Do It Like Philip Did It
This month marks a year since we moved into our new home in Carrollton. It has been a year full of little projects — and even a couple of minor disasters.
But the project we have been most excited about finally came together while Annette and I were on vacation. Landscapers came in and tore out all the overgrown shrubbery in our little back yard and planted a bunch of new stuff that is supposed to attract butterflies and birds.
Annette and I spent part of Saturday planting a small vegetable garden, putting up a half-dozen bird feeders, and setting up a new birdbath.
And then, I spent much of the rest of the day in our screen room, watching the birds discover all that we had set out for them.
We had our share of disagreements about what we wanted in our new home when we finally decided that we would downsize from the big old house where my mother had lived for the past 45 years or so, but the one thing that all three of us agreed upon was that we wanted a sort of bird sanctuary in the back yard. It’s wonderful to begin to see that come to fruition.
There is a family of thrushes that lives in a big boxwood bush just across the low fence of our property. When we left for vacation, the babies were still in the nest, so it was a surprise to come home and see the mother and her three juvenile thrushes flitting around the yard.
The little birds are flying around now with confidence, and I suppose it will not be long before they head out on their own.
But what captivated me on Saturday was watching them following her around and learning how to survive.
She would hop onto the suet cake that we put out for them, break off some pieces, and then hop to the ground to show them where the food had fallen.
She picked around in the mulch beside the brick pavers, looking for bugs or worms or whatever they eat, and they would follow along behind her, copying what she did.
This is important training for these little birds, and all of them appear to take it very seriously. And they clearly have a good teacher.
As we continue our study of missions and evangelism, it occurs to me how important it is for us to have good examples to follow if we are to begin to stretch our own wings and fulfill Jesus Christ’s Great Commission — to go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to do all that He commanded.
Of course, we HAVE been given great Scriptural examples of how to do this, and today, I want to focus on just one of those examples, that of Philip the Evangelist, whose example we see in Acts, chapter 8.
If you have your Bible with you today, please go ahead and turn there. We will jump around in this chapter in order to focus on Philip, but we’ll also pick up a couple of other verses along the way.
We’ll join Luke, the author of this account, in verse 1, where he sets the scene for what is to follow, but I need to give you the context before we start reading.
By this point in Luke’s account, the church in Jerusalem had grown to include thousands of people. The Apostle Peter had, by now, preached four messages that Luke recorded, and two of them had gotten him thrown into prison.
As a result of hearing this gospel message, thousands of people in Jerusalem had come to a saving faith in Jesus Christ. The church, which had begun with about 120 disciples who had received the Holy Spirit on the Day of Pentecost, had grown to the point where it was impossible for the 12 Apostles to manage everything and personally meet all the needs of the many widows who had become part of the church through professions of faith.
So seven men had been chosen as the first deacons of the church, the church’s first servants. Among them, you may recall was Stephen, "a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit.”
Stephen is also described as a man “full of grace and power.” He performed miracles among the people and was a bold witness for Christ in Jerusalem, so much so that he was brought before the Jewish religious leaders there, and they falsely charged him with speaking blasphemy against God.
Chapter seven of the Book of Acts records the powerful sermon he preached when they gave him a chance to defend himself, and then it records his martyrdom, when they stoned him to death, as a young man named Saul watched over their coats.
So, let’s pick up the narrative in verse 1 of chapter 8.
Saul was in hearty agreement with putting him to death. And on that day a great persecution began against the church in Jerusalem, and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles. Some devout men buried Stephen, and made loud lamentation over him. But Saul began ravaging the church, entering house after house, and dragging off men and women, he would put them in prison. Therefore, those who had been scattered went about preaching the word.
So, what we see here is that the stoning of Stephen was the beginning of a great persecution of the new church in Jerusalem. And when the persecution began, these new followers of Jesus were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria.
Now, it’s been a couple of weeks since we covered it, but I wonder if these geographical references ring any bells for you.
Remember what Jesus told His disciples in Acts, chapter 1?
but you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth.”
Just before He ascended to heaven in His resurrected body, Jesus told His disciples that they would be his witnesses, and he talked about where this was to happen.
First in Jerusalem, then in all of Judea, the region surrounding Jerusalem, then in the neighboring region of Samaria, and then to the remotest part of the earth.
It’s like ripples in a pond where a rock has been thrown. Just as the ripples spread farther and farther away from the center, so was the witness of Jesus’ disciples to spread into the world.
But something had failed to take place: The disciples had failed to move outside of Jerusalem. They were comfortable where they were.
Winning converts to Christ in the context of a culture steeped in Judaism certainly wasn’t easy, but it was easier than facing the challenges of doing so while having to overcome the cultural differences that would face them as they moved into areas where Jews were the outsiders.
So God used the persecution and the scattering to help the new church begin to accomplish the greater mission that it had been given. They were comfortable where they were, but comfortable is not what He had called them to be.
Now, there’s a lesson here for us that I want to be sure we don’t miss.
It’s easy for us to get comfortable within the walls of this building. It’s easy for us to love the fellowship we have here. It’s easy for us to fall into the trap of thinking that our “Christian duty” is to come to church on Sundays, maybe to join the Zoom Bible study on Wednesdays, even to read our Bibles and pray and tithe. And all of those things are certainly right and proper for Christians to do.
But those things are not the end of the matter for Christians. Those things are not the thing that Christ commissioned all believers to do when He said to go and make disciples of all the nations.
We do not go by sitting here in these chairs once a week. We do not make disciples by even the most diligent Bible study. We make disciples by going and telling. We make disciples by sharing the good news of a savior, Jesus Christ, who died and rose again so that those who believe in Him could have eternal life.
And notice in these verses who it was who went and told. The apostles stayed in Jerusalem, and others in the church were scattered, and while those people were going from Jerusalem, they preached the word to those whom they encountered.
Surely, the apostles continued to preach the word, but they had also equipped the other believers to do the same, and those believers felt an obligation to do just that.
Blessed by the grace of God to have been saved through their faith in Jesus, they wanted to share that blessing with others.
We are blessed so that we can bless others.
Now, let’s pick the narrative back up in verse 5.
Philip went down to the city of Samaria and began proclaiming Christ to them. The crowds with one accord were giving attention to what was said by Philip, as they heard and saw the signs which he was performing. For in the case of many who had unclean spirits, they were coming out of them shouting with a loud voice; and many who had been paralyzed and lame were healed. So there was much rejoicing in that city.
So, here we see Philip, one of those who had been scattered because of the persecution in Jerusalem, going into Samaria and proclaiming Christ to the people of that region.
And there are five observations we can make about Philip that will help us as we seek to follow his example of sharing Christ with the lost.
First, he was seasoned in service.
To see that, we have to go back to where we first meet Philip the Evangelist, back in chapter 6, where the apostles determined that they needed help in meeting the needs of the many widows within the growing church.
So the twelve summoned the congregation of the disciples and said, “It is not desirable for us to neglect the word of God in order to serve tables. “Therefore, brethren, select from among you seven men of good reputation, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we may put in charge of this task. “But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word.” The statement found approval with the whole congregation; and they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit, and Philip, Prochorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas and Nicolas, a proselyte from Antioch. And these they brought before the apostles; and after praying, they laid their hands on them.
Now, this reference to serving tables is the first time in Scripture where we see the term diakoneo. It’s the Greek word from which we get the word “deacon.” Deacons are servants of the church.
And here we get some of the qualifications of deacons — among them, that they be full of the Spirit and of wisdom.
There is a sense in which deacons are leaders of the church, because they are men and women who are full of faith, who walk in the Spirit and not in the flesh, and who are wise. But the true calling of a deacon is to be a servant.
And so, Philip was seasoned in service. He had spent time serving the needs of those who were under his care.
In our study of the Book of 1 John, we talked a lot about loving one another, and you may recall that — at least within the context of that letter — the commandment to love one another was specific to loving brothers and sisters in Christ.
The idea there was that, as Jesus had said before, the world would know we are His followers by our love for one another.
But I think there’s a bigger point that connects what we learned in 1 John to this study of evangelism. We cannot truly love those outside of the family of God until we can truly love those WITHIN the family of God.
As Philip performed his service as a deacon in the Jerusalem church, he demonstrated that he loved his brothers and sisters in Christ, and he probably learned much that would serve him as he ministered to those outside of the family of God.
So, Philip was seasoned in service.
We can also see from these verses that Philip was bold in his witness.
Scattered from Jerusalem because of the persecution there, he headed into Samaria, where he began proclaiming Christ to them.
Now, remember that Samaria was a place that Jews avoided at all costs. The Jews considered Samaritans to be racially impure and religiously heretical.
When the Assyrians conquered the northern kingdom of Israel in 722 B.C., a remnant of Jews remained in that area, and the Assyrian king sent foreigners to live among them. Those foreigners ended up marrying and having children with the Jews who had remained, and so their descendants were not considered to be pure Jews.
The foreigners had also brought their own religious practices with them, and the Jews who had been left behind had adopted many of those practices, so their religion was no longer pure either.
And so, devout Jews hated the Samaritans, and the Samaritans hated the Jews. Even the Apostle John, when he was traveling with Jesus, suggested calling down fire and brimstone on a Samaritan city after the people there had rejected Jesus.
So, it was a big deal that Philip went into the capital city of Samaria and began preaching the gospel.
He was bold in his witness, and it bore fruit, as people were delivered from evil spirits, as others were healed, and as the city rejoiced at the deliverance so many had found in the good news of a savior sent to reconcile them to God.
Now, in order to keep our focus on Philip this morning, we’re going to skip over the next passage, but let me give you a snapshot of what takes place.
In the midst of this city was a magician named Simon who had used demonic power to accomplish miracles of his own. We learn in the next few verses that even Simon came to some sort of belief in Jesus by the preaching of Philip.
And then, when Peter and John came to see for themselves what was taking place in Samaria, Simon sought to buy from them the power to bestow the Holy Spirit on others. He was soundly rebuked by Peter, who clearly did not believe that Simon’s conversion was genuine.
So, let’s pick the narrative back up in verse 25.
So, when they had solemnly testified and spoken the word of the Lord, they started back to Jerusalem, and were preaching the gospel to many villages of the Samaritans.
Now, the “they” here in this verse probably refers to Peter and John. Having completed their mission of seeing what was going on in Samaria, they were returning to Jerusalem to tell the rest of the church about the gospel’s spread into that new region.
Note the change in John. Whereas he had wanted to call down fire upon a Samaritan town when he walked with Jesus, he now was preaching the gospel in the Samaritan towns they passed. Having seen the power of the gospel at work, he was a changed man.
Now, verse 26.
But an angel of the Lord spoke to Philip saying, “Get up and go south to the road that descends from Jerusalem to Gaza.” (This is a desert road.) So he got up and went; and there was an Ethiopian eunuch, a court official of Candace, queen of the Ethiopians, who was in charge of all her treasure; and he had come to Jerusalem to worship, and he was returning and sitting in his chariot, and was reading the prophet Isaiah.
Philip had been seasoned in service. He was bold in his witness. And now we see that he was quick in obedience.
When an angel of the Lord told him to go, he went. Remember that he was in the middle of an extremely fruitful ministry in Samaria. The temptation to ignore this angel’s direction and continue his ministry in Samaria must have been strong.
But his commitment to obeying God was stronger. And so, he went without even knowing what awaited him, without even knowing God’s purpose in sending him.
He was quick in obedience.
When I left my career in newspapers, all I knew was that God was calling me to attend seminary. I knew He had some ministry planned for me, but I did not know what it would be or when it would begin.
And it’s often that way with God’s calling. Usually we don’t know exactly where He is taking us or exactly what we will do when we get there. He simply calls us to obedient faith. And that’s what we see in Philip here.
But what we will see in the next few verses is that God had been preparing Philip for a long time for the job He had for him. And so we will see that Philip was confident in his readiness for the task that God had prepared for him.
Then the Spirit said to Philip, “Go up and join this chariot.” Philip ran up and heard him reading Isaiah the prophet, and said, “Do you understand what you are reading?” And he said, “Well, how could I, unless someone guides me?” And he invited Philip to come up and sit with him. Now the passage of Scripture which he was reading was this: “He was led as a sheep to slaughter; And as a lamb before its shearer is silent, So He does not open His mouth. “In humiliation His judgment was taken away; Who will relate His generation? For His life is removed from the earth.” The eunuch answered Philip and said, “Please tell me, of whom does the prophet say this? Of himself or of someone else?” Then Philip opened his mouth, and beginning from this Scripture he preached Jesus to him.
Once again, we see Philip obediently responding to God’s calling as he ran up to this chariot — this ox-cart — upon which Candace’s treasurer was riding as he studied from the Book of Isaiah.
This particular passage is from Isaiah 53, where the prophet writes about the Suffering Servant. Now, most Jews of this era believed this passage was about the nation of Israel and all of the suffering it had experienced at the hands of conquering nations.
And it’s likely that this God-fearing eunuch who was returning to his native land in Africa from Jerusalem, where he had gone to worship and learn more about God, had heard this very interpretation while he was there.
But Philip knew this Scripture, and he understood that it spoke of a redeemer who would be pierced through for our transgressions and crushed for our iniquities, who would suffer Himself the penalty that we deserve for our sins so that we who put our faith in Him could be reconciled to God.
And, having been prepared through a lifetime of teaching from the Scriptures, and especially through the teaching of the apostles, Philip was confident in his readiness to preach Jesus to this eunuch, beginning from the very verses the eunuch was reading at the time.
What about you? Are you confident in your readiness to share the gospel? Did you think through your gospel tweet a few weeks ago? Could you sit down with someone who had expressed an interest in Jesus and share with them the gospel? Why not?
Many of you have been part of this church or some other church for many years, some of you for most of your lives. If you were to add up all the hours you’ve spent in church and Sunday school and Bible studies, you would far surpass the amount of time I have spent in seminary.
So, why are so many of us unready to share the gospel? Why do we feel we are so unprepared?
I suggest that it has something to do with being passive listeners, rather than active learners. The difference between what we do here and what’s done in seminary is that in seminary we take notes and we complete assignments and we take tests.
I can’t afford to simply sit and listen to my professors’ lectures and then go on about my business. I have to take time to study what they’ve said, to go over my notes, to write in my own words about what I’ve learned. Those activities all help me to become confident in my knowledge and confident in my ability to share it.
I can’t tell you the number of times I have finished watching a lecture and then gone down to share what I’ve learned with Annette and Miss Lynn. It’s part of the way that I internalize what I have heard, part of the way that I make it my own.
This is how you become confident in your readiness to share the gospel, and that’s just what we see in Philip here. He had been prepared for the mission God gave him, and he was confident that he could preach Jesus to this eunuch, because he had been an active learner and not just a passive listener.
So, we have seen that Philip was seasoned in service, that he was bold in his witness, that he was quick in obedience and that he was confident in his readiness. Now, we will see that he was enthusiastic in expectation.
Look at verse 36.
As they went along the road they came to some water; and the eunuch said, “Look! Water! What prevents me from being baptized?” And Philip said, “If you believe with all your heart, you may.” And he answered and said, “I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.” And he ordered the chariot to stop; and they both went down into the water, Philip as well as the eunuch, and he baptized him. When they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord snatched Philip away; and the eunuch no longer saw him, but went on his way rejoicing. But Philip found himself at Azotus, and as he passed through he kept preaching the gospel to all the cities until he came to Caesarea.
What I love about this passage is the enthusiasm the eunuch had. He had heard the gospel, and he had believed, and he wanted to be baptized RIGHT NOW!
And Philip was not going to stand in the way of this act of obedience on the part of the Ethiopian eunuch. He, too, was enthusiastic, because he had an expectation that the gospel would transform this man’s life.
I will tell you that this is one of the hardest things about being a preacher. I know the transformative power of the gospel. I know what it has done in my life and in my family’s lives and in the lives of many others.
And so, it is hard to stand here and preach the transformative message of the gospel from week to week and know that some who are hearing these messages go away completely unchanged, completely unaffected.
But there are times when I see the gospel at work in the lives of this congregation. There are people whose lives demonstrate an increasing desire to be more like Jesus. There are people who have told me that seeds were planted which eventually bore the fruit of salvation.
In the end, whether I see the transformations or not, whether I see conversions or not, whether I conduct baptisms or not, I will still be enthusiastic in expectation, because I know that the word of God will never return void.
I will be enthusiastic in expectation, because I know the transformative power of the gospel, because I know that whether I plant seeds or water them, it is God who brings the increase.
And that should be encouraging to you, as well, as you think about the people with whom you will share the good news of Jesus Christ.
It is God, working through His Holy Spirit, who ultimately draws people to Christ. All we are responsible for is jumping onto the ox-cart and telling them about Jesus.
Are you seasoned in service? Will you be bold in your witness? Will you be quick in obedience? Can you become confident in your readiness? If so, you can be enthusiastic in expectation, just like Philip was.
Who is the Ethiopian eunuch in your life? Won’t you run up to the ox-cart and jump on and tell him or her about Jesus? The world is desperate to know Him, and you’d be surprised how willing people are to hear about Him from someone who is willing to share the truth with them in love.
You have the example of Philip. Now, be like those little birds in our back yard, and start stretching your wings.