THEME: God now uses the persecution of the church to spread the Gospel. Satan tries to stop the Gospel by persecution, but his efforts have the exact opposite effect. Philip shows himself to be a “model Christian missionary,” ready to go anywhere to anyone at any time. His evangelistic efforts follow the church’s mission given by Christ Jesus.
SCRIPTURE: Acts 8: 4-8 and 26-40. (Also read v. 1 to provide context)
I. God moves the church’s evangelistic mission out of Jerusalem to Samaria (8: 1, 4).
A. The church had been concentrating solely on evangelizing solely in Jerusalem despite the mission given by Jesus. Therefore, God moves to scatter them throughout the world.
1. Satan is going to try to limit the Gospel to one place and thereby be able to better combat it. He thinks persecution will stop Christians from sharing the Good News. He is wrong on all accounts.
2. The Holy Spirit moves in the church to spread the Gospel IAW Jesus’ direction. (Acts 1: 8b) “You will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” (Matthew 28: 19-20) “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”
3. One of the very important things to note: Even though Luke concentrates on Philip in this passage, he notes that everyone is evangelizing: (Acts 8: 4) “Those who had been scattered preached the word wherever they went.”
a. Stephen and Philip both show that preaching was not limited to strictly the 12 Apostles.
b. Just as in the modern church, SPREADING THE GOSPEL IS NOT LIMITED TO THE PASTOR!!
4. There were probably 2 factors in the 12 staying in Jerusalem:
a. The “Hellenistic” wing of the church’s view of an “unlimited God” was particularly offensive to those Jews who were devoted to the Temple/ Mosaic Law.
b. The “Hebrew” wing of the church might have felt a greater loyalty to Jerusalem.
c. Neither matters, as the Apostles actions show they encourage the church to expand and even though it’s clear that the church is “headquartered” in Jerusalem, they will go wherever they are needed/led by the Spirit.
5. Important 2nd dimension to this spreading: Those who respond to the Gospel are not “strictly” Jews, but those on the edge of Judaism (Samaritans and an Ethiopian), preparing the church for the inclusion of Gentiles.
II. Philip begins the evangelization of Samaria (8: 5-8).
A. Probably Philip goes to Shechem, which had historically been the religious center of Samaria, but he might also have gone to several other major Samaritan cities. The location of his preaching is not important: It is the audience and their response.
1. Philip’s evangelization in Samaria is with large groups in a public context and uses miraculous signs to “prove” his Gospel.
B. Jews hated Samaritans more than any other ethnic group – even more than Gentiles. This hatred reached back for a thousand years. They were despised for being unfaithful and of mixed ancestry. They were treated as being defecting half-breeds. To eat with a Samaritan was said to be like eating pork; their daughters were unclean at best; and they were accused of the horrible crime of abortion.
1. The Samaritans did not share the predominant Jewish view of the Messiah, but expected a “prophet like Moses” or a “coming/returning one”. (Deuteronomy 18: 15) “The LORD your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among your own brothers. You must listen to him.” (Note: The Samaritans regarded only the Pentateuch (1st five books) as Scripture, rejecting all the rest of the Old Testament.) They also considered Mt. Gerizim, not Jerusalem, to be the proper place for worship.
2. Jewish hatred began when the 10 northern tribes broke away after Solomon (930 BC).
3. Became worse when Samaria was overrun by Assyria in 723 BC, and almost all the people were replaced by foreigners by the Assyrians.
4. When the Jews returned from their Exile, they refused Samaritan help for rebuilding the Temple (see Ezra 4: 1-5).
5. In the 4th century BC, the Samaritans built a rival temple on Mt. Gerizim.
6. In the 2nd century BC, the Jews under the Maccabees, destroyed that temple.
C. Jesus obviously had great sympathy for the Samaritans.
1. He rebuked James & John for their desire to call down fire on the Samaritans (Luke 9: 51-55).
2. He makes a hero out of a Samaritan in what is perhaps His most loved parable (Luke 10: 30-37).
3. He converts a Samaritan woman, her whole village, and stays with them (with the 12 Apostles) for at least 3 days (John 4: 4-42).
D. Philip obviously has learned of Christ’s love for the Samaritans, and overcomes his own Jewish prejudices.
1. He follows the leading of the Holy Spirit to go to Samaria and preach.
2. Seeing their response to his message, he understands further that God is approving of his preaching.
3. The Holy Spirit enables him to perform miracles among the Samaritans, as Stephen did among the Jews. (Another indication of God’s approval).
4. When he leaves Samaria, the people are experiencing not “plain joy,” but “great joy!”
III. God spreads the Gospel even further by means of Philip (8: 26-40).
A. Seeing that Philip has lost his prejudice against Samaritans, God chooses him to spread the Gospel to another ethnic group: the Ethiopians.
Note: Since Luke emphasizes (Acts 11: 1 regarding Acts 10) that Cornelius and his group are the first Gentiles to receive/accept the Gospel, it is almost sure that this Ethiopian was either a Jew by birth (one of his parents was Jewish) or maybe a proselyte. It is most likely he was a Jew by birth, because of the prohibition of eunuchs (Deuteronomy 23: 1) “No one who has been emasculated by crushing or cutting may enter the assembly of the LORD.”
1. Philip goes from Samaria back to Jerusalem and down the road to Gaza, about 60 miles. Gaza was the southernmost of the 5 Philistine cities. The road from Jerusalem joins the Via Maris there and goes on to Egypt.
2. Ethiopia was what we today would call “the upper Nile” or southern Egypt, to include some of the Sudan. In the OT, it is called Cush.
3. This very important official was undoubtedly a Black African man.
4. This evangelization by Philip fulfills an OT prophecy: (Isaiah 56: 3-5, 7) “Let no foreigner who has bound himself to the LORD say, “The LORD will surely exclude me from his people.” And let not any eunuch complain, “I am only a dry tree.” For this is what the LORD says: “To the eunuchs who keep my Sabbaths, who choose what pleases me and hold fast to my covenant–to them I will give within my temple and its walls a memorial and a name better than sons and daughters; I will give them an everlasting name that will not be cut
off. . . These I will bring to my holy mountain and give them joy in my house of prayer. Their burnt offerings and sacrifices will be accepted on my altar; for my house will be called a house of prayer for all nations.”
5. All this part of Acts shows the scope of the Gospel widening out – including more and more groups of people.
6. It is also showing the fulfillment of not only Christ’s commanded mission to the church, but also the fulfillment of many Old Testament prophecies – and the very important covenant with Abraham: (Genesis 12: 2-3) “I will make you into a great nation and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.”
7. It is especially significant that this African, who had gone to Jerusalem to worship, was now leaving it and would never return there.
B. The Ethiopian is reading Isaiah 53, called the Suffering Servant Song, which Jesus had applied to Himself: (Mark 10: 45) “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Luke 22: 37) “It is written: ‘And he was numbered with the transgressors’; and I tell you that this must be fulfilled in me. Yes, what is written about me is reaching its fulfillment.”
1. Philip hears this passage of Scripture and starts from where the Ethiopian is (in spiritual and Biblical terms) and brings him “up to date” with the Gospel message of Jesus.
2. Philip understands the Scriptures well enough to know what they mean and how they pertain to Jesus.
3. This are two lessons that Philip teaches us from this incident:
a. Be ready to start with people from where they are – not where you are. (Extreme Example: If someone has never even heard of the Bible or Jesus, you have to start from a different place than if someone was born and raised in a Christian home and attended church all their life).
b. Know the Scriptures. Philip did not have the New Testament to refer to, but he did know the story of Jesus. We need to be familiar with the Old and New Testaments, and especially how they interact with and point to the Messiah, Christ Jesus the Son of God. This is not optional, it is MANDATORY for all who claim to be Christians.
4. The Holy Spirit has prepared the Ethiopian’s heart to receive salvation. This tells us that WE are not responsible for someone else’s salvation, but we ARE responsible to present the Gospel to them in a manner they can understand.
5. Intellectual understanding is our problem; spiritual understanding is the Holy Spirit’s problem.
6. Once Philip’s job is done, he is taken away and winds up at Ashdod/Azotus, the next northerly old Philistine city, where he continues preaching and working his way north along the coast until he comes to Caesarea Maritime, where he settled down – and was still living there about 20 years later, with 4 prophetess
daughters – what a reward!
7. The Ethiopian, secure now in his salvation, continues on his way home, but with a difference – he is now rejoicing over his new relationship with God. Tradition tells us this one man preached Jesus all over Ethiopia, and great numbers were converted.
IV. Some lessons for us today about evangelism.
A. There are several lessons for us in the story of Philip. The most important item to take away is:
1. Take the Gospel message everywhere we go. No matter the group that we circulate in, we should always be prepared to give our testimony. What Jesus has done for us personally is always the strongest Gospel message.
2. Every human being needs to hear the Gospel. At the time of the judgment, is Christ going to say to you: “Joe Smith or Suzy Smith are in hell right now because YOU did not tell them about me.” CONSIDER THAT!!
3. If you are serious about evangelism, study your Bible. The Gospel is everywhere in Scripture, from Genesis through Revelation. Know what’s in Scripture.
4. You don’t have to be Billy Graham and preach to thousands to spread the Gospel. One convert is a great victory; remember what Jesus said: (Luke 15: 10) “There is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”
5. The Holy Spirit will back your efforts with His work to prepare hearts to receive salvation.
6. Note that none of Philip’s converts were made in church: they were made in day to day ordinary life. That means what each of us do and say every day is very important. If Jesus is not working in your life, how do you expect to convince others that salvation is important?
If Jesus is not working in your life, you had best figure out why not – and quickly, too.
Is your life grieving the Holy Spirit? Are you living in sin with no thought of repenting?
Do you need a fresh start with Jesus?
Our God is the God of new starts. He’s waiting for you right now, but you must take that first step toward Him.