PHILIP: FAITH LEADS TO WITNESSING

 

Week of June 18, 2006

 

Bible Passage:  Acts 8:26-40.

 

Biblical Truth:  Trusting God to lead and empower them, believers can effectively share their faith with others.

 

Background.  Philip, called the evangelist, should not be confused with Philip, the apostle. In Acts 21:8, Luke makes a special attempt to distinguish this Philip as the evangelist, who was one of the seven. Philip is first mentioned in Acts 6:1-6 as one of the seven men chosen to minister to the neglected Greek-speaking widows in the church at Jerusalem. Though the name “Philip” is Greek and he was selected to act in the interest of the widows of the Hellenists, it is difficult to determine whether he himself was a Hellenist.

 

The next mention of Philip is in Acts 8:4. The persecution directed against the church in Jerusalem led to its dispersion and the spread of the gospel. Philip himself went to the territory of Samaria. In response to the preaching of Philip in Samaria many were healed and freed from unclean spirits. The significance of Philip’s ministry in Samaria is that it high-lighted the universal application of the gospel even to the extent of healing the ancient schism between the Jews and Samaritans. Philip’s preaching of the gospel resulted in the conversion and baptism of numerous men and women. In response to Philip’s ministry among the Samaritans, the apostles in Jerusalem sent Peter and John so that the new believers might receive the Spirit and be assured that they were truly incorporated into the new community [8:14-17].

 

After the Ethiopian eunuch, Philip ends up in Caesarea. Some twenty years later Philip is mentioned again, now as a resident of Caesarea and father of four unmarried daughters who are prophetesses [Acts 21:8]. Here Philip provided lodging for Paul and his companions who were on their way to Jerusalem.

 

Follow the Spirit: Acts 8:26-29.

 

[26] 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.) [27] 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, [28] and he was returning and sitting in his chariot, and was reading the prophet Isaiah. [29] Then the Spirit said to Philip, “Go up and join this chariot.”  [NASU]

 

Soon after the departure of Peter and John from the Samaritan city, Philip was given another evangelistic commission. The command came from an angel of the Lord, although in later stages of the story, it is the Spirit, who directed him to the Ethiopian [29] and the Spirit of the Lord who then took him away again [39]. It is difficult from the text to see any real distinction between these three descriptions of the divine messenger. He was told to go to the desert road leading to Gaza, the most southerly of the five Philistine cities, near the Mediterranean coast. The road was well used since it continued past Gaza to Egypt.

 

The Ethiopia of those days corresponded to what we call the Upper Nile. The man from that region to whom Luke introduces us was a court official of Candace, queen of the Ethiopians. Candace was not a personal name but a dynastic title for the Queen Mother who performed certain functions on behalf of the king. The Ethiopian had gone to Jerusalem to worship at one of the annual festivals. Now on his way home, he was reading the scroll of Isaiah. This may mean that he was actually Jewish, either by birth or by conversion, for the Jewish dispersion had penetrated at least into Egypt and probably beyond. It seems unlikely that he was a Gentile, since Luke does not present him as the first Gentile convert; that distinction he reserves for Cornelius. He regards the Ethiopian’s conversion rather as another example of the loosening of bonds with Jerusalem and of the liberation of the word of God to be the gospel for the world.

 

Tell Others About Jesus: Acts 8:30-35.

 

[30] Philip ran up and heard him reading Isaiah the prophet, and said, “Do you understand what you are reading?” [31] And he said, “Well, how could I, unless someone guides me?” And he invited Philip to come up and sit with him. [32] 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. [33] 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?” [35] Then Philip opened his mouth, and beginning from this Scripture he preached Jesus to him.  [NASU]

 

We are to note the Ethiopian’s modesty in that he freely acknowledges his need for someone to explain the passage in Isaiah to him. God has given us both the Scriptures and teachers to open up, explain, expound and apply the Scriptures. It is wonderful to note God’s providence in the Ethiopian’s life, first enabling him to obtain a copy of the Isaiah scroll and then sending Philip to teach him out of it. So we are to picture the Ethiopian with the scroll of Isaiah 53 spread out on his lap, and with Philip now sitting beside him, as the carriage jolted its way further south.

 

The verses Luke quotes [Isaiah 53:7-8] speak of a human sufferer who is led as a sheep to slaughter; and as a lamb before its shearer is silent. He experiences deep humiliation, is deprived of justice, and is killed [32-33]. The Ethiopian asks Philip who Isaiah is talking about. Philip uses the opportunity to tell the Ethiopian the good news about Jesus. Christ Himself spoke of His sufferings in terms of this prophecy: the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many [Mark 10:45]. He accepted, interpreted and discharged His messianic mission in terms of this prophecy. There is no evidence that between the time of the prophet and the time of Christ anyone had identified the Suffering Servant of Isaiah 53 with the Davidic Messiah of Isaiah 11 or with the One like a Son of Man of Daniel 7:13. But Jesus identified them and fulfils them in His own person and by His own act, thus confirming the identification. And yet how is it written of the Son of Man that He will suffer many things and be treated with contempt? [Mark 9:12]. How indeed, unless the Son of man be also the Servant of the Lord? How difficult it was to understand the prophecy before it was fulfilled; how easy, once the fulfillment is known! But, in a day when only the Old Testament scriptures were available, with what scripture could any evangelist have begun more appropriately in order to preach Jesus to one who did not know Him? For it was Jesus, and no other, who offered up His life as an offering for sin, and justified many by bearing their iniquities, exactly as had been written of the obedient Servant. As the historic fact of Jesus’ undeserved suffering and death is certain, equally certain is it that through His suffering and death men and women of all nations have experienced forgiveness and redemption, just as the prophet foretold.

 

Help New Believers Profess Their Faith: Acts 8:36-40.

 

[36] As they went along the road they came to some water; and the eunuch said, “Look! Water! What prevents me from being baptized?” [37] 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.” [38] 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. [39] 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. [40] 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. [NASU]

 

The Ethiopian sees water and asks Philip to baptize him. The water was a visible sign of the washing away of his sins and of his baptism with the Spirit. Luke implies that immediately after they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord took Philip away. The Ethiopian went on his way rejoicing. Tradition has it that he returned to his home country and preached to others the gospel message that he now believed.

 

Philip next appeared at Azotus, the old Philistine city of Ashdod, some twenty miles north of Gaza. From there he headed north along the coastal road, preaching the gospel in all the cities through which he passed, until at last he reached Caesarea. There he seems to have settled down; at least, it is there that we find him when he makes his next appearance in the narrative, twenty years later [Acts 21:8]. By that time he had become a family man, with four daughters all old enough to be prophetesses.

 

Some lessons about evangelism. Luke has brought together for us two examples of Philip’s evangelistic labors, and it is instructive to compare and contrast them. The similarities are plain. In both instances the same pioneer spirit was shown by Philip, who won the first Samaritans and the first African to Christ. To both audiences the same message was proclaimed, namely the good new of Jesus Christ [12, 35], for there is only one gospel. In both situations the same response was given, for the hearers believed and were baptized [12, 36-38]. And in both cases, the same result is recorded, namely joy [8, 39].

 

The differences are striking too. Take the people evangelized. The people with whom Philip shared the good news were different in race, rank and religion. The Samaritans were of mixed race, half-Jewish and half-Gentile, while the Ethiopian was a black African. As for rank, the Samaritans were presumably ordinary citizens, whereas the Ethiopian was a distinguished public servant in the employment of the Crown. That brings us to religion. The Samaritans revered Moses but rejected the prophets. Recently they had come under the spell of Simon the sorcerer and his occult powers. They had paid attention to him [10] before they paid attention to Philip [6]. The Ethiopian, on the other hand, had a strong attachment to Judaism, perhaps as a convert, and this led him both to go on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem and to read one of the very prophets the Samaritans rejected. So the Samaritans were unstable and credulous, while the Ethiopian was a thoughtful seeker after the truth. Yet despite their differences in racial origin, social class and predisposing religious condition, Philip presented them both with the same good news of Jesus.

 

Consider next the methods Philip employed. His mission to the Samaritans was an early example of mass evangelism, for the crowds heard his message, saw his signs, paid attention to him, believed and were baptized [6, 12]. Philip’s conversation with the Ethiopian, however, was a conspicuous example of personal evangelism, for here was one man sitting alongside another man, and talking to him out of the Scriptures, privately and patiently, about Jesus. It is also noteworthy that the same evangelist was adaptable enough to use both methods but he did not alter his basic message. It is this combination of change (in relation to contexts and methods) and changelessness (in relation to the gospel itself), together with the ability to discern between them, which is one of Philip’s abiding legacies to the church.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Questions for Discussion:

 

1.   How was the Ethiopian’s conversion significant to the progress of the gospel?

 

2.   Describe how God’s providence was involved in the conversion of the Ethiopian. Look at the relationship between divine preparation and human initiative in this passage. How does that inform the way we should do evangelism?

 

3.   What lessons about evangelism can we learn from Philip? How can you put into practice Philip’s example of combining change with changelessness?

 

References:

Book of the Acts, F. F. Bruce, Eerdmans.

The Acts of the Apostles, Richard Longenecker, EBC, Zondervan.

The Message of Acts, John Stott, Inter-Varsity Press.