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Pastor Scott L. Harris
Grace Bible Church, NY
December 18, 2005
Persecution’s Failure, Pt. 2
Last week we looked at Acts 8:1-24 and saw the outbreak of severe persecution of the church in Jerusalem following the martyrdom of Stephen. Saul was a major figure in this persecution and was even going house to house to find believers and drag them off to jail. In Acts 22:4 he even said that he had persecuted them to death. The result was that believers fled from Jerusalem into the regions of Judea and Samaria. The goal of the persecution was to destroy the church, but the actual effect was to spread and expand the church for, as verse 4 states, “those who had been scattered went about preaching the word.”
We also saw last week the role that Philip had in taking the gospel to the Samaritans. Remember that Philip was one of the Seven chosen in Acts 6 because he was of good reputation and full of the Spirit and wisdom. He preached Jesus Christ to the Samaritans despite the traditional animosity that existed between the Jews and them. The Samaritans were the descendants of the remnant of Jews that had intermarried with the gentiles brought to the land by Assyria after they had conquered Israel. By the time of Jesus they had developed a perverted form of worship of the true God, yet even with their errors, they were looking for the promised Messiah. When Philip explained Jesus to them and accompanied his preaching with miracles of healing and casting out demons, many believed and were baptized.
When Peter and John came, they prayed and imparted the Holy Spirit to the Samaritans. The apostles were first hand witnesses that the Samaritans had truly become disciples of Jesus, and the Samaritans saw they were only a part of something bigger and no longer could cling to their independent religion. The division that had existed between the Jews and Samaritans was closed by their common faith in Jesus Christ.
We also saw last week the false faith of Simon the Magician. Tragically, profession and reality can often be very different from each other. Simon’s interest was being able to have the power that Philip, Peter and John had, not in actually himself being a true disciple of Jesus Christ. He was more interested in his own glory than that of God. Peter rebuked him and called him to repent, and though Simon asked Peter to pray for him, there is no indication that Simon did repent. Church history attributes the origin of a heretical theological system to Simon.
Both external persecution and the internal threat of heresy failed in their purpose. The church continued to grow. In Acts 8:25-40 we see the gospel extended to an Ethiopian and to the coastal cities while at the same time we find a sharp contrast between a true seeker of God and the false profession of Simon.
Return to Jerusalem (vs. 25)
“And 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.”
We do not know how long Peter, John and Philip remained in Samaria, but they did not leave until they had completed the work that Philip had started in proclaiming the Scriptures to them. As they head back to Jerusalem [the text does not define exactly who was going back] they are evangelizing the people in the many villages along the way. An important point here is that they did not wait for a special invitation or the organization of any mass campaign, they were simply faithful to tell others about Jesus Christ as they went along their way.
Further Gospel Expansion (vs. 26-40)
Angelic Direction (vs. 26). In verse 26 we find that Philip is given very specific direction about what he was to do next. “But an angel of the Lord spoke to Philip saying, “Arise and go south to the road that descends from Jerusalem to Gaza.” (This is a desert [road].)”
Philip gets direction from God through an angel that he is to go to a particular road that goes from Jerusalem to Gaza. The most common road for this journey would be to go west from Jerusalem to Emmaus then to the coastal road south to Gaza. The angel tells Philip to take the less traveled road that went south from Jerusalem to Hebron and then went down into the desert and over to Gaza. The word translated as “south” (meshmbria / mesêmbria) can also be translated as “noon,” which would mean that the angel not only told Philip which particular road to travel, but also what time to be on that road. The angel does not reveal what he is to do when he gets there, just that he is to go there.
It is common for Christians to want such specific direction from an angel in their own life under the belief that it would make living for Christ a lot easier. There are times I think that way. However, you need to examine your own heart whether you would obey the Lord any better if you were getting specific directions from an angel. You can do that by evaluating how well you now obey the Lord’ specific directions given to us in His word. We are not told how the angel communicated to Philip, only that he did. In whatever manner it occurred, Philip listened and obeyed because he was already full of the Holy Spirit and was characterized by obeying Him. That is why he quickly did what the angel said and went on a journey down a lonely road at the heat of the day regardless of whether or not it seemed wise to him to leave the flourishing work in Samaria. Your sensitivity to the leading of the Spirit is based on the same characteristics seen in Philip. The better we are at obeying God in the specific commands given in the Scriptures, the better we will be at following the leading of the Spirit in details of life not specifically listed in Scripture.
Philip & the Ethiopian (vs. 27-39)
The Seeker. Philip did as the angel said, and in verses 27, 28 we find out about the man he met there. This was not a chance meeting, but one directed by God. “And he arose and went; and behold, 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.”
Ethiopia at that time was a large kingdom south of Egypt which began about where the modern Aswan Dam is located and stretched south into modern Sudan as far as Khartoum. It was the outer limits of the known world to the Greeks and Romans. During the Jewish Kingdom period there had been interaction between Cush (the name for Ethiopia in the Old Testament) both in trade and in war, so it is not a surprise that there was a large number of Jews that lived there at that time, probably the descendants of the Jewish merchants and / or captives from pervious times. (Isaiah 11:11 predicts the return of a remnant from Cush on the day of the Lord). It would be from these Jews that the Ethiopian would have heard about the God of Israel.
This man is described as an Ethiopian eunuch, a court official of Candace, queen of the Ethiopians, who was in charge of all her treasure.” Candace is not a name, but the royal title for the Queen Mother who held the reigns of power in that nation. This man is in essence her Minister of Finance or Secretary of the Treasury. There is some question as to whether he was actually emasculated or not since the term “eunuch” was also used of court officials, including married ones such as Potipher (Gen. 39:1 in the LXX), but since another word is also used here describing him as a court official, he probably was emasculated. This would be significant because eunuchs were excluded from full participation in temple worship by Deut. 23:1, and this man had come to Jerusalem to worship. He would have been excluded as a full proselyte to Judaism, but treated as just a God-fearer. This man was seeking God, but was not able to fully approach Him within the system of Judaism.
As this man is returning from Jerusalem he is making use of his travel time in studying the Scriptures. He has a copy of Isaiah and was busy reading it. In those times it was very expense to purchase a copy of any written material because it all had to be done by hand, often on vellum (treated animal skins) that were glued together to make a long sheet that was then rolled upon into a scroll. This man is sitting in his chariot and reading, indicating that someone else is driving it. While he is reading, Philip comes upon the scene and is directed as to what he is to do.
The Evangelist (vs. 29-30). 29 “And the Spirit said to Philip, “Go up and join this chariot.” 30 And when Philip had run up, he heard him reading Isaiah the prophet, and said, “Do you understand what you are reading?”
Here we find that it is the Spirit that now directing Philip instead of an angel. He commands Philip to go and join the chariot in which the Ethiopian official is riding. The chariot is obviously not going very fast, probably at a walking pace so that those accompanying this official could keep up, and Philip is able to run and catch up with it. When he does, he hears him reading from Isaiah. In ancient times, the practice was to read out loud as an aide to memorization. They would have thought it strange for someone to read silently. In this case there would have been the added benefit that the driver and anyone else accompanying him would also be able to learn what the prophet wrote. When Philip hears what the man is reading, he boldly asks him if he understands what he is reading.
If you are going to talk to someone about Christ, you need Spirit empowered boldness to properly break into a situation and direct the thoughts to Christ. That is why in Eph. 6:19, as Paul concludes his teaching on spiritual warfare he requests the Ephesians to pray for him that “utterance may be given to me in the opening of my mouth, to make known with boldness the mystery of the gospel.” Any effort at evangelism always begins with prayer, not necessarily just before you talk with the person, but regular prayer so that you might be sensitive to the Spirit’s leading and then follow Him with boldness.
The Question (vs. 31-34). Though Philip is a stranger, the Ethiopian is not offended, but instead quickly seeks his help. 31″And he said, “Well, how could I, unless someone guides me?” And he invited Philip to come up and sit with him.”
Luke then records for us the particular passage and question that this man had. 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 shall relate His generation? For His life is removed from the earth.” 34 And the eunuch answered Philip and said, “Please [tell me], of whom does the prophet say this? Of himself, or of someone else?”
The particular verses he was reading are Isaiah 53:6,7 which is in a section that explains something that was very perplexing to the Jews of that time, and continues to be to them today. The Ethiopian’s question is directed as seeking to clear up that confusion. Was the reference to the slaughtered sheep speaking of Isaiah himself, the nation of Israel, the Messiah or someone else. While the passage is clear to us now, as it was to Philip then, it was a genuine question because until Jesus appeared to the apostles after His resurrection, even they did not grasp the fact that the Messiah would suffer. The vast majority of the prophecies concerning the coming Messiah are that He would be coming as a conqueror who would restore the kingdom of Israel as it had been during the time of David and even greater. How then were they supposed to comprehend passages such as Isaiah 53 in which the Messiah would suffer humiliation, oppression and even death? One way was to say that such passages were speaking of someone else. That is the Ethiopians’ question.
We always should be ready for legitimate questions that people might ask us. 1 Peter 3:15 directs us to “sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence.” I say be ready for legitimate questions, because there are many out there that you will talk to that do not have any true interest in the things of God. Their questions are about side issues and pointless discussions of philosophy. Paul warned Timothy to “avoid worldly [and] empty chatter [and] the opposing arguments of what is falsely called “knowledge”– 21 which some have professed and thus gone astray from the faith” (1 Tim. 6:20). We do not need to fear the philosophers, but we need to be direct with them and point them to the truth even if they refuse to recognize it. We are, as Paul says in 2 Cor. 10:5 to be about the business of “destroying speculations and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God, and [we are] taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ.” We are to patiently explain to everyone that has legitimate questions, but we are to avoid those that just want to pursue intellectual games. Jesus was more blunt about such people telling us not to give what is holy to dogs nor to cast our pearls before swine (Mt. 7:6). Verse 35 tells us that Philip was ready to answer the Ethiopian’s question.
The Answer (vs. 35). 35 And Philip opened his mouth, and beginning from this Scripture he preached Jesus to him.
The key to evangelism is to proclaim Jesus. That will also be how we always know if a person’s questions are legitimate or not. If they keep trying to move the question and the conversation away from Jesus Christ, then we can conclude they really are not that interested. Those who resist Christ will always find another excuse why they cannot believe, but those same excuses will fall away for those that are being drawn by the Father to Jesus.
There are many people that will feign interest in the things of God. Some are seeking some spiritual solution to their problems. Some are trying to earn God’s favor through religious interest and exercises. Others enjoy the intellectual or philosophical challenges the Bible gives them in trying to show they are superior to it. Only those that humbly seek cleansing from their sin and a genuine relationship with their creator will seek Jesus Christ. Who desires to do that? Actually, no one will do that on their own.
In Romans 3:10-11 Paul quotes from Psalm 14 in saying, “There is none righteous, not even one; There is none who understands, There is none who seeks for God.” Jesus said in John 6:44, “No one can come to Me, unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up on the last day.” Why can’t anyone come after Jesus unless the Father draws them? Because no one will seek after Christ unless they are brought along by the work of the Holy Spirit. It is the Holy Spirit that convicts of sin, righteousness and judgement which is the starting point of coming to Christ. You must come “poor in spirit” if you are to receive the kingdom of God (Matt. 5:3).
Does this mean that the “whosoever” verses such as John 3:16, Romans 10:13 are not legitimate? Of course not. God commands that all men everywhere are to repent (Acts 17:30), so the refusal to come to Christ puts a person under His judgement. Paul tells us in in 2 Thess. 1:8 that God will “deal out retribution to those who do not know God and to those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus.” Every single person is responsible to seek God, and God even promises a reward for those that will. Jeremiah 29:13 repeats the promise of Deut. 4:29 “you will seek Me and find [Me,] when you search for Me with all your heart.” In the New Testament we find a similar promise in Hebrews 11:6, “And without faith it is impossible to please [Him], for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and [that] He is a rewarder of those who seek Him.” But the sad reality goes back to Psalm 14 and Romans 3:10,11 that no one will seek God – unless God draws him first as Jesus said in John 6:44.
It is in this very truth that we find confidence when we witness to others because if they show the kind of characteristics that this Ethiopian eunuch demonstrated, we can be confident that God is working on their hearts. The actions of the Ethiopian showed that he was genuinely seeking God. First, he was faithful to pursue what knowledge he did have. He did this at considerable expense and trouble for himself in making the long journey from Ethiopia to Jerusalem. Second, he was diligent to follow the leads he got to learn more. He purchased the copy of Isaiah and was busy reading it trying to understand its meaning. Third, he was humble. Though Philip was a stranger and obviously not of the same social
rank as himself, he invited Philip up to sit with him. Fourth, he was teachable. He has legitimate questions and paid attention to the answers that Philip gave him.
That is quite a contrast to the “seekers” that most churches are trying their best not to offend. In the process the church becomes more and more like the world because they are trying to hard to keep those who are worldly coming. That is not needed, and in fact is detrimental to those who are truly seeking God. They want to know the truth, and they are faithful and diligent enough to what they are seeking, and humble and teachable enough when they find it to bend to the truth instead of the other way around.
Our text says that Philip preached Jesus to him beginning from the Scripture that he was reading. Luke does not record what he proclaimed, but we know because of the passage that it was a message about the suffering sacrifice that Jesus Christ made for his sin. Let’s look quickly at the same passage – Isaiah 53.
“Who has believed our message? And to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed? For He grew up before Him like a tender shoot, And like a root out of parched ground; He has no [stately] form or majesty That we should look upon Him, Nor appearance that we should be attracted to Him. He was despised and forsaken of men, A man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; And like one from whom men hide their face, He was despised, and we did not esteem Him.
4 Surely our griefs He Himself bore, And our sorrows He carried; Yet we ourselves esteemed Him stricken, Smitten of God, and afflicted. 5 But He was pierced through for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; The chastening for our well-being [fell] upon Him, And by His scourging we are healed. 6 All of us like sheep have gone astray, Each of us has turned to his own way; But the Lord has caused the iniquity of us all To fall on Him.
7 He was oppressed and He was afflicted, Yet He did not open His mouth; Like a lamb that is led to slaughter, And like a sheep that is silent before its shearers, So He did not open His mouth. 8 By oppression and judgment He was taken away; And as for His generation, who considered That He was cut off out of the land of the living, For the transgression of my people to whom the stroke [was due?] 9 His grave was assigned with wicked men, Yet He was with a rich man in His death, Because He had done no violence, Nor was there any deceit in His mouth.
10 But the Lord was pleased To crush Him, putting [Him] to grief; If He would render Himself [as] a guilt offering, He will see [His] offspring, He will prolong [His] days, And the good pleasure of the Lord will prosper in His hand. 11 As a result of the anguish of His soul, He will see [it] and be satisfied; By His knowledge the Righteous One, My Servant, will justify the many, As He will bear their iniquities. 12 Therefore, I will allot Him a portion with the great, And He will divide the booty with the strong; Because He poured out Himself to death, And was numbered with the transgressors; Yet He Himself bore the sin of many, And interceded for the transgressors.
There is only one person that fits this description, and that is Jesus Christ who became the sacrifice that paid the penalty of our sins when He died on the cross at Calvary. He had done nothing wrong. He had committed no sin. But it was necessary that He be sinless if He was to be a legitimate guilt offering that could bear the sins of mankind. The Lord’s pleasure was not in the suffering, but in the satisfaction of the redemption price by which He would justify all who would believe. He died with thieves, but was buried in a rich man’s grave, but He did not stay dead. He would see His offspring – those that would be saved for eternity through Him. The central message Philip preached was Jesus Christ crucified, risen and coming again. From the response of the eunuch in verses 36-38 we can be sure that Philip also explained what it meant to believe and follow Jesus Christ.
The Response (vs. 36-38) 36 ” And 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.”
The man’s response to the message of Christ demonstrated the fifth characteristic of a true seeker after God – obedience to God’s commands. The road to Gaza would pass alongside and through various wadi’s, when the man saw a pool of water he immediately sought to be obedient to what Philip had explained to him and wanted to be baptized. In humility he asks whether anything would prevent him from being baptized. He did not assume anything, but simply expresses his desire. Obviously Philip believed that he understood and was ready so they stopped the chariot and he baptized him. [Verse 37 is an addition to later manuscripts and so does not belong in the text, but at the same time, it is not unreasonable to believe that something of this nature may have been said].
The Rejoicing (vs. 39). Verse 39 gives the sixth characteristic of a true seeker after God. “And when they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord snatched Philip away; and the eunuch saw him no more, but went on his way rejoicing.”
Joy is one of the fruits of the Spirit, and this man was filled with it. I think it is safe to say that he had even more joy and marveled at God’s mercy when he continued to read through Isaiah and arrived at 56:3-5 which says,) Let not the foreigner who has joined himself to the Lord say, “The Lord will surely separate me from His people.” Neither let the eunuch say, “Behold, I am a dry tree.” 4 For thus says the Lord, “To the eunuchs who keep My sabbaths, And choose what pleases Me, And hold fast My covenant, 5 To them I will give in My house and within My walls a memorial, And a name better than that of sons and daughters; I will give them an everlasting name which will not be cut off.” That eunuch received this everlasting blessing. He had been cut out of the full worship of God in Judaism, but was now received by God in full through faith in Jesus Christ.
According to later church history, Irenaeus says that this Ethiopian eunuch became a missionary to his nation, and such we would expect because you cannot keep the joy of salvation contained. You want to tell others about it.
We do not know exactly what it means that the Spirit of the Lord snatched Philip away. Speculation about it runs from the Lord compelling him to leave and make a quick journey to his next destination to various kinds of supernatural transportation. What we do know is that the eunuch does not see him anymore and Philip finds himself at another place.
The Coastal Cities (vs. 40) 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.
Azotus was formerly known as Ashdod which was one of the five ancient Philistine cities. It is about 21 miles North northeast of Gaza along the coast. Philip proclaims the gospel there and continues to do so as he works his way north along the coastal route until he get to Caesarea. He apparently settles there since some years later in Acts 21:8,9 we find that Paul stays with Philip who is called “the evangelist” and his four unmarried daughters who had the gift of prophecy.
Persecution failed its purpose. It is did not destroy the church. Instead the believers spread out over the regions of Samaria and Judea proclaiming the gospel to everyone. Luke cites Philip as a key figure in spreading the good news of Jesus Christ to the Samaritans, then to an Ethiopian eunuch who believed and was baptized, then to the coast cities of Judea. We can trust God to fulfill His purposes regardless of what efforts man may make to try to stop them. In a couple of weeks we will find out that God can even change the hearts of persecutors so that they also become proclaimers.
Parents, you are responsible to apply God’s Word to your children’s lives. Here is some help.
Young Children – draw a picture about something you hear during the sermon. Explain your picture(s) to your parents at lunch.
Older Children – Do one or more of the following: 1) Write down all the verses mentioned in the sermon and look them up. 2) Count how many times both Philip and the Ethiopian eunuch are mentioned. Talk with your parents about how we know this man sought God.
THINK ABOUT IT!
Questions to consider in discussing the sermon with others.
Who was Philip? Where had Philip been and what had he been doing before meeting the Ethiopian eunuch in Acts 8. What were they doing on the way back to Jerusalem (Acts 8:25)? Were the angel’s commands to Philip logical? Why or why not? What specific road was he to travel? How can you become sensitive to the Spirit’s leading? Where was Ethiopia? Describe the position and character of the Ethiopian eunuch. How important is prayer in evangelizing? Explain. Why did the Isaiah passage perplex the Ethiopian? What were some of the common views of Isaiah 53 at that time? Today? How can we be ready to talk to others about Jesus? When should we not talk to others about Jesus? Explain. How should we respond to people that just want to argue? How does Philip respond to the eunuch? Can someone come to Jesus on their own? Why or why not? Is the universal call to repentance legitimate? Why or why not? How are God’s sovereignty and man’s volition reconciled? What characteristics demonstrate the eunuch was a true God seeker? What characterizes false “seekers”? Explain Isaiah 53. Why would the eunuch want to be baptized? Why was he rejoicing? What happened to Philip? How can you be more like Philip?
Sermon Notes – December 18, 2005
Persecution’s Failure, Pt. 2
Return to Jerusalem (vs. 25)
Further Gospel Expansion (vs. 26-40)
Angelic Direction (vs. 26)
Philip & the Ethiopian (vs. 27-39)
The Seeker (vs. 27,28)
The Evangelist (vs. 29-30)
The Question (vs. 31-34)
The Answer (vs. 35)
The Response (vs. 36-38)
The Rejoicing (vs. 39)
The Coastal Cities (vs. 40)
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