Expositor's Dictionary of Texts
And Saul was consenting unto his death. And at that time there was a great persecution against the church which was at Jerusalem; and they were all scattered abroad throughout the regions of Judaea and Samaria, except the apostles.A Story of Conversion
Acts 8:27, etc.
Philip the deacon was one of the most active Evangelists. Only one or two scenes in his obedient and strenuous career find a place in the panorama of Acts; but these make it clear that he was a man of whom, had there been space enough, the New Testament might well have told us a great deal more.
I like the hopefulness of Philip, as he advances to his new task. Remember, he had just been imposed upon by a bad man at Samaria, when Simon the Sorcerer, a kind of false Christ, had tried to buy the Holy Spirit. That was a bitterly disappointing case, yet Philip went on evangelising just the same. He would not throw up his mission in disgust, because Simon had turned out a sham; here he is, a few days later, guiding an earnest man to the Redeemer.
I. The eunuch for whose help Philip had come was seeking God. He was not by birth a member of the Jewish race; but by choice he had become, so to speak, an associate-member; or, in more technical language, a proselyte And now on his way home he held open before him the scroll of the Prophet Isaiah, and was reading it attentively. In the circumstances nothing was more natural than for Philip, the lonely traveller, to join the larger caravan; and, as he moved close up to the chariot, he heard the treasurer reading—reading aloud, as the Eastern way is—reading that deep and moving lyric of vicarious sorrow, the fifty-third chapter, which delineates the sufferings of the Servant of the Lord. How the scene stands out!—the patient earnest-faced reader, with lines of perplexity on his brow, as he cons the verses over and over again; and near by, keeping pace with the wheels, biding his time, Philip, the man of wise counsel and big heart, Christ's true preacher and ambassador.
II. The eunuch had no sooner got Philip seated at his side, than he began to ply him with questions about salvation. How afraid we all are of religious talk! How we pride ourselves on our reserve, and how ready we are to freeze up any warm, eager soul who is not quite so taciturn as we are! There was an Indian gentleman who once came to this country because he had been filled with an insatiable desire to learn all he could about immortality, and he supposed people in England could tell him something. He went to London, and to his neighbour at table one evening he said: 'I should like to know what you think about immortality'. He received the answer, 'Ah! in this country we don't talk about these subjects at dinner'; and that was the end. I wonder what you would or could say, if at any time some one who really meant it were to ask you, 'What must I do to be saved?' Could you put the matter in a few plain words? Could you speak as one man to another? And could you speak in the tone of one who is passing on the Gospel that has first redeemed himself?
III. It was the fifty-third chapter of Isaiah that Philip made his text that day. It is one of the holiest spots in all the Bible, at which a great multitude of souls have found God. We, as we read it, feel the wondrous tenderness and power with which it portrays Christ's sacrifice, and all the virtue of His redeeming sympathy. Just then the Ethiopian knew nothing of all that: yet he, too, was melted and subdued by the picture of the Man of Sorrows. He read once more the description of the great Sin-bearer—the verses in which it is clearly predicated of Him that His greatness is the result of His being, not the founder of a new school of thought, or the leader of a social reformation, nor even possessed of personal saintliness, but of His being a Sufferer. And in view of this description, so moving in its mystery, he asked the question, going right to the heart of things: Of whom speaketh the prophet this? Yes; the question for religious faith, the question best worth asking, and the answer to which answers at the same time all the others, is just that which confronts us here: Who is the Bearer of human sin?
It was a great Gospel text; none better could have offered, in all the Old Testament; and Philip was not the man to miss the opportunity. So he took the other where he found him, and from that spot led him on. No Christian worker can miss the lesson. Accept people just where they are; and seek the path that leads to Christ precisely from where they stand.
IV. On the swift conversion followed, as swiftly, an eager confession of new faith. For acts of trust have sequels. Everywhere in that day, of course, as in heathenism still, the obvious and natural mode in which a man could signify his personal belief in Jesus was an open and deliberate submission to the rite of baptism. None of the elements of publicity were lacking now; one can see the officers and servants of the retinue crowding round to watch and comment and remember. In some pool or streamlet by the wayside, then, the sacrament took place, and the new disciple took the words of Christian confession on his lips.
V. Then, when they were come up out of the water, 'the eunuch went on his way rejoicing. He had found Jesus Christ, and realised Christ's personal love for him; and depend upon it, whatever else he understood of Christian doctrine, he knew this, that Christ had become his inseparable companion for ever and for ever. Far away in distant Ethiopia he would never feel forsaken or bewildered any more, for the great secret was now his. That touch on the hem of Jesus's garment had made him whole. And therefore, as he went his way back into the heathen darkness, perhaps to meet a cruel fate, it was with a soul made brave and glad by the presence that solves all difficulties and satisfies all hearts.
—H. R. Mackintosh, Life on God's Plan, p. 102
References.—VIII. 28-32.—Expositor (6th Series), vol. v. p. 55. VIII. 29.—F. D. Maurice, The Acts of the Apostles, p. 110. VIII. 30, 31.—E. W. Attwood, Sermons for Clergy and Laity, p. 92. J. Baines, Sermons, p. 241. VIII. 30-33.—Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxx. No. 1792. VIII. 31.—J. M. Neale, Sermons Preached in Sackville College Chapel, vol. ii. p. 125. VIII. 33.—Expositor (4th Series), vol. iii. p. 121.
The Ethiopian Convert
Our theme is the marvellous story of the conversion of the Ethiopian eunuch. Three factors go to make up this eventful narrative.
I. The Ethiopian eunuch as the subject. He constitutes the central figure of the story. (1) Who then is he? He was an African, a swarthy descendant of Ham the father of Canaan the cursed, and by descent is connected with Nimrod, the first founder of the ungodly empires of the world (Genesis 10:6; Genesis 10:8). (2) Whence came he? He came from Ethiopia, a country called Cush in the Old Testament, including what now is known as Nubia and Abyssinia. (3) What is he? He was an eunuch. Among Oriental nations eunuchs were numerous; but in Israel they were forbidden. By a special law they were excluded from the congregation of the Lord. They were disqualified for membership in the Jewish Church. If Moses rejected them, Jesus Christ received them. His office was honourable and lucrative. 'He came to Jerusalem for to worship.' However distinguished his rank, or honourable his office, or vast his revenue, there was a conscious need within, which neither rank nor honour nor wealth could satisfy.
II. Let us glance at Philip the Chosen Instrument. Not the Apostle of that name, but Philip the Evangelist, one of the seven deacons solemnly set apart for the diaconate by prayer and the laying on of the hands of the Apostles (Acts 6:5). Philip is called 'the Evangelist,' that is, a preacher of the Gospel, a proclaimer of the good news of salvation for the lost. He was the first to proclaim the Gospel of good news outside the holy city, the first to preach that Gospel to the Samaritans. To this busy, successful Evangelist God sent an angel, to bid him leave at once his important field of toil and go to minister to this solitary Ethiopian courtier while on his homeward journey from Jerusalem. Why did not the angel go himself direct and teach the Ethiopian courtier? Why send Philip? The angel had not the requisite fitness for such a mission. God has wisely and graciously appointed men and not angels to preach to us sinners the Gospel of salvation.
III. God is the active agent, the Prime Mover in and throughout the whole of this marvellous story. (1) We see the agency of God directing him to the fifty-third chapter of Isaiah, containing explicit reference to the substitutional atoning sufferings of the Messiah. (2) We see God again working to provide a suitable agent to instruct and guide the anxious inquirer. (3) We see much of God in Philip's prompt obedience. (4) We see God again in the selection of the place where and the time when the Evangelist and the eunuch should meet.
Learn—(1) How graciously God cares for the soul that seeks Him. (2) Do not despise your mission, even if God send you only to a solitary soul. (3) The joy of the soul when it finds Jesus and His salvation.
—Richard Roberts, My Closing Ministry, p. 245.
The preachers of the cross told, indeed, of a Healer, but of a rejected Healer. They told of a houseless wanderer, of harlots and sinners, of shepherds and sowers and fishermen, of the wine-press and vinedressers, of father and mother and of family life, of marriage and festival, of the bridegroom and his friend. They spoke of suffering and of failure and of unrecognised death. Then men saw in all this something different from the bright sun-god of the Hellenes, or the fated Balder of the chivalrous North, and said with whispered breath to themselves and to each other, 'This is the God we need'.
—J. H. Shorthouse.
References.—VIII. 35.—Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxxiv. No. 2044. VIII. 36.—F. S. Webster, The Record, vol. xxvii. p. 676. VIII. 36, 37.—J. Keble, Village Sermons on the Baptismal Service, p. 154. VIII. 37.—Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xlvii. No. 2737. VIII. 39.—Archbishop Temple, Christum World Pulpit, vol. lv. p. 361. J. Keble, Sermons for the Sundays after Trinity, p. 240. R. W. Hiley, A Year's Sermons, vol. iii. p. 264. A. Maclaren, The Wearied Christ, p. 212. VIII. 40.—Ibid. p. 42.
And devout men carried Stephen to his burial, and made great lamentation over him.
As for Saul, he made havock of the church, entering into every house, and haling men and women committed them to prison.
Therefore they that were scattered abroad went every where preaching the word.
Then Philip went down to the city of Samaria, and preached Christ unto them.
And the people with one accord gave heed unto those things which Philip spake, hearing and seeing the miracles which he did.
For unclean spirits, crying with loud voice, came out of many that were possessed with them: and many taken with palsies, and that were lame, were healed.
And there was great joy in that city.
But there was a certain man, called Simon, which beforetime in the same city used sorcery, and bewitched the people of Samaria, giving out that himself was some great one:
To whom they all gave heed, from the least to the greatest, saying, This man is the great power of God.
And to him they had regard, because that of long time he had bewitched them with sorceries.
But when they believed Philip preaching the things concerning the kingdom of God, and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and women.
Then Simon himself believed also: and when he was baptized, he continued with Philip, and wondered, beholding the miracles and signs which were done.
Now when the apostles which were at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent unto them Peter and John:
Who, when they were come down, prayed for them, that they might receive the Holy Ghost:
(For as yet he was fallen upon none of them: only they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus.)
Then laid they their hands on them, and they received the Holy Ghost.
And when Simon saw that through laying on of the apostles' hands the Holy Ghost was given, he offered them money,
Saying, Give me also this power, that on whomsoever I lay hands, he may receive the Holy Ghost.
But Peter said unto him, Thy money perish with thee, because thou hast thought that the gift of God may be purchased with money.
Thou hast neither part nor lot in this matter: for thy heart is not right in the sight of God.
Repent therefore of this thy wickedness, and pray God, if perhaps the thought of thine heart may be forgiven thee.
For I perceive that thou art in the gall of bitterness, and in the bond of iniquity.
Then answered Simon, and said, Pray ye to the Lord for me, that none of these things which ye have spoken come upon me.
And they, when they had testified and preached the word of the Lord, returned to Jerusalem, and preached the gospel in many villages of the Samaritans.
And the angel of the Lord spake unto Philip, saying, Arise, and go toward the south unto the way that goeth down from Jerusalem unto Gaza, which is desert.
And he arose and went: and, behold, a man of Ethiopia, an eunuch of great authority under Candace queen of the Ethiopians, who had the charge of all her treasure, and had come to Jerusalem for to worship,
Was returning, and sitting in his chariot read Esaias the prophet.
Then the Spirit said unto Philip, Go near, and join thyself to this chariot.
And Philip ran thither to him, and heard him read the prophet Esaias, and said, Understandest thou what thou readest?
And he said, How can I, except some man should guide me? And he desired Philip that he would come up and sit with him.
The place of the scripture which he read was this, He was led as a sheep to the slaughter; and like a lamb dumb before his shearer, so opened he not his mouth:
In his humiliation his judgment was taken away: and who shall declare his generation? for his life is taken from the earth.
And the eunuch answered Philip, and said, I pray thee, of whom speaketh the prophet this? of himself, or of some other man?
Then Philip opened his mouth, and began at the same scripture, and preached unto him Jesus.
And as they went on their way, they came unto a certain water: and the eunuch said, See, here is water; what doth hinder me to be baptized?
And Philip said, If thou believest with all thine heart, thou mayest. And he answered and said, I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.
And he commanded the chariot to stand still: and they went down both into the water, both Philip and the eunuch; and he baptized him.
And when they were come up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord caught away Philip, that the eunuch saw him no more: and he went on his way rejoicing.
But Philip was found at Azotus: and passing through he preached in all the cities, till he came to Caesarea.