Acts 8:26-40 | "Power in Positioning"
[Acts] The Church Empowered • Sermon • Submitted • Presented
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Public Reading of Scripture [Acts 8:26-40]
Public Reading of Scripture [Acts 8:26-40]
26 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. 27 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 28 and was returning, seated in his chariot, and he was reading the prophet Isaiah. 29 And the Spirit said to Philip, “Go over and join this chariot.” 30 So Philip ran to him and heard him reading Isaiah the prophet and asked, “Do you understand what you are reading?” 31 And he said, “How can I, unless someone guides me?” And he invited Philip to come up and sit with him. 32 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. 33 In his humiliation justice was denied him. Who can describe his generation? For his life is taken away from the earth.” 34 And the eunuch said to Philip, “About whom, I ask you, does the prophet say this, about himself or about someone else?” 35 Then Philip opened his mouth, and beginning with this Scripture he told him the good news about Jesus. 36 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?” 38 And he commanded the chariot to stop, and they both went down into the water, Philip and the eunuch, and he baptized him. 39 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. 40 But Philip found himself at Azotus, and as he passed through he preached the gospel to all the towns until he came to Caesarea.
Introduction to Theme
Introduction to Theme
If you have ever been surprised with a good fortune that you did not expect, you may have explained it like this: “I was in the right place, at the right time.”
By chance, we may happen to find ourselves in the right places, at the right times, but God is revealed to us in His Word as a sovereign God who positions his people to be in the right places at the right times to accomplish His purposes! Not by chance, but by design!
Not “divine appointments,” but “divine positioning.”
The earth contains about 57 million square miles of land, being one planet among several that orbits one star in one galaxy in one universe that contains billions and even trillions of other galaxies, with each galaxies boasting a few hundred million other stars.
That you and I can be gathered together in this same space, at this same time, is not a chance. God has positioned us here for this moment, for a purpose.
God is positioning people in Acts to accomplish His mission of empowering witnesses for Jesus in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and to the end of the earth (Acts 1:8).
Introduction to Text
Introduction to Text
Acts chapter eight begins with a brief reference to a man named Saul, giving approval of Stephen’s execution.
Stephen was one of the seven men, full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom, chosen to serve tables in the early church. He was empowered by the Holy Spirit to perform great wonders and signs among the people, and he was arrested and brought before the council because of it.
There, before the council of the Jews, Stephen presented a defense of the faith and preached the truth of Jesus with such power, accuracy, boldness and conviction that it angered the council and they stoned Stephen to death.
On that day, Acts 8:1 tells us, a great persecution arose against the church in Jerusalem, and the disciples were scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria.
Persecution forced the church to scatter. But as the believers scattered, they went about preaching the word (Acts 8:4).
Once again the Scriptures remind us that what man means for evil, God means for good (Genesis 50:20). The same events that resulted in believers being persecuted, arrested, imprisoned and even killed, are the same events that at the same time, caused the word to be scattered and the nations to hear and believe the good news about Jesus!
We are introduced to a man named Philip. Like Stephen, Phillip was also one of the seven men chosen to serve tables, and he scattered to a city of Samaria and proclaimed Christ to them (Acts 8:5). As a result, the Scriptures tell us there was much joy in that city of Samaria at the message Philip preached to them (Acts 8:8).
Even a man named Simon, a magician in the city, believed Philip’s message about Jesus, and learns that the power of God through the Holy Spirit is a gift from God that cannot be bought!
Jerusalem hears the gospel of Jesus. Judea hears the gospel of Jesus. Now, through the preaching of Philip, Samaria hears the gospel of Jesus, and God is about to position Philip to begin the advancement of the gospel to the ends of the earth!
I. God positions in places [Acts 8:26-28]
I. God positions in places [Acts 8:26-28]
26 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.
The Lord is acting through his angel to position Philip by guiding him to a specific place - a desert place.
This command is, as Craig Keener calls it, an “absurd command,” of which there are many in the book of Acts and throughout Scripture. It is a command from God that doesn’t make sense. Why rise, and go south to a desert place? That is an odd instruction without any explanation! This is a command that requires faith to obey. (Keener, Acts, 1546).
Walking with God means obeying God even if you don’t have an explanation of what God is doing.
Faith does not require God to explain himself! Faith does not require that God give us a blueprint with every detail of his plan. Faith says, “Wherever you lead, I will go.” Faith trusts that when I get where God is leading, God will be present in that moment too!
In response to the Lord’s command to “rise and go” through His angel, Acts 8:27 tells us Philip “rose and went.”
Philip has faith in the guidance of God to obey, even when God’s command doesn’t make sense, and the outcome is not fully developed.
Not every person in Scripture has had such faith. Echoes of Jonah’s disobedience still ring throughout the pages of the Bible.
The word of the LORD came to Jonah saying, “Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and call out against it…But Jonah rose to flee from the presence of the Lord” (Jonah 1:2-3) and did the opposite of what God asked him to do.
Philip’s obedience joins the rebuke of Jonah for his disobedience, and reminds us all to trust and obey!
27 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 28 and was returning, seated in his chariot, and he was reading the prophet Isaiah.
This was a desert place, but it was not an empty place. From this desert the Lord heard the reading of his word and knew that an Ethiopian was seeking answers.
Ethiopia was spoken of as “the ends of the earth” in this day. An “Ethiopian” was anyone who lived in Africa south of Egypt.
This Ethiopian happened to be a eunuch. That is, he was forced into a predicament that changed him, humiliated him, and left him unable to have children.
Eunuchs were often employed in high offices having close proximity to rulers. Such was the case with this Ethiopian. He was a court official of Candace, queen of the Ethiopians, in charge of all her treasury.
This eunuch happened to be a worshiper of the God of the Jews, and had come to worship in Jerusalem. But being a eunuch as he was, with his condition as it was, his worship was hindered, because the law of Moses prohibited him from entering the assembly of the LORD as a eunuch (Deut. 23:1).
As with others in Scripture, he joins a long list of people who are not given a name, but are only identified by their lot in life, by a title, a position, an illness, or a barrier keeping them from the Lord. He is referred to as the “eunuch” five times in this passage!
Returning from this worship in Jerusalem, this man is in the desert, sitting in his chariot, reading the prophet Isaiah. The word for “reading” indicates he was reading Isaiah out loud.
And God heard him, even in the desert. And for a second time in this text, God acts.
II. God positions with people.
II. God positions with people.
29 And the Spirit said to Philip, “Go over and join this chariot.” 30 So Philip ran to him and heard him reading Isaiah the prophet and asked, “Do you understand what you are reading?”
Notice that the Spirit of God is not guiding Philip’s every step and word, but simply guiding Philip to position him at the right place at the right time for his next instruction. Step by step, that is how we walk with the Lord!
Don’t judge whether or not the Lord is leading you to do something based on the quantity of details the Lord provides. That is not a good measurement or test of God’s leading. A measurement of God’s leading is always obedience.
It was after Philip obeyed in rising and going, that he was positioned to see a chariot. When Philip saw the chariot, it was then that the Spirit gave Philip a second instruction, a next step.
Some of you may be wondering if the Lord is leading you to join this local church. You may be jumping ahead of God with that question! First obey and get here, and once you are here, God will reveal to you what he wants you to do next.
When God guides, he may not give you every detail — every who, what, when, where, why and how. He may simply position you where you need to be when you need to be there to accomplish what he wants for you!
It was obvious for Philip. He heard the Ethiopian reading Isaiah out loud! He did not need the Spirit to tell him what to do next. The Spirit had already equipped Philip for the work of testifying about the gospel of Jesus Christ!
So Philip asks the Ethiopian: “Do you understand what you are reading?”
31 And he said, “How can I, unless someone guides me?” And he invited Philip to come up and sit with him.
It is possible this Ethiopian knew Hebrew and was reading from a Hebrew scroll, but it is more likely he knew Greek with many other languages, from his role as an overseer of his country’s treasury, and was reading the Old Testament in the Greek language.
The Greek language that God inspired His Word to be preserved in was common Greek — the Greek used in receipts and everyday use.
God positioned the coming of Jesus at such a time in history, so that the testimony of Jesus would be preserved not in a language for a few or elite, but in a language for the common people. In a language that even an Ethiopian, familiar with the Greek language through his work in the treasury, would be able to read and understand.
But understanding words does not equate to understanding the message or meaning.
When it involves understanding the meaning of God’s word, we need a guide!
14 The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned.
This is why there are people that do not believe God yet have read through the Bible cover to cover. Reading God’s Word alone will not save you. Believing in the One whom this Word is about will! For that you need understanding, from God.
This Ethiopian needed a guide to understand who he was reading about. So the Spirit sent him a guide.
This Ethiopian was lacking understanding because he was lacking Jesus! You must have Jesus to understand the Scriptures, especially the Old Testament that he was reading!
After his resurrection, Jesus said to a couple of his disciples:
25 And he said to them, “O foolish and slow in heart to believe in all that the prophets have spoken! 26 Was it not necessary that the Christ suffer these things and enter into his glory?” 27 And beginning from Moses and from all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things concerning himself in all the scriptures.
44 And he said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything that is written about me in the law of Moses and the prophets and psalms must be fulfilled.” 45 Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures, 46 and said to them, “Thus it is written that the Christ would suffer and would rise from the dead on the third day, 47 and repentance and the forgiveness of sins would be proclaimed in his name to all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem.
Jesus is the key to understanding God’s word! All of the Scriptures point to Jesus, and all of the Scriptures explain to us God’s plan of salvation through Jesus who suffered on the cross, died, and was raised from the dead for the forgiveness of sins!
32 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. 33 In his humiliation justice was denied him. Who can describe his generation? For his life is taken away from the earth.”
As the story unfolds in Acts 8, this quotation from Isaiah 53 forms the center of activity in this passage (see Keener, chaismus). Just as the work of God in Jesus is the central focus of the Scriptures.
Not only did God position Philip in the right place, to see a chariot, and instruct Philip to join the chariot, but God did all of this at an exact moment in time when this Ethiopian was reading from Isaiah 53, a Messianic text speaking about the work of the Messiah — but he doesn’t know that yet!
All he knows, is that the person Isaiah is writing about, was like a sheep led to slaughter. Like a lamb before its shearer — he was silent. He was humiliated. He was denied justice. He was innocent. He was treated wrongly. And his life was taken away from the earth.
And certainly, as a eunuch, this Ethiopian understands what it means to be humiliated. To not be able to carry on his name into future generations. Forced to suffer unjustly to serve another. Unable, per the law of Moses, to worship the Lord in the assembly because of his condition.
Eunuchs were looked down upon. They were despised. “A eunuch was reckoned such a bad omen that a superstitious person seeing one might retrace his steps and restart his day to evade back luck” (Keener, Acts, 1569). Having an official title was honorable, but being a eunuch was not (see Keener, Acts, 1569). Even high-ranking officials suffered a stigma for being a eunuch (Keener, Acts, 1571).
And yet here is a eunuch reading about another person who understands what kind of humiliation and injustice he himself experiences.
34 And the eunuch said to Philip, “About whom, I ask you, does the prophet say this, about himself or about someone else?”
With this question the eunuch opens the door for Philip to explain that this Scripture was fulfilled in Jesus.
35 Then Philip opened his mouth, and beginning with this Scripture he told him the good news about Jesus.
That word “good news” or “gospel” is used many times throughout the Scriptures, but here it is a special usage, because here the “good news” about Jesus is clearly contrasted with a text that is full of “bad news.”
Isaiah 53 is a chapter of Scripture that describes the “Suffering Servant.” It talks about the suffering of the Messiah, how he was despised, rejected, a man of sorrows, acquainted with grief, one from whom men hide their faces, being despised, humiliated, oppressed, afflicted, being cut off from the land of the living, stricken for the transgression of God’s people…crushed by God (Is 53).
How is that good news?
Acts chapter 8 does not tell us everything that Philip said, but it says Philip began with this Scripture. Philip began where this man was at. God positioned Philip in such a way where Philip could preach Jesus from where the eunuch was at, a text that the eunuch could identify with.
As we are witnessing for Jesus, may the Lord give us eyes to see where people are at, and to start there.
15 For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.
Jesus knows where you are and what you are experiencing. And God is able to get you to Jesus from right where you are! In the midst of what you are experiencing. And that is the good news!
That Jesus suffered, and Jesus died, but God raised Jesus from the dead! And God is able to redeem your suffering and offers you salvation and forgiveness and a new life in the resurrected Christ!
36 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?”
Once again God positions the chariot after Philip’s gospel presentation to be near water in a desert! And the eunuch receives and believes the good news about Jesus because he asks to be baptized!
And the way he asks is important — he says, “What prevents me from being baptized?” What hinders me? What is keeping me from this?
I was kept from worshiping in the assembly by the law. But what about this grace offered in Jesus Christ? What about this grace that flows from a cross? Is there now a barrier to me, preventing me from identifying with Jesus and enjoying His salvation and worshiping God in His name? Am I still to remain unclean by the law? Or may I be washed, may I be sanctified, may I be justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God? (See 1 Cor 6:11)?
38 And he commanded the chariot to stop, and they both went down into the water, Philip and the eunuch, and he baptized him. 39 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. 40 But Philip found himself at Azotus, and as he passed through he preached the gospel to all the towns until he came to Caesarea.
III. God positions for a purpose.
III. God positions for a purpose.
This passage records God acting a third time, in the Spirit of the Lord carrying Philip away. A way of saying “mission accomplished”!
God guided Philip to the Ethiopian.
Philip guided the Ethiopian to Jesus.
The Ethiopian went his way rejoicing, and the Spirit carried Philip on his way, preaching the gospel as he went to all the towns until he came to Caesarea.
It will be in Caesarea that Philip will be found some twenty years later in Act 21:8, and in that text Luke calls Phillip “the evangelist.”
Philip evangelized to crowds in Samaria, and Philip even practiced personal evangelism, one on one, with this Ethiopian eunuch, and everywhere he went as the Spirit guided him.
Others who wrote in this time period report that the Ethiopian became a missionary for Jesus in Ethiopia, thus spreading the word of God further to the end of the earth!
God is revealed to us in His Word as a sovereign God who positions his people to be in the right places at the right times to accomplish His purposes! Not by chance, but by design! Not “divine appointments,” but “divine positioning.” That is how God works!
And without a doubt, God has positioned each of us here for this moment. Perhaps God has not revealed to you why you were to come this morning, but he is making his next step clear now.
What is the Spirit instructing you to do? Has he brought someone to your mind that you need to tell about Jesus without delay? Has he brought to your mind something you need to do? Does he want you to join this fellowship of believers on mission for Jesus? Does he want you to be baptized? Or to follow Jesus in repentance and faith unto salvation?
We cannot glorify and enjoy God when we are not positioned in God's will or accomplishing God's work. Only in Jesus are we positioned in God’s will for his work. Will you obey the Spirit’s leading?
As the eunuch rejoiced on his way, when he returned to reading Isaiah, he would very soon finish Isaiah 53, and make his way to Isaiah 56, where the Lord positioned these words for him to read:
3 Let not the foreigner who has joined himself to the Lord say, “The Lord will surely separate me from his people”; and let not the eunuch say, “Behold, I am a dry tree.” 4 For thus says the Lord: “To the eunuchs who keep my Sabbaths, who choose the things that please me and hold fast my covenant, 5 I will give in my house and within my walls a monument and a name better than sons and daughters; I will give them an everlasting name that shall not be cut off. 6 “And the foreigners who join themselves to the Lord, to minister to him, to love the name of the Lord, and to be his servants, everyone who keeps the Sabbath and does not profane it, and holds fast my covenant— 7 these I will bring to my holy mountain, and make them joyful in my house of prayer; their burnt offerings and their sacrifices will be accepted on my altar; for my house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples.” 8 The Lord God, who gathers the outcasts of Israel, declares, “I will gather yet others to him besides those already gathered.”
This Ethiopian was a eunuch serving the kingdom of Candace, but now, because of Jesus, he is a eunuch serving the everlasting Kingdom of God! In the name of Jesus!