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AM Bible Study Archives
Wednesday Evening Home Bible Study
March 26, 2008
Theme: This passages teaches us both the spread of, and challenges to, the early church into the regions beyond Jerusalem.
This evening's passage concerns a man we've already encountered in Acts—Philip (Acts 6:3). He was a man who had an outstanding reputation among the saints as someone who lived in the power of the Holy Spirit, and who was conformed to God’s wisdom as revealed in His word. And our passage genuinely proves Philip's character. It tells the story of how the Spirit of God led Philip on a great adventure that began with simple obedience to the Spirit’s call.
It has much to teach us—and not only about how the sovereign God used the daily encounters of His people to spread the gospel of Jesus Christ throughout the world. It teaches us that our own adventure in God's will begins when we step forward in simple obedience to His call.
I. GOD'S SURPRISING COMMISSION TO HIS SERVANT (v. 26).
A. Philip was apparently still in Samaria at the time that the Holy Spirit issued His call (Acts 8:5ff). He gives Philip a set of very specific commands; which would have involved leaving the active and fruitful ministry he had in Samaria, and to traveling to a place of unknown activities or duties.
B. God calls him to travel on the road which goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza. Historians tell us that the city of Gaza had been destroyed a little over a hundred years before Philip’s day; and while a new city had been built nearby, the old city was left “desert”. So the word “desert” may refer to a description of the place itself, or it may be a reference to the nature of the road to that place. And what’s more, the word here translated “south” (mesambria) can also be used to describe “noontime” or “midday” (cf. Acts 22:6). This was an undesirable place to go; along a hot and dusty path, to such a hot and dusty place, at such a hot and dusty time of day.
C. It was not a call to a place of ministry that Philip would have chosen for himself if he could. And he wasn't even given a reason for the call. But we're told in the next verse that Philip “arose and went” (v. 27). Sometimes, God's call do something undesirable— something that we wouldn't ordinarily choose to do—is the very thing He uses to lead us into a greater and more fulfilling area of ministry than we could have ever imagined. And it begins when we pass the test of faith, and “arise and go” at His call.
II. GOD'S FURTHER INSTRUCTIONS ON THE WAY (vv. 27-29).
A. We're told that, as he obediently went, Philip saw a man of Ethiopia (v. 27a). Ethiopia was the land south of Egypt; and in Philip’s day, it was a prosperous and culturally rich one. The king of Ethiopia would often entrust the administrative details of his kingdom to the queen—giving her the title “Candace” (which meant “ruler of the children”). The man that Philip saw was a man of particularly great importance, because he was an official of the queen—entrusted with the management of the vast Ethiopian treasury.
B. Ordinarily, a man such as Philip would stand respectfully aside as the chariot of such an important foreign dignitary rode past. But the Holy Spirit told Philip, “Go near and overtake this chariot” (v. 29). It was a call to do an unlikely thing; and again, God gave Philip no further instructions than simply to go and overtake the chariot.
C. God may wait to give us further instructions in His will until after we have faithfully and obediently taken the first step. He often calls His servants to do the one thing that He sets before them to do; and only afterwards gives them further instructions along the way. He steers us in His will easier if we are already on the move in obedience to Him.
III. GOD'S SOVEREIGN WORK BEHIND THE SCENES (vv. 30-38).
A. Note how God prepared the encounter. Not only did Philip catch up, just in time, with the chariot to see the man, but he caught the man as he was making a return trip home from Jerusalem where he worshiped (v. 30a; see also verse 28). This Ethiopian leader was a spiritually sensitive man who, perhaps, was seeking to become a proselyte to Judaism. And in God's providential timing, Philip caught up with him just as he was reading aloud from Isaiah 53:7-8 (vv. 32-33; see also v. 30). In the providence of God, the man was reading one of the most remarkably clear prophecies of the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross for sinners in all the Old Testament! How marvelous that, out of all the Scriptures he could have been reading, he was reading from that particular passage!
B. Note also how God had prepared the open door. Hearing him, Philip asked the man if he understood what he was reading (v. 30b). Apparently, once he had overtaken the chariot in obedience to God, it became clear what he was to do. And because the official was confused by what he read—and perhaps also because he felt a burning passion in his soul to understand it—he turned to Philip and said, “How can I, unless someone guides me?” (v. 31). And then, a remarkable thing happened: the powerful dignitary then invited humble Philip to join him in the chariot and explain God's word to him. Philip could never have arranged such a thing in his own power! But God had it all planned out in advance.
C. Note also how God had made the preparation of the heart. Reading the passage, the Ethiopian said: “I ask you, of whom does the prophet say this . . . ?” (v. 34). The Holy Spirit had already been working in the man before Philip arrived; and this hunger in his soul had already been given him. And we're told, “Then Philip opened his mouth . . .” (v. 35). It was clearly as if it had all been set up for him in advance—which, of course, it had been! Philip simply begun from that Scripture passage, and told the man all about Jesus. How wonderfully God prepares, in advance, the hearts of those He sends us to!
D. And finally, note how God had prepared for the response. As the passage has already told us, this was a “desert” area (v. 26). And yet, at just at the right moment in Philip’s gospel presentation, they came to water. “See, here is water,” the Ethiopian man said. “What hinders me from being baptized?” (v. 36). (The conversation in verse 37 may have happened; but many ancient manuscripts do not contain it. However, it describes something that the Bible teaches; as we see from Acts 16:31-33.) And so, they stopped the chariot, and Philip baptized the man at that sovereignly prepared spot! How thrilling it is to see the way God arranged every detail of this trip in advance—even a place to have an impromptu baptism in the desert!
IV. GOD'S CALL TO THE NEXT STEP IN HIS WORK (vv. 39-40).
A. As soon as they came up out of the water, we're told that “the Spirit of the Lord caught Philip away, so that the eunuch saw him no more; and he went on his way rejoicing” (v. 39). As for the Ethiopian official, we not told what happened to him from that time; but we can suspect that he took the message of Jesus Christ with him to the people of his nation. But as for Philip, the word used to describe God's action toward him (arpazo) means to “take by force” or to “snatch away”. We’re not told how this happened to Philip; but only that, when this stage in his work was over, the Spirit swept Philip away and took him on to the next place in His call for him.
B. We're next told that Philip was “found” or “appeared” in another nearby city; and passing through up along the coast in the opposite direction from the one he had been heading, he preached the gospel all the way up to the city of Caesarea. The point probably isn’t how it happened that the Spirit took Philip off onto another adventure; but only that it happened. The next time we read of Philip, it’s some twenty years later (Acts 21:8-9). And by this time, we read that Philip himself has a new title among the people of God: “Philip the Evangelist”.
C. If we trace the steps of his call on the map, we’ll see that the place from which Philip began (Samaria) is relatively close to the place he ended up (Caesarea). The call God gave to Philip took him far away, but then back again. And it wasn’t a pointless detour. Philip never would have entered into the next phase of God’s plan for him if he hadn’t been faithful to obey God’s call to him in that first, initial step of obedience.
* * * * * * * * * *
The Bible says, “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared before hand that we should walk in them” (Eph. 2:10). As God’s servants, we can confidently go wherever He commands us to go, and confidently do whatever He commands us to do. And if we know by faith that our sovereign God controls the details and predetermines the outcome, we can even follow His call to places that do not make sense to go; or into works that don’t seem worthwhile to perform. We can be sure that, for the one detail of His plan that He allows us to see Him perform, our sovereign God is orchestrating a host of other details behind the scenes that we don’t even know about.
The question is, however, is this: Will we remain faithful to His call—trusting that, when the time is right, He will wonderfully and gloriously bring everything together in a way that only He can?
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