Sermon for Sunday Evening, July 24th, 2022 at First Presbyterian Church at Unionville, NY (BPC)
[Act 8:26-40 ESV] 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?” 37 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.
Last time in our sermon series on Acts, I mentioned the A-B-C-B-A chiasm of Saul-Philip-Simon-Philip-Saul in chapters 8 and 9 of our text. And I gave the sermon on “Simon, Saved or Unsaved” as the center of this text. Now we move outwards in the chiasm to Philip.
And there are actually two texts here. 8:26-40 which we just read, and before that there is the brief 8:4-8 on “Philip Proclaims Christ in Samaria.”
And this is the last we hear about Philip despite one reference to the “house of Philip the evangelist” in chapter 21 of Acts.
So, who was Philip? Well, first it should be noted that there are two Philips that are especially noted in the New Testament. There is the Apostle Philip and there is Philip the Deacon.
We know that there are two Philips because in Acts 6, in the choosing of Deacons “the twelve,” that is, the Apostles (presumably including the Apostle Philip) said, “it is not right that we should give up preaching the word of God to serve tables.” Then they chose seven to be deacons. And among these seven is one Philip. The Apostle Philip was not chosen as a deacon because that would be opposed to the goal of having the Apostles freed up to preach.
So there are two Philips. But who is doing the evangelizing in Chapter 8, both to Samaria and to the Ethiopian Eunuch?
Let’s look first at the verbs:
v. 5 Philip … proclaimed to them the Christ
v. 12 Philip … preached good news about the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ.
v. 35 Philip … told him the good news about Jesus.
This is the activity of a preacher.
Then, this Philip twice performs baptisms. First, it seems, for Simon the Magician and then for the Ethiopian Eunuch.
So we have a man preaching and baptizing. This is word and sacrament ministry – the work not ordinarily of the deacon but first of the Apostles and then of the teaching elders or ministers.
None of the other seven deacons – Prochorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, Nicolas, and Stephen are ever said to have performed baptisms. Granted, Stephen does preach—or at least gives a speech— in chapter 7.
In fact, most of the book of Acts focuses on the Apostles – Paul and Peter especially. It is even called the “Acts of the Apostles.”
There is good argument then that the Philip in view here is the Apostle Philip.
But what overturns all of this argument is Acts 21:8 where Luke says that he and Paul “entered the house of Philip the evangelist, who was one of the seven, and stayed with him.”
When he says “the seven” he must be referring to the seven proto-deacons. And so we see a man who, while a deacon, is also an evangelist.
Also indicating that this is the deacon Philip and the not the Apostle, we find this Philip the Evangelist there living in Caesarea which is the same place he ended up in Chapter 8. And furthermore, 8:1 tells us that upon a persecution the church in Jerusalem was scattered about Judea and Samaria, all except the apostles. So it seems the Apostle Philip remained at that time in Jerusalem while the deacon-evangelist was out and about.
Identifying this Philip as the deacon then does present us with some issues. We have a man who is not ordained to the gospel ministry who is administering baptisms. Well, this may have been owing to extraordinary circumstances or the lack of their being an Apostle present, and there not yet being elders established in churches. Once elders are established then order sets in, and things are to be done orderly.
Or we might say that Philip IS ordained to gospel ministry, but not as an Apostle or Elder, but rather as an Evangelist. In fact, one denomination I know of, has a separate category of “Evangelist.” Having that role established, in my mind anyways, requires further study. But, with Philip as an Evangelist he would properly be preaching and administering the sacraments.
Its not clear if a church would have sent him as an Evangelist, or if he was an evangelist because, as it says in verse 26, “an angel of the Lord” sent him on his journey.
Well, what we have—whoever it is—is a man beginning to preach to the “ends of the earth,” north to Samaria, and south to Ethiopia. And he is successful. Certainly he is successful in the case of the Ethiopian Eunuch, which would fit well with my arguments previously that Simon was also a saved individual.
The Gospel is powerful, and the word of God does not return void. The nations are coming to faith.
And what does Philip preach? Nothing less than the Gospel. He doesn’t waste his time with talk of prosperity, or living your best life now, or anything else. He, like Paul preaches Christ crucified … and risen.
We see that:
He “proclaimed Christ.”
He “preached the good news about the kingdom f God and the name of Jesus Christ.”
He “told him [the eunuch] the good news about Jesus.
Gospel, gospel, gospel.
He quotes from the prophet Isaiah saying:
“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.”
Jesus fulfills this prophecy from Isaiah.
Now, some other points about this text:
Candace was actually not a personal name but a title given to various Ethiopian queens. The queen at this time, after Christ’s death up to 41 AD had the lengthy name Amanitaraqide.
The important of this man being from Ethiopia is that he “rejoicing” probably went back to Ethiopia, as one of the first, if not the first, to proclaim the Gospel in that land, a land ever since which became historical Christian. The gospel was successful in Ethiopia. And, having myself preached recently on joy in the Lord, I would be amiss not to point out the joy that this man had upon his conversion, upon his knowledge of forgiveness in Jesus Christ. The Kingdom had come. There is great joy.
That this eunuch had been to Jerusalem to worship at the temple shows that there was some knowledge of God even as far as Ethiopia. But the knowledge of Jesus Christ was unknown to the eunuch until Philip preached to him. This shows the importance of preaching. “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!”
Some might think that this passage about “going down to the water” and coming back up again is a proof of baptism by immersion, but it is not such at all. The rivers, the ponds, etc. were naturally down. Water finds the low point, and so to get to it one has to go down. The passage says THEY came UP together. Philip presumably had already been baptized. He was doing the baptism. He did not submerge himself in the water and then come up, but merely went down towards the water and came up again from that location. Ultimately from this passage alone, one cannot determine the ancient mode of baptism.
There are a number of other things that should be mentioned on this passage.
First, we see that preaching was occurring AS the followers of Jesus Christ was fleeing from persecution. How often it is that the best Gospel work is done during persecution. And the Lord uses persecution to spread the Gospel. It is often the chosen way of dispersing those who would proclaim the good news.
Then, also, we see that God sends evangelists to preach to individual people as well as groups. All of this work – for Philip, and the sending of an angel, and the recording in the Scriptures is for the salvation of one man; an Ethiopian eunuch.
Then also, we see that God converts this man IN THE MIDDLE OF THE DESERT. He will go to whatever length necessary to accomplish His ends. The Lord will do it. And it is done by one on one evangelism. One preacher, one hearer. It is not always in a group setting. And it is not always in a city. It may be in the desert, in the mountains, wherever the Lord see fits.
Now finally, I want to emphasize this point: Preaching is necessary. Just “showing people the gospel” is not enough. We tend to think we can get away with not preaching. We can just “show” the gospel. This is not so. While we are called to show hospitality and present all the virtues of the Christian faith, the preaching of the word is absolutely necessary. The word must be heard. And so God sends evangelists. And the word gets to the people. And the people believe. And they have joy.
Philip opened his mouth. He preached Christ.
We should do the same.
Philip was not finished when he preached to this one man. He continued preaching throughout all the towns along the coast of Israel. And if the trend continued, he had success there as he had success in Samaria and with the Ethiopian Eunuch. The gospel was proclaimed and people believed and were saved. Praise be to God.