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Philip, the Evangelist


Philip and the Ethiopian

by Dennis Pollock

In the New Testament we read of two different men named Philip. The first Philip was one of the twelve original apostles chosen by Jesus. The second Philip was a young man who appears in the Book of Acts. Although we might expect that the apostle Philip would get the most Biblical press, in truth we hear very little of him. It is the second Philip, the one who figures prominently in the Book of Acts, who gets the most attention in the Holy Scriptures.

This second Philip first appears in the sixth chapter of Acts, at a time when the early church is experiencing some controversy over how the church widows are being treated. It would seem that the Hellenistic-Jewish widows were being neglected, and the Jewish widows being shown preference in the daily distribution of food. Because of the resulting complaints, the apostles decided to choose seven men to oversee the food distribution program, and to make sure that all the widows were treated equally. As Luke lists the seven men who had been chosen, two of the men stand out. Stephen was the man who was said to be “full of faith and the Holy Spirit,” and went on to a brilliant but brief evangelistic ministry. He was killed by stoning in the prime of his ministry, but his powerful preaching and graceful dying surely left a strong impression on young Saul, who later became the apostle Paul.

Philip was the second notable evangelist who came out of this group. He is not initially described, as was Stephen, as being “full of faith and the Holy Spirit.” But if he was not then in such a state, he surely got there quickly. Apparently, it did not take God very long to promote Philip from food distributor to Christ-preacher. Two chapters later we read:

Then Philip went down to the city of Samaria and preached Christ to them. (Acts 8:5).

To go to a city of strangers and start an evangelistic campaign without any backing or organization was not only a gutsy thing to do, but it represented a major step forward in making the gospel universal. The Samaritans were not considered to be true Jews by the people of Israel. They were essentially the result of Jews intermarrying with Gentiles through many generations. Many of them attempted to maintain their Jewish identity, but their bloodlines as well as their religion ended up a diluted and mixed bag. The Jews of Israel despised the Jewish wannabee’s and refused to talk with them or even travel through their communities if they could help it. Phillip waited for no church decree; he simply took it on his own to go to these despised people and tell them of the love of God through Jesus Christ.

Revival in Samaria

God confirmed Philip’s daring move by pouring out His Spirit in an amazing fashion. The Bible tells us:

And the multitudes with one accord heeded the things spoken by Philip, hearing and seeing the miracles which he did. For unclean spirits, crying with a loud voice, came out of many who were possessed; and many who were paralyzed and lame were healed. And there was great joy in that city (Acts 8:6-8).

A huge spiritual awakening was occurring among these despised Samaritans and God was beginning to reveal His master plan, a plan which involved salvation for all people of all nations and races. Shortly after this Peter would get a revelation to preach to Cornelius and his family, a people who made no pretense whatsoever to be Jewish, and the universality of salvation through Jesus Christ was powerfully revealed in an even larger way. But the stretching of the mindset of those early Jewish believers began with Philip.

New Assignment

With such a powerful revival occurring in Samaria, one might suspect that Philip might want to settle down there for some time. He could have become the pastor of a huge church there and taught the new converts for many years, establishing them in the faith, and cutting back on his travels. But Philip was an evangelist and evangelists are never content to preach to the same audience for too long. And God had other fields of service for His faithful servant. While in Samaria Philip received an angelic visitation:

Now an angel of the Lord spoke to Philip, saying, “Arise and go toward the south along the road which goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.” (Acts 8:26).

Here was a major change of scenery for the young evangelist! He was being sent from a wonderful spiritual awakening in a major city to a wilderness area with no explanation given. But it is not smart to argue with angels, and Philip dutifully obeyed his instructions. He left bustling Samaria and made his way to a lonely road in the middle of nowhere. Upon arriving there he found one person on the road. An Ethiopian man of some importance was slowly making his way down the road in a fancy chariot. He represented Philip’s next assignment. Philip again heard a voice, this time not the voice of an angel, but the voice of the Holy Spirit, who told Him: “Go near and overtake this chariot.”

It turned out that this man was an important official with the government of Ethiopia, who was the treasurer and money-manager for the queen. Any men who served queens were made eunuchs and he was no exception. He seemed to have a heart for God. We are told that he had come to Jerusalem to worship and was now returning home. This indicated that he was either a Jew who had ended up in Ethiopia and had been impressed into the king’s service, or he was an Ethiopian who had become a Jewish proselyte. In either case this man clearly had a tender heart toward God. He had been reading the Book of Isaiah while riding in his chariot, something few would ever do. But he was having a hard go of it, trying to understand the prophet, and could make little sense of the portion we now call Isaiah 53, one of the most wonderful Messianic prophecies in all the Old Testament.

Initiating the Conversation

Philip came alongside the man and heard him reading the prophet. Hearing the Messianic prophecy was like throwing meat to a hungry dog. The fiery evangelist quickly sprang into action, asking the Ethiopian, "Do you understand what you are reading?"

Many important and influential people have little use for “common folks” who attempt to initiate conversations with them. But the Bible declares that before honor there must be humility, and this man showed the necessary prerequisite. He told Philip, “How can I understand, unless someone guides me?” He invited Philip to come up and sit beside him in his chariot as he made his way slowly to Ethiopia. He had been reading Isaiah’s declaration that “He was led as a sheep to the slaughter…” and asked his new Bible teacher: “Who was the prophet talking about – Himself or some other man?”

Philip wasted no time. Like every good evangelist he got straight to the point. The Bible tells us: “Then Philip opened his mouth, and beginning at this Scripture, preached Jesus to him.” I wish we could have a transcript of Philip’s entire, impromptu sermon which he shared with the Ethiopian, but we do not. The Bible simply says “he preached Jesus to him.” Starting with Isaiah and no doubt quoting a number of other prophets and prophecies, Philip shared the gospel with his new friend.

As they rode in that bumpy chariot along the road to Gaza, a miraculous thing occurred. Faith came into the heart of the Ethiopian. Before Philip had met him, he was just another Jewish unbeliever, but after spending some time in the chariot with Philip he became a believer in Jesus Christ.

Philip had obviously told the man of Jesus’ command for His followers to be baptized, because when they came to a body of water, probably a small pond, he asked the evangelist: “Here is some water. What hinders me from being baptized?” The work of grace had been accomplished. This man had been transformed from unbeliever to believer and was now eager to be baptized. Philip wanted to make sure this was not just some meaningless ceremony, so he replied, “If you believe with all your heart, you may.” The Ethiopian responded, “I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.” That was good enough for Philip and they got down from the chariot, went into the water, and the Ethiopian was baptized.

The Bible tells us: “Now when they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord caught Philip away, so that the eunuch saw him no more; and he went on his way rejoicing” (Acts 8:39).

Next Assignment

Amazingly, after Philip’s evangelistic task was accomplished, he experienced a sort of horizontal rapture and immediately disappeared. The Ethiopian, who certainly had a most memorable day, rejoices in Christ and heads for home. As for Philip, the Bible tells us “he was found at Azotus,” a nearby-town, which had once been one of the chief cities of the Philistines. Philip does not miss a beat but continues to share the good news of Jesus with these Gentiles and no doubt made numerous disciples of Jesus. He did not stay there. We are told, “And passing through, he preached in all the cities till he came to Caesarea.” There in Caesarea the anointed evangelist seems to have settled in and made this his home base. Almost certainly he went out from there and preached Jesus Christ to many. He took a wife and had four daughters, all of whom were richly anointed by the Holy Spirit to prophesy and declare the word of the Lord. Apparently, Papa’s anointing fell richly upon each of his four daughters.

We hear of Philip only once more after this. In the 21st chapter of Acts, Luke describes one of the apostle Paul’s journeys and states:

On the next day we who were Paul’s companions departed and came to Caesarea, and entered the house of Philip the evangelist, who was one of the seven, and stayed with him (Acts 21:8).

I like that! Even though some years have passed, and Philip is now a family man with four daughters, Luke still refers to him as “Philip, the evangelist.” His heart, his ministry, and his passion have not changed. He is, and always will be, Philip, the evangelist.

Model for All

As such, this man is a great model for those of us who would win souls to Jesus, whether we think of ourselves as evangelists or not. One of the greatest lessons we can learn has to do with his subject matter as he attempts to win men and women to Jesus. Philip is known in Scripture for two great ministry efforts: his preaching in Samaria that led to a great spiritual awakening, and his preaching to the Ethiopian official. In both cases we do not have to wonder what was at the heart of his preaching and sharing. We are told plainly.

In bringing the gospel to Samaria we read: “Then Philip went down to the city of Samaria and preached Christ to them” (Acts 8:5). And in speaking to the Ethiopian, the Bible says, “Then Philip opened his mouth, and beginning at this Scripture, preached Jesus to him” (Acts 8:35). This anointed evangelist got the message exactly right, and that message was Jesus Christ. He did not waste time or dilute his preaching with peripherals or extraneous concepts. He got to the heart of the matter and he did it quickly. He preached Jesus Christ: His life, His death, His resurrection, and His salvation by grace through faith. Pastors and all Christians today could learn a lot from Philip. The apostle Paul was another man who knew precisely where the power to transform lives lay, writing, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes” (Romans 1:16).

Another thing Philip did exactly right was that he opened his mouth. Sometimes we suppose that we can simply be nice, and people will run to Jesus and get saved because of our niceness. But there are plenty of sinners who are nice. We must by all means show love and kindness to men and women, but we must also open our mouths. The gospel of Jesus Christ must be spoken and written and sung about and preached and shared. Then, and only then, will people come to that blessed place experienced by the Ethiopian, and which has the power to confer eternal life, that place expressed in those simple words: “I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.”

 

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