Public Reading of Scripture [Acts 8:26-40]
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
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]
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!
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.
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.
God positions with people.
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?”
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!
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:
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!