And Philip ran thither to him, and heard him read the prophet Esaias, and said, Understandest thou what thou readest? And he said, How can I, except some man should guide me? — Acts 8:30-31
In today’s text, the evangelist Philip asked the Ethiopian eunuch, “Understandest thou what thou readest?” I can fully identify with the eunuch’s response, “How can I, except some man should guide me?” I did not know about salvation and the possibility of being delivered from sin until I met the Olufsons.
As an eighteen-year-old high school dropout, my life revolved around avoiding responsibility and finding the next “fun” thing to do. I was the only child of a single parent, and my mother had moved to another state as part of a job promotion. Our relationship was strained, but our agreement had been for me to finish high school and then go to live with her. However, with no one forcing me to attend school, my grades suffered and I eventually dropped out. I had no desire to apply myself to anything, and from time to time, I even contemplated suicide. My life was a mess, but God had a plan for me.
The Olufsons, a Christian family I had become acquainted with, observed what was happening in my life and invited me to stay with them until I could get on my feet. That family lived differently than what I had come to expect from people. They treated me with a love that I didn’t understand, especially Josephine, the mother of the family. It was in their home that I saw true Christianity displayed every day.
Josephine told me about the love that Jesus had for me, and about the tremendous price He paid for my sins. The family took me to church with them, and that summer, they invited me to attend the Apostolic Faith camp meeting in Portland, Oregon. There I met a whole group of people who were just like Josephine! The peace and serenity that I felt around the campground made a deep impression upon me. I did not fully realize it, but the Lord was dealing with my heart.
When we returned home after the camp meeting, God continued to talk to me. One August evening, I came home from my job at a hamburger shop so sick of life and its struggle that I felt I just could not take it anymore. My sin was a weight upon me, and I began to weep. I asked God to give me peace, and He did not disappoint me. In a very definite way, He touched my soul and washed away my sins. I wondered that night if the peace could possibly last, but when I woke up the next morning, it was still there. I rushed to tell Josephine, “I got saved last night!” What a joy it was to know that Jesus would be with me every day. That joy has been in my heart from that moment until now.
In our text, the evangelist Philip saw that God had given him an open door and led him directly to a heart that would receive the truth — God clearly had arranged the meeting between Philip and the Ethiopian eunuch. In a different era and a different way, I believe God arranged for my acquaintance with the Olufson family. God cares about each individual soul, and He will go to amazing lengths to draw hungry hearts to Himself and ensure that they receive the instruction they need.
Today, be alert to the opportunities for evangelism that God places before you. Follow God’s leading! You may not understand His plans at first, but there are souls around each one of us who need the Lord. You may be the one to bring the truth to a hungry heart that God has already prepared.
Chapter 8 of Acts can be divided into three parts. Verses 1-4 cover the dispersion of the Jewish believers into the regions of Judea and Samaria due to persecution, and the resultant expansion of the Church. The ministry of the evangelist Philip in Samaria is described in verses 5-25, and the remainder of the chapter recounts Philip’s meeting with and instruction of the Ethiopian eunuch in the desert of Gaza.
The first sentence of chapter 8 could be included in the previous chapter, as it refers to the martyrdom of Stephen. The word translated “death” in this sentence actually implies an act of murder, rather than a death that occurred as a result of natural causes.
In the statement that Saul “made havock of the church” (verse 3), the words made havoc are translated from a verb that means “to loosen, break up, and destroy,” such as when a wild boar tears up a vineyard. The word haling means “to violently pull.”
According to verse 4, one endeavor common to the followers of Christ who were scattered abroad by persecution was that they “went every where preaching the word.” The Greek word translated “preaching” is evangelizo (from which we derive our English word “evangelize”), and it also could be translated “announce glad tidings.” It is a word Luke used extensively; approximately half of the times it appears in the New Testament are credited to him.
In Old Testament times, Samaria was the capital city of the Northern Kingdom of Israel. In the New Testament, the word generally referred to the area that lay between Judea on the south and Galilee on the north. The reference in verse 5 to the “city of Samaria” is historically accurate; the historian Josephus records that the village of Sebaste had been rebuilt by Herod the Great on the ancient hill of Samaria, and was also referred to at times as “Samaria.”
While Philip’s preaching brought “great joy” in the city, the account of the false magician, Simon, in verses 9-24, reveals that not all continued in the faith. While Simon did believe (see verse 13), his commitment was only temporary. Simon’s desire to buy the power of God is the basis for the English word “simony,” which refers to the buying or selling of religious authority, privileges, or prestige.
Verses 14-17 describe what some Bible scholars term the “Samaritan Pentecost.” The fact that the Apostles prayed for the Samaritans to receive the Holy Ghost (verse 15) indicates that this experience of a personal Pentecost was considered a vital part of the believers’ spiritual walks.
In the midst of a successful revival, Philip was called by God to a new task: he was to “arise, and go” to Gaza (verse 26). The tenses of both these verbs imply a command to immediate action. Gaza was a desert region about ninety-four miles from Samaria, near the border of Egypt. The statement in the subsequent verse that “he arose and went” shows his prompt obedience.
The eunuch Philip met was from Ethiopia, a kingdom on the Nile which was located between Aswan in modern-day Egypt and Khartoum in Sudan, rather than the country identified today as Ethiopia, which is further south. The statement that this man was “of great authority” indicates that he was a prince. Candace was the traditional title of the Ethiopian female sovereign rulers (similar to Pharoah as the designation for Egyptian kings). The eunuch’s honorable position is evidenced by the fact that he was riding in a chariot, which was the best means of transportation in that day.
The passage the eunuch was reading aloud from the Scripture was Isaiah 53:7-8, one of the most outstanding Messianic chapters of the Old Testament. His question of whom the prophet spoke of gave Philip a perfect opportunity to present Jesus. Undoubtedly the discussion between the two men went on for some time as the chariot traveled on along the desert road, and eventually culminated in the eunuch’s profession of faith in Christ (verse 37).
The precise location of the water where Philip baptized the new convert is unknown, though several bodies of water deep enough for baptism exist in the area.
Verse 40 indicates that Philip “was found” (appeared) at Azotus, which is the Old Testament city of Ashdod and was located approximately twenty miles north of Gaza. From there he walked northward to Caesarea, sharing the Gospel in coastal cities all along the way. The distance he covered would have been almost the length of Israel.
(Hannah’s Bible Outlines - Used by permission per WORDsearch)
II. The witness in Jerusalem
D. The witness of Stephen
4. The stoning of Stephen (7:54-8:4)
b. The dispersion of the Church (8:1-4)
III. The witness in Judea and Samaria (8:5-12:25)
A. The witness of Philip (8:4-40)
1. His ministry in Samaria (8:4-25)
a. His preaching to the Samaritans (8:4-8)
b. His success among the Samaritans (8:9-13)
c. The unifying ministry of Peter and John (8:14-17)
d. The scheme of Simon Magnus (8:18-24)
(1) His wish (8:18-19)
(2) Peter’s rebuke (8:20-23)
(3) Simon’s repentance (8:24)
e. The return of Peter and John (8:25)
2. His ministry to the Ethiopian (8:26-40)
a. The commission of Philip (8:26-28)
b. The command to Philip (8:29)
c. The witness of Philip (8:30-35)
d. The baptism by Philip (8:36-38)
e. The removal of Philip (8:39-40)
Clearly, God arranged the meeting between Philip and the Ethiopian, and this event provides us with a beautiful example of how God opens doors for evangelism. Are we doing our parts to step through the open doors God places in our paths?