Philip: Consistency

Explore the Bible Series

June 22, 2008


Background Passage: Acts 8:4-40

Lesson Passage: Acts 8:4-13, 29-31, 35-38




Shortly before the Lord Jesus ascended into heaven, he reminded his followers of the Great Commission (See Acts 1:8), “… you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea, Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”  For several years the church remained concentrated in Jerusalem, but the unjust execution of Stephen drove the Lord’s disciples to move away from Judea, in just the pattern Jesus’ prophecy predicted.  This week’s lesson outlines the first major movement of the church into the non-Jewish world. 


This chapter centers on the evangelistic work of Philip, one of the seven men chosen to work with the neglected Hellenistic widows.  As the early Christians scattered from Judea, some of them migrated to Samaria.  This region, about forty miles from Jerusalem, was home to a despised people.  More than seven hundred years before the birth of Jesus the Assyrians raided this region and carried off thousands of exiles.  Those Jews that remained, in subsequent years, often intermarried with Gentiles.  Religious compromise and innovation characterized the area, and the Samaritans developed a distinctive brand of Judaism.  They identified Mount Gerizim as the focal point of the worship of Jehovah, and they only recognized the Pentateuch as Scripture.  During the First Century the animosity between Samaritans and Jews grew quite intense.  Indeed, Jews avoided Samaritans whenever possible and regarded them as compromising renegades from the true faith.  Despite this long-standing rivalry, the early church overcame these prejudices and enjoyed healthy success among the Samaritans. Philip was among the first to evangelize this region, demonstrating his love for the lost and his determination to obey the commission of the Savior.


After preaching in Samaria, Philip further evidenced his commitment to Christ and by explaining the gospel to an African man, encountered along an ancient dusty road.  Again, Philip might have recoiled from this opportunity to share the gospel because of ancient religious and racial prejudices, but he did not hesitate to tell the Ethiopian eunuch about the beloved Savior.  Philip’s example challenges and shames me.  We know nothing of this man’s background or training.  The Bible does not emphasize his remarkable gifts or identify any unusual eloquence.  Instead, we observe from Luke’s narrative this man’s great zeal, faithful, and obedience to Christ--- a man who conquered racial prejudice and severe religious persecution to become a faithful witness to the saving mercies of Jesus Christ. 


Some segments of the church growth movement have claimed that congregations can only succeed if they aim their evangelistic efforts at clearly identified “homogeneous units”.  Indeed, much of American Christianity remains imprisoned in racial, ethnic, and socio-economic confines.  I wonder what Philip would think of such things.  May God help us all to identify and preach the gospel to our “Samaria” and "Ethiopian eunuch”.



Lesson Outline:


I.                   Evangelistic Efforts in Samaria (8:4-25)

A.    Early preaching in a city of Samaria (vv. 4-8): As a result of the execution of Stephen, some of the early church members scattered to Samaria.  Cowardice did not characterize their flight because they immediately preached the gospel to the Samaritans.  The crowds readily listened to Philip’s preaching, and they marveled at the great power this man possessed.  Verse Eight tells us that there was much joy in that city.  Does our preaching bring great joy to our communities? 

B.     The conflict with Simon the Magician (vv. 9-25)

1.      Simon’s apparent conversion (vv. 9-13):  Simon enjoyed a reputation of great power among the people of Samaria.  It’s difficult to know precisely the nature of Simon’s power, but it appears that he gained a reputation as a healer and spiritual wonder-worker.  Clearly, whatever powers Simon possessed, those powers did not come from God.  Philip’s superior power impressed Simon, and the magician wanted to acquire this authority.  For a time Simon apparently gave a credible profession of faith in Christ, and he joined himself with the church and was baptized. 

2.      The ministry of the apostles in Samaria (vv. 14-17): The apostles heard of the great gospel success in Samaria, and Peter and John came from Jerusalem to work with the new converts.  In particular, the apostles laid hands on these new believers so that the Holy Spirit might come upon the Samaritans. Bible students have puzzled over this baptism of the Holy Spirit.  Why didn’t these believers receive the Spirit when they believed?  The Bible doesn’t give a clear answer to this question, but perhaps I might suggest this explanation.  As we have seen, Jesus predicted that the disciples would be witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and the ends of the earth.  The disciples in Jerusalem, on the day of Pentecost, received the Holy Spirit.  When the gospel spread to Samaria, the Holy Spirit authenticated the spread of the gospel to this region.  In fact, we will observe a similar event when Peter preached to the household of Cornelius, the first conversion of Gentiles to the Christian faith.  Perhaps the Holy Spirit baptized these believers as the gospel spread to new spheres of influence, authenticating the genuineness of the growth of the Kingdom.

3.      Simon’s effort to purchase the power of the Holy Spirit (vv. 18-25): Simon demonstrated that he had no real understanding of the work of Christ.  He thought the power of the Holy Spirit could be bought, and he offered the apostles money for the privilege of baptizing men with the Spirit.  Simon made two mistakes.  First, he apparently thought the apostles were the source of this authority, and he offered them silver to acquire the power.  Perhaps he saw this as an extension of his magical prowess.  The disciples did not possess this power, except as an acquired authority from God.  Second, Simon believed he could purchase this power.  He failed to understand that Jesus had paid the price for the gift of the Holy Spirit, a price paid through his glorious work on the cross.  In one misguided financial offer, this man dishonored both the Father and the Son.


II.                The Conversion of the Ethiopian Eunuch (8:26-40)

A.    Philip’s obedience to the Holy Spirit (vv. 26-27): The Spirit gave Philip directions to travel south of Jerusalem to a road that ran toward Gaza. So far as we can tell from the tex,t the Lord did not tell Philip why he should go to this road; nevertheless, Philip obeyed the Lord’s direction.  This servant of Christ encountered an Ethiopian man, treasurer for Queen Candace. 

B.     Philip’s witness to the Ethiopian (vv. 28-38):  The man was reading the Prophecy of Isaiah, and Philip, directed by the Spirit, Philip ran to the chariot and asked the man if he understood the words he read.  The Ethiopian invited Philip to join him in a conversation about Isaiah 53:7-8. Philip explained how this passage foreshadowed the good news of Jesus Christ.  Luke clearly abbreviates the conversation, but, after gaining an understanding of Isaiah, the Ethiopian asked Philip to baptize him.  Note that the unfortunate situation with Simon the Magician did not make Philip cynical about the Ethiopian’s sincerity. Both men went down into the water, and Philip baptized the eunuch.

C.     Philip’s continued labors along the Mediterranean coast (vv. 39-40): After the baptism of the Ethiopian man, the Holy Spirit carried Philip to Azotus, and this faithful servant of Christ preached the gospel along the coastline until he reached Caesarea (about fifty miles from Azotus).