30 Years That Changed The World
Acts for today...
Week 5: An Encounter with Christ
Read Acts chapter 8
Philip and the Ethiopian
Philip is supernaturally commissioned to meet an Ethiopian, to witness to him. Conversion and baptism follow his presentation of the Good News.
Have you ever tried eating prunes after strawberries and cream? After Samaria with its enthusiastic crowds, the call south must have seemed a tasteless anti-climax. The excitement seemed far away as Philip started off on a lonely trek into the desert, for what was to be the conversation of one man only! But we can find a parallel between this occasion and millions of other instances when a man or woman has encountered, through a conversation, the living Christ.
· Share your testimony with member of the group as to how you first encountered the living Christ. Was it at a big evangelistic rally, or was it through a one-to-one conversation with a friend?
Fresh from the excitement of the crowds in Samaria Philip is now given a divine assignment to an individual. It is about fifty miles from Jerusalem to Gaza, and the road runs through desert as it heads south, reaching the City of Gaza Itself (verse 26).
As he travels, Philip meets up with an African from the South Sahara (Sudan?) who turns out to be chancellor of the exchequer for Candace, (a title not a name) ruler of Ethiopia (verse 27a). He is a 'eunuch' (though probably this is an official title, not a physical description, denoting the removal of his sexual organs) and must have been a convert to Judaism, because he has been up to Jerusalem to worship (verse 27b) and he has obtained a copy of Isaiah (verse 28) - both would be extremely difficult for a Gentile. (Besides, Luke views Cornelius as the first gentile convert, 11:1.)
Prompted by the Holy Spirit (verse 29) Philip approaches this high-ranking official and starts chatting about the book the Ethiopian seems to be about two thirds of the way through. 'Do you understand Isaiah 53:7, 8?', Philip asks (verse 30). 'No, but climb in and tell me about it' he replies (verse 31). This important man is gracious and humble, obviously ready to learn, so Philip uses Isaiah to point the way to Jesus. Stephen has already used the Old Testament to the same effect with a crowd (the Council); now Philip uses the same technique with an individual (verse 35). Jesus is the key to understanding the Old Testament Scriptures; they, in turn, point forward to His coming.
The message of Philip is obviously heard and understood, and baptism is requested when he sees an oasis by the side of the road (verse 36). After the baptism Philip disappears (adding a supernatural ending (verse 39) to a story with a supernatural start - verse 26) and continues his preaching ministry to the north in Azotus.
From there he travels north, evangelising coastal towns on the sixty mile journey to Caesarea (verse 40). The Ethiopian can no longer see Philip but he can 'see' Jesus! He returns to Africa 'rejoicing' (verse 39) in his newly found faith.
The gospel makes another advance: first the Jews, then the Samaritans, now a black African in a position of great influence. Jesus certainly died (see verses 32, 33) but he is not dead - His power and message continue to change lives.
Questions to consider
1. Notice the three divine 'nudges' Philip got in this story (verses 26, 29, 39). Why is it important to be sensitive to the Holy Spirit in evangelism? How can we learn to listen to Him as we witness? Share with the group the times you have felt ‘nudged’ by the Holy Spirit and to what effect.
2. How did God pave the way for His message? What is the relationship between divine preparation and human initiative in this story?
3. Isaiah was talking about Jesus (verse 34) and so was Philip (verse 35). Who are we talking about in our day-to-day conversations? Does Jesus feature strongly in our conversations and lives?
4. So far, what has been the effect of Stephen’s death upon Philip and upon the Church as a whole?
5. From the way God sets up opportunities to witness to the Gospel (vv26-40; 2:5-14; 3:6-16), how does that free you from fears you may have about evangelism?
6. Would you know the Bible well enough to address the eunuch’s questions? How can you grow in faith so you will be prepared for similar opportunities?
Bob Kiteley, 18/06/2013