For the last three weeks, Mike has been taking us through Acts chapter 8 – and so today, we are going to continue that tradition and will continue working through Acts chapter 8.
But before we begin, let’s just take a step back and see where we are in the overall journey through the book of Acts.
You’ll recall that this entire book is built upon Jesus’ command to his disciples in Acts 1:8. Just before Jesus ascends to Heaven, He says to them:
8 “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you. And you will be my witnesses, telling people about me everywhere—in Jerusalem, throughout Judea, in Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” Acts 1:8
This entire book revolves around this verse – every chapter describes how the Holy Spirit is empowering God’s people to be his witnesses in Jerusalem, throughout Judea, in Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.
But so far, the Gospel has really only made it as far as Samaria. In fact, up until the martyr of Stephan, Christianity was really only found in Jerusalem – and really it was only the Jews who had become believers.
However, once Saul began persecuting the church, the believers fled Jerusalem and began spreading their message throughout the land of Israel. They even went so far as to preach to their half-Jewish cousins – the Samaritans. And of course, was the focus of Mike’s messages over these last few weeks – it was all about Philip preaching to the Samaritans.
But at this point, the Gospel has not really made it past the borders of Israel. It certainly hasn’t made it “to the ends of the earth” as Jesus had commanded. Christianity is still pretty much a Jewish thing.
But that begins to change in our passage today. Today, we are going to see the baptism of the very first fully-Gentile believer in Christ.
Mike left off at about verse 25 with Peter and John returning to Jerusalem after laying hands on the new believers in Samaria – and so we’re going to start at verse 26 today to see what becomes of Philip.
26 As for Philip, an angel of the Lord said to him, “Go south down the desert road that runs from Jerusalem to Gaza. 27 So he started out…”
Now even though this is just a short little verse that doesn’t appear to say much, there are some really interesting things to notice here, so let’s take a look.
First of all, you’ll notice that Philip was instructed by the Lord to “Go south down the desert road that runs from Jerusalem to Gaza.” At this time, there were two roads that you could take from Jerusalem to Gaza – one that was well-traveled and one that was rarely used. And probably the reason for the one road being rarely used was because it was the desert road. It wasn’t the scenic ocean-side highway that everyone wanted to travel. It was the dry and dusty and barren road – not all that pleasant. But that was the road that Philip was instructed to take.
What’s more, the Greek phrase that gets translated as “go south” in this verse could also be translated as “go at noon” which of course, would be the heat of the day when no one else would be traveling.
And so this really seems to be an odd command for Philip – especially since Philip was clearly a gifted evangelist – as we’ve just seen in Samaria! I mean, Philip had just preached to crowds of people in Samaria and many people had become believers. Philip clearly had a knack (or a special empowering by the Lord) to lead people to Christ.
But now, God is sending him away from Samaria – away from the city full of people – and down this nearly abandoned road in the heat of the day where he would be almost guaranteed not to meet anyone along the way! That’s not really going to help spread the Gospel, is it? That just doesn’t seem to make good strategic sense for growing the kingdom of God!
Wouldn’t God want Philip to cross paths with as many people as possible so he could share the Good News with them as they walked? Why would God send him down this desert road that was seldom traveled by anyone – when it would have been just as easy (and perhaps more pleasant) to have taken the other, more populated road? Or even, why not stay in Samaria and keep preaching to the crowds! That had already proven successful – why stop a good thing?
Well, as we’re going to see, God had a plan in mind. He didn’t just send Philip down that road on a whim – God absolutely had a specific and strategic purpose for sending Philip down that exact road at that exact time.
Which, by the way, is a great reminder for us! Sometimes God asks us to do something or go somewhere that just doesn’t make any sense to us at the time. Maybe it’s a simple as God prompting us to turn down a certain road when we travel or talk to a certain person in the grocery store…. All for reasons we don’t really understand at the time.
And sometimes God asks us to do some more significant things… Perhaps we’ve had times when God’s lead us to move our family to a new place or to start a new job or even to stop a ministry that has proven successful!
But God always has a plan and purpose for everything he asks us to do. The hard stuff. The easy stuff. The mundane stuff. The stuff that doesn’t seem to make sense… If God has asked us to do those things, then we can be sure that He has a plan and purpose for it! We don’t have to understand how or why – God will work out all the details – we just need to be obedient.
Which, of course, is just what Philip did. Verse 27 begins with “So he started out….”
We don’t see him protesting to God that his evangelism talents would be better used if he stayed in Samaria. We don’t see him trying to convince God that he should take the other road to Gaza. We don’t even see him asking “Why, God, why?” All we see from Philip is obedience.
And this won’t be the only time we see Philip promptly obeying the leading of God – we see it again in just a few verses…So hold this thought for now, and we’ll touch on it again in just a few moments. But let’s read on for now:
27 “So he started out, and he met the treasurer of Ethiopia, a eunuch of great authority under the Kandake, the queen of Ethiopia.” Acts 8:27a
Now just for clarity, depending on your translation, instead of saying “the Kandake”, your Bible might say “Candace, the queen of Ethiopians”. Both are accurate and both say the same thing. Candace is not given name like Mary or Sue, but rather it’s a title given to the Queen of Ethiopia – much like how Pharaoh was the title for the king of Egypt or Caesar was the title for the King of Rome. They aren’t given names, but just titles.
And so this fellow that Philip meets on the road works for Candace (or the Kandake) – the Queen of Ethiopia – and his job for the queen is “Treasurer”. Or in our terms today, He would be the Minister of Finance. He would be quite a powerful and influential person.
So what in the world is he doing out on this desert road? Well, let’s read on:
The eunuch had gone to Jerusalem to worship, 28 and he was now returning. Seated in his carriage, he was reading aloud from the book of the prophet Isaiah. Acts 8:27b-28
It seems this Minister of Finance was a God-fearing man. Even though he was a Gentile (that is – he was not a Jew), he had somehow learned about the one true God and had traveled to Jerusalem to worship Him at the temple.
And I would imagine his trip might have been a bit of a disappointment. You see, as a Gentile, and even more so, as a eunuch, he would not have been allowed to even enter the temple – much less offer a sacrifice or anything like that. The Jewish rules were quite strict about stuff like that. As a Gentile, he was considered unclean and unacceptable, and thus, had to keep his distance from God.
So for this man who truly wanted to worship the one true God – I imagine his trip to Jerusalem may have been a bit disheartening for him. None the less, He was determined to know and please God and so it appears that while he was in Jerusalem, he had bought a copy of the book of Isaiah.
This would not have been a cheap purchase! Unlike today, where we can have shelves full of Bibles in our homes – the written Word of God was much more rare back then and very valuable. The average person could not afford to own their own Bible – that’s why memorization was so important back then. One commentator I read says it would have cost him more than $25,000 in today’s money to buy this one book of the Bible. So clearly this man really wanted to know the Word of God!
Now of course, I’m reading between the lines a little bit – the Bible doesn’t specifically say that he bought this scroll while in Jerusalem, but it sure seems to be the case, since he is reading it in his carriage on the way home.
But it does serve as a good point to ponder for us this morning: How valuable is the Word of God to us? If the Bible weren’t so easily accessible for us, would we pay $25,000 for the book of Isaiah?
We live in an amazing time in history – where we have literally stacks of Bibles in our homes and carry in our pockets instant access to the Word of God at anytime and in any place! No one in history has had that kind of access to the Word of God! But do we value it enough to actually read it!? How important is it to you to know what God has said in the pages of Scripture – and to know what He is saying to you today? 2 Timothy 3:16 tells us:
16 All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives. It corrects us when we are wrong and teaches us to do what is right. 17 God uses it to prepare and equip his people to do every good work.
2 Timothy 3:16-17
Isn’t that worth more than $25,000? Isn’t that a book worth reading?! I’d say so! I would encourage you, that if you don’t have a habit of daily reading God’s Word, to start that habit today!
And this Ethiopian man would agree! I don’t know for sure how much he must have spent to purchase this scroll of Isaiah – but he didn’t buy it just so it could sit on his shelf! He bought it so that he could read it – and hopefully, understand it!
And it’s here that we begin to see some of God’s purpose in bring Philip down this desert road! Take a look at the next verses:
29 The Holy Spirit said to Philip, “Go over and walk along beside the carriage.”
30 Philip ran over and heard the man reading from the prophet Isaiah. Philip asked, “Do you understand what you are reading?”
31 The man replied, “How can I, unless someone instructs me?” And he urged Philip to come up into the carriage and sit with him.
I mentioned before that Philip’s obedience to the Lord was not a one time deal. It seems it was a common occurrence because here again, we see the Holy Spirit giving Philip some specific instructions, and Philip immediately obeyed! He runs up alongside the carriage and wouldn’t you know it – the man was reading from the book of Isaiah! What a coincidence!
I mean, first of all, who would have thought that there would be anyone along this desert road as Philip walked along in the heat of the day? And who would have thought that this person would be a God-fearing Gentile? And who would have thought that this man just happed to be reading God’s Word, but struggling to understand it? And if that still weren’t enough, who would have thought that Philip just happened to know the Scriptures well enough that He could explain it to this Ethiopian man?
Who would have thought? Well, of course, God did. This was no coincidence! God had carefully orchestrated all of it! The people, the place, the timing… God had arranged it all so that the Good News of Jesus Christ could reach not only this man, but could go home with him to Ethiopia – extending the reach of the Gospel beyond the borders of Israel all the way to the ends of the earth!
And God does that sort of thing all the time! There really are no coincidences in life! Ever moment is a divine appointment. God is always at work – using every situation for our good and His glory! Paul writes in Romans 8:28…
28 And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them. Romans 8:28
What an encouraging promise! Now of course, we don’t always see the immediate good like perhaps Philip did. In fact, there are times when we may never see the good in our situations this side of heaven – but we can be assured, that God is always at work – bringing about his purposes in every situation.
And in this case, with Philip and the Ethiopian – God had something incredible in the works. God was about to send the Gospel to the ends of the earth! But we’re not quite there yet! Let’s back up and see how this all plays out.
As the man struggled to understand the book of Isaiah (and some of us can certainly relate to that!), he invites Philip to ride along with him and explain the Scriptures. It says in verse 32:
32 The passage of Scripture he had been reading was this:
“He was led like a sheep to the slaughter.
And as a lamb is silent before the shearers,
he did not open his mouth.
33 He was humiliated and received no justice.
Who can speak of his descendants?
For his life was taken from the earth.”
34 The eunuch asked Philip, “Tell me, was the prophet talking about himself or someone else?”
Now actually, this was a widely debated question among even the Jewish scholars at this time. Some believed that Isaiah was talking about himself – since prophets of God were certainly no stranger to persecution and suffering. Other thought Isaiah was referring to Israel as a nation – suffering at the hands of Assyria, Babylon, Rome over the centuries. And a few people believed that Isaiah was referring to the Messiah – but they had a hard time accepting that because they didn’t want to think of their Messiah as a suffering servant! That’s not the image they had in mind of their Messiah – which is of course, why they had a hard time believing in Jesus! He did not fit their image of what the Messiah should be like!
But none the less, Jesus is the Messiah and this passage is talking about Him. And so we read in verse 35…
35 So beginning with this same Scripture, Philip told him the Good News about Jesus.
Talk about the perfect setup, eh? God had totally set everything up – the man’s trip to Jerusalem, his purchase of the book of Isaiah, Philip’s journey down the desert road – the timing so that the two would meet… everything was perfectly in place – right down to the details of what verses the man would be reading when Philip came along – and all so that Philip could explain to him the Good News of Jesus Christ. Can there be any doubt that God was at work in this situation and in this man’s life?
And like I said earlier, God does this all the time! He does this every day in your life. He arranges people and places and events in just the right way to accomplish his purposes! Our job is simply to be attentive and obedient to his voice.
Of course, we don’t always get to be the guy who shares the Gospel – sometimes we’re just the guy who sells the Isaiah scroll to the Minister of Finance, or maybe we’re the guy who feeds the donkeys that are gonna pull his carriage. Or maybe we’re the farmer that tells them about the “shortcut” down the desert road! There are a lot of moving parts that all have to be in place for God to carry out his plan – and a lot of times we have no idea how our mundane activities might contribute to the work of the kingdom! But they do!
God will work out the details – we just need to be attentive and obedient to his voice.
And in our passage, Philip was exactly that. He was obedient to everything God said – and he was attentive to the opportunities that God was sending his way. As soon as he heard the passage that the Ethiopian was reading, he knew that was an opportunity to share the Good News about Jesus. And with incredible results! Look what happens next:
36 As they rode along, they came to some water, and the eunuch said, “Look! There’s some water! Why can’t I be baptized?” 38 He ordered the carriage to stop, and they went down into the water, and Philip baptized him.
Now if you are paying close attention, you may have noticed that verse 37 is missing from this passage. And it may be missing in your Bible as well. Some translations include it and some do not. The reason that it’s missing from some translations is because most of the oldest and most reliable manuscripts that we have, don’t include that verse. It appears that it may have been added in some manuscripts sometime later, after they were originally written by Luke.
Now of course, the missing verse in question certainly doesn’t detract from or contradict the rest of Scripture. It actually fills out the conversation quite nicely —and with some solid theology. We’re just not sure if it was part of what Luke originally wrote. But let me show you the verse anyway and you scholars can determine what you want to do with it!
So with verse 37 included, that passage would read like this:
36 As they rode along, they came to some water, and the eunuch said, “Look! There’s some water! Why can’t I be baptized?”
37. “You can,” Philip answered, “if you believe with all your heart.” And the eunuch replied, “I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.”
38 He ordered the carriage to stop, and they went down into the water, and Philip baptized him.
As you can see, with or without that verse, it’s clear that this man truly believed that Jesus Christ was the crucified and resurrected Son of God. He was ready to baptized as a sign of his faith in Jesus.
And of course, that’s the same message that Philip had preached earlier in Samaria. It’s the same message the Peter & John had preached back in Jerusalem. And that’s the same message we preach here today. Jesus Christ is the resurrected Son of God. He died so that we can be forgiven and have eternal life. We need to believe and trust in Him for salvation and be baptized as a sign of our repentance and faith.
And I would just encourage you today to accept that same message! Do you believe that Jesus is the resurrected Son of God? Do you believe that He died to take the punishment for your sin so that you can be forgiven and have life? Are you trusting Him today for your salvation? And with that, have you been baptized in obedience to Him?
And if you can’t answer “yes” to all of those question, then I would surely encourage you to think very hard about why not? What’s keeping you from trusting in and obeying the Lord Jesus?
I can tell you with certainty that He loves you dearly and wants you to experience his love, his peace, his goodness, and his joy!
Choose today to follow Him! In fact, I’d be thrilled to plan another baptism this year! We can go to the swimming pool, a lake, a river, a creek along the road… It all works! I just encourage you not to delay any longer. Follow the example of this Ethiopian man and choose today to follow Jesus.
But while you’re thinking about that, let’s get back to our passage and see how the story concludes. Verse 39.
39 When they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord snatched Philip away. The eunuch never saw him again but went on his way rejoicing. 40 Meanwhile, Philip found himself farther north at the town of Azotus. He preached the Good News there and in every town along the way until he came to Caesarea.
It’s kind of a surprise ending to have Philip just miraculously snatched away and transported somewhere else. We’re not really given the reason why God does this – perhaps as a sign to this Ethiopian and his entourage that Philip truly was a messenger sent by God. That could be the case, but we don’t really know. But what we do know is that the Ethiopian went on his way rejoicing.
That part may seem a bit like an unimportant detail – but it is actually quite telling. Joy is one of the clearest signs of a person who is truly saved! Joy is one of the fruits of the Spirit – one of the natural outcomes of knowing and being with Jesus. And so it certainly makes sense, that if this man has truly comes to faith in Jesus that he goes on his way rejoicing!
As for Philip, he finds himself at another town – a town that actually used to be the Philistine town of Ashdod before it was renamed Azotus. But Philip preached the Good News there too! And he kept preaching until he reached Caesarea.
And that’s about all we hear about Philip. In fact, we only hear about Philip once more in Acts chapter 21 – when Paul comes to Caesarea and stays at Philip’s house many years later. By this time Philip has four unmarried daughters who all have the gift of prophecy we’re told. So it kinda appears that Philip eventually settles in Caesarea, has a family, and of course, teaches them to know and love the Lord too.
But of course, that’s getting way ahead of ourselves! There’s a lot of stuff that happens in Acts before all that – we haven’t even begun to talk about Paul and the amazing things that God does in his life! But we will begin that next week!
Acts chapter 9 is the story of Saul’s conversion – and again we’re going to see God’s incredible sovereignty worked out through a variety of events and people who are attentive and obedience to God’s voice. So I’m looking forward to next week – but for now, let’s close with a word of prayer.