Deacon Philip Spreads the Gospel
Immanuel Baptist Church – Sunday, November 15, 2020
For almost 2000 years now
our Lord Jesus has been blessing Christians
through the deacons he’s appointed
in our churches by the Holy Spirit.
Seven godly men were appointed as the very 1st deacons
the 6th Chapter of Acts.
And the 7th and 8th chapters
tell about the heroic exploits of two of them—
Stephen and Philip.
They both witnessed powerfully for Christ,
sharing the Gospel through miraculous works
and through bold preaching.
The 7th Chapters of Acts concludes
with Stephen being stoned to death
by the High Court in Jerusalem.
And the 8th Chapter tells how Deacon Philip.
was not intimidated,
but fearlessly went out on his own
to share the Gospel far and wide.
That chapter begins by telling us
how dangerous it was to preach the Gospel at that time.
Recall that Chapter 7 told how a young man named Saul,
who would later become the Apostle Paul,
was guarding the outer garments
of the men who took their coats off
so they could throw stones at Stephen.
And that Chapter ended with Stephen’s dying prayer.
Chapter 8 begins by saying,
1 Saul was consenting to his death. A great persecution arose against the assembly which was in Jerusalem in that day. They, except for the apostles. 2 Devout men buried Stephen, and lamented greatly over him. 3 But Saul ravaged the assembly, entering into every house, and dragged both men and women off to prison.
So, the killing of Deacon Stephen
was just the beginning of intense persecution
against that first Christian church in Jerusalem.
This angry young man, Saul, led the persecution,
dragging off to prison
our brothers and sisters in the faith,
just for the crime of being part of that assembly—
that first Christian congregation.
Saul, whose Greek name was Paul,
later became the Apostle Paul.
In his later years as a Christian Apostle and he wrote
about how he had persecuted the Church
before his own conversion.
At Galatians 1:13 he wrote,
“You know what I was like when I followed the Jewish religion—how I violently persecuted God’s church. I did my best to destroy it.”
And at 1 Timothy 1:13 he said,
Even though I was once a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent man, I was shown mercy because I acted in ignorance and unbelief.
He became a Christian,
and repented of those earlier deeds,
as we will read later in the Book of Acts.
But, at the time we’re looking at this morning,
Saul led that violent persecution
against the early Christian Church in Jerusalem.
Somehow the 12 Apostles, themselves,
were able to remain in the city of Jerusalem.
We don’t know, for sure, why they were able
to escape the persecution at that point,
but it may have been because
they were held in such high regard
for healing so many people in the city.
But the rest of the church had to flee from Jerusalem,
to avoid being arrested and imprisoned
by the religious police led by Saul.
The believers scattered throughout Judea—
which was the countryside around Jerusalem—
and Samaria, the area to the north.
And that began the fulfillment
of what the risen Christ had told them
just before he ascended to heaven.
Jesus had told the disciples, at Acts 1:8,
"But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”
And now that was starting to be fulfilled,
as the disciples were scattered throughout
Judea and Samaria.
Judea was the area around Jerusalem—
the area that today makes up southern Israel
including the southern West Bank.
And Samaria was the area just north of that,
stretching from the Mediterranean to the Jordan River,
between Judea and Galilee.
As Jesus had commanded them,
the Christians who were scattered by this persecution
didn’t just run and hide.
They boldly talked about Jesus everywhere they went.
Acts 8:4 continues,
4 Therefore those who were scattered abroad went around preaching the word. 5 Philip went down to the city of Samaria, and proclaimed to them the Christ.
So, Philip, one of the church’s first 7 Deacons,
was among those who went to Samaria,
and told the people there
that Christ was crucified, risen, and coming again
and that they should repent of their sins,
receive God’s forgiveness,
and learn to be disciples of Christ.
In the midst of that wider territory of Samaria,
there was also the city of Samaria,
the former capital of the northern kingdom of Israel,
and that’s where Deacon Philip went
to escape Saul’s persecution of the church.
Recall that Jesus had visited Samaria
some time before he went to the cross.
When Jesus arrived there, he spoke to a Samaritan woman
who had come to draw water from a well.
Although that Samaritan woman
had gone through multiple marriages,
and was then living with a man out of wedlock,
she listened to Jesus
and proclaimed him to her neighbors
as the promised Messiah,
the Savior of the world.
So, the people of Samaria would have known
who Philip was talking about
when he proclaimed Jesus to them.
Philip was very well received by that Samaritan city.
We read at Verse 6,
6 The multitudes listened with one accord to the things that were spoken by Philip, when they heard and saw the signs which he did. 7 For unclean spirits came out of many of those who had them. They came out, crying with a loud voice. Many who had been paralyzed and lame were healed. 8 There was great joy in that city.
Deacon Philip had received the power
to perform these miraculous signs and healings
when the Apostles laid their hands on him,
appointing him a Deacon,
and also empowering him
through the Holy Spirit.
These miraculous signs and wonders Philip performed
had a purpose:
to draw crowds of people
to hear the Gospel message.
But it wouldn’t take long before corrupt people
would join the church, and would desire such power
to draw attention to themselves
and to glorify themselves, rather than God.
That was the case with a fellow named Simon
who was among the crowds,
who saw Deacon Philip do these miracles,
and who listened to Philip’s message,
and got baptized.
He got baptized and joined the church,
but he didn’t truly leave behind his sinful attitudes.
We read about him at Acts 8:9, where it says,
9 But there was a certain man, Simon by name, who used to practice sorcery in the city, and amazed the people of Samaria, making himself out to be some great one, 10 to whom they all listened, from the least to the greatest, saying, “This man is that great power of God.” 11 They listened to him, because for a long time he had amazed them with his sorceries. 12 But when they believed Philip preaching good news concerning God’s Kingdom and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and women. 13 Simon himself also believed. Being baptized, he continued with Philip. Seeing signs and great miracles occurring, he was amazed.
Simon was a magician, or sorcerer.
When it says in Verse 9 that “Simon . . .
used to practice sorcery”
the Greek word is “mageuōn,”
which is related to the English word “magic.”
Different Bible versions all carry that same meaning
when they translate it in various ways,
with some versions saying Simon
had practiced sorcery
had previously practiced magic
was practicing occult arts
They all mean the same thing,
and all the different translations conclude by saying
Simon “claimed that he was someone great.”
He did his magic before the crowds to impress them,
and make them look up to him.
Practicing magic or sorcery was against the law in Israel,
but Philip encountered Simon in Samaria,
where the laws were looser,
because the people of Samaria
practiced a mixture of Judaism and paganism.
God’s law through Moses to the nation of Israel
said at Deuteronomy 18:10,
10Let no one be found among you who sacrifices their son or daughter in the fire, who practices divination or sorcery, interprets omens, engages in witchcraft, 11or casts spells, or who is a medium or spiritist or who consults the dead. 12Anyone who does these things is detestable to the Lord;
But Jewish law wasn’t enforced in Samaria,
and so Simon
was able to practice sorcery there,
and gain a following among the people
as a great magician.
He had to give up the evil practice of magic and sorcery
when he was baptized as a Christian,
but did he give up the desire to impress people,
to show off his power in front of others,
and to get people to look up to him
as someone great?
We’ll see in a moment.
But first we read about how the Apostles reacted
when they heard of Deacon Philip’s success
in leading Samaritans to Christ.
The Apostles sent Peter and John, to join Philip there,
and to take the work Philip had done
a step further.
Verse 14 says,
14 Now when the apostles who were at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent Peter and John to them, 15 who, when they had come down, prayed for them, that they might receive the Holy Spirit; 16 for as yet he had fallen on none of them. They had only been baptized in the name of Christ Jesus. 17 Then they laid their hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit.
Recall that Philip had the power
to perform miraculous signs and wonders
because he had received that gift of the Holy Spirit
when the Apostles laid their hands on him.
But Philip could not pass on the same gift
by laying his hands on those he baptized.
It seems that only the Apostles themselves were able
to give people that miraculous empowerment
to do perform signs and wonders—
by laying on the hands of the Apostles.
When Peter and John,
laid their hands on the new believers in Samaria,
it was visibly evident, in some way,
that they were immediately empowered.
Perhaps they spoke in tongues, like at Pentecost—
we don’t really know.
But it was clearly evident
that something dramatically visible happened
when the Apostles laid their hands on them.
And Simon wanted to be able to do the same thing.
This is where Simon’s old personality surfaced again
and got him into trouble.
Simon still longed for that big-shot feeling he had
when he used to perform magic and sorcery
and amazed the crowds
who looked up to him as someone great.
He had given up magic and sorcery to become a Christian,
but now he saw his chance
to become a big-shot again.
We read at Verse 18,
18 Now when Simon saw that the Holy Spirit was given through the laying on of the apostles’ hands, he offered them money, 19 saying, “Give me also this power, that whomever I lay my hands on may receive the Holy Spirit.”
Simon’s behavior indicated
that he had not truly converted,
even though he had outwardly professed belief
and had been baptized.
He hadn’t repented of his sins.
He hadn’t repented of being a self-important,
phony show-off, who performed in public
just to get the admiration of the crowds.
He still clung to his old, sinful desire
to do impressive deeds in front of others
to make himself look like someone great.
And he still had a worldly view of money
as being able to buy anything,
as if even the Apostles had their price,
and could be induced to sell
their power if offered enough money.
Peter rebuked Simon harshly, as we read in Verse 20:
20 But Peter said to him, “May your silver perish with you, because you thought you could obtain the gift of God with money! 21 You have neither part nor lot in this matter, for your heart isn’t right before God. 22 Repent therefore of this, your wickedness, and ask God if perhaps the thought of your heart may be forgiven you. 23 For I see that you are in the gall of bitterness and in the bondage of iniquity.”
24 Simon answered, “Pray for me to the Lord, that none of the things which you have spoken happen to me.”
Peter indicated that Simon was headed for destruction—
that he would perish—unless he repented.
Simon was still “in the bondage of iniquity”—
still a slave to sin.
Simon had gone through the motions
of becoming a Christian,
but his heart was not right with God.
There was still hope for him,
but only if he truly repented
and asked God for forgiveness.
Happily, though, Simon’s sin was the only blemish
on an otherwise wonderful series of events
that Deacon Philip had helped bring about in Samaria.
And, now, the Apostles Peter and John joined him
in sharing the Gospel—the Good News about Jesus—
with the people of Samaria.
Verse 25 says,
25 They therefore, when they had testified and spoken the word of the Lord, returned to Jerusalem, and preached the Good News to many villages of the Samaritans.
But now Philip received another special assignment.
And this Deacon had the wonderful privilege
of receiving his next assignment
from the mouth of an angel.
26 But an angel of the Lord spoke to Philip, saying, “Arise, and go toward the south to the way that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.” This is a desert.
This is the same Gaza that we often hear about
on the nightly news as the source of rocket fire
and incendiary balloons sent against Israel.
Gaza is located at the southwest corner of Israel,
and is controlled today
by the radical Islamic group Hamas.
Philip was not being sent to Gaza by the Lord’s angel,
but was actually sent to the road—the “way”
or ancient highway—
that ran from Jerusalem to Gaza.
He was going to intercept a traveler
who was taking that road
as part of his route home from visiting Jerusalem.
Deacon Philip accepted the assignment,
and obeyed the voice of the angel.
And he encountered the traveler.
Verse 27 says,
27 He arose and went; and behold, there was a man of Ethiopia, a eunuch of great authority under Candace, queen of the Ethiopians, who was over all her treasure, who had come to Jerusalem to worship. 28 He was returning and sitting in his chariot, and was reading the prophet Isaiah.
The word “eunuch”
originally meant a man who had been castrated.
But, among the Ethiopians
who were traditionally ruled by a Queen,
the word had come to mean a high court official.
In this case, the man travelling that road
was the royal treasurer.
He was comparable to the Secretary of the Treasury
in a modern government.
He was an Ethiopian, but evidently a convert to Judaism,
since he had come to Jerusalem “to worship.”
As would be expected for a person of that
high rank in government,
a driver was actually driving the chariot for him,
and he was sitting as a passenger,
reading the scroll of the prophet Isaiah.
So, we read,
29 The Spirit said to Philip, “Go near, and join yourself to this chariot.”
Chariots were capable of traveling quite fast—
35 to 40 Miles Per Hour by some estimates—
but that would be when racing, or in battle.
The Ethiopian official was reading the prophet Isaiah,
so his driver must have kept the horses
at a leisurely pace for that long journey.
After all, it was a 2,500 mile trip
from Jerusalem to Ethiopia, via the road to Gaza,
then through Egypt,
and what is now Sudan,
before finally reaching Ethiopia.
Philip was on foot, but if he ran,
he would be able to catch up to the chariot,
and then walk alongside.
We read in Verse 30,
30 Philip ran to him, and heard him reading Isaiah the prophet, and said, “Do you understand what you are reading?”
31 He said, “How can I, unless someone explains it to me?” He begged Philip to come up and sit with him.
The Ethiopian would have recognized Philip as a Jew,
from the way Philip dressed and groomed himself.
Jewish Christians like Philip at that time
would have been still following the Law of Moses
that required tassels on the outer garments,
a beard, and long side-locks.
That made Jewish men stand out
among the men of the Roman world.
So, a proselyte like the Ethiopian
would have expected a native-born Jew
to be able to help him with the Hebrew Scriptures.
But there was much more at play here, than that.
The Ethiopian didn’t know, of course,
that one of God’s angels had sent Philip to that road,
and that the Holy Spirit sent him to that chariot.
And God’s unseen hand had already made sure
that the Ethiopian was reading
a particular passage in Scripture.
Verse 32 tells us,
32 Now the passage of the Scripture which he was reading was this,
“He was led as a sheep to the slaughter. As a lamb before his shearer is silent, so he doesn’t open his mouth. 33 In his humiliation, his judgment was taken away. Who will declare His generation? For his life is taken from the earth.” [Isaiah 53:7,8]
That passage is from Isaiah Chapter 53,
a prophecy about the coming Messiah or Christ.
The Ethiopian didn’t know that, of course,
so we read in the next Verse of Acts,
34 The eunuch answered Philip, “Who is the prophet talking about? About himself, or about someone else?”
35 Philip opened his mouth, and beginning from this Scripture, preached to him Jesus.
Yes, that Scripture passage the Ethiopian was reading
and inquired about,
gave Philip the perfect opening
to introduce the eunuch to Jesus.
The entire 53rd Chapter of Isaiah is about Christ.
The Verses immediately before the ones mentioned
tell how the Messiah would
take our sins upon himself—
how he would suffer and die in our place,
so that we could be healed.
Isaiah 53:4 says,
4He certainly has taken upon himself our suffering and carried our sorrows, but we thought that God had wounded him, beat him, and punished him.
5He was wounded for our rebellious acts. He was crushed for our sins. He was punished so that we could have peace, and we received healing from his wounds.
6We have all strayed like sheep. Each one of us has turned to go his own way, and the LORD has laid all our sins on him.
Deacon Philip explained to the Ethiopian
how Jesus fulfilled this prophecy of Isaiah
when he suffered and died on the cross
to take away our sins—
how Jesus took upon himself
the punishment we deserved.
And the Ethiopian official gladly accepted
the Gospel message.
36 As they went on the way, they came to some water, and the eunuch said, “Behold, here is water. What is keeping me from being baptized?”
[Some manuscripts do not include verse 37.—Editor 37 Philip said, “If you believe with all your heart, you may.” He answered, “I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.”]
38 He commanded the chariot to stand still, and they both went down into the water, both Philip and the eunuch, and he baptized him.
39 When they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord caught Philip away, and the eunuch didn’t see him any more, for he went on his way rejoicing.
He went on his way back home to Ethiopia,
where his rejoicing in the Gospel of Christ
would naturally cause him to tell others about Jesus.
He was the very first person
to bring Christianity to that African country.
And belief in Christ took root there so strongly
that Ethiopia was the only place in North Africa
that survived the Islamic conquest
to remain a Christian country.
Even today, surrounded by Muslim lands,
Ethiopia remains majority Christian.
Now, Deacon Philip wasn’t finished,
when he had shared the Gospel
with that Ethiopian court official.
The next Verse tells us he went to the town of Azotus,
on the Mediterranean coast,
directly west of Jerusalem.
40 But Philip was found at Azotus. Passing through, he preached the Good News to all the cities, until he came to Caesarea.
So, this zealous Deacon was still on the move,
sharing the Gospel of Christ wherever he went.
What a marvelous privilege Philip had
to receive direction from an angel of God,
and to be sent by the Holy Spirit
to convert a high government official—
with the end result
that a whole nation embraced Christ!
But, even when he went on his way after that,
encountering people in more normal circumstances,
he continued to talk to people about Jesus.
Philip serves as an inspiring example to Deacons today,
and to all of us believers.
We never know,
when we tell even one person about Jesus,
if that will lead to the individual’s salvation,
or if it will fit into God’s plan
to bring a whole nation of people to Christ.
The big picture is in God’s hands.
All we need to do is imitate Deacon Philip,
and take advantage of the opportunities given to us
to tell others about Jesus.