|Introduction: Heading on Down the Road
Last week we studied about the great revival in Samaria. Philip had come there because of Sauls persecution, and God used him to lead many to Christ. The Apostles in Jerusalem heard about this great move of God, and so they sent Peter and John to help out. The Lord continued blessing the people and poured out his spirit upon the Samaritans. Philip must have been very pleased because it was he whom God chose to begin this great work.
But then something really strange happened. Something Im sure Philip was not prepared for. Right in the midst of this great revival, God tells Philip to start heading down the road. Have you been experiencing a time when things have been changing in your life? Perhaps its a time of traveling down a new road or heading in a new direction. Change can be very scary and discomforting. But we need to remember that even as we are heading down the road going in a different direction than we had planned, God is with us and will help us along the way.
But an angel of the Lord said to Philip, "Rise and go toward the south to the road that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza." This is a desert road. And he rose and went.
Philip was traveling down one of the roads built by the Roman Empire that connected Jerusalem to Ethiopia. The Encarta Encyclopedia explains, "The earliest of the ancient road builders whose work still survives were the Romans. The Appian Way was begun about 312 BC. ... At the height of its power, the Roman Empire had a road system of about 50,000 mi, consisting of 29 highways radiating from the city of Rome, and a network of roads covering every important conquered province. The Roman roads were 3 to 4 ft thick, and consisted of three layers of successively finer stones set in mortar, with a layer of fitted stone blocks on top. By Roman law, the right of use of the roads belonged to all of the public, but the maintenance of the roadway was the responsibility of the inhabitants of the district through which the road ran."
Notice the first part of verse 27 tells us Philip "rose and went." He didnt argue with God or question why. He didnt complain about his plans being suddenly changed. Perhaps he wondered in his heart, but he kept it to himself. He had been a Christian long enough to know that God knew exactly the best thing for his life. Do you know that God knows exactly the best thing for your life? Or are you moaning and complaining about the road he has sent you down? Philip was heading on down the road and willing to go wherever the path took him. Let us be willing to do the same.
McGee comments, "Philip had been speaking to multitudes in Samaria, and now he is sent down to a desert. He is to leave the place where there has been a great moving of the Spirit of God and go into a place, a desert, where there is nobody."
And behold, an Ethiopian, a eunuch, a minister of the Candace, queen of the Ethiopians, in charge of all her treasure, had come to Jerusalem to worship and was returning; seated in his chariot, he was reading the prophet Isaiah.
This is why God took Philip from the great crowds at Samaria for one man. Here was an Ethiopian government official who worshipped God and was reading a scroll from the prophet Isaiah. Scrolls were not handed out to just anyone. So perhaps this man led a synagogue of proselyte Jews in Ethiopia. We dont know. But we do know that his was an important government official in charge of his nations treasury.
It was for this one person that God caused Philip to travel all these miles. God loved the people in Samaria, and he loved this Ethiopian just as much. God may cause you to go into some desert just to help one person. Dont be surprised. He did it to Philip; he might do it to you.
And the Spirit said to Philip, "Go up and join this chariot."
The Holy Spirit speaks to Philips heart to join the chariot. This may have been difficult for Philip to understand. He was not an important person in the eyes of this world, and here is one of the top government officials of an important African country. But Philip heard the voice of Gods Spirit and heeded it.
From the next verse we see that the Ethiopian was sitting in the back of the chariot. Because of his position there most likely was a driver for the chariot. The eunuch was an important official, and so he would be surrounded by the trappings of power. But in spite of his power, he had an emptiness deep inside his heart. He knew something was missing, and he was searching for answers. All people who have not committed their life to the Lord have that same empty feeling. It is up to us to be willing to come alongside them as Philip did and join ourselves to their chariots.
So Philip ran to him, and heard him reading Isaiah the prophet, and asked, "Do you understand what you are reading?" And he said, "How can I, unless some one guides me?" And he invited Philip to come up and sit with him.
Now we see how God was orchestrating these events. The man was reading from the book of Isaiah and he could not understand what he was reading. Here comes Philip to ask the right question. Philip knew scripture well enough to recognize the place where the Ethiopian was reading from. And he was confident enough to think that he might be able to help the man.
Where did this knowledge and confidence come from? It could only come from hours of study that Philip must have spent in Gods word. It is true God will help us as we are witnessing to others, but he expects that we do our part to learn his word, to learn about him, and to learn obedience. Philip was prepared and was willing to be used of God. The man was willing to be instructed.
As you travel down a new road, there may be someone that you come across that is willing to be instructed. Are you prepared for that? Do you spend time learning from Gods word so that you will be able to instruct others? Philip had, and he was ready.
Now the passage of the scripture which he was reading was this: "As a sheep led to the slaughter or a lamb before its shearer is dumb, so he opens not his mouth. In his humiliation justice was denied him. Who can describe his generation? For his life is taken up from the earth."
The Ethiopian was reading from Isaiah 53:6-7 which just happens to be one of the most complete prophecies of Christ recorded in the Old Testament. What a coincidence? It was no coincidence. God had led this man to receive this scroll and read it and wonder about the meaning of this passage for one purpose to save him.
This passage in Isaiah tells us in verse 5, "But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that made us whole, and with his stripes we are healed."
Christ came for you and for me and for this Ethiopian government official. He led this man to the very scriptures that talk about Christ so that Philip could share with him the good news of the gospel message. Philips trip down this Roman road was ordained of God. It was planned for this very purpose that this man might find Christ.
Whatever road you are presently traveling is ordained of God. He is leading you for his purpose. You may not understand why right now, but be patient. It will be revealed to you if you only trust in God. As Psalm 37:23 promises, "The steps of a good man are ordered by the Lord, and He delights in his way."
And the eunuch said to Philip, "About whom, pray, does the prophet say this, about himself or about some one else?" Then Philip opened his mouth, and beginning with this scripture he told him the good news of Jesus.
The eunuch asks the very question that will lead Philip into presenting Jesus to him. In the passage in Isaiah 53:6 the man read, "All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all." So Im sure Philip presented to the Ethiopian our sinfulness, our need for forgiveness, and Christs sacrifice for us.
If you are battling sinfulness and in need for forgiveness, learn this lesson that the Ethiopian learned. Christ loved you so much that he died for you so that you would be forgiven and set free from the power of sin.
And as they went along the road they came to some water, and the eunuch said, "See, here is water! What is to prevent my being baptized?" And he commanded the chariot to stop, and they both went down into the water, Philip and the eunuch, and he baptized him.
When a person accepts Christ as their Savior in their heart, they want to make a public confession of it. There were not too many people to witness this baptism only Philip, the eunuch, and his driver. But he did not want to delay his confession of his new found faith. We also need to be obedient unto baptism. Let us follow the example that even Jesus gave us. When we turn our life over to Christ, let us also make a public confession through baptism.
And when they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord caught up Philip; and the eunuch saw him no more, and went on his way rejoicing.
This phrase "the Spirit of the Lord caught up Philip" has been debated as to its meaning. The Greek word used here herpasen usually means a forceful snatching away so many assume that the Holy Spirit literally snatched Philip away to Azotus where next he is found. In fact the New International Version translates verse 40, "Philip, however, appeared at Azotus...." as if he suddenly appeared there. Others maintain that the Holy Spirit guided Philip to leave for Azotus. Whichever is the correct meaning, it is obvious that Philips work was completed. He had traveled a long distance to meet the Ethiopian. Now God sent him down a different road one that went from Azotus to Caesarea.
Verse 39 tells us the Ethiopian went away rejoicing. He had found Christ and experienced the joy of salvation. No doubt he shared the good news with others in Ethiopia. Barclay writes, "Tradition has it that this eunuch went home and evangelized Ethiopia. We can at least be sure that he who went on his way rejoicing would not be able to keep his newfound joy to himself."
So the gospel message spread in a new direction. Remember, this was a direct result of the persecution of the church that caused Philip and many other early Christians to scatter for safety. God used this persecution to spread his message throughout the Roman Empire.
What new road are you heading down? God will use you just as he used Philip and all the other believers who were scattered. Trust him as you go down this new road. Maybe there is someone reading the Bible who has questions about its meaning. God may send you to them.
This study on Acts 8:26-39 © 1998 by David Humpal. All rights reserved.
All scriptures unless otherwise noted are from the Revised Standard Version
Microsoft Encarta 97 Encyclopedia © 1996 by Microsoft Corporation
Thru the Bible with J. Vernon McGee, vol. 4, pg. 546 © 1983, Thomas Nelson Publishers
Psalm 37:23 from the New King James Version © 1984, Thomas Nelson Publishers
Acts 8:40 from the New International Version © 1971, Zondervan Bible Publishers
Barclay: The Acts of the Apostles pg. 69 © 1976, The Westminster Press