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Phillip: A Life of Obedience

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The early church grew exponentially early in her history. The believers experienced ups and downs. Persecution rose quickly against the church and caused the believers to scatter from Jerusalem and into the outerlying areas of Judea and Samaria. Philli was one of the first seven called to serve the church and became obedient to the ministry of the gospel, and his brief story in the book of Acts (Chapter 8) shows how if we act in obedience to the mission of the gospel we will see results in divine appointments.

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Introduction:
What is a divine appointment? One author defines it as, “a meeting with another person that has been specifically and unmistakable ordered by God.” Many of us have probably experienced that moment in our lives where we have “happened” to cross paths with someone and ended up ministering to a need that they may have had at that time. So how many of those divine appointments have we missed out on because we were not listening to the nudge of the Holy Spirit? I can probably tell you I have missed more than I care to admit in my life. You get that nudging feeling that you need to speak to a certain person that you cross paths with and you think better of it because you feel like you would come across as a nut job?
A pastor friend of mine told me about an experience he had while was out walking the neighborhood surrounding his church as they were out inviting the community to join them for an Easter celebration. He knocked on this one door and no one answered. He rang the doorbell and no one answered. As he and his team started to walk off, a young lady answered the door and asked if she could help them. He told her who he was and what they were doing. As he wrapped up the conversation, he asked her, “If you were to die today and stand before God and he asked you, ‘why should I let you into my heaven?’” Her response was, “To be honest, I don’t think God should let me into heaven. I am a horrible person and am alone in this world.” So the pastor began to explain to her how she could know beyond a shadow of a doubt that God loved here and she could, in fact, go to heaven. At the end of his gospel presentation, the young lady broke down into sobbing tears and told the pastor, “Thank you for telling me that, you see before you knocked on my door, I was about to commit suicide because I really thought no one loved me or even cared for me, but by you taking the time to talk to me, I know that someone does truly care for me and God loves me no matter what.” Well, she accepted Jesus into her life right there, got baptized, and has since become a happy, healthy, and productive member of his congregation. If that wasn’t a divine appointment I am not sure what is.
Divine appointments can come at any time, and the call to obedience is what allows us to have success in those times. When we set all personal focus aside and heed the call of the Holy Spirit in our lives, we can experience a zeal like never before. The catch is, we must tune ourselves into the direction of the Holy Spirit in order to seize those evangelistic opportunities, and act in accordance to that guidance provided to us with a willingness in spite of whatever excuses we may come up with.
The Text:
In acts chapter 8, we see the results of one such divine appointment in the life of Phillip. If you recall, Phillip was one of the seven men that were called back in Acts chapter 6 to help the apostles with the daily distributions specifically for the Hellenistic (non-Jewish) widows. Last week we talk about the short ministry of Stephen and hos his execution was the catalyst to launch the church into the regions of Judea and Samaria. This week, we move into chapter 8 and read the story of Phillip and the start of the spread of the gospel into the outer regions of Jerusalem. This morning, we are going to focus on verses 26-40.
Acts 8:26–40 ESV
Now an angel of the Lord said to Philip, “Rise and go toward the south to the road that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.” This is a desert place. And he rose and went. And there was an Ethiopian, a eunuch, a court official of Candace, queen of the Ethiopians, who was in charge of all her treasure. He had come to Jerusalem to worship and was returning, seated in his chariot, and he was reading the prophet Isaiah. And the Spirit said to Philip, “Go over and join this chariot.” So Philip ran to him and heard him reading Isaiah the prophet and asked, “Do you understand what you are reading?” And he said, “How can I, unless someone guides me?” And he invited Philip to come up and sit with him. Now the passage of the Scripture that he was reading was this: “Like a sheep he was led to the slaughter and like a lamb before its shearer is silent, so he opens not his mouth. In his humiliation justice was denied him. Who can describe his generation? For his life is taken away from the earth.” And the eunuch said to Philip, “About whom, I ask you, does the prophet say this, about himself or about someone else?” Then Philip opened his mouth, and beginning with this Scripture he told him the good news about Jesus. And as they were going along the road they came to some water, and the eunuch said, “See, here is water! What prevents me from being baptized?” And he commanded the chariot to stop, and they both went down into the water, Philip and the eunuch, and he baptized him. And when they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord carried Philip away, and the eunuch saw him no more, and went on his way rejoicing. But Philip found himself at Azotus, and as he passed through he preached the gospel to all the towns until he came to Caesarea.
How Phillip gets to this point:
As we read through the book of Acts, we see how God’s plan plays out. In the first chapter, Jesus was still here on earth after His resurrection for forty days. As He ascended, He left a plan for the Apostles to follow in 1.8 to be witnesses of Him into the entire world. In chapter 2, we see the outpouring of the Holy Spirit into the Apostles, and through chapters 3-6 the exponential growth of the church in those days. Chapter 6 shows us how the Apostles adapted to the growing pains experienced by the early church and how they addressed the issues as they arose. The last part of chapter 6 on into chapter 7 tells us how the persecution becomes greater as the church grows and culminates with the stoning of Stephen in the last part of chapter 7.
Enter Phillip:
In the first 3 verses of chapter 8 we read of a Pharisee named Saul that was so deep in his convictions that not only did he oversee the execution of Stephen, but he went through Jerusalem from house to house arresting church members and dragging them off to prison., and we will learn more about him in chapter 9 as he begins to chase the church as they are scattered throughout the land.
Stephen’s execution is important because had he not been executed and Saul not persecuted the church in Jerusalem like he did, the church may not have left the city limits of Jerusalem any time soon because of the success they were seeing. It is entirely possible that with all the pilgrimages of the cultural Jews of the time, the the church may not have left the city because people were coming to them; however, this goes against what Jesus had commanded in 1.8 when he called the apostles to go to Jerusalem and Judea and Samaria and the uttermost parts of the world. The gospel was intended to go out of Jerusalem just as it is still expected to go out today.
So, the story now shifts focus from Jerusalem to Judea, and Acts will focus on the spread of the gospel into Judea/Samaria until about chapter 12 where another round of severe persecution will come up and then propel the church into the rest of the world via Paul.
Once the story shifts focus to the spread of the gospel to Samaria, we read the story of Phillip in chapter 8 and what he did in the city of Samaria.
About Samaria:
Samaria was a town about 40 miles away from Jerusalem, so it was a couple of days’ walk from Jerusalem to there. It was the former capitol city of the northern kingdom, and after the return from the captivity in Babylon, the Jews saw the residents of not only the city, but the region as half-breeds and were deemed not worthy to worship in the temple in Jerusalem so they established their own system of worship down there in accordance with Mosaic Law. The name Samaritan was also used as a racial epithet such as some of the racial slurs that are in use today. Being called a Samaritan by a Jew was not considered a good thing. Jews saw that they should not have any contact with them at all because they were considered unclean.
Back to the Story:
Phillip goes into Samaria preaching the gospel of Jesus christ and develops a reputation among the people in the city, and he meets a magician named Simon that performed magic. Now we learn through the story, that Simon was converted to Christianity. One thing to note about this scene in Samaria we read in verse 14 that the apostles heard what was going on in Samaria, so Peter and John go to check on things there. Verse 16 says that at this point, the Holy Spirit had not come on the believers in Samaria even though they had been baptized in accordance with what Jesus had commanded believers to do. Some denominations would use this passage here in verses 14-17 to say that there are two baptisms a believer has in their lifetime. The first one being that act of obedient baptism, and the baptism that comes later with the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. Now we know from a study of the letters of Paul that is not the case. In truth, the Holy Spirit indwells in us the moment we place our faith in Jesus Christ. So why the discrepancy? Most scholars agree that this was part of God’s plan. We must remember that the apostles were of Jewish backgrounds, and saw themselves as special in God’s eyes. So they come up to Samaria and pray for the believers to receive the Holy Spirit and they receive the Holy Spirit at that time. Scholars would agree that this was designed by God so that they could actually see that the gospel was available to all people regardless of their cultural background.
Simon sees what is going on, and because he was previously well known for what he was doing by using magic, then offers Peter money to receive that very same gift he had, and Peter pretty much tells him to burn because the gift of the Holy Spirit cannot be bought or worked for. It is a gift of faith, and because of Peters harsh rebuke, Simon becomes a true believer through that ministry, and Simon asks Peter to pray for him so that he can be forgiven.
Which brings us to the text we will focus on this morning:
Acts 8:26–40 ESV
Now an angel of the Lord said to Philip, “Rise and go toward the south to the road that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.” This is a desert place. And he rose and went. And there was an Ethiopian, a eunuch, a court official of Candace, queen of the Ethiopians, who was in charge of all her treasure. He had come to Jerusalem to worship and was returning, seated in his chariot, and he was reading the prophet Isaiah. And the Spirit said to Philip, “Go over and join this chariot.” So Philip ran to him and heard him reading Isaiah the prophet and asked, “Do you understand what you are reading?” And he said, “How can I, unless someone guides me?” And he invited Philip to come up and sit with him. Now the passage of the Scripture that he was reading was this: “Like a sheep he was led to the slaughter and like a lamb before its shearer is silent, so he opens not his mouth. In his humiliation justice was denied him. Who can describe his generation? For his life is taken away from the earth.” And the eunuch said to Philip, “About whom, I ask you, does the prophet say this, about himself or about someone else?” Then Philip opened his mouth, and beginning with this Scripture he told him the good news about Jesus. And as they were going along the road they came to some water, and the eunuch said, “See, here is water! What prevents me from being baptized?” And he commanded the chariot to stop, and they both went down into the water, Philip and the eunuch, and he baptized him. And when they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord carried Philip away, and the eunuch saw him no more, and went on his way rejoicing. But Philip found himself at Azotus, and as he passed through he preached the gospel to all the towns until he came to Caesarea.

Follow the prompting of the Holy Spirit

In verse 26, Phillip receives a message from the angel of the Lord for him to go toward the south to Gaza, and look at what he does in verse 27: “he rose and went.” He didn’t hesitate to what the Spirit Had prompted. He acted immediately to what he was being called to do. We could probably see how it would be hard for Phillip to get up and leave what he was doing. After all, this was a successful ministry. People were being converted practically daily, and Philip was right in the middle of it. The road to Gaza was desolate and in the middle of the desert. It was sparsely populated, and Phillip would more than like go this route alone, but yet he did it anyway and without question. He didn’t argue or make excuse as to why he couldn’t go, he just went.

The Holy Spirit Coordinates divine appointments

As he is on his way to Gaza, he meets an Ethiopian Eunuch. A eunuch was a servant to a king or queen that had been castrated and held in a life of service to a monarch and usually in a position of deep trust. In the case of this guy, he was the keeper of Queen Candace’s treasure, so I imagine that he carried a large responsibility that required a great bit of trust. So, he is on his way down from Jerusalem (we always read down to whatever place because Jerusalem sat on a plateau that was usually higher than most other places, so everything was “down from Jerusalem”) and Phillip crosses paths with him. This was the divine appointment that was orchestrated by the Holy Spirit, and if Phillip had rejected the call for whatever reason, the chance to share the gospel with the Ethiopian would have been missed, but instead, he is prompted by the Spirit in verse 29, “Go over and join his chariot” and he does.

The Holy Spirit instructs us in helping others

As Phillip walks over to the chariot, he hears the eunuch reading scripture in verse 30. What makes this special is the fact that we know this man was educated because he could read. Not only is he able to read, but he is reading it aloud. That is important to understand because when scripture was written in those times, they were written in one long paragraph. There were no chapters and verses. Those were added much later when scripture was canonized, and punctuation was even added. What that did was cause a person to actually slow down in reading scripture to a purposeful speed and focus on the words that were written. It was usually read aloud because those that didn't have an education more than likely couldn't read so the one that could read would read aloud for others to hear.
Phillip walks over to him, asks him if he understands what he is reading, and the eunuch responds in verse 32 by saying, “How can i, unless someone guides me?” So Phillip sits down with him and explains the passage he was reading and it is a passage from Isaiah chapter 53 which is a Messianic prophecy, so guess what that leads to? A gospel conversation!

The Holy Spirit continues in the work of sharing the gospel

In the end, Phillip shares the gospel with the Ethiopian, and he believes the gospel and places his faith in Jesus Christ, and as an act of obedience, when he sees a body of water, they stop and baptize him.
I want to divert for a moment here. Some of you may have in your Bibles (especially if it is an older translation) verse 37 that says, “And Philip said, “If you believe with all your heart, you may.” And he replied, “I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.” Many of your bible will go from verse 36 to 38. This is not a typo, but what happened was, through the process of textual criticism, and as earlier manuscripts are found, scholars have determined that verse 37 is not in the very early manuscripts. There are today approximately 5000 Greek and Aramaic manuscripts of the New Testament and it has been deduced that this verse didn't exist in the original manuscripts, and whether this verse is there or not changes nothing in this story. It is just an add on to the conversation.
After the Ethiopian is baptized, look what happens in verse 39: “The Spirit of the Lord carried Phillip away...” This must have been something of a sight. The word use there is “snatched away.” So it appears to be an instantaneous happening shortly after the conversion and baptism of this guy, and Phillip finds himself in Azotus.

Putting it all into practice

1. Serve the Lord faithfully wherever you are

Phillip found himself in the midst of a massive evangelistic event in Samaria, and God called him to go away from it to a desolate place on the way to Gaza. So he made excuses why he shouldn't go and stayed put. No, he acted in faith and without hesitation, he went down to Gaza. He didn’t question the motives or make excuses. He just acted. When we act in obedience, good things happen. We may become selfish and want to stay where the Lord is working, but we should always be ready to serve the Lord wherever he puts us. He may put us in circumstances that we don’t always agree with or find very comfortable, but the ultimate requirement is to act faithfully wherever we fond ourselves. If we serve the Lord faithfully wherever He puts us, we can be assured that we will be blessed.

2. Be flexible in service to God

Let’s retrace Phillip’s journey:
From Jerusalem to Samaria it was about 36 miles (by foot). From Samaria he went to Gaza which was about 94 miles (again more than likely by foot). From Gaza, he was snatched up by the Holy Spirit and taken to Azotus which was about 32 miles, and he then made his way over to Caesarea which was another 58 miles. All told, he travelled approximately 160 miles. How many of us would have gotten aggravated at the movement because many of us cant walk from here to the parking lot without needing a break? Phillip stayed flexible. He didn't get too comfortable in one are for too long and reacted immediately when the Spirit prompted him to move. In order for us to remain obedient, we must remain flexible. The Spirit can redirect us at any time in order for us to reach the people He needs us to reach. Sometimes we may start a ministry that we feel like God is calling us to do, and the circumstances change. Do we keep pushing forward and adapt to the changes or do we get hard-headed and stay on the first task? Or perhaps we just give up all together? Flexibility is important to remember. Just because circumstances change doesn't necessarily mean that the devil is trying to stop the work of the Lord, but we als must take into consideration that God may be changing our paths as well.

3. Stay ready to serve

When Phillip met the Ethiopian, he was prompted by the Spirit to approach the chariot. He was ready to answer any questions the Ethiopian had and was ready to present the gospel as soon as the conversation came up. Phillip was ready and looking for an opportunity, and he was presented with a divine appointment orchestrated by the Holy Spirit. Do you stay ready to present the gospel, or are you just prepared to invite someone to church? When was the last time you heard the Spirit call out to you and you ignored it for whatever reason? We must always be ready to share the gospel when called on by the Holy Spirit and not risk becoming disobedient.

4. Rely on God’s power to serve with eagerness

Phillip could have easily said, “that’s not my job. I was just called to take care of the widows.” Yet he didn’t. He acted in complete and total obedience and never once backed down from what the Spirit was calling him to do. He didn’t make excuse or complain (especially about having to walk so much). He eagerly jumped when the Holy Spirit moved.
Conclusion:
There was a pastor that was travelling and was on a layover at the airport when he saw this man that was severely burned and disfigured from a fire. He had burn all over his body, his hands were all but gone, and people just stared at him in horror. When the pastor got on the plane, the burn victim was seated next to him. As the flight took off, he noticed the mane would just stared silently out the window with his hands folded under his arms, sunglasses on, and a look of defeat on his face. Filled with a mix of compassion and horror for this man, the pastor felt the urge to want to talk to him, but he kept fighting the urge. After a good internal struggle of reasons why he shouldn’t speak to this man (namely the fear of being rejected), he finally spoke to the man. The man seemed to be taken back by the initiation of a conversation with him. After introducing themselves to each other, the pastor asked the man about what had happened. The man was eager to explain that he had been on his way to Eagle Pass with his grandfather and they had stopped for gas when a fuel truck went into a skid to avoid an accident and the fuel caught fire and poured flaming fuel all over him. He also explain that his hands had been melted off because he was trying to remove a metal bar that was pining down another victim. He explained that he had spent three years in the hospital facing hundreds of reconstructive surgeries and his disfigurement was not getting any better. The pastor asked him if he ever entertained the idea that God may have saved him for a purpose. The man told the pastor that he knew God had saved him from all of that but didn’t really entertain much else regarding the situation. The pastor shared the gospel with him and the stranger readily accepted Jesus into his life. When the pastor checked into his hotel, he called a friend of his to tell him what the day’s events had brought and the friend said, “Praise God for answered prayers! I was praying for you today to have a divine appointment, and God pulled through.”
When was the last time you prayed for a divine appointment, and when was the last time you eagerly answered the call to a divine apportionment?
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