Missions at the Right Time - Acts 8:25-40
With today’s lesson we begin our three month journey, exploring biblical characters who went “On Mission” in their time. We will also see and talk about how we can use their examples to mirror their actions in our world today. Our first study is on Philip, and specifically his trip towards Gaza and Caesarea, and how he went “On Mission” to the region surrounding his home. We will then discuss how we can begin to go “On Mission” around our homes, which we can call our present day Judea.
Division #1: The Angel sends Philip to the desert.
Acts 8: 25-28
"So, when they had solemnly testified and spoken the word of the Lord, they started back to Jerusalem, and were preaching the Gospel to many villages of the Samaritans. But an angel of the Lord spoke to Philip saying, “Get up and go south to the road that descends from Jerusalem to Gaza.” (This is a desert road.) So he got up and went; and there was an Ethiopian eunuch, a court official of Candace, queen of the Ethiopians, who was in charge of all her treasure; and he had come to Jerusalem to worship, and he was returning and sitting in his chariot, and was reading the prophet Isaiah."
To begin with, Philip was coming off an enormously successful mission journey in Samaria. In verses 4-8 of this same chapter, we see that the people in Samaria were rejoicing at what Philip was doing. After a run-in with a sorcerer named Simon which involved Philip as well as Peter and John, these three guys were walking back from Samaria to Jerusalem. To make the most of their time, they stopped in town after town all throughout Samaria, sharing the Gospel with anybody who would listen. This is where Philip got a most unique visit. During this trip back to Jerusalem, an “angel of the Lord” spoke to Philip. We do not know if Peter and John witnessed this as well, but we can assume that if they did not see it, that Philip told them about it. Philip immediately left his traveling companions and started off on his own, following the direction of the angel. We see this angel spoken about four other times just in the book of Acts. First, Stephen spoke of him in Acts 7:30-38, he spoke to Philip in Acts 8:26, freed Peter in Acts 12:7-10 and he struck down Herod in Acts 12:23. That Luke includes this in Acts is important because it shows that when the angel told Philip to go, he got up and left. There is no record of any discourse or dilly-dallying; Philip obeyed. He obeyed when it didn’t make any sense. He was part of a wildly successful evangelistic trip through Samaria. It seemed the entire region was hearing him speak and turning to Salvation in Jesus Christ. It made no sense for him to up and leave and go to some barren wilderness road through the desert… but he obeyed anyway.
The angel gave Philip directions for travel, and Philip immediately complied. Now usually when the words going down or going up are used in the Bible in relation to Jerusalem, it typically means not a north or south direction, but going physically up or down in elevation, because Jerusalem is higher than the surrounding area. However, in this scenario, Philip, Peter and John were already north of Jerusalem, so Philip would not be going through Jerusalem. Instead he would travel due south from his present location until he intersected the road that descends from Jerusalem going lower in elevation, towards Gaza. So even though Philip was headed south, this road ran east to west through the desert.
Verse 27 probably covers a few days from start to finish. Philip has now traveled probably 50 miles or so, and that probably took 2-3 days. (Imagine walking close to 50 miles over basically a path in the middle of the desert.) Regardless of the duration of this trip however, God knew exactly how long it would take Philip because just as Philip came up on the Gaza road, he saw this chariot.
It is here that we are introduced to the target of Philip’s travels, an Ethiopian Eunuch. He is clearly defined by Luke, to express both his position and the situation. The region then called "Ethiopia" is now the modern day territory of “Sudan”. In Biblical times it was called Kush, Ethiopia, and also Nubia. We see this area in other places of the Bible, specifically in Esther with regards to the extent of the Persian Empire. Luke tells us that this man held a very high rank in the government, the Treasurer, so he would have been in charge of all the Queen’s assets. Also, the word "Candace" was not a proper name but the Nubian word for Queen, and so if we look in historical texts, we see this man was probably an officer under Queen Amantitere. (Ethiopian kings were considered gods, so any administrative roles within the government were beneath them, and so the queens did that work.) We know from historical texts that Queen Amantitere ruled from 22-41AD. This kingdom, located in Northern Africa, was a very wealthy kingdom because of its iron smelting, gold mining, and its position along the Nile. These factors made it a key trading post and an inland port for all of the land based trade routes between African countries to the south, and Egypt and Rome to the north. We see again in the words that Luke uses, that this man is well to do. Most people would be walking, fewer would be riding a horse or donkey, only the precious few would be “sitting” in a chariot and reading.
We also see that he had come to Jerusalem for a feast of the Jews. This would have been a tremendous journey too, traveling some 1500 miles one way. That would have taken three months if he never stopped for any length of time along the way. Most likely this would have been about four month journey “one way”, because he probably had to stop to resupply multiple times during the trip. (This bit of information shows how important this would have been to him, being away from his job for almost 6-8months.) As of his background and heritage, we do not know for sure. He may have been dark skinned and of actual Ethiopian decent, but he could have also been a Jew. If we look at the book of Esther (written during the reign of King Xerxes in 482BC) we see that Jews were scattered throughout the Persian kingdom (Esther 8:9-13). We do know, however; that he was a Eunuch, so regardless if he was a Jew or an Ethiopian, he would have been unable to enter the inside of the temple. (Deuteronomy 23:1) But the fact that he made the trip all the way to Jerusalem for a feast indicates that it was very important for him to be there, and he could have at least entered “The Court of the Gentiles” at the Temple.
We know that Jerusalem was the center of the Jewish religion, and this Ethiopian had been there. He was now leaving and going home, and was just as much in the dark spiritually when he left, as he was when he got there. He had a long way to go before he reached Kush, and while he traveled, he was reading and trying to make sense of God's Word. In our next division, we will see that when people have a heart-felt desire to know God, God makes sure they meet Him. Acts 10:34-36 says the Word of God shows no partiality, and we see so clearly that the Holy Spirit was working to move the message of the Gospel from the Jews and now into the surrounding regions. What is important to remember is that John, Peter, and now Philip are specifically being guided to take Jesus’ message to the world, they were going “On Mission” to anyone who would stop and listen, and this began the spread of the Gospel to different people groups around the region.
1: God tells us what we need to know, when we need to know it. We must live in blind obedience and total faith.
Application Question and Discussion: When have I been impressed by the Holy Spirit to do something, and did I act immediately?
Division #2: The Spirit sends Philip up to the chariot.
Acts 8: 29-35
"Then the Spirit said to Philip, “Go up and join this chariot.” Philip ran up and heard him reading Isaiah the prophet, and said, “Do you understand what you are reading?” And he said, “Well, how could I, unless someone guides me?” And he invited Philip to come up and sit with him. Now the passage of Scripture which he was reading was this: “He was led as a sheep to slaughter; And as a lamb before its shearer is silent, So He does not open His mouth. “In humiliation His judgment was taken away; Who will relate His generation? For His life is removed from the earth.” The eunuch answered Philip and said, “Please tell me, of whom does the prophet say this? Of himself or of someone else?” Then Philip opened his mouth, and beginning from this Scripture he preached Jesus to him."
Remember that as far as scripture tells us, the angel did not tell Philip where specifically he was going, nor who he was going to see. Just imagine if you were in California and you were told to drive east to Interstate 85. You would have no clue whether to drive to meet I-85 in Atlanta or I-85 in Charlotte, or anywhere in between, but that’s what Philip was told to do. And in God’s perfect timing, Philip gets to the Gaza road right on-time. As Philip is walking on the Gaza road and comes upon this chariot, the Spirit says to him, “Go up and join this chariot.”
It is very interesting to note that this was not the same person or being that sent him on the journey; this is the Spirit, not an angel. And Philip didn’t even flinch; again he just obeyed. This is very important to see that when we are in God’s will, we are open to him setting our appointments, and we act on them as they materialize. Have you ever been in a parking lot or the mall or a restaurant and the Holy Spirit urged you to do something nice for someone, or for you to share your faith with a complete stranger? Philip, by acting in obedience, was in the right place at the right time for this God-ordained appointment. The effects of this will be developed more in this lesson.
Now with regard to this Ethiopian, copies of the Hebrew Scriptures were very expensive. They had to be written by hand, and usually, there was no punctuation or spaces, so it was customary to read out loud. For example, look at this sentence, but then speak it as you read it and see the difference:
We read that the Eunuch was reading out loud, text from the prophet Isaiah, from Isaiah 53:7-8. But we see that while he could read the words, he did not understand them. This is also an important concept for Christians to understand. I Corinthians 2:14 basically says that if someone is not indwelt by the Holy Spirit, they have no reference point from which to understand God’s Word. To them, it is just text; words on a page. When you have Jesus living inside you, the words come alive. 1 Corinthians 2:12 says that God’s Word is also meant to be understood by His people, and that the Holy Spirit is the vehicle that helps understand the gifts of God and His Word.
What we also see is that Philip is with a person who is earnestly seeking God. This man wanted answers, and was honest enough to admit he did not understand what he was reading. Much like Apollos, smart people are teachable people, and this Ethiopian, no matter his social standing or wealth, was willing to listen to someone explain the scripture to him. He wanted to learn. He said "How can anyone understand this? It does not make sense." Philip saw the open door and walked right through it. God had Philip here with the sole reason to witness to this guy, and because Philip was willing to drop everything and do what God asked him, he was set up for a history-altering meeting that is still applicable today.
Verse 35 then says that Philip began to tell him about Jesus. Philip had walked for days, came on to the Gaza road, walked up to some random chariot and in it was a guy reading Isaiah and earnestly wanting to understand it. The Holy Spirit set this up for Philip and Holy Spirit provided the text and the translator for the Eunuch. How awesome is our God, to perfectly arrange this meeting. We see Philip also jumping right in. There was no small talk, no asking if he met any of Philip’s friends in Jerusalem, or where he had stayed, or where he had eaten while he visited the temple; Philip started straight off telling him of Jesus!
What Philip explained is not detailed, but we must wonder the extent of his teaching. We are told that he opened his mouth and preached Jesus. He may have just given his normal evangelistic speech that had worked so well in Samaria, or he could have had the Ethiopian go back to the words “he grew up before him like a tender shoot” (remember they didn’t have chapter and verses then, so he would have given some text reference) and then let the Ethiopian read sentence by sentence, and for each sentence Philip shared the fulfillment of that specific prophecy in Jesus’ life. How Philip discipled this Ethiopian we do not know, but we know Philip’s audience was hanging on every word.
2: Through the Holy Spirit is the only way to understand God's Word.
Application Question & Discussion: How can I look for ways to share my testimony with someone, and what steps do I need to take to be prepared for that?
Division #3: The eunuch gets baptized by Philip.
Acts 8: 36-38
As they went along the road they came to some water; and the eunuch said, “Look! Water! What prevents me from being baptized?” And Philip said, “If you believe with all your heart, you may.” And he answered and said, “I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.” And he ordered the chariot to stop; and they both went down into the water, Philip as well as the eunuch, and he baptized him.
We don't know how long Philip was with the eunuch, but at some point while Philip was teaching, the Ethiopian not only knew that he wanted Salvation through Jesus, he wanted to put actions behind his new faith. We read that he also understood an important point, that baptizing required submersion in water. For a journey of 1500 miles through the desert, there would have been containers of water for drinking along the way. If Baptism was getting sprinkled, he could have easily asked Philip to take a cup fill of that water and sprinkle him with it to be baptized. But here we see that this Ethiopian did not ask to be baptized until there was sufficient water for him and Philip to get down in the water, and for Philip to submerge the Ethiopian for the baptism.
It is interesting to stop here and note the history of the word baptism. The Greek root word is baptisma and it means to immerse. In the time of the disciples, baptism is clearly shown in the New Testament to be a submersion under water to signify our death with Christ to the old life, and coming up out of the water signifies our resurrection to a new life with Christ. It was not until the mid 300’s (under Emperor Augustine) that sprinkling as a form of baptizing was introduced. Augustine convinced the church at that time to baptize infants, whom he believed were born sinful, inheriting the sin of Adam (which is correct) so they should be baptized right after birth to remove that (which is incorrect). Even with Augustine’s urging, it was not until the mid-1300’s that the church (Catholic) actually accepted sprinkling as an acceptable form of baptism, and again that was to accommodate “baptism” of newborn children, and also to be able to “baptize” someone on their deathbed.
We know that baptism is a symbol, and the act of being baptized is our public display of our faith that symbolically unites us with Jesus’ burial and resurrection. The act of being baptized however, does not remove any sins. Baptism is not a requirement for Salvation. We see this clearly proved at the cross, where Jesus told the thief that he would be with him in paradise, but that thief died without being baptized. We also know that baptism in the New Testament was written to convey complete immersion, so we as members of the Baptist denomination hold to that word and definition, which is why, for membership in a Baptist church, one must be completely immersed (baptized) to become a member of our church.
The Eunuch saw a pool or river beside his chariot and asked Philip why he cannot be baptized. Verse 37 is not included in some translations because it is not in some original biblical texts, but is in others. We see verse 37 as maybe a bit of Philip learning from recent experiences. Prior to our text, in Acts 8:9-24, Philip, along with Peter and John, ran into a sorcerer named Simon who was a distraction to say the least, but asked to pay money to receive the Holy Spirit. Philip might have remembered that run in, so when the Eunuch asked to be baptized, Philip was very careful in his response. One could also assume that by this time in the conversation, the Ethiopian had not specifically told Philip of his Salvation, and Philip was being transparent in his response. To someone that has not accepted Jesus as their Lord and Savior, getting in the water and going under is nothing more than a bath, but to a new Christian, it is symbolic of so much more. So here we see Philip making sure the Eunuch understands that Baptism is only for a follower of Jesus. Max Lucado says that “Baptism separates the tire kickers from the car buyers.” and we see that this Ethiopian has now professed his faith in Jesus and is ready to be baptized.
Our text ends with the earthly authority of the Ethiopian and the spiritual authority of Philip, under the direction of the Holy Spirit, being shown. The Ethiopian commanded the chariot to stop, and it did. He didn’t have to ring a call button or ask permission, he issued the order, and those under him obeyed. It is also again interesting to read the different Biblical translations; some say the Ethiopian ordered the chariot to “stop”, but others say he commanded it to “stand still”. This meant not only did the chariot driver stop the chariot, the driver also kept it still while the Ethiopian got out, and it waited there for him until he returned. The Ethiopian had firm command of all under his authority. We also see this authority with Philip. The Holy Spirit had given him spiritual authority over this Ethiopian. Philip’s discipleship was more than just sharing his faith, Philip had a responsibility to teach him the correct understanding of Salvation, and entrusted Philip with the baptism of this new convert.
We finally see the Ethiopian and Philip going down into the water, where Philip baptized him. This is very important, because this is his public profession of faith. The Eunuch was showing his resolve in front of everyone with him, that he was a believer in Christ. We do not know if this was a big caravan of people and supplies, or if it was just one chariot. By the text we can understand there was at least one other person, the driver of the chariot, but there may have been many more. Regardless, if it was just 1 or 100, his public baptism was this Ethiopian showing that he was a member of the body of Christ, and he was not trying to hide it. Jesus said in Matthew 10:33 that if we deny Him in front of other people, He will deny us before the Father. It is very important for a Christian to understand the symbolic act of baptism, and also its power as one of our most important public profession of our faith.
3: A Christian is commanded to publicly profess his faith, no matter the location or circumstance.
Application Question and Discussion: Who have I been timid around with regard to sharing my faith, and what can I do to share boldly with everyone?
Division #4: The Spirit of the Lord sends Philip to Azotus.
When they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord snatched Philip away; and the eunuch no longer saw him, but went on his way rejoicing. But Philip found himself at Azotus, and as he passed through he kept preaching the Gospel to all the cities until he came to Caesarea.
Our last division depicts a unique occurrence in the Bible, and most people have never heard of it. The Eunuch is baptized, and as they are walking out of the pool or river, an amazing thing happened. We see “the Spirit of the Lord” miraculously transport Philip away. Remember the first heavenly being in this lesson was an angel who told Philip to depart south. Then “the Spirit” told Philip to talk to the Ethiopian in the chariot. Now “the Spirit of the Lord” whisks Philip away, and transports him to Azotus. Philip just disappears. We see that no matter the event, whether he just “POOF” disappeared or whether it looked like he was being “beamed” somewhere like on “Star Trek”, it did not quench the joy of a new believer. The text makes it seem that nothing around the Eunuch mattered now; he was a Christian and he was baptized. He had publically declared his faith in Jesus Christ and nothing else mattered!
He would return joyous to Ethiopia (Kush) and the church in Northern Africa would explode. It was actually a North African named Tertullian living in Tunisia (Roman city of Carthage) in 225AD who came up with the term “Old Testament”, “New Testament” and “Trinity”. He is actually called the founder of western theology.
We also see this lesson ending just like it began, with the Spirit moving people around for His purposes, one in a caravan and one by immediate heavenly transport. While we see the Ethiopian moving south towards his home in North Africa, we see that Philip was miraculously transported over 30 miles away to the north, to Azotus, which was also called Ashdod. Gaza and Azotus were one of the early five major Philistine cities, so it is amazing to see, given the history between Israel and the Philistines (David and Goliath to name one) that the Holy Spirit is leading Philip to take the message of Jesus even to these nations.
Scripture tells us that Philip worked his way from Azotus (about 15 miles north of Gaza) up to Caesarea, which was about a 60 mile trip. He traveled north, preaching along the way, where he would have come to cities planting seeds of the Gospel. He could have stopped in Lydda, he most probably stopped in Joppa, all the while moving north to Caesarea. Luke does include the word “until” which is our first hint that Philip stopped in Caesarea and set up shop there. As further evidence of this, almost 20 years later (Acts 21:8) Paul and Luke went to stay with Philip. We learn there that Philip is still active as “an evangelist” and still living in Caesarea, still sharing God’s word, and even his daughters were active in the ministry.
This final division also has a neat tie-in with how we look at missions, especially in the context of our church’s “Already Not Yet” missions emphasis. Matthew 28:19 says “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit” and Acts 1:8 says “but you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth.” Here we have our “Great Commission”. In our story today, we see Philip going “On Mission” in his Judea, and the recipient of his discipleship then goes “On Mission” to the remotest part of the earth.
4: The Holy Spirit can use us in any means He deems necessary to accomplish His purposes and to spread the news of Jesus to a lost world.
Application Question and Discussion: What events in my life could I include in my testimony that would point people to Jesus?