The Spirit's Leading in Philip's Life

Acts of the Holy Spirit Through the Apostles  •  Sermon  •  Submitted   •  Presented   •  36:56
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INTRO: Let me tell you a story that happened to one of our guys recently.
Eric Pallozzi was headed (just over a week ago) to celebrate the home-going of his grandpa, Jerry Smith. On the way, he stopped at a gas station. While at the pump, a couple of rough and tough-looking biker dudes pulled up to the gas station as well. Eric overheard one of them talking a lot to his buddy, saying GD this and GD that, using God’s name in vain about six times in just a few sentences. Eric could have had a frustrated spirit and looked down on this guy while getting back in his vehicle. Instead, he obeyed the prompting of the Spirit and went of to talk to them. His two oldest daughters were along for the ride and witnessed the whole thing. Their side of the story is that they were pretty nervous bc these guys looked seriously imposing.
Eric very politely and kindly told them that he heard them referencing God in their conversation, and asked the men if they had a personal relationship with the God they were talking about. Rather than being angry, the huge guy standing up and doing most of the talking was also polite. Turns out, his name is Sean. Buddy’s name is Votage (sp?). They not only allowed Eric to share the gospel, then to pray for them, but Sean even THANKED Eric and told him how impressed he was that he was willing to approach them. Now those guys didn’t immediately make a profession of faith, but they may yet do so, and is there any doubt in your mind that that sounds like an event orchestrated by the Spirit of God?
While I’m very proud of Eric for submitting to the Spirit, the main character in the story isn’t really Eric. It’s the Spirit of God at work in people and through Christ’s people. Around here, because of his faithfulness in witnessing, Eric is becoming known as our resident evangelist. But that isn’t Eric’s view of himself. He simply wants to obey the Holy Spirit’s leading in his life.
In the second half of Acts chapter 8, we’re inclined to be pretty impressed with Philip. And in fact, this Philip is called “the evangelist” to distinguish him from the Philip who was one of the Apostles, and many students of Acts call this Philip the first missionary. But as we read and study this passage this morning, it should be clear that it’s about the Spirit’s leading in Philip’s life. The hero isn’t Philip. The hero is God.
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.
I view this section about Philip as a microcosm of evangelistic missions: sort of a closer look at the Spirit’s leading, and obedient evangelism, and God’s superintendence of situations, and a responsive heart … and ongoing missions.
I want you to think about these four categories as we go through the text.

The Holy Spirit Leads & Superintends

A Willing Servant - Philip

Evangelism = to proclaim the message of the Bible concerning Jesus

Real people, like you, on the other end - An Ethiopian Official

The first really is primary: Let the Holy Spirit’s leading sink in. He is the power of God to guide the servant and to transform the sinner. Then also these other three: Philip’s humble and willing obedience to be an instrument of the Spirit of God. Consider that evangelism is the tool/weapon God has given, to proclaim the message of the Bible concerning Jesus. Finally, there are very real people on the other end. God has his sights set on individuals he is making his own, even as he has done for you.
I know you will see this as we continue, but this is not an intellectual exercise. This is the word of God which he uses to shape our desires and our plans, to reveal sin and give us a greater goal, which is himself. So be asking: Whom do we trust? And who will go? .... There are many other things we do from the love of Christ overflowing in us, but what is the one thing we must do? And are we not comforted in belonging to this great God... and compelled to serve him faithfully, knowing that whatever he tells us to do is his highest glory and our greatest good?
If metaphors help you, as they do me, picture it like this: The Holy Spirit is the archer, Philip becomes his bow, Evangelism is the arrow, and the Ethiopian’s heart is the bullseye.
v. 26 Although you are unlikely to receive angelic instruction, the Holy Spirit may in fact tug on our hearts with great specificity.
- Philip is told to go take the road that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza. Luke mentions that it was a desert place. (Just had a great revival in a major Samaritan city with many responding) Where? Who’s gonna be in such a place? … But…
v. 27 Philip rose and went. But only after lots of questioning and complaining, lots of worrying… nope. Why would he do this? Because he’s not Lord of his life anymore. He’s not in charge. He knows he serves a great God. However the Spirit leads, that’s where he’ll go.
Who was on the other end of this evangelistic mission? - He was from Ethiopia [map], which had a large and influential kingdom, south of Egypt, and which many would have thought of as the southernmost part of the known world at the time. “Ethiopia was the ancient Nubian Kingdom, south of Aswan on the Nile.” (The ESV Study Bible , 2097.)
- Both Jewish and Greco-Roman literature frequently mentioned black skin as a distinguishing feature of Ethiopians (and others as one ventured south into Africa)
- The term “eunuch” could refer generally to a government official, but since Luke appears to to mention this as well as his being a “court official,” it is more likely to be intended as literal. In ancient times, this would have involved the castration of some males for royal service, perhaps especially those who were to work closely with female royalty.
- Treasurer for the queen: “Candace seems to have been a dynastic title of the queen of Ethiopia.” - Craig S. Keener, The IVP Bible Background Commentary, Ac 8:27.) This is an important guy, but from a Jewish perspective, an unlikely candidate to be chosen by God. We know better! The world would tell you that we’re all deserving; you’re special. No, we’re ALL unlikely candidates!
vv. 27b-28 In what situation do we find him? - He is returning from worship in Jerusalem: This would not have been a common journey for people like him. He is probably a Gentile “God-fearer,” though probably not a full proselyte (if we are to understand his being a eunuch as literal, since the law would have prevented it in Deut 23:1) This would also bar him from entry into the inner courts of the temple.
- seated in his chariot: (driving the company Lexus… or maybe more like the private jet) But God reaches people from all walks of life, including the wealthy who will humble themselves before him.
- He’s also well-educated - he can read, and it was common to read aloud - And he is reading from a scroll of the prophet Isaiah. While we’ll see the specific text, it is particularly informative to also know that it is through Isaiah that God promises a heritage that is “better than sons and daughters” to the foreigner or the eunuch who keeps faith in him (Isaiah 56:3-5).
v. 29 It is the Spirit who instructs Philip at this point to go over and join his chariot. As we said, the Spirit’s leading is strongly emphasized throughout this passage, being the key feature which ties it all together. And is there really any doubt that this situation is divinely arranged?
v. 30 Again Philip obeys without hesitation, and the fact that he has to run may indicate that the chariot was moving as the Ethiopian official read aloud from Isaiah.
At this point, when he overhears this Ethiopian reading Scripture, and not just any Scripture, but from Isaiah 53, I picture Philip being overwhelmed with amazement at God. Are you kidding me? Only God could orchestrate something like this. He must be praising God and praying for wisdom and the words for how to proceed.
If we’ve walked with Christ for very long, and humbly asked him to use us, even we have experienced things like this. Situations and movements of the Spirit of God in ways that might be subtle but abundantly clear that God himself providentially orchestrated this. We’re no Philips, and yet God is doing such things in people like us and through people like us.
But that’s the point isn’t it. Who is Philip? Ah, but who is Philip’s God. Who is this Ethiopian? Ah, but who graciously grants him spiritual life and saving faith and becomes Lord over his present and eternity?
What a God we serve! - Whom do you serve? The puny god of man-made religion? The puniest god of all, yourself? Your own whims? Your own plans?
vv. 30b-31 This might be my favorite part: “Do you understand what you’re reading?” … “How can I, unless someone guides me?” I mean, God directed Philip to be there in this spot in this exact time with this precise person… to be a guide, to lead the way. Philip was just a Spirit-filled guy who said yes to the Spirit’s prompting.
-The disciples had needed Jesus to guide them through understanding how he fulfilled so many promises and patterns in the OT.
- Philip joined him in the chariot. It doesn’t take too much imagination to believe that Philip never saw himself doing this: In a chariot, with an Ethiopian court official, reading the prophet Isaiah together, and testifying that Jesus of Nazareth is the Messiah who came to atone for sin and rose again. God’s plans are higher and better than our own.
vv. 32-33 I’m fairly confident that what Luke gives us is a sampling of what he was reading, or at least that we are also meant to understand the context of this quotation in Isaiah. Because they didn’t have chapters and verses to mark a location in the text, a person would quote part of the passage as a bearing for where someone was reading.
v. 34 The eunuch’s uncertainty is understandable. Even the Jews at times disagreed about whether the servant passages referenced Israel, or if this was the suffering prophet himself, and even some actually believing the Messiah was the reference at this point. We see God’s superintendence here, since the latter is the case, in the whole context: “In 53:1–3 [this suffering servant figure] is rejected by Israel; in 53:4–12 he bears the sins of Israel, although he himself is not guilty (53:9) and suffers voluntarily (53:12).” (Keener, The IVP Bible Background Commentary, Ac 8:32–35.)
v. 35 - Then Philip opened his mouth. What a weird way to say that, Luke. Oh, he’s deliberately playing on the wording of the passage in Isaiah. The Greek words are exactly the same where the suffering servant, our Lord Jesus Christ, opened not his mouth to defend himself against false accusations… because he was going willingly to die, in order to be the atonement and perfect mediator we need. Because of Christ, Philip can now open his mouth to speak of the one who did this very thing for us, that we might be saved.
And Philip opened his mouth also makes me think that what came out wasn’t from Philip, but from the Spirit of God expressed in the word of God.
-So Philip does what Jesus did for his disciples after the resurrection, where he explained that he, the Christ, fulfilled many promises and patterns in the OT Scriptures. So Philip, “beginning with this scripture he evangelized him about Jesus.”
If you’re just a weapon wielded in the hands of the Spirit, (or to use another Scriptural metaphor, Eph 6:17) if God’s word is a sword wielded in the hands of his servant, don’t you think the Holy Spirit can help you get to the gospel? There’s no shortage of evangelistic arrows in the Holy Spirit’s quiver. There is only one message, but many ways to get to it. The more you make a practice of sharing the gospel, the more you will understand what I mean.
And while the Holy Spirit is guiding you, yes, don’t you think that the real power is in the word of God? (Heb 4:12 says…) And don’t you have to trust in God to do the work by his Spirit and not by your ingenuity or even persistence? Can we do the work that only Spirit of God can do through his word?
God takes his own truth (in the Bible) about His own Son by the power his own Spirit, and he cuts to the heart. He takes stone hearts and makes them beat with spiritual life. He turns the rebellious into the repentant. He take the unrighteous and makes her righteous. He takes the sinner and makes him a saint. He makes the lost found, the blind see, the deaf hear, the spiritually lame walk.
vv. 36&38 And in this amazing case, that’s what the Spirit did here. The Ethiopian official is so excited to believe in Jesus and to state it publicly, that he wants to be baptized at the first sight of enough water to do so.
He goes in the water to show outwardly what faith has done to him inwardly—that he is washed clean by the sacrifice of Christ Jesus, to show that he has died to self and been raised to new life in Christ, forgiven and made new by the power and grace of God.
What a God!
Now before we move on, I should make a brief note about v. 37, which may or may not even be in your translation of the text. [Read v. 37 note] It’s hard to say if that’s original or something a copyist or teacher added as they were explaining what necessarily would have taken place in his heart. And while it’s hard to say with certainty whether or not it is original, it is definitely consistent with other teaching in God’s word and an accurate depiction of what would have taken place, even as we just described.
Let’s look at the next unique thing that God does with Philip.
vv. 39-40a - The Spirit just disappears Philip from one place and makes him reappear at Azotus… miles away. This may very well be a one-of-a-kind unique work of the Spirit. It’s certainly not common! It may also be a reflection of something the Spirit did at times in great power with the likes of great prophets of old, like Elijah and Ezekiel (1 Kings 18:12; 2 Kings 2:16; Ezek 3:12, 14). Either way, the point is supposed to be the unique power and leading of the Spirit.
-Well, Philip’s gone, but the eunuch continues on his way rejoicing. What kind of joy do you think this is? This is the rejoicing of a creature who has just been brought from death to life, who has just seen Jesus as Lord and received the Holy Spirit to have a relationship with the only true God.
Maybe you are lacking joy because you don’t belong to Christ. Or maybe you are lacking joy because you’ve taken your eyes off of Christ and placed them on your tumultuous surroundings, like Peter walking on the rough sea to Jesus. God to God’s word and remember what Christ has done for you; bask in the light of God’s glory. What a God I get to belong to and serve! In that there is joy and peace and rest and assurance, now and forevermore.
And where does all of this end up in the end of this passage? v. 40b
I love the way this finishes. Philip carries on, in the Spirit, now walking again on his own two feet, along the coastal region, evangelizing to all the towns as he went.
The last we see of Philip, for now, he’s in Caesarea. While it’s possible this was already his hometown, I suspect this actually became his home town, there place where he decided to live as a more long-term missionary. Acts 21:8
Acts 21:8 ESV
On the next day we departed and came to Caesarea, and we entered the house of Philip the evangelist, who was one of the seven, and stayed with him.
We’ll have other encounters in Caesarea, so we can talk about that port city in more detail later. For now, we are left with the impression that Philip settles there for longer-term mission work.

Bottom Line: Are we to be impressed with Philip or enthralled with God?

There really shouldn’t be any doubt that this is about the Spirit’s leading—to prompt, guide, and empower God’s servants. The Spirit empowers the servants, superintends situations, and saves sinners. The servants eagerly obey his guidance to be his instruments. Then the tool, the weapon of the servants is evangelizing (proclaiming the good news) about Jesus Christ from God’s word. The actual changing of hearts is in God’s hands.
Along these lines, I have three applicational thoughts in closing.
1. It needs to be said: Our obedience to evangelize does not mean that a person will respond appropriately. Rejection is a frequent response from hardened hearts. They are not rejecting us, but God.
2. Here too is an invitation to missions: If God uses Spirit-filled Christians like Philip to reach the lost, as you yourself once were, who will go to Caesarea? Who will go to Venezuela? Who will go to Indonesia? Who will go to Morocco? Who will open their mouth to let the Spirit speak from God’s word… to your neighbor, to your sibling, to your lost co-worker?
3. Finally: Faithfulness in obedience to God makes us more sensitive to the Spirit’s leading, just as repeated patterns of sin sear our conscience, dull our sensitivity to the Spirit’s leading.
Another story from our own church family: In 2018 Jason Thompson and Rob Holland had the privilege to attend the Shepherd’s Conference at Grace Community Church in CA. There they met a man from India who was alone at the conference, so they invited him to share meals with them, etc. They became such good friends with Sukumar in such a short time; hindsight reveals this as God’s providence. Sukumar visited them here and shared his heart for pastors there in India to be better equipped for their preaching. One thing led to another and he was asking them to preach a couple of times to his church in India through a translator. They were humbled but uncertain, but they were willing to serve if this was the Spirit’s leading. In 2021, two years ago, this grew into a conference that Sukumar had invited other pastors to join, so that they could hear examples of expository preaching from God’s word. Two years later, this Friday and Saturday, it took place again, right here on this platform, with even more pastors on the other end (98 I think), and even more of our guys being invited into what God is doing.
I know Jason and Rob are greatly humbled and grateful to the Lord, and seek no credit for themselves. And the reason I am so humbled is that, well this time it felt like we, church family, were hosting. And I for one did nothing to make this happen. Nothing. The theme of this conference was “By His Doing.” Is there any question this opportunity is by God’s doing? It should humble me. It should humble us. What a God we serve!
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