A. Saul persecutes the church.
1. (1) The church is persecuted and scatters.
Now Saul was consenting to his death. At that time a great persecution arose against the church which was at Jerusalem; and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles.
a. Now Saul was consenting to his death: In Philippians 3:6, Paul said of his life before Jesus that he was so zealous in his religious faith that he persecuted the church. Saul’s supervision of the execution of Stephen was just one example of this persecution.
i. Consenting describes Saul’s attitude, but the English translation probably isn’t strong enough. The idea behind the ancient Greek word suneudokeo is “to approve, to be pleased with.” Some people are reluctant persecutors, but Saul wasn’t one of these; he took pleasure in attacking Christians.
ii. Saul of Tarsus – whom most of us know by his Roman name, Paul – later came to deeply regret this persecution of the church. He later wrote, For I am the least of the apostles, who am not worthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God (1 Corinthians 15:9).
iii. Acts 26:11 described what perhaps Paul regretted most: And I punished them often in every synagogue and compelled them to blaspheme; and being exceedingly enraged against them, I persecuted them even to foreign cities. Paul may have suffered many sleepless nights thinking about those whom he compelled…to blaspheme.
b. A great persecution arose against the church: Stephen’s death was only the beginning. The floodgates of persecution were now open against the Christians. Saul was only one of many persecutors of Christians.
i. This was the first persecution of the Christians as a whole. Before, the apostles had been arrested and beaten and persecuted; here, every believer was threatened with violence and perhaps death.
ii. On Sunday, January 8, 1956, on the shores of a lonely river deep in the jungles of Ecuador, natives murdered five missionaries who came to tell about Jesus. To many, this death seemed like a senseless tragedy. Many could only see five young missionaries who had their careers cut short or the five widows and fatherless children. But God did an amazing work through those five men, even in their deaths, and the blessing still reverberates through people like Elisabeth Elliot – one of the five women whose husband was murdered.
iii. In the same way, Stephen’s death might seem sort of meaningless at first glance. His young ministry of power and eloquence was cut abruptly short. His ministry also seemed to end in failure – no one was immediately brought to faith, and all that came forth was more persecution against the church. But as always has been the case, the blood of the martyrs became the seed of the church.
c. They were scattered throughout the regions: Now the Christians were forced to do what they had been reluctant to do – get the message of Jesus out to the surrounding regions.
i. Scattered: According to Boice, there are two different words in the ancient Greek language for the idea of “scattered.” One has the idea of scattering in the sense of making something disappear, like scattering someone’s ashes. The other word has the idea of scattering in the sense of planting or sowing seeds. This is the ancient Greek word used here.
ii. In Acts 1:8 Jesus clearly told His followers to look beyond Jerusalem and bring the gospel to Judea, Samaria, and the whole world. But to this point, Jesus’ followers had not done this.
iii. The resulting good of the spread of the gospel leads some to see this persecution as being the will of God. God can and will use pressing circumstances to guide us into His will. Sometimes we have to be shaken out of our comfortable state before we do what God wants us to do.
2. (2) The burial of Stephen.
And devout men carried Stephen to his burial, and made great lamentation over him.
a. And devout men: Seemingly, these Jews were horrified at Stephen’s murder. Perhaps this was Luke’s way of reminding us that not all Jewish people of that time were enemies of Christianity.
b. Made great lamentation over him: Since Jewish law prohibited open mourning for someone that had been executed, Luke’s record suggests that these devout men publicly repented of Stephen’s murder.
3. (3-4) Saul continues his persecution.
As for Saul, he made havoc of the church, entering every house, and dragging off men and women, committing them to prison. Therefore those who were scattered went everywhere preaching the word.
a. He made havoc: This uses an ancient Greek word that could refer to an army destroying a city or a wild animal tearing at its meat. He viciously attacked Christians, including women.
i. “Not only did he not spare the women, but he did not stop short of seeking – and securing – his victims’ death (9:1; 22:4; 26:10).” (Stott)
ii. “The tense of that verb, whether ‘ravage’ or ‘destroy,’ is imperfect, which means that he ravaged it and kept on ravaging it.” (Boice)
b. Those who were scattered went everywhere preaching the word: The end result was for the glory of God, because the persecution simply served to spread the message. We shouldn’t think that those who left Jerusalem left as formal preachers. Most were “accidental missionaries” who talked about Jesus wherever they went.
i. “The statement that they preached the word is misleading; the Greek expression does not necessarily mean more than shared the good news.” (Stott)
ii. We can be just like these early Christians. We can share the good news of what Jesus has done in our lives. Most people don’t come to Jesus through a professional preacher or an evangelist; they come to Jesus through people just like us.
iii. “In every church where there is really the power of the Spirit of God, the Lord will cause it to be spread abroad, more or less. He never means that a church should be like a nut shut up in a shell; nor like ointment enclosed in a box. The precious perfume of the gospel must be poured forth to sweeten the air.” (Spurgeon)
B. Philip preaches to the Samaritans.
1. (5-8) Philip brings the gospel to the Samaritans.
Then Philip went down to the city of Samaria and preached Christ to them. And the multitudes with one accord heeded the things spoken by Philip, hearing and seeing the miracles which he did. For unclean spirits, crying with a loud voice, came out of many who were possessed; and many who were paralyzed and lame were healed. And there was great joy in that city.
a. Philip: Like Stephen, he was one of the men chosen to serve the church family in practical ways when the dispute regarding Hellenist widows arose (Acts 6:5). He was one of those forced to flee persecution (Acts 8:1), ending up in Samaria.
b. Preached Christ to them: After the Jews had rejected the gospel again, we see God extending the offer of salvation in Jesus out to other peoples, beginning with the Samaritans.
c. The city of Samaria: About 750 years before this, the Assyrians conquered this area of northern Israel and deported all the wealthy and middle-class Jews from the area. Then they moved in a pagan population from afar. These pagans intermarried with the lowest classes of remaining Jews in northern Israel, and from these people came the Samaritans.
i. Generally speaking, the Jews of that day hated the Samaritans. They considered them compromising half-breeds who corrupted the worship of the true God. “There was deep-seated prejudice, amounting almost to hatred, standing between the Jews and the Samaritans.” (LaSor)
ii. James and John (and the other disciples as well) once thought that the Samaritans were only good for being burned by God’s judgment (Luke 9:51-56).
iii. Jesus’ experience with the Samaritan woman at the well (John 4) and His story about the kindness of a Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37) illustrate the natural tension between the Jews and Samaritans of that time.
iv. Yet, Philip preached Christ to them. Because Jesus had worked in him there was no room for this kind of prejudice in his heart or mind. He wasn’t a racist towards the Samaritans.
d. Hearing and seeing the miracles which he did: Philip came presenting the gospel, with signs and wonders following as an impressive confirmation. When the people found Jesus, there was great joy in that city.
i. Undoubtedly, one reason there was such fruit was that Jesus had sown the seed in Samaria during His ministry (John 4:1-26). Now Philip reaped the harvest.
ii. The great joy in that city came from great sorrow and pain in Jerusalem. It came from the reality of spiritual power (the miracles which he did). But it especially came as Philip preached Christ to them.
iii. “Beloved friends, I delight to preach to you all the doctrines which I find in God’s Word; but I desire always to preach the person of Christ above the doctrine; the doctrine is but the chair in which Christ sits as a Prophet to instruct us.” (Spurgeon)
2. (9-13) Simon the Sorcerer believes.
But there was a certain man called Simon, who previously practiced sorcery in the city and astonished the people of Samaria, claiming that he was someone great, to whom they all gave heed, from the least to the greatest, saying, “This man is the great power of God.” And they heeded him because he had astonished them with his sorceries for a long time. But when they believed Philip as he preached the things concerning the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, both men and women were baptized. Then Simon himself also believed; and when he was baptized he continued with Philip, and was amazed, seeing the miracles and signs which were done.
a. A certain man called Simon: This Simon had a fair degree of local fame. He was honored as one who didn’t only have the power of God; they said of him “This man is the great power of God.”
b. Who previously practiced sorcery: In the Bible sorcery is associated with occult, magical practices – and often with the taking of mind and mood altering drugs. Whatever real power Simon had, it was from Satan, not God.
i. The specific wording indicates that Simon was a magi. In the ancient world there was a class of astronomers and scientists known as magi (Matthew 2:1), but local wizards and sorcerers also took the title. They used it to prey on the ignorance and superstitions of the common people.
ii. “Ramsay describes the magi (esp. the lower sort who appealed to the widespread superstition of the ancient world) as the strongest influence that existed in that world and one that must either destroy or be destroyed by Christianity.” (Williams)
c. And they heeded him because he had astonished them with his sorceries: The Samaritans wrongly assumed that because Simon had real spiritual power, it was from God – yet that simply wasn’t the case.
d. But when they believed Philip as he preached the things concerning the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ: Those who had previously been astonished by Simon and his sorceries now believed Philip and what he preached. He brought the message of the gospel and they believed it.
i. Those who believed proclaimed their faith when they were baptized. “There is no hint of any deficiency in their faith. Certainly Philip recognized none, else he would not have baptized them.” (Williams)
e. Amazed, seeing the miracles and signs which were done: Simon was convinced by Philip’s preaching and amazing miracles, to the point where he declared belief, was baptized, and continued with Philip. Simon became a follower of Philip and his ministry.
i. At this point – up to Acts 8:13 – there is nothing to indicate that Simon’s belief was false or insincere. Yet it will be tested by his conduct and response over time.
3. (14-17) The Samaritans receive the Holy Spirit as Peter and John lay hands upon them.
Now when the apostles who were at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent Peter and John to them, who, when they had come down, prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit. For as yet He had fallen upon none of them. They had only been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. Then they laid hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit.
a. They sent Peter and John to them: When Jesus gave unto Peter (and the other apostles) the keys of the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 16:19) it was really for this purpose. Here they officially welcomed those (the Samaritans) who had previously been excluded from the people of God into the kingdom of God.
b. For as yet He had fallen upon none of them: Obviously, there was a subsequent experience with the Holy Spirit that these Samaritan believers did not know until the apostles came and ministered to them.
c. They laid hands on them: Often, the empowering and filling of the Holy Spirit is received as hands are laid on a person and prayer is offered for them (Acts 9:17, 1 Timothy 4:14, 2 Timothy 1:6). We should always be ready to receive whatever special graces and gifts God has to give us through the laying on of hands.
d. They received the Holy Spirit: We don’t know exactly how this was evident. Perhaps certain spiritual gifts were manifested (1 Corinthians 12:7-10).
e. Received the Holy Spirit: The fact that these Christians received the Holy Spirit in what seems to be a subsequent experience to their salvation has caused much controversy; there have been different explanations offered.
i. Some say they were never truly born again (converted) under Philip’s preaching. When Peter and John came, they really trusted in Jesus and then received the Holy Spirit.
ii. Some say they were truly born again. Then, in a subsequent experience, they received the Holy Spirit in a pattern that believers should follow today.
iii. Some say they were converted in response to Philip’s preaching; yet God, in a unique move, withheld the gift of the Holy Spirit until Peter and John could bestow it on them. God’s purpose in this was to ensure continuity between the church in Jerusalem and the new church in Samaria, guarding against division.
iv. Some say they were really born again and did really receive the Holy Spirit at the time of conversion, but were given special gifts and graces of the Holy Spirit at the laying on of hands by Peter and John.
v. The last option seems to best explain what happened. Whatever the Samaritans experienced, it seems to have been more than the “regular” bestowal of the Holy Spirit at salvation. This is a filling of the Holy Spirit we should always desire and seek.
4. (18-19) Simon’s selfish request.
And when Simon saw that through the laying on of the apostles’ hands the Holy Spirit was given, he offered them money, saying, “Give me this power also, that anyone on whom I lay hands may receive the Holy Spirit.”
a. When Simon saw that through the laying on of the apostles’ hands the Holy Spirit was given: Simon noticed that when Peter and John laid hands on the Samaritans and prayed for them, something happened. He was impressed by that something.
b. He offered them money: Simon thought that the Holy Spirit was merely a power that could be bought or sold. He wanted to control the working of the Spirit, and regarded the Holy Spirit as a power he could use as he wanted, instead of a Person who ruled his life.
i. Simony is the word for the sin of buying or selling church offices or privileges, because it is done in the same spirit as this Simon. This sin is sometimes practiced today; but more commonly people simply think that blessing follows money instead of money following blessing.
c. That anyone on whom I lay hands may receive the Holy Spirit: Simon did not really desire the Holy Spirit for himself, but the ability to impart the power of the Holy Spirit to others at his will. This would give him much spiritual authority.
i. “The sin was a desire to possess spiritual power for personal ends.” (Morgan)
5. (20-23) Peter’s response to Simon.
But Peter said to him, “Your money perish with you, because you thought that the gift of God could be purchased with money! You have neither part nor portion in this matter, for your heart is not right in the sight of God. Repent therefore of this your wickedness, and pray God if perhaps the thought of your heart may be forgiven you. For I see that you are poisoned by bitterness and bound by iniquity.”
a. You thought the gift of God could be purchased with money! Of course, Simon was wrong in this thought. The gifts of God are received freely from Him, by faith.
i. As it says in Isaiah 55:1: Ho! Everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; And you who have no money, come, buy and eat. Yes, come, buy wine and milk without money and without price.
ii. What we receive from God will affect what we do with our money; but we can’t purchase the gifts of God with money.
b. Your money perish with you: Simon was so wrong that he deserved this strong rebuke. Phillips translates the phrase your money perish with you like this: To hell with you and your money.
i. Peter’s bold discernment must have been difficult or awkward to watch. Few today would rebuke what seemed to be a young Christian so strongly. Yet Peter was willing to tell Simon the truth in love, though it was hard for Simon and those standing by to hear it.
c. You have neither part nor portion in this matter, for your heart is not right in the sight of God: Peter’s rebuke to Simon doesn’t exactly answer an important and interesting question – was Simon a true Christian, genuinely born again?
i. Simon gave many evidences of conversion – at least to outward observation.
· Simon expressed belief in the preaching of Philip (Acts 8:13).
· Philip received Simon as a kind of follower (Acts 8:13).
· Simon attended meetings of Christians (Acts 8:18).
ii. For all these reasons, Philip regarded Simon as a Christian – a follower of Jesus – and baptized him (Acts 8:13). Like us today, Philip could not actually see into Simon’s spiritual heart and know with complete certainty that he was sincere in his faith; but he had demonstrated enough to make his proclamation of faith credible.
iii. Yet, it is possible to take Peter’s statement “You have neither part nor portion in this matter, for your heart is not right in the sight of God” as evidence that Simon was not a true convert with repentance and sincere faith. His case is then “a warning to anybody who thinks that just because he or she has made a profession of faith or has gone through certain motions expected of Christians that he or she is right with God for that reason. That is not the case.” (Boice)
iv. “Men may come very near, they may be intellectually convinced of the supremacy of Jesus; they may even decide that they will adopt His ethical ideal; they may go so far as to determine that they will imitate the perfection of His example. But these things do not make men Christians.” (Morgan)
v. At the same time, Boice observed: “When Peter says, ‘You have no part or share in this ministry,’ it is interesting that he employs the same words Jesus used for him when Peter had objected to Jesus’ washing his feet in the Upper Room. Jesus said, ‘Unless I wash you, you have no part with me’ (John 13:8). Strong words. Still Peter was not an unbeliever; he was just out of the will of God.” (Boice)
vi. Without doubt, Simon was headed in the wrong direction, so he needed this rebuke. One could say that he was headed towards hell, from the phrase “Your money perish with you.”
d. Poisoned by bitterness and bound by iniquity: This accurately described Simon’s heart. Yet Peter didn’t attempt to cast a demon of bitterness or iniquity out of him. Instead, Peter called him to repentance (Repent therefore), to prayer (pray God), and to righteousness (dealing with the thought of your heart).
i. Perhaps pride prevented Simon from a genuine belief in Jesus. Before the coming of Philip and the gospel, Simon was an admired holy man in the region, and had been admired for a long time (Acts 8:11), so much so that people declared, “This man is the great power of God” (Acts 8:10). A proud person might give an outward display of faith because it is the “right” thing to do in the eyes of others, but in the secret place of their heart, they may fail to submit to Jesus Christ.
6. (24-25) Simon’s reply and a summary of the work in Samaria.
Then Simon answered and said, “Pray to the Lord for me, that none of the things which you have spoken may come upon me.” So when they had testified and preached the word of the Lord, they returned to Jerusalem, preaching the gospel in many villages of the Samaritans.
a. Pray to the Lord for me, that none of these things come upon me: Instead of actually humbling his heart before God, Simon asked Peter to pray he would be spared the consequences of his sin. This shows Simon felt a true conviction of the Holy Spirit, but was not yet willing to humble his own heart before God. Peter couldn’t humble Simon’s heart for him.
i. As bad as Simon’s case was, he could still repent therefore of this your wickedness, and pray God if perhaps the thought of your heart may be forgiven you (Acts 8:22). The door of repentance and getting the heart right with God was open to Simon if he would only take it – but Peter could not do it for him.
ii. “His words were what we would call in colloquial English ‘a cop out.’ He was refusing to do what he had been told he should do and was passing the buck to Peter.” (Boice)
iii. The preacher can’t believe for you, nor can he repent for you; he has enough repenting to do all on his own. The preacher can pray for you, but you better also pray for yourself – as Peter told Simon to do.
iv. We don’t know what became of Simon. We don’t know if he followed through on the conviction of heart evident in Acts 8:24. Church tradition says he went off the deep end, and became a dangerous false teacher among the early Christians. It is possible that he did repent and get his heart right with God.
b. When they had testified and preached the word of the Lord, they returned to Jerusalem: Peter and John had a successful, fruitful ministry in Samaria. Yet they returned to Jerusalem instead of continuing to reach out beyond that city.
C. Philip preaches to the Ethiopian.
1. (26-28) Philip, led by the Holy Spirit, is directed to an Ethiopian government official.
Now an angel of the Lord spoke to Philip, saying, “Arise and go toward the south along the road which goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.” This is desert. So he arose and went. And behold, a man of Ethiopia, a eunuch of great authority under Candace the queen of the Ethiopians, who had charge of all her treasury, and had come to Jerusalem to worship, was returning. And sitting in his chariot, he was reading Isaiah the prophet.
a. Arise, and go toward the south: We might have thought that Philip would object to leaving the great success of the work in Samaria to go out to the desolate desert, but God had a plan in it all. Philip submitted to God’s plan.
i. “Philip was the front-line man. He seemed to be utterly indispensable. Yet it was at precisely this moment when God called him to leave the area.” (Boice)
ii. If one heard the call to leave such a blessed, fruitful ministry, one likely would think it was the devil speaking and not the Lord. One might think, “Not now” or “Not me” or “Not there.”
b. This is desert: Leaving fruitful ministry to go to a desert is foolish from man’s perspective, but wise if directed by God. What could be more foolish than to leave a place of prospering ministry and go to a desert road?
i. “There were two roads from Jerusalem to Gaza, and the Spirit commands Philip to take the one that was seldom used.” (MacArthur)
ii. “If Christ is hindered, it is because some Philip is not willing to go!” (Morgan)
iii. “We have seen him, from the day of Pentecost on, moving on multitudes; we now trace his motions in the individual, and see him in his individual dealing and leading – observing how he guides one believer and leads one inquirer.” (Pierson) Philip wasn’t the only one being led by the Spirit. The man of Ethiopia was also, though he didn’t yet know it.
c. A man of Ethiopia… had come to Jerusalem to worship: On the desert road, Philip encountered an Ethiopian proselyte to Judaism returning from Jerusalem – reading the Bible!
i. This Ethiopia – much larger than modern-day Ethiopia – was the land where the Queen of Sheba came from, who saw the glory of Solomon’s kingdom and professed faith in the God of Israel. It’s possible that pieces of the Jewish faith were passed on through the centuries to men like this servant of the queen.
ii. “He was a noble man on a noble search.” (Hughes) We can’t say if the Ethiopian found God in his visit to Jerusalem, but he certainly found the Word of God – and reading the Word of God would lead him to God.
d. Of great authority… who had charge of all her treasury: The Ethiopian was a successful man. Yet his success obviously didn’t answer all the questions in his life. He knew he needed some real spiritual answers in his life, and he was seeking God.
i. Candace was the title for certain female royalty in Ethiopia.
e. He was reading Isaiah the prophet: The Ethiopian was hungry for God’s Word. Typically, the scroll would cost him a lot of money, so it showed that he really wanted to read and know God’s word.
2. (29-31) The Ethiopian invites Philip to explain the Bible.
Then the Spirit said to Philip, “Go near and overtake this chariot.” So Philip ran to him, and heard him reading the prophet Isaiah, and said, “Do you understand what you are reading?” And he said, “How can I, unless someone guides me?” And he asked Philip to come up and sit with him.
a. The Spirit said to Philip: It took real boldness for Philip to go right up to the Ethiopian’s chariot and speak to him, but that is what the Holy Spirit told him to do.
i. The Ethiopian was a rich man, a man of power, and at least in some way a celebrity. Yet Philip knew he needed Jesus just as much as anyone else. We should never fear speaking to those who are considered to be important people about Jesus.
ii. We often shrink back from speaking boldly about Jesus, and the world lets us know we shouldn’t talk about such things. But the world does not hesitate to impose its own message on us. We should be just as bold to the world about Jesus as the world is bold to us about sin.
b. Heard him reading: It was common in the ancient world to read aloud. Philip knew what the Ethiopian was reading by listening as he read.
c. Heard him reading the prophet Isaiah: Philip knew at that moment that God had given him an open door, a prepared heart. Plainly, God had arranged this meeting between Philip and the Ethiopian; this is a wonderful example of how God opens doors for evangelism. God directed Philip because God had already arranged an open door.
i. One of our greatest jobs in preaching the gospel is to simply pray for open doors. Then, having prayed for open doors, we must keep alert to the opportunities God presents.
ii. Philip was effective as an evangelist because he knew how to flow with what the Holy Spirit wanted to do. He was truly led by the Spirit, not by his own whims and feelings.
d. Do you understand what you are reading? It was good for the Ethiopian to read the Bible, but unless understanding was brought to him, there was little benefit from his reading. But God had brought someone (Philip) to bring understanding.
i. “It was a good question – inoffensive, yet a subtle but gracious offer to explain the passage if the Ethiopian official was interested in receiving one.” (Boice)
ii. How can I, unless someone guides me? This is the proper question of anyone who wants to understand the Bible. We should never feel bad if we need to be taught before we can understand many things.
iii. It is wonderful when we come to understand the great truths of Bible on our own, but God also has a place and a purpose for teachers among the followers of Jesus.
iv. To get more understanding from our Bibles, we must plunge in. Butterflies wander over the flowers in the garden and accomplish nothing, but bees plunge right down into the flower, and carry away essential food. We won’t get anything if we just hover over our Bibles; we have to dive right in.
3. (32-35) Starting at the Isaiah passage, Philip preaches Jesus to the Ethiopian.
The place in the Scripture which he read was this:
“He was led as a sheep to the slaughter;
And as a lamb before its shearer is silent,
So He opened not His mouth.
In His humiliation His justice was taken away,
And who will declare His generation?
For His life is taken from the earth.”
So the eunuch answered Philip and said, “I ask you, of whom does the prophet say this, of himself or of some other man?” Then Philip opened his mouth, and beginning at this Scripture, preached Jesus to him.
a. He was led as sheep to the slaughter: In God’s wonderful planning, the Ethiopian was reading the amazing and specific prophecies in Isaiah 53 describing the sacrificial, sin-bearing work of the Messiah to come.
b. I ask you, of whom does the prophet say this, of himself or of some other man? Regarding this passage from Isaiah 53:7-8, the Jews of that day had different ways they understood the identity of this suffering servant.
· Some thought the suffering servant was the nation of Israel itself, as Israel had suffered greatly in wars, exile, and persecution.
· Some thought the suffering servant was Isaiah writing about himself.
· Some thought the suffering servant was the Messiah, but they found this hard to accept, because they didn’t want to think of the Messiah suffering.
c. Beginning at this Scripture: Philip talked about more than this passage from Isaiah, but he started there. He began at common ground with the Ethiopian, but made his way to talking about Jesus. It was easy to talk about Jesus beginning at this Scripture.
i. Because the whole Bible points to Jesus in one way or another, we really can begin at any passage and find where it leads to Jesus.
d. Preached Jesus to him: Philip’s effective preaching consisted in explaining who Jesus was (like a lamb… preached Jesus) and what He has done for us (He was led as a sheep to the slaughter). Explaining who Jesus is and what He has done for us is the essence of the gospel.
i. Too many preachers today focus on what we must do for God, but the gospel begins with and is founded upon what God has done for us in Jesus Christ.
ii. Philip preached Christ in Samaria (Acts 8:5) and he preached Jesus to this Ethiopian. We can be sure it was the same Jesus he preached in Jerusalem. He didn’t need a different Jesus or a different message for different audiences.
4. (36-38) The Ethiopian believes and is baptized.
Now as they went down the road, they came to some water. And the eunuch said, “See, here is water. What hinders me from being baptized?” Then 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.” So he commanded the chariot to stand still. And both Philip and the eunuch went down into the water, and he baptized him.
a. And the eunuch said: The Ethiopian himself was ready to respond to the gospel. This was a work of the Holy Spirit, not a tribute to Philip’s salesmanship.
b. See, here is water. What hinders me from being baptized? This shows that the Ethiopian did in fact believe, and that he wanted to be baptized to declare his belief. He saw the truth of God and knew that it was for him.
i. “Maybe Philip even ended his explanation of the gospel with an appeal for baptism like Peter did at Pentecost.” (Hughes)
c. If you believe with all your heart, you may: Philip insisted that the Ethiopian believe with all his heart before being baptized. In a nutshell, this describes how we should respond to the gospel: Believe with all your heart.
i. The devil himself has the faith of the head, but he hates the truth in his heart. God wants His truth not only in our heads, but also in our hearts. We may intellectually know that Jesus died for the sins of the world, but do we know in our hearts that He died to cleanse our sins?
d. I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God: This confession of faith, taken in all that it means, is the essential belief for anyone who will come to God. We must believe in the person of Jesus, in all that He is and has done as Christ. We must believe that He is the Divine Son, and that He is the Son of God sent from the Father to accomplish the salvation of all those who will believe with all their hearts.
i. When the Ethiopian said “Jesus Christ,” he confessed that Jesus is the Messiah (Christ). He agreed with his mind and heart that Jesus is the sin-bearing servant that Isaiah described and Jesus fulfilled.
e. Went down into the water: Clearly, Philip immersed the Ethiopian in baptism. This was not sprinkling, but immersion.
5. (39-40) Philip’s mysterious departure.
Now when they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord caught Philip away, so that the eunuch saw him no more; and he went on his way rejoicing. But Philip was found at Azotus. And passing through, he preached in all the cities till he came to Caesarea.
a. The Spirit of the Lord caught Philip away, so that the eunuch saw him no more… Philip was found at Azotus: Suddenly, the Spirit of the Lord carried Philip away as he and the Ethiopian came out of the water. He was then transported supernaturally in some way to the former Philistine city of Azotus (also known as Ashdod).
i. This is a strange, perhaps unprecedented event in the Scriptures. But a similar thing happened when the disciples’ boat came immediately to its destination (John 6:15-21), and a similar thing will also happen when the church is caught up together with Him at the rapture (1 Thessalonians 4:15-18).
b. He went on his way rejoicing: The joy of the Ethiopian, even after Philip’s strange departure, shows that his faith was firmly rooted in God, not in Philip.
i. The Coptic Christians – greatly persecuted today in Egypt – trace their spiritual heritage back to this Ethiopian official.
c. Passing through, he preached in all the cities till he came to Caesarea: This shows that Philip started preaching not only to Samaritan cities, but also the Gentile cities – such as Caesarea. This is the very beginning of the gospel’s spread to the end of the earth – as Jesus commanded in Acts 1:8.
i. No wonder Philip is the only one in the New Testament specifically given the title, “The Evangelist” (Acts 21:8). Acts 21:8 finds him still in Caesarea, doing his work of evangelism there.
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