My Life Group lesson for May 1, 2016, using Lifeway's "Explore the Bible" commentary as a guide ...
Growing up, what’s the most disobedient thing you’ve done?
Or, what have your own kids done?
What makes us disobey? What keeps us from doing so more often?
Today we’re going to learn about a time when God used the obedience of Philip to lead an Ethiopian to touch the life of someone with the gospel.
UNDERSTAND THE CONTEXT
*** In Acts chapter 7 Stephen is stoned and becomes the first Christian martyr.
*** As Acts chapter 8 begins, persecution of believers becomes widespread. Believers were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria as Saul began dragging men and women to prison.
(Another way to think about it: Jesus said that the Word had to spread around the region and then the world, but so far the apostles and believers were hanging out near Jerusalem. Without the killing of Stephen and the persecution of Christians the Gospel wouldn't have traveled far and wide as quickly.)
*** Instead of hiding, "Those who were scattered preached the word wherever then went," (v. 4) including Philip, who first went to Samaria and preached and performed signs and miracles.
--- The fact that Philip chose to go to Samaria to preach was a big deal. To put it lightly, the Jews were not fans of the Samaritans. This had been going on for hundreds of years, since the northern kingdom fell to the Assyrians. But Jesus specifically told followers to carry the gospel to them before He ascended. (Acts 1:8)
--- While he was in Samaria, Philip encountered a magician named Simon who was jealous of Philip’s supernatural power to heal. Philip credited the Holy Spirit. Simon even made a profession of faith. But when Simon offered to purchase the power of the Holy Spirit, Peter severely rebuked him and declared him to be still in the bondage of sin. Simon asked to be forgiven and requested that Peter pray for him.
COMPELLED TO SEEK (Acts 8:26-29)
26 An angel of the Lord spoke to Philip: “Get up and go south to the road that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.” (This is the desert road.) 27 So he got up and went. There was an Ethiopian man, a eunuch and high official of Candace, queen of the Ethiopians, who was in charge of her entire treasury. He had come to worship in Jerusalem 28 and was sitting in his chariot on his way home, reading the prophet Isaiah aloud. 29 The Spirit told Philip, “Go and join that chariot.”
*** On the road again.
--- Philip was in Samaria when an angel told him to pack up and head about 16 miles south to Gaza, once one of the five principal cities of ancient Philistia (see 1 Sam. 6:17). It was a coastal town located about three miles inland from the Mediterranean Sea. In Philip’s day it marked the location of the last oasis on the road leading south to Egypt.
--- Philip immediately obeys and heads south.
*** Ethiopia? You mean that poor place with the starving kids?
--- That’s pretty much the stereotype today, but the area has a rich history related to Israel.
--- Although, we’re talking about what’s called the Cush region in the Old Testament (named after one of Noah’s grandsons; Moses’ wife was a “Cushite woman”), also known as the kingdom of Nubia, south of Egypt and not quite where we find the Ethiopia of today.
--- Candace was not the personal name but the title of the queen (as “Pharaoh” was the title of Egyptian rulers).
*** What’s a “eunuch?”
--- This word refers to either a castrated man who oversaw royal harems (hence the emasculation) (Esther 2:3) and later important government officials. In this case, the Ethiopian was in charge of the royal treasury and therefore a high official.
--- He traveled by chariot, indicating his importance.
*** Reading from Isaiah.
--- The Ethiopian went to Jerusalem to worship, so he feared God.
--- As he went by Philip he was reading from the book of Isaiah.
--- The Holy Spirit tugged at Philip and told him to join him.
--- The Holy Spirit gave Philip a clear call to seek an opportunity to share the gospel. Opportunities to share the gospel are all around us. We need to be sensitive to the Spirit’s call and the situations in which we find ourselves, as well as being open to share at any moment.
An angel told Philip where to go, but it was up to Philip to actually do it. (Proverbs 16:3 – “Commit your activities to the LORD, and your plans will be achieved.”)
*** When has the Holy Spirit ever tugged at you to do something in the service of God? Did you obey? (Did you find that God had already laid it out for you as he did for Philip?)
PREPARED TO SHARE (Acts 8:30-31,35)
30 When Philip ran up to it, he heard him reading the prophet Isaiah, and said, “Do you understand what you’re reading?” 31 “How can I,” he said, “unless someone guides me?” So he invited Philip to come up and sit with him. […] 35 So Philip proceeded to tell him the good news about Jesus, beginning from that Scripture.
*** Wait for me!
--- In obedience, Philip runs to the Ethiopian.
--- The eunuch says he can’t understand who the passage he’s reading is about.
--- The verses from Isaiah that the Ethiopian was trying to understand was Isaiah chapter 53, specifically verses 7 and 8 that refer to the suffering and sacrifice of the coming Messiah:
“He was led like a sheep to the slaughter, and as a lamb is silent before its shearer, so He does not open His mouth. 33 In His humiliation justice was denied Him. Who will describe His generation? For His life is taken from the earth.”
--- How perfect was that? It’s like the ball was already teed up and Philip just needed to swing away.
“Oh, you want me to explain the chapter in the Old Testament that most directly points to Jesus as our Savior? Absolutely!”
(If the Ethiopian had been reading the passage about the Lord’s mercy to eunuchs (Is. 56:3–5; cf. Deut. 23:1), it would have been natural for him also to read Is. 53.)
--- Since Philip knew the Scriptures, he was equipped to share his faith. You don’t need formal training in ministry, but knowing the Word makes it a lot easier to be used.
--- This is why it’s so important that we know the Bible, so that when the chance comes, we are ready to connect the dots for the lost. Today, especially, a lot of people know next to nothing about what’s actually in the Bible.
--- Philip was able to point out to the Ethiopian how this passage connects to Jesus, and in fact, how the entire Bible points to Him.
*** Question - What different approaches have you used or seen in sharing the gospel with people from differing religious or cultural backgrounds?
FOCUSED ON SALVATION (Acts 8:38-39)
38 Then he ordered the chariot to stop, and both Philip and the eunuch went down into the water, and he baptized him. 39 When they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord carried Philip away, and the eunuch did not see him any longer. But he went on his way rejoicing.
*** The Holy Ghost dip.
--- Not only did God plan this out for Philip to run into the Ethiopian on the road to Gaza, but God did so knowing that even in this desert region they’d have a random pond or lake nearby for baptism.
--- The Lord commands a public confession of faith in Jesus as our Savior, and baptism by immersion is the way to follow that up.
(Not sprinkling or pouring water on your head. The Greek verb here refers to immersion of ships, and the fact that Philip used a lake here and not water on the chariot is telling.)
--- Paul would later write that the symbolism of baptism depicts our death, burial, and resurrection through faith in Christ (Rom. 6:3-4).
--- After the baptism Philip was “carried away,” and the Greek verb does suggest a literal supernatural transportation. Philip had other things to do, and right away!
--- Jesus said to proclaim his Word to ALL people to the ends of the earth. God used Philip to reach this Ethiopian, who as an important official would share the good news of the gospel with all others and watch Christianity spread beyond the Middle East and Roman Empire.
--- The Ethiopian went away rejoicing! Conversion and baptism are joyous instances that should be celebrated! Rejoicing is the only appropriate response to finding salvation in Christ.
*** What was your experience after salvation and baptism?
Just as Philip had to be obedient in the direction that the Lord was leading him to share the gospel, so also the Ethiopian would be challenged to demonstrate his obedience in the practice of baptism.
There are people whom God has placed in our path so that we can share the good news with them.
There are a lot of barriers to overcome to share Jesus with others. Use Philip’s example in how to overcome these barriers.
*** We must be constantly ready to share the gospel and provide an opportunity for those with whom we are sharing to respond.
*** We must also be sensitive to the Spirit’s work in all situations and allow the Spirit to lead us in our sharing.
*** Conversion and baptism are joyous instances that should be celebrated! Rejoicing is the only appropriate response to finding salvation in Christ.