Acts 8.4-25, 26-40 – Philip really hit a homerun in our passage today.
Playing the World Series. When we look at this passage in the context of the whole Book of Acts, we discover that Philip was already in the game (Acts 6, 8). This was not a first time at bat. Philip was chosen as one of the seven to serve as a deacon and help with the food distributions for widows in Jerusalem (Acts 6.5). After Stephen was martyred in Jerusalem the church was scattered (Acts 8.1), and Philip went down to Samaria (Acts 8.5). Samaria was the capital of the Northern Kingdom called Israel. While in Samaria Philip grabbed the attention of the people with signs and wonders. Philip delivered people from demons and many who were paralyzed or crippled were healed (Acts 8.7). From these accounts we can be certain that Philip understood how the Gospel was shared to the people.
Batter Up. The author, Luke, is not bashful about his belief in angels. Here we see yet another experience of angels engaging in conversation with humans. After the Holy Spirit fell on the people of Samaria, the author tells us that Philip was guided by an angel of the Lord to travel from Jerusalem to Gaza. Because of Philip’s obedience, he hits a homerun – a Jewish Ethiopian Treasury Official accepts the fulfillment of the Messianic promises (Acts 8.38). So how did this come about? As Philip walks along the journey to Gaza, the Holy Spirit speaks to Philip advising him to engage in a conversation with a complete stranger. This person is completely unfamiliar with Philip.
First Base. Philip responded to God’s direction (Acts 8.26-29). The angel required Philip to walk from Jerusalem to Gaza, a distance of 47 miles. And, Philip complies. Jesus had commanded the disciples not to leave Jerusalem until they are endued with power. This passage tells us that God is advising the leaving of the town to adventure in new directions – go down the road to Gaza. God desires for Philip to reach out to an official of Ethiopia.
Ethiopia, otherwise known as Cush, was the father of Nimrod, who became a mighty warrior on the earth (Gen. 10.8, 1 Chr. 1.10). The people of Cush are named several times in the Old Testament (1 Kings 8.41, Psalm 68.31, 87.4, Isaiah 18.7, 56.3, Jeremiah 38.7, John 12.20, Acts 8.28). Alexander the Great stopped his conquest at the border of Ancient Egypt at Cush in 332 BC as he met one of the greatest generals of the ancient world, the Queen of Ethiopia. The queen was considered a goddess among her people and her offspring revered as sons of the god Amun. It is said that the Roman army is reported to have made war against Cush in 24 BC and found their female leader Candace a formidable foe, “a very masculine sort of woman and blind in one eye.”
Then the Holy Spirit advised Philip to approach a carriage and walk along side it. And, Philip complies. Philip was able to make it to first base because he was obedient to the unique sounds of God’s voice. If you and I want to make it to first base, we have to be able to discern the voices we hear – do you know the sound of God’s voice?
Second Base. Philip runs up to the carriage, listens well, then asks a question, “Do you really understand what you are reading (Acts 8.30, 32-33)?” Philip was listening well enough to hear that the official was reading Scripture from the prophet Isaiah. How many of us know our bible well enough to listen to a casual conversation and know what book of the Bible it’s from? It seems that Philip was well versed in the Word of God. He even had confidence that he could interpret the meaning of the text. He wasn’t afraid to have a discussion about God. The author of the Book of Acts, Luke, writes as an historian specifically sharing stories that demonstrate the fulfillment of the prophetic writings of the Old Testament and the proclamations of Jesus. He demonstrates step-by-step the progress the church is making in sweeping out from Jerusalem to Judea to Samaria and to the ends of the earth, which will eventually lead some of the disciples to Rome.
Third Base. Philip was brave enough to join the official in his own space (Acts 8.31). The official responds to Philip, “Without someone to guide me, how could I (Acts 8.31)?” Understanding the Bible takes help if you haven’t accepted Jesus and received the gift of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit helps us understand the Bible; He opens our minds to understand. I love this! The official commands Philip, “Tell me… (Acts 8.34).” Wow! This official is hungry for understanding and Philip is equipped to answer him.
The Homerun. As Philip is proclaiming the Good News about Jesus, the official becomes excited, “Look! Water! What would keep me from being baptized (Acts 8.37)?” Here they are on the desert road heading from Jerusalem to Gaza – and behold there’s water.
That’s the Game. Imagine that with me for a moment. You embark on a journey with a destination of a city some 47 miles away. You’ve met a stranger – a royal official – by running along side his chariot. You’ve crawled up next to him and shared your heart about Jesus. While you are sharing the Good News, a pool of water happens to be available on the desert road quite unexpectedly. You stop and walk down into the water, and as you come up out of the water you find yourself in the city some 20 miles away. To be sure the Holy Spirit is constantly inspiring people to move – but this kind of transportation is unique to Philip’s story. As soon as Philip has accomplished the mission of converting the Eunuch, the Spirit lifts him up and moves him away. If you are called to be an evangelist, your feet will be traveling for sure.
Audience Participation. If you attend a baseball game today, there’s always something going on to get the audience to participate in the game like the Cha-Cha slide or the Wave. Some of you may be like me and know the song… “Take Me Out to the Ball Game.” Audience participation is really important in sporting events, but there wasn’t an audience in this “conversion event.” There wasn’t a big group of people watching him pitch the Gospel to this man. And, you have to wonder was his work effective. Did he make a difference in this man’s life or in the life of the Ethiopian people? Based on the evidence we find in the history books, it seems Philip had a lot in common with Mr. Briggs – and the Gospel traveled all the way to Ethiopia and flourished there. It seems that Ethiopia may have become the first Christian nation around 330 AD. and continued to be Christian until 1974 when it was taken by Marxist leadership.
Coaching. The story tells us that that the official came up out of the waters of baptism and he never saw Philip again. But if you wonder whether or not the experience changed his life, we can examine the scriptures and discover that he went away rejoicing. “Rejoicing” is a word here that simply means human joy. In the Greek language the word is “chairo” and means to rejoice, be abundantly glad, to be well or thrive, or to say hello in a greeting. Luke, the writer of the Gospel of Luke and Acts, uses this word several times in this book (Acts 5.41, 8.39, 11.23, 13.48, 15.23, 31, 23.26). There are two ways he uses this particular word. First, it is the joy of the newly spirit-filled people who have encountered the Kingdom of God in their lives (Acts 5.41, 8.39, 11.23, 13.48, 15.31). Second, it is a greeting to others (Acts 15.23, 23.26). When I read this word I hear a blessing being bestowed upon another, “Joy to you.”
If we were to read back through Luke’s Gospel, we would find the “chairos” in key passages. For instance when the angel announces to Mary that Jesus will be conceived and born unto her, it is a “chairos” moment – a moment filled with joy (Luke 1.14, 28). Luke as reports that Jesus instructed his followers to rejoice when prophets die, because that is the way of the prophet (Luke 6.23). Luke notes that Jesus corrects his followers when they were able to cast out demons, in essence do not rejoice when the demons are subject to you but rejoice that your name is written in heaven (Luke 10.20). Luke shares a parable about a lost brother who has been found, and an elder brother who complains. In this text the instruction is to the elder brother. Jesus advises the elder brother to be glad in the salvation of those who are squander their lives on wild living, a “chairos” moment (Luke 15.32).
Headlines on Sport Center. The homerun is hit, and the game is over. If we were reporting this story on the Sports Center tonight, Philip’s amazing disappearance at the end of the encounter would take over the whole discussion. The media would hone in on this one detail and the media would miss God’s amazing grace in the “chairos” moment of shared grace that not only changes the life of the official but transports Philip to another community in an instance. The media would have gotten in all wrong, they would have been following Philip around wondering when he was going to disappear next instead of examining the purpose of the encounter.
If we place this encounter in the fuller context of Jewish history with Ethiopia, the relationship dates back to the time of Moses. Moses is reported to have married an Ethiopian or Cush wife (Number 12.1). The Queen of Sheba who visited King Solomon was reported to be Ethiopian (1 Kings 10.1-13). From recent Jewish history we know that the tribe of Dan had been living in exile in Ethiopia. But we know little history from the Assyrian Captivity in 722 BC or the 10 lost tribes of Israel. Yet through modern medical technology it is now believed that Ethiopia was the home of the lost tribe of Dan. The tribe of Dan was returned to their homeland as recently as 1985 and 1991 with some 30,000 Danites returning to the Promised Land. The Good News given to this Ethiopian official ensured that the tribe of Dan heard the fulfillment of the Messianic prophesies.
Reviewing the Stats. To get in the game we must be discerning of the voice of angels and the whispers of the Holy Spirit. To make it to first base we must follow directions. To make it to second base we must listen well and ask the right questions. To make it to third base we must join others where they are. To make a homerun we must expect the unexpected whether it is water in the desert or traveling from place to place at a moments notice. Philip did all these things, and did them well. And, as a result of Philip’s obedience and willingness to travel from place to place the Good News spread and people received with joy the Holy Spirit in their lives.
Jewish Timeline from 4th Century until the present time. https://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/Judaism/ejtime.html