 8:26.

And the angel of the Lord spake unto Philip, saying, Arise, and go toward the south unto the way that goeth down from Jerusalem unto Gaza, which is desert.

This would be quite a long trip from Samaria. Also, he was told by God's messenger to simply go to a specific road that was out in the middle of what we might call "No man's land." How would we respond to such a call? Philip is engaged in a dynamic and successful ministry, yet God is calling him to the desert with no indication of purpose. Most of us would probably ignore such a call. We see no indication of such doubt in Philip's response.

Acts 8:27.

And he arose and went: and, behold, a man of Ethiopia, an eunuch of great authority under Candace queen of the Ethiopians, who had the charge of all her treasure, and had come to Jerusalem for to worship,

Philip was on this road, South of Jerusalem when he met the Ethiopian eunuch. We might be interested to be better introduced to this man. He was the treasurer for the queen of a large tribal country South of Egypt. This region was probably what is now Nubia, an area in the south of Egypt and northern Sudan on the Nile River.  In ancient times this was an independent nation. This makes it very likely that this man was a large, and very intelligent, very black man. Also, the label of eunuch may be misleading. This is particularly confused by the fact that men who took care of royal women were often castrated, and such were referred to as eunuchs. However, the Greek word for eunuch is eunouchos which is also he Greek word for a treasurer or bookkeeper. It is a bit of an irony that the word for bookkeeper is the same as that for a castrated slave. Tell that to your CPA. When taken in the context used here, eunouchos dunaste˘s, it is very likely that this is not a castrated slave, but is as the scripture also describes, a high official in the service of the queen. The name Candace, Kandake˘s, is not a personal name, but is a title of the position like "Pharoah" or "Caesar."

What had the Ethiopian treasurer been doing in Jerusalem? Does it not sound a bit unlikely that such a character would have been there? Why would a high official in the service of the queen be in Jerusalem to worship God? We may get a little hint in the next verse:

Acts 8:28.

Was returning, and sitting in his chariot read Esaias the prophet.

If you wanted to read the writings of Isaiah, the prophet, where would you go to get a copy? (Turn in your Bible to the Book of Isaiah.) How would the Eunuch get a copy? (He would have to purchase an extremely expensive hand-written scroll.) Also, the Ethiopian would not know Hebrew; he would know Greek, so he would need a Greek translation, an even more expensive and rare commodity. Consequently, it appears that the Candace may have actually been the first seeker here. She may have sent her treasurer to Jerusalem to purchase the Greek Torah. His belief might have been initiated by that of Candace as we find that he was worshiping the one true God, but lacked a real understanding of much of that faith.

God had a plan for this Ethiopian treasurer, one that would ultimately affect an entire country, one that was quite foreign to the middle-east and was not a part of a significant missionary effort, at least as recorded in scripture. God would use Philip to reach Ethiopia in a way he never imagined.

Acts 8:29-30.

Then the Spirit said unto Philip, Go near, and join thyself to this chariot. 30And Philip ran thither to him, and heard him read the prophet Esaias, and said, Understandest thou what thou readest?

Do you suppose that just before this moment Philip might have been a bit discouraged? I think so. Here he was out walking on a road in a desert area with nobody around, having no earthly idea of why he is here when he could be up in Samaria reaching people. He might have thought that this was not a very good use of his gifts. I think this may be the case because of his response when Philip felt the Spirit give him very specific instructions. What were those instructions? (Simply to walk near to the chariot in which the Ethiopian treasurer was riding.) Note he was not led to do anything else, not to introduce himself, to get on the chariot, etc. What happened while he was walking near the chariot? (He heard the Ethiopian reading the writings of the Prophet Isaiah.) I'm sure that this was quite amazing to Philip. Here he sees this foreigner who speaks Ethiopian and Greek reading a Greek translation of the Hebrew writings of Isaiah. This must have been doubly intriguing if the man were a black African, as it appears. Philip could not walk idly by while listening to the Ethiopian's reading. What did he do? (He asked, basically, "Do you have a clue to what you are reading?" We will see that he was reading from the area of the Hebrew Bible that the Hebrews have the most problem with. Even today Jewish leaders strongly discourage the study of Isaiah and Daniel. In my limited experience in sharing the Gospel with Jews, I have yet to find one who is familiar with these scriptures.

Acts 8:31.

And he said, How can I, except some man should guide me? And he desired Philip that he would come up and sit with him.

Philip recognized that this Ethiopian was a seeker. His question to the Ethiopian opened an opportunity to teach. However, a teacher needs a student, and if this man was unwilling to be taught, the gospel could not be shared. To plant seeds, the soil needs to be fertile. We can waste a lot of time, and even damage the purpose of the gospel when we insist on planting seed among the rocks, thorns, and trampled roadways. I recently met a close relative for the first time in my life, and like the rest of this family she is not only lost, but she has no idea that she is, so she is not looking for anything. When I led her family in prayer before lunch they were very uncomfortable. I mentioned my background and the faith that defines who I am, and they could not understand. As much as I wanted to give them a presentation of the gospel, the Spirit gave me a clear message that this was as far as I could go. Just my testimony was all they could handle. To have gone farther would have grieved the Spirit and possibly alienated me from them and destroyed any future opportunity to take the testimony to the next step. I would liked to given her the "hard sell," but this was not the time or place for it.

It was obvious here that through the interest of the Ethiopian, and through the presentation of His Word, this Ethiopian was ready to listen to instruction, so he invited Philip to sit with him while he rode, probably much to the relief of Philip's tired feet. Philip now knew why God had called him to this isolated road.

Have you ever experienced similar circumstances? You feel that God has called you to something, but you do not have any real idea of what it is to which you are called. Then you find yourself dropped into the middle of a ministry opportunity whether great or small by our measure. Sometimes it is not until the experience has gone by do we realize that God's purpose was in it. I once moved my family from New York to Memphis temporarily for a year, returning when the year was over. We found that God called us that entire way for one, relatively small, ministry: to help a pastor who was in serious trouble, and to minister in a very unique way to the church that was dealing with those troubles.

We can learn from Philip's experience here that we should never brush off the call of the Spirit. If you feel God calling you, go without hesitation. What would have happened if Philip had decided to wait a day before leaving? (He would have missed the Ethiopian, and the ministry opportunity would have passed him by. He would have been frustrated by a seemingly useless trip to the desert if God had not brought some other ministry his way.)

Acts 8:32-35.

The place of the scripture which he read was this, He was led as a sheep to the slaughter; and like a lamb dumb before his shearer, so opened he not his mouth: 33In his humiliation his judgment was taken away: and who shall declare his generation? for his life is taken from the earth. 34And the eunuch answered Philip, and said, I pray thee, of whom speaketh the prophet this? of himself, or of some other man? 35Then Philip opened his mouth, and began at the same scripture, and preached unto him Jesus.

This passage is in Isaiah, 53:7-8. If you turn to the book of Isaiah and read it, you will most likely find the wording a little different, particularly if your translation is true enough to the original text. Why would they be different? Why does the New Testament often seem to misquote the Old? The Ethiopian was reading, not from the Hebrew texts from which our Old Testament is translated, but rather, from the Septuagent (LXX) a Greek translation of the Old Testament. It is called the Septuagent because the word refers to the committee of seventy Hebrew scholars who made the translation. Unfortunately, LXX is a paraphrase written for easy reading and was heavily editorialized by the committee, much like the Living Bible, or the New Living Translation. Consequently, we must be suspect when we use LXX as a resource for study. It is useful to scholars to see how the Greek language was used to explain spiritual truths, but due to the presuppositions of the committee who rejected the messianic prophesies, the LXX is not very useful for scholarly study, particularly in applications of prophesies of the coming Messiah.

One of the most powerful teaching tools is that of inquiry. Philip asked a question of the Ethiopian that caused the Ethiopian to respond with a question. Lecturing is not as nearly as effective as answering specific questions. When we find ourselves in a ministry opportunity, get the seeker to ask questions. By the asking, the seeker is giving you the permission and authority to answer it. What was the Ethiopian's question? What was Philip's response? (To share the gospel from the context of the Ethiopian's question.)

We can share the gospel with someone from any context. I once shared the gospel with someone starting with a discussion of the physics behind the placement of the stars and galaxies. I recently had the opportunity to share the gospel through the experience of Abraham and Isaac on Mount Moriah. When in Belarus I had two opportunities to share the gospel when asked to tell them of the "story of Christmas." They celebrated Christmas but had no idea why, just like the Ethiopian was reading and did not understand what he was reading. In the same way that Philip was able to open the word to them, I was able to open the word to a few Russian families who's lives were radically changed by the experience. At least one of them ultimately accepted Jesus and is inspired by the Spirit to learn more and to share it with those around her.

Acts 8:36-38.

And as they went on their way, they came unto a certain water: and the eunuch said, See, here is water; what doth hinder me to be baptized? 37And Philip said, If thou believest with all thine heart, thou mayest. And he answered and said, I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God. 38And he commanded the chariot to stand still: and they went down both into the water, both Philip and the eunuch; and he baptized him.

Somehow the Ethiopian knew about the ordinance of Baptism. He probably learned this from Philip as the gospel was presented. Philip probably described how those who accepted Christ were baptized as a testimony of their new commitment to Jesus Christ. The Ethiopian's logical response would to be to desire baptism.

It is interesting that they found enough water along the road between Jerusalem and Gaza for a baptism by immersion. The road does cross several small rivers when the road gets close to the coastal region around Gaza. If this is the case, then they are about 40 miles from Jerusalem. Much debate has been raised over whether this baptism was by immersion or not. It seems as though the predominant model in the new church was by immersion, but it is unclear to the most literal scholars. Often the word used is better translated anointing. In this case, most evangelical scholars will argue that this was an immersion as indicated by the next verse. Note that verse 37, included in the KJV is not included in earlier manuscripts, and is omitted from newer, more scholarly, translations.

Acts 8:39-40.

And when they were come up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord caught away Philip, that the eunuch saw him no more: and he went on his way rejoicing. 40But Philip was found at Azotus: and passing through he preached in all the cities, till he came to Caesarea.

It appears that the two of them waded into water for this baptism, so immersion seems to have been the form. What is important here is not the form of baptism, but rather, the desire of the Ethiopian to follow Christ. Our goal in ministry to the seeker is to give them an opportunity to accept Christ. We see a successful model in the experience with Philip and the Ethiopian. God had prepared the heart of the Ethiopian to receive the gospel. God had sent Philip to the Ethiopian to explain the gospel to him. Philip was obedient to God's call and made himself available for sharing the gospel, and finally, the Ethiopian was willing to receive the message. This is a very important model for the sharing of the gospel that we should all be aware of. The first step requires God alone. The next three require the obedience of people, two of them being the responsibility of the Christian. We must always be open to listen to God's call, willing to respond to it immediately, and then follow through by doing what the Spirit leads us to do.

One small issue worth mentioning before we leave this passage. Some have understood Acts 8:39-40 to describe some sort of miraculous transport of Philip from the water beside the Gaza road to Azotus, a coastal city about 10 miles north of Gaza, on the way to Caesarea. Here the scripture describes Philip as preaching in the towns from there to Cesarea. This would have included at least Azatus, Joppa and Lydda. The key to this "beam me up, Scotty" theology centers around the word, "Suddenly." We modern users of English expect "Suddenly" to mean "Instantly, in the twinkling of an eye." The word used there is harpazo, which means to carry off. Philip was "carried off" by the Spirit to Azotus. There was no longer any reason for Philip to remain with the Ethiopian, so as soon as they were finished with the Baptism, the Ethiopian continued south toward home, and Philip turned back north to Caesarea, preaching along the way. If they were close to Gaza, they were on the coastal highway, explaining the presence of water in the rivers. This road goes between Gaza and Caesarea. If this were some sort of miraculous transport, it would seem that somewhere in scripture this would have been described as a miracle. The miracle theory is the result of a conjecture as to the application of the English word, "suddenly" and supported by the Greek word, harpazo.

All Christians are called to be accountable for their faith to a lost world. Though not all are called as "soul winners," all are called as witnesses. All are called as ministers of the gospel. We are to seek the Lordship of Christ in every area of our lives, and as Jesus reaches into our heart of compassion, we will be led to share Christ with those who do not know Him. Like Philip, let us not delay in responding in obedience to God’s call. We have no idea of what God can do when we turn ourselves entirely over to Him.