Summary: Preparation (26-29), Witness (30-35), and Commitment (36-39) -God led Philip to someone ready to hear the Good News.
Conversions in the Book of Acts> Philip and the Ethiopian, Acts 8:26-39 -Pastor Bob Leroe, Cliftondale Congregational Church, Saugus, Massachusetts
When we’re living according to the will of God, anything can happen! In Acts chapter 8, Philip, a deacon of the church, is whisked away by God in order to bring the Message of hope to a seeker of truth. We go from seeing a large multitude coming to faith in Christ (at Pentecost/previous message), to a single conversion. When we hear the word “evangelism” we usually think of rallies and crusades, yet it is also personal, one-on-one.
Outline> In this encounter we see Preparation (26-29), Witness (30-35), and Commitment (36-39).
The Preparation (verses 26-29):
Philip is directed by an angel to speak to a person ready to hear the Good News. There were some cultural differences/obstacles to overcome, and some might have questioned this leading, yet Philip shows no reluctance. Remember that Gentiles were regarded as unclean dogs. The individual Philip was sent to was a royal official of the Ethiopian Treasury, directly serving the Queen (you might say he was the “Alan Greenspan” of Ethiopia). His mode of transportation indicated his position--only the wealthiest and most prominent individuals traveled in chariots. He was a Gentile, a dignitary and a foreigner, from Africa. Philip proceeds without question. All he saw was someone for whom Jesus died.
The Jewish Law prohibited eunuchs from entering “the assembly of the Lord” because it was a distinctly pagan practice (Deut 23:1), although Isaiah speaks of faithful eunuchs being accepted by God (56:3-7), indicating that one day the ban would be lifted. This official was likely a believer in God--verse 27 says he was returning from Jerusalem, where he likely purchased the Isaiah scroll (another indicator of his wealth). He appears to be searching for spiritual answers. Whether we realize it or not, we regularly encounter people who want to know God. We need the sensitivity and obedience of Philip.
For those living in Israel, Ethiopia represented the extreme limits of the civilized world. It was where the Queen of Sheba came from, who had visited King Solomon. Her visit (I Kings 10) gave her nation its first major exposure to Judaism. There is reason to believe that Ethiopia was entrusted with the Ark of the Covenant for safe-keeping. As Philip approaches, whether he realizes it or not, God had been preparing this official to hear and receive the Gospel.
The Witness (verses 30-35):
Philip finds the official reading aloud, which was common practice in Bible times. We can tell a lot about people by what they read. Philip approaches with a friendly opening question--he doesn’t start in with heavy-handed preaching; he seeks to connect with this man and find out where he’s coming from spiritually.
Isaiah 53 was Philip’s starting point. Jewish scholars debated over whether this passage referred to Isaiah himself, the nation of Israel, or the coming Messiah. Philip explained how Jesus, the suffering servant, was the fulfillment of this prophecy. There isn’t a single best approach that fits everyone when it comes to sharing our faith. We need to be flexible and vary our approach to fit individual needs. The Ethiopian was struggling to understand Isaiah, so that’s where Philip started. It was a good place to begin.
We have to go outside our Christian environment to encounter people who need Christ. As we listen to them, and learn of their concerns, we can offer the answers found in God’s word and introduce them to our Savior. What kind of openings for the Gospel message might we find? At work, someone may be concerned about the pressures of their job or home life. At school, students may be stressed about their future, social pressures, peer and self-acceptance. At the neighborhood gym, civic or social club, we may meet someone worried about their health or world events--all these people we encounter may be wondering what God has to do with all these issues. When we become compassionate listeners, God will give us opportunities to share our faith.
An angel sent Philip to the desert to talk with this official…why couldn’t the angel have spoken to him? Because God has not entrusted this task to angels; He has given this responsibility to us. Angels have not experienced salvation and cannot share what it means to be forgiven. We have personal knowledge of God’s grace, and it’s our job to tell others.
Sometimes we feel intimidated; we’re afraid people might ask us questions about the Bible we can’t answer. There’s no shame in admitting we don’t have all the answers. In fact, it provides us with a golden opportunity to get back to them for a follow-up and further discussion.
The Commitment (verses 36-39):
We may envision two people holding a private conversation, yet it is very unlikely that such an important government official would be traveling alone. He likely was traveling in a caravan with a sizeable entourage…and he publicly professes his trust in Christ by asking to be baptized, a sign of genuine faith. He wasn’t embarrassed or hesitant to make a commitment in front of others.