Romans 1:16 says, “For I am not ashamed of this Good News about Christ. It is the power of God at work, saving everyone who believes—the Jew first and also the Gentile.”[i]
The Gospel is advancing around the world, as the power of God works to free captives and break the power of sin. What started in the book of Acts, continues as the gospel is preached.
In Acts 1:8, Jesus promised the Holy Spirit would give us power to be His witnesses throughout the entire earth.
In chapter 8 of the book of Acts, we find that a great persecution broke out against the Church. Due to this persecution, believers were scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria. Verse 4 tells us these scattered believers preached the Gospel wherever they went.
Great joy followed the spread of the Gospel as people experienced its power to save. The book of Acts begins an account of the unfolding of God’s plan for spreading the Gospel. Chapter 1 verse 8 gives the outline of how the gospel would spread when it says, “in Jerusalem, throughout Judea, in Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” Up to verse 26 of chapter 8, the Gospel had spread as far as Samaria.
As we read Acts 8:26-40, we see God working to spread the Gospel beyond these borders to the ends of the earth. Looking at the story of the Apostle Philip witnessing to the Ethiopian Eunuch, we see that God leads in the spread of the Gospel.
In Acts 8:5, we find the Apostle Philip preaching the Gospel in Samaria. The Gospel made great progress and people rejoiced in its power to save. At the end of his ministry in Samaria, Philip was visited by an angel of the Lord who said to
him, “Go south down the desert road that runs from Jerusalem to Gaza.” (Acts 8:26)
A simple principle here is the Lord gives direction.
In Philip’s case, the Lord sent an angel. This seems to be an exceptional way of giving direction. An angel was sent to Gideon, Daniel, Zechariah, Joseph and Mary. There have been others, but these seem to be rare cases. In Paul’s case, the Lord Himself appeared to Paul on the road. This seems to be similar to the case of Moses and Samuel, where the Lord appeared or spoke to individuals directly. In all these cases, the Lord gave clear direction.
However, not having an experience of such direct communication does not mean that you and I do not receive direction from the Lord. Proverbs 3:5-6 says, “5Trust in the LORD with all your heart; do not depend on your own understanding. 6Seek his will in all you do, and he will show you which path to take.” According to these verses, if we trust in the Lord, He will show us the way to go. Isaiah 30:21 reflects this mysterious direction of the Lord when it says, “Your own ears will hear him. Right behind you a voice will say, ‘This is the way you should go,’ whether to the right or to the left.”
The Lord speaks in different ways to different people and at different times. However, He is always consistent. His Word is eternal and fixed in Heaven. For us, this means that He never violates or contradicts His Word. If a voice or even an angel speaks to anyone contrary to the Word of God, this is a sure sign it is not from God. Isaiah 8:20 gives a good principle when it says, “Look to God's instructions and teachings! People who contradict his word are completely in the dark.”
This also points us to the way in which we can be sure God is directing us. We can be sure God is directing us only as we draw close to Him in His Word. Jesus said, “You are truly my disciples if you remain faithful to my teachings.” (John 8:31)
This does not mean that we become slavishly legalistic about applying the Bible to life. The Bible is about a relationship. Jesus criticized the people of His day for not knowing God. They knew the Scriptures but they did not know God. Reading the Bible is supposed to be more like a conversation than a textbook. When Jesus said, “You are truly my disciples if you remain faithful to my teachings.” He also said, “And you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” (John 8:32) If His teachings are not leading us into freedom, something is wrong.
God has appointed us as His witnesses for the spread of the Gospel. We can trust Him completely to direct our steps. If He wants, He will send an angel. If He does not send an angel, stay close to Him in His word and trust that He is directing your steps.
Going back to Philip, we see in verse 27 he meets an Ethiopian eunuch. Following God’s direction, Philip meets with opportunity.
The timing is perfect. The Ethiopian worshipped in Jerusalem so his mind is on spiritual things. He is reading in the book of Isaiah chapter 53. There is no passage that expresses the Gospel clearer than Isaiah 53. He is riding a long stretch of desert road so he has nothing but time on his hands. The timing of this meeting could not be better.
Philip did not plan this. He just did what he was told. Philip started in Samaria. It would have been a couple days’ walk for Philip to get between Jerusalem and Gaza. The Scripture gives no indication that he knew why he was walking that direction. He was just going.
You and I could not have planned many things that happened in our lives. I could not have planned to meet the beautiful young woman that eventually became my bride and lifelong companion. I did not plan to hear references to Moody Bible Institute while growing up and then for a graduate of that school to become my pastor. These things just happened. However, these were not coincidences. These were God directing my path.
Philip’s timing was perfect, and the prospect was the right person. Philip could not have gained access to the court of the queen of Ethiopia. Yet, here he was, speaking to one of her high officials.
God led in directing Philip’s steps and God opened the door of opportunity.
The Apostle Paul, who led many to the Savior, asked for prayer. He said, “Pray for us, too, that God will give us many opportunities to speak about his mysterious plan concerning Christ.” (Colossians 4:3)
We can trust the Lord to direct our steps, and He controls the opportunities. God also provided the fruit.
Acts 8:36&38 say, “36As they rode along, they came to some water, and the eunuch said, “Look! There’s some water! Why can’t I be baptized?” 38He ordered the carriage to stop, and they went down into the water, and Philip baptized him.
Rebirth or the conversion of a soul is a miracle performed by the Holy Spirit. We get to witness it and even participate in it by sharing the Gospel, but it depends on the power of the Holy Spirit. This same power raised Jesus from the dead.
Philip baptized the eunuch, which according to the Bible is a picture of us being buried and then raised with Christ. It is a celebration of a work of God in the heart of a believer.
This is fruit produced by God.
There is also fruit that we do not see.
Verse 39 tells us that as they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord snatched Philip away and the eunuch never saw him again. The last we hear of the eunuch in Scripture is he went on his way rejoicing.
History does not tell us much about this man. However, Eusebius, a Roman historian and the Bishop of Caesarea, wrote in about 300 AD that this Ethiopian eunuch went on to preach the Gospel in his country. In his words, “through him in truth the prophecy obtained its fulfillment, which declares that “Ethiopia stretcheth out her hand unto God.”[ii]
Eusebius does not give any more information, only that this eunuch was instrumental in turning his nation to Christ.
We also know that the early Church had a strong presence in North Africa.
This does not give much detail about the part the Ethiopian eunuch played. However, it does illustrate the point that we just do not know. How can we measure the fruit of our actions? There are too many repercussions for any of us to measure.
We have seen that God gives direction, provides opportunity and produces fruit. In this, we learn we can trust God. The word of God stresses the importance of faith. We are saved by faith and we walk by faith. Romans 1:17 says, “The righteous shall live by faith.”[iii] (ESV)
We have talked about what God does. Let us consider briefly what our responsibility is. What did Philip do?
First, he went where God directed.
We do not all receive such obvious messages to go to a particular location, but we all receive direction from the Word of God. Faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of God. God directs us as we stay in conversation with Him.
Second, Philip shared the Gospel.
There are so many causes and important issues that it is easy to get off on what is not essential. Alcohol, drug abuse, adultery, pornography, fornication, homosexuality, lying, stealing, war, hatred, gluttony, selfishness and such things fill our world. However, there is only one answer. People need the Lord. “There is salvation in no one else! God has given no other name under heaven by which we must be saved.” (Acts 4:12)
The things listed are all sin. The problem is we are all sinners. Our battle is against sin, and the only power to defeat sin is Jesus Christ. Our message is, “Turn to Jesus and live.” “For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.” (John 3:17, ESV)
Third, Philip baptized the eunuch.
When the eunuch was ready to make a decision Philip did not stand in the way. He did not hinder the person who would come to Christ. We must trust God to do His work. It is not for us to clean up the lives of those who would trust in Jesus. It is not for us to tell them that they cannot follow Jesus because they are a black gentile in service to a pagan Queen and no gentile had ever followed Christ. Yes, Philip broke all the rules in getting into a chariot with a Gentile. This was the first recorded conversion of a gentile. By Jewish standards, he did not qualify, but Philip did not ask these questions and neither should we.
Let’s trust God to do His part, and by faith let’s do ours.
[i]Unless otherwise noted Scripture quotations are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation. Copyright © 1996, 2004, 2007 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Carol Steam, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.
[ii] http://www.ccel.org/ccel/schaff/npnf201.iii.vii.ii.html accessed May 1, 2015
[iii] Scripture quotations marked ESV are from The ESV Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version) copyright 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.