God’s Provision of Gospel Means


Even as great wonders had been done through Stephen, the deacon, so God used Philip in the same way. The death of Stephen led to a more expanded persecution led by Saul of Tarsus (8:3). Those scattered went preaching. Philip went to Samaria. Jesus had gone there about three years before this. This scattering begins the fulfillment of the command of Jesus  that they were to be witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and in Samaria (Acts 1:8; 8:1). While in Samaria, Philip had healed, cast out demons, and preached with great power reaping a harvest of believers. When the Apostles heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they went to pray for them to receive the visible testimony of the Spirit, giving an external manifestation upon them of what already he had done in them. This apostolic verification of the presence of the Spirit led the magician Simon to seek to purchase that gift of granting such an amazing manifestation of spiritual power (8:13,  18-19). Again, Peter, as in the event of Ananias and Sapphira, was given discernment as to the spiritual state of Simon and issued a solemn and sobering warning to him (8:20-23). The apostles left and went through many of the cities of Samaria preaching the gospel, and Philip was given special instructions as the next place of his service in the cause of the gospel.

I. The Hound of Heaven Hunts Down one of God’s elect – 8:26-29

A. Philip was told by an angel what route to take out of Samaria. In his journey south, he was to intersect a road that went out of Jerusalem to Gaza (about 60 miles southwest of Jerusalem). The place where Philip’s route would intersect the road was a desert place. This could be taken as further information given by the angel, or it could be Luke’s observation about the apparent unlikeliness of fruitful labor along this route. Philip followed the instructions. Again, we see Luke’s attention to the place of angels in their participation in gospel progress giving encouragement, information, and instructions to humans in the service of God (Luke 1:13-17, 19-20; 26-38; 2:9-14; 22:43; 24:4-7; Acts 1:10, 11; Acts 5:19, 20; Acts 12:7-11).

B. Philip’s appointment was with a eunuch.

1. This represents another class of people to whom the gospel has come. It is interesting that Philip went from the Samaritans to a eunuch. A person ceremonially forbidden to be in the assembly of the Lord (Deuteronomy 23:1) has been accepted as Isaiah 56:3-5 had proclaimed.

2. We learn several things about him.

He was an Ethiopian, an important official for the Queen of Ethiopia. Ethiopia was south of Egypt along the Red sea and the Nile River, a fertile region. Candace does not appear to be the name of the Queen, but the title (assumed as part of the name), something like Pharaoh of Egypt or Caesar of Rome. Apparently, from the witness of early historians, Ethiopia was governed by a series of female leaders.

This eunuch evidently was talented, an excellent administrator [how could he take a trip of such duration, having such an important responsibility unless he had talented, trustworthy people under him who were well-trained and clear in every matter of the money issues of Ethiopia?], and had gained a high level of privilege in the evaluation of the queen.

He was a proselyte to the Jewish faith, seemingly devoted to understanding its promises for a new covenant initiated by an “anointed one.” Coincident to Philip’s arrival on the scene, he was reading from a messianic prophecy out of Isaiah 53:7, 8.

3. An angel had directed Philip to take this trip; now the Holy Spirit tells Philip to join himself to this chariot, and he arrives just at the time the eunuch is pondering the meaning of Isaiah 53.

4. Though we do not have a written transcript of how God led each of us to hear the gospel, how he prepared our hearts, how he led certain persons to have influence in our lives, we may be sure that no less an amazing chain of providential arrangements occurred in our cases. Not only will God grant the effectual power of the Spirit in granting his elect the new birth, he will ascertain by predestining wisdom the presence of the designated means by which he brings persons to faith. Paul was confident of this in the case of the Thessalonians: “God chose you from the beginning to be saved through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth” (2 Thessalonians 2:13). Indeed, as Paul wrote in Romans 8:29, “For those whom he foreknew, he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son.” Again he noted this same arrangement to the Ephesians: “He chose us in him before the foundation of the world, . . . In love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will. . . . In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the counsel of his will, . . . In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit” (Ephesians 1:4, 5, 11, 13).

II. The Necessity of the Word of Christ

A. God had arranged it that this eunuch would be reading Scripture, (“which is able to make you wise unto salvation”). From this source we learn the fallen condition of all humanity, we are brought to knowledge of the depth and damnability of our personal sin, and we are shown the magnitude of God’s love in that he sent his Son to make provision for forgiveness of sins and achieve the warrant for eternal life.

B. It is necessary that we understand. “Do you understand what you are reading?” When God saves his people, he does it in such a way that it involves information that must be credited as true before any saving faith can be exerted. If one is not convinced of the truthfulness of the biblical presentation of sin, condemnation, Christ in his person and death and resurrection, and the reality of forgiveness through his blood and reconciliation with God by means of this substitute, then faith is impossible. Liberals of various stripes that seek to maintain some semblance of Christian status about their position, delude themselves and others when they teach a Christianity void of the virgin conception and birth, the full deity as well as humanity of Christ, his substitutionary death, his resurrection, and his coming again to establish his eternal reign. In these truths lie our salvation and our hope.

C. The passage he was reading allowed Philip to tell him the “good news about Jesus” (35). The nature of the prophetic material is to excite inquiry and then to recognize its fulfillment when the events come to pass (cf. 1 Peter 1:10-12) This was Paul’s normal evangelistic method (Acts 9:20-22; 13:17-41; 28:23, 24). The preaching of the apostles focused on the completed work of Christ in fulfillment of the centuries of prophetic words contained in the Scriptures. In their preaching and writing the purpose of the Scripture in its revelatory capacity comes to maturity and its highest point of clarity. Now we see the christocentric emphasis of the Bible and, in accordance, look at all Scripture through Christ-focused lenses. ”The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart (that is, the word of faith that we proclaim) because if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” (Romans 10:8, 9).

III. Conversion and Baptism

A. It is not certain exactly how long this is after the events of the celebration of Pentecost. Jerusalem, however, still was ablaze with the preaching and persecution of the apostles. Their ministry had been quite public and the miraculous signs they performed were widely known. It would seem that this proselyte’s attention had been arrested by those things. Perhaps he had witnessed the baptisms, which also happened publicly. It is no far-fetched abstraction to suppose that he had heard, if not first hand, then by report, the interpretation of prophecy given by the apostles and their call to faith in Jesus. He now hears the gospel from Isaiah, finds that the message witnesses to his own soul, and knows immediately what the proper response to his belief is. Not only is his mind clarified about the text, its call to find salvation in Jesus of Nazareth, the long-expected Christ, alone is clear (“by his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant, make many to be accounted righteous, and he shall bear their iniquities. . . . he bore the sins of many, and makes intercession for the transgressors” – Isaiah 53:11, 12).

B. Knowing how the response of faith had been manifest in Jerusalem, the eunuch, as a response to Philip’s exposition and his interaction in their conversation, asked “What prevents me from being baptized?” Philip clearly was convinced of the divine purpose of this encounter and that the eunuch had exhibited true faith. He commanded the chariot to stop (there was at least one other person there who drove the chariot) at a place where there was sufficient water for them to enter it, and he baptized the eunuch. Philip already had not only been witness to this practice but had done it himself in Samaria (8:12 – “they believed, . . . they were baptized.”).

C. Consistent with the entire witness of Acts prior to this time and to every subsequent conversion and baptism, only those who heard the gospel and believed it were baptized. Scripture advocates only one baptism (Ephesians 4:4-6) and always it follows and expresses a present faith (as far as can be observed by those administering the ordinance). It expresses one’s union with Christ by sincere faith in his death, burial, and resurrection.

D. Philip was taken away by the Spirit of God to another location where he preached the gospel. The eunuch, having been the recipient of a saving providence went on his way rejoicing. The Spirit’s work in bringing sinners to Christ involves an illumined mind by which our mental perceptions grasp the cogency and the sobriety of the issues of eternal life. This is followed by altered affections by which one grasps the excellence, beauty, and exclusive desirability of the saving knowledge of God. Because he takes us with such surpassing power and love (Romans 8:35-39), we also cling to him as the one thing for which our souls long (Philippians 3:7, 8, 12-14).

E. Any who feel the real importance and the transcendent necessity of the grace of gospel truth will find nothing more productive of rejoicing. The prospect of pure and unending joy in the presence of the self-existent source of all good (James 1:13-18) generates the objective hope flowing from belief of the gospel (Romans 5:1-11 – This gives an exposition of the true ground of rejoicing).

Tom has most recently served as the Professor of Historical Theology at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He previously taught at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School where he was Professor of Church History and Chair of the Department of Church History. Prior to that, he taught at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary. Along with numerous journal articles and scholarly papers, Dr. Nettles is the author and editor of fifteen books. Among his books are By His Grace and For His Glory; Baptists and the Bible, James Petigru Boyce: A Southern Baptist Statesman, and Living by Revealed Truth: The Life and Pastoral Theology of Charles H. Spurgeon.
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