In last week’s study we began to look at the eighth chapter of Acts, which we continue to study this week. Chapter 8 begins a new section of Luke’s book, showing how the Gospel spread from the capital city of Jerusalem to Judea and Samaria as a result of the first great persecution of the church. Here are three facts about it.
First, it was directed against the entire church and not only the leaders. Secondly, it came from the united leadership of Judaism. And finally, it was the first time the presence of Saul became evident.
So this was a time of intense persecution, when the congregations were being scattered to the areas around Jerusalem, and God used this scattering to plant the Gospel in those regions.
The movement of the Gospel to Samaria was focused in the ministry of Philip, as we have already seen. Philip was one of seven deacons who had been elected to carry out important works of service in the church at Jerusalem. It is interesting that although the deacons were elected to do what we would call works of mercy or service ministries—which is what even today we think of the deacons primarily as doing—these men did not consider themselves to be limited to such functions. At least two of them were great preachers. They were steeped in the Scriptures, and they were men of great courage. Stephen, the first, was able to stand before the highest tribunal of his day, give an articulate, well-reasoned analysis of Israel’s history, and advance the Gospel.
Now Philip is on the scene, and he is another great man. He well earned the title of evangelist, because when the church was scattered, he made his way north to Samaria where he preached Jesus. Acts 8 contains two stories about him: 1) the impact of his preaching on Simon, the magician, which we looked at in last week’s study; and 2) his witness to the Ethiopian eunuch, who had been to Jerusalem to worship and was on his way home when God sent Philip to him.
There are a few things to be learned from the setting in which the call to Philip to share the Gospel with the Ethiopian came.
First it was a time of revival. That is, it was a time of unusual blessing on the church. To judge from the story, it would even seem that the revival in Samaria was still growing. Philip was an important part of this, being the chief evangelist. He was the front line man. He seemed to be utterly indispensable. Yet it was at precisely this moment when God called him to leave the area.
The other striking fact about this call was the area to which the angel sent Philip. He was in a great area, doing a great work, reaching many people. But the angel of the Lord said, “I want you to go down to the desert road that stretches south to Gaza on the way to Egypt” (v. 6).
Isn’t it interesting that God should call Philip at such a time and to such a place? We are not told that Philip objected, and I do not think he did. What God called him to do he did joyfully. But if we were in his place, we might very well have raised objections. I can think of the kinds of objections I might have raised. I might have said, “Alright, Lord, but not now. We can get to that region, and no doubt we will, in the proper time. We are in the midst of great blessing here in Samaria. I do not want to turn my back on this, because I am the one you sent to do it, through whom, humanly speaking, all this blessing has come.”
Or I might have said, “Not me.” I might even have said it humbly. I might have said, “Lord, I’m not the only Christian around. There are all kinds of other Christians capable of doing that work. I am involved in work here. Do you mean to tell me you don’t have anybody else who can do it? Why don’t you send Peter? Or John? I think you should send them.” Or I could have said, “All right, Lord, but not there. Not to that desert area. Nobody even lives down there. It’s just empty country. The place to be is where the people are, like right here in Samaria, in this great city. Here is where we ought to carry on the witness.”