So he got up and went
Last week we talked about Philip’s witness in Samaria. This is the beginning of the second phase of Jesus mission to the church. The gospel has moved out of Jerusalem and is going to other areas of the country. It’s reaching other people besides the core of the Jewish faith in Jerusalem. Our passage this week will show us that spread of the gospel going even further. It’s still reaching people who follow the Jewish faith, but it’s beginning to spread even further away. So let’s start reading with verse 26 of chapter 8.
An angel of the Lord spoke to Philip: “Get up and go south to the road that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.” (This is the desert road.) So he got up and went. There was an Ethiopian man, a eunuch and high official of Candace, queen of the Ethiopians, who was in charge of her entire treasury. He had come to worship in Jerusalem and was sitting in his chariot on his way home, reading the prophet Isaiah aloud.
An angel of the Lord spoke to Philip: “Get up and go south to the road that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.” (This is the desert road.) So he got up and went. There was an Ethiopian man, a eunuch and high official of Candace, queen of the Ethiopians, who was in charge of her entire treasury. He had come to worship in Jerusalem and was sitting in his chariot on his way home, reading the prophet Isaiah aloud. The Spirit told Philip, “Go and join that chariot.” When Philip ran up to it, he heard him reading the prophet Isaiah, and said, “Do you understand what you’re reading?”
26 An angel of the Lord spoke to Philip: “Get up and go south to the road that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.” (This is the desert road.) 27 So he got up and went. There was an Ethiopian man, a eunuch and high official of Candace, queen of the Ethiopians, who was in charge of her entire treasury. He had come to worship in Jerusalem 28 and was sitting in his chariot on his way home, reading the prophet Isaiah aloud. 29 The Spirit told Philip, “Go and join that chariot.”
Now let’s stop right there for just a minute.
Acts 8:26-30Now let’s stop right there for just a minute.
Now let’s stop right there for just a minute. This passage starts off with an angel telling Philip to get up and go south to the road from Jerusalem to Gaza. Now as always there’s a debate among biblical scholars about whether the angel spoke to Philip in Samaria or if Philip left with the apostles in verse 25 and traveled back to Jerusalem. They make arguments on both sides and I’m sure they are all very well researched and very well written, but my question to all of these arguments is “Why does it matter?” Does it make any difference to the story whether Philip was still in Samaria or if he had already returned to Jerusalem? About the only difference I can think of is that the journey to the Gaza road would have taken less time if he was already in Jerusalem.
Now let’s stop right there for just a minute.
But you know this is the problem too often in life. Just like these scholars focused on where Philip started out we often focus too much on where we came from. We think, God can’t use me because I used to go out to bars every weekend, or I used to lie, or I used to steal, or whatever it was that we used to do. We focus on the past instead of the future. Now don’t get me wrong, the past is important. I’m sure we’ve all heard the phrase, “Those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it.” The actual quote comes from the philosopher George Santayana and it goes, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” So knowing history, knowing our past is important, but even Santayana was only looking at the past as a bridge to a better future, one in which the mistakes of the past are not repeated. I think what we need to focus on more here in this passage is the beginning of the next verse. Verse 27 starts off with the sentence, “So he got up and went.” This passage is not about where Philip was coming from. It’s not even really about where he was going. It’s about his obedience to the call of God and what that obedience led to.
Philip obeyed the voice of God when the angel told him to go down to the Gaza road. Notice, the angel didn’t give him a reason. He didn’t tell him that he would be meeting an Ethiopian official. He didn’t say anything about why he was telling him to go or what he would do when he got there. But Philip went anyway. He didn’t question, he didn’t complain or bargain or come up with a thousand reasons why he should go somewhere else instead. He just got up and he went. He was obedient to the voice of God, and God honored that obedience.
What about us? I ask this question pretty regularly in here but let me ask it again, “What is God calling you to do?” God has a plan and a purpose for each and every one of us. Like I’ve said before, He doesn’t always show us the whole plan, in fact, rarely does He show us the whole plan because He knows that we wouldn’t be able to handle it. He typically only shows us a very small part of His plan for our lives. He tells us something along the lines of “Get up and go south to the road that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.” Or maybe he says “Go back to school to finish your degree.” That’s one I heard a few years back after I got out of the Army and it led to another degree and another and eventually to me standing here in front of you today. Or maybe it’s as simple as, “Go next door and say hello to that new family that just moved in.” That simple act of saying hello might lead to a wonderful friendship, or more importantly it might lead to the opportunity to share the gospel with someone and change their lives forever. The key is not how big or how small we think the thing that God is calling us to do is, the key is there at the beginning of verse 27, “So he got up and went.” The key is obedience. What is God calling you to do today and will you be obedient to that call? Will you get up and go?
Next the passage tells us that Philip met this official from the Ethiopian royal court. Now this man was obviously a convert to the Jewish faith because the end of verse 27 tells us that, “He had come to worship in Jerusalem.” So this was a foreigner, an Ethiopian who had converted to Judaism and had come to worship at the Temple Mount and now he’s heading home, but he’s still pouring over the scriptures. And again the voice of God tells to Philip and says, “Go and join that chariot.”
Now let’s continue reading with verse 30.
30 When Philip ran up to it, he heard him reading the prophet Isaiah, and said, “Do you understand what you’re reading?” 31 “How can I,” he said, “unless someone guides me?” So he invited Philip to come up and sit with him. 32 Now the Scripture passage he was reading was this: He was led like a sheep to the slaughter, and as a lamb is silent before its shearer, so he does not open his mouth. 33 In his humiliation justice was denied him. Who will describe his generation? For his life is taken from the earth. 34 The eunuch said to Philip, “I ask you, who is the prophet saying this about—himself or someone else?” 35 Philip proceeded to tell him the good news about Jesus, beginning with that Scripture.
Again we see Philip obeying the voice of God without hesitation. He runs up to the chariot and hears the Ethiopian official reading aloud from the book of Isaiah. So he asks him, “Do you understand what you’re reading?” The man says, “How can I, unless someone guides me?” In many other versions of the Bible this verse is translated “unless someone explains it to me.” But however you translate it, that’s just what Philip does here. He picks up with the verses that the Ethiopian was reading and he explains them. He shows him how Jesus fulfills this prophecy and so many others from the scriptures. He guides him from one scripture to the next to show him that Jesus is the Messiah and that he came to earth, died on the cross to pay the penalty for our sins, was buried, but then rose again on the third day conquering death for all who place their faith in Him.
And then let’s pick up reading with verse 36.
36 As they were traveling down the road, they came to some water. The eunuch said, “Look, there’s water. What would keep me from being baptized?” 38 So he ordered the chariot to stop, and both Philip and the eunuch went down into the water, and he baptized him. 39 When they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord carried Philip away, and the eunuch did not see him any longer but went on his way rejoicing. 40 Philip appeared in Azotus, and he was traveling and preaching the gospel in all the towns until he came to Caesarea.
Here we see that the Ethiopian believes the message that Philip is sharing with him because when they come to a body of water he asks to be baptized right then and there. Now why is that so significant? Well first let me set the stage here. Most of the time when we read this passage, or when we see pictures depicting the scene, we see Peter and a lone Ethiopian man. And if that’s the case then the baptism is still important as a sign of obedience to God, but let me tell you why I don’t think that’s the case. First, back in verse 27 when the Ethiopian official is first introduced it says that he is a “high official of Candace, queen of the Ethiopians, who was in charge of her entire treasury.” Let’s put it in today’s language. This is the Secretary of the Treasury for Ethiopia who has travelled to another country. Can you imagine anyone in a cabinet level position in this country travelling outside the country without some type of official escort? Yeah, it didn’t happen in ancient Ethiopia either. Luke only mentions the official because he is the head of the delegation, and because he is the focus of the story but there were inevitably other people there.
The second reason I say they were not alone comes in this passage we just read. In verse 38 it says, “So he ordered the chariot to stop.” If it were just the two of them, if the official had been driving the chariot before Philip got there, then he would have stopped it, not ordered it to stop.
OK, so what’s the big deal? Why does it matter that they were not alone when Philip baptized the Ethiopian official? Well, for those who have been around a while you’ve heard me describe baptism in New Testament times as compared to how we view it today. For us, in most evangelical churches, we walk down the aisle and make a “public profession of faith” in front of the church members. Then some time later on we’ll go back in front of the church members to be baptized. But for the people we’re reading about here in the New Testament, baptism was their “profession of faith.” And it couldn’t have been any more public because they did it out in lakes and rivers, in the town square, wherever there was enough water. They didn’t have baptismal pools in their churches, because they didn’t have church buildings. They met in homes. When they were baptized they were telling their family, their friends, their neighbors, and anyone else who happened to be around that they were declaring that Jesus is the Messiah they had all been waiting for. This Ethiopian official was baptized in front of his subordinates. In front of the chariot driver, and the scribes, and the soldiers that were likely travelling with him. He was making a public profession of his faith in front of them, and then he would travel on, with all these people knowing something was different. We don’t have anything else in the Bible specifically telling us what happened to him, but many scholars believe that this eunuch is the person mentioned later in which says,
1 Now in the church at Antioch there were prophets and teachers: Barnabas, Simeon who was called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen, a close friend of Herod the tetrarch, and Saul.
In his book Against the Heresies, the church father, Irenaeus writes this, “This man (Simeon Bachos the Eunuch) was also sent into the regions of Ethiopia, to preach what he had himself believed, that there was one God preached by the prophets, but that the Son of this (God) had already made (His) appearance in human flesh, and had been led as a sheep to the slaughter; and all the other statements which the prophets made regarding Him." If this was the same man, then he eventually went home to Ethiopia preaching the gospel there.
As the passage closes they come up out of the water and suddenly Philip just isn’t there anymore. It says the Spirit of the Lord carried Philip away and he appeared in Azotus which is modern day Ashdod and was something like 30 miles away from where the baptism took place. The Gaza road was somewhere in the desert, in the interior of the country while Ashdod is along the coast of the Mediterranean. And it says he then traveled and preached in all the the towns until he came to Caesarea. So he travelled some 60 miles north along the coast preaching and teaching as he went. Again, he didn’t ask questions. The Spirit led him to the Gaza road and he took the opportunity that presented itself to share the gospel with the Ethiopian official. Then the Spirit brought him to Ashdod and he took that opportunity to share the gospel with the people there and all along the coast of the Mediterranean Sea.
I keep saying that Philip didn’t ask questions, and that’s true as far as the biblical account that we have. We don’t have any written accounts of him questioning, but I’m pretty sure there were questions. I mean think about it, you’re in a pool of water on the side of the road in the middle of the desert baptizing this guy that you’ve only just met. When you step up out of the pool suddenly you’re no longer in the middle of the desert, now you’re standing on the beach, with a sea breeze blowing your hair and you’re just outside of a town. I’m pretty sure there were some questions in Philip’s mind. Something along the lines of “What just happened? Where am I?” those kinds of things. The important thing is not that we don’t ask questions, the important thing again is the beginning of verse 27, “So he got up and went.” It’s obedience. I know when God called me to seminary I had tons of questions. Especially when he led me to quit my job in my home town of Baton Rouge, where I had family surrounding me, and a seminary only 30 minutes away, to move 12 hours away to attend a seminary in Louisville. I did it, but the whole time I was questioning. I was asking God, why. Why am I quitting this job at a church where I’m already getting the experience I need? Why am I moving my family so far away from our support network? Why are you calling me to do this? And if you’ve been around here a while you’ve heard the end to this story already. Two weeks after I resigned my job to move the pastor of the church was forced out and the church split. I would have left with the pastor had I still been there. Four weeks to the day after we moved Hurricane Katrina hit south Louisiana and the seminary that I had been looking at 30 minutes from home was closed down for a semester. A large part of the population of New Orleans moved to Baton Rouge and started looking for work at the same time I would have been looking. The seminary closing down would have put me in a time crunch for getting accepted into the military as a chaplain candidate because of the age limitations. I hind sight I looked back on the move to Louisville and said, “OK God, I get it now. I understand why you had me do this.” But you know what, I didn’t have to understand, because God knew what He was doing. He knew why He was moving us so far away. He saw the whole plan while all I saw was what I thought was a disruption of the little part of the plan that I had seen so far. I didn’t have to understand. I just had to obey. So I got up and went.
As we close this morning I’ll ask this question once more. What is God calling you to do? And then let me add, will you get up and go?
Would you pray with me?