Have you ever looked back on your life and realized how God used you in a certain circumstance? As you get older, you see how one event which happened a long time ago impacts others in ways you couldn’t even fathom at the time. Our lives are intertwined with others. There isn’t any getting around it. We impact each other. And God uses our actions to bring about His plan. God’s plan will be accomplished and it isn’t always in the way we think it will happen.
We can read about Philip, the evangelist in the book of Acts and just read it and not fully understand the bigger picture of the impact of his life on mankind. First let’s talk about who Philip was. Philip, the evangelist talked about in Acts is not Philip, the apostle. Two different guys. Philip, the apostle doesn't get too much ink in the Bible.
What we know about Philip, the evangelist we read about in Acts 6:1-7; 8:5-40; 21:8-10. He was a Jewish Christian. Philip was one of the seven food distributors in the early church in Jerusalem. He was a man full of the Spirit and of wisdom. (Acts 6:3) We know Philip was a contemporary of Saul (who was later re-named Paul after his conversion), Stephen, and the apostles.
The last words of the risen Jesus were for His followers to spread the gospel to all of creation. And yet in Acts the apostles and disciples of the early church were hanging out in Jerusalem. They seemed reluctant to leave at first. It took horrendous persecution of the believers in Jerusalem to make them leave and scatter. When they did scatter they took the gospel message to Judea, Galilee, and Samaria. Philip was one of the first to go and he went to Samaria.
Now you might not understand the significance of going to Samaria. If you have read or heard about the civil war that occurred in the nation of Israel in the Old Testament, you understand in the New Testament who lives in Samaria. After king Solomon dies and his son, Rehoboam, becomes king; civil war erupts in 930 BC. The nation of Israel breaks up into two nations, Israel and Judah. The northern nation of Israel turns from the Lord and eventually God judges them and they are conquered by the Assyrians in 720 BC. The Assyrians were brutal. The people who were left were assimilated and became known as Samaritans. By New Testament times the Jewish people were extremely prejudiced against the Samaritans. It is safe to say that Jewish people hated Samaritans. (It puts a whole new understanding on the account of the Good Samaritan, doesn’t it?)
But Philip goes to Samaria and tells them about Christ. (Acts 8:5) And they responded in great numbers and believed in the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ. Men and women alike were being baptized. Now the apostles who are still hanging out in Jerusalem hear about this. Peter and John head to Samaria to check out what is going on. Peter and John get onboard with the mission. They see how God accepted those who the Jews had considered unacceptable. (Remember Philip, Peter and John were Jewish before they became Christian converts. They most likely had some prejudices.) Philip took the gospel message to Gentiles. (“Gentiles” means people who are non-Jewish.) We so often think of Paul as the apostle to the Gentiles. And he was. But Philip was the first recorded missionary to the Gentiles. This was the beginning of the gospel message being spread to everyone. God’s redeeming love is for all people even those considered as the outcasts of society. Where would Christianity be today if the believers had just stayed in Jerusalem and witnessed to those whom they deemed “acceptable”?
Then Philip, Peter, and John are headed back to Jerusalem preaching the gospel to many villages of the Samaritans. (Acts 8:25) But an angel of the Lord sends Philip to an Ethiopian eunuch who was on his way home. This man was a court official of Candace, queen of the Ethiopians. First some background: Ethiopia was located in Africa south of Egypt. The eunuch had travelled a long way to worship God in Jerusalem. This man could have been a Gentile convert to Judaism. This eunuch was in charge of the treasury of Ethiopia – a very important position. (A eunuch is a castrated man who served as the guard of a harem and as a royal attendant.) And this eunuch was reading from the prophet Isaiah when Philip starts talking to him.
Philip tells the Ethiopian eunuch about Jesus Christ. And the eunuch believes and is baptized. Now read Isaiah 56:3-5. In Isaiah’s time foreigners and eunuchs were not considered citizens and were excluded from worship. Isaiah is clearly stating in these verses that God’s blessing is for all people – even foreigners and eunuchs. And here in Acts, Philip is evangelizing to a foreigner who happens to be a eunuch and happens to have a position in his government of great importance. This man’s conversion brought Christianity into the power structure of another government. And we see the promise God made to Abraham to bless all nations through his descendants start to be fulfilled. This is the beginning of the witness “to the ends of the earth” that Jesus commands.
Let’s pause and think about this. What applicability does Phillip’s life have to our lives? Why might this account be in the Bible? This account tells us the gospel message is for all people - even what society considers “outsiders.” Also, Philip’s life is an example for us. He immediately obeyed the Lord with going to the Ethiopian eunuch. He witnessed about Jesus Christ.
But let’s step back even further and think about this account. We can in our minds reason that the gospel message is for all people. But have you ever disliked someone so much that you thought “I hope she burns in hell’? Maybe only me. But here I am a professed Christian and that thought has entered my mind. Shame on me! More than shame. I disgrace and grieve my Lord with that kind of thought. Do I really believe the good news of our Christ is for ALL people? Do I really want everyone I know to come to know Jesus as their Savior and Lord? Or are there certain people I want to exclude? Do I think it is for the murderers, the pedophiles, the terrorists, the prostitutes and their pimps, the drug dealers, and the lowest of low in our society? Or do I want certain people to be excluded from saving grace? Yes, God has a lot of work to do on me.
If we truly believed the gospel message is for ALL people, our world would be a different place.
My thinking went in a different direction with regards to this. Do I really believe God wants to bless all nations? Even Iran? Even the extreme Muslims who want to kill us? Is the Gospel for them? The apostles and disciples up until Acts chapter 8 appear to be reluctant to leave Jerusalem even though the risen Christ had commanded them to be His “witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth.” (Acts 1:8 NASB) What made the early believers leave Jerusalem?
And on that day a great persecution began against the church in Jerusalem, and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles. (Acts 8:1b)
And who began that persecution? Saul, who we know as the beloved apostle Paul. (Read Acts 8:1-3.) I think God used Saul's decision to persecute the church in His plan to reach the world. That persecution of the early church led to the scattering of the Jerusalem believers and the spread of the gospel message.
I was going to develop a class on the Reformation and in doing so I read 4 books on Christian history. (The class never got developed. Life got in the way. Maybe someday. ) In one of the books it takes Christian history further than the present day. It took Christian history all the way up to the year 2159 AD. The author made up the history from now until then with amazing detail. And it was fascinating and has really stuck with me. He says the world has "ultra-rapid population growth, unstoppable climate change, mass depletion of ocean stocks, desertification and widespread soil erosion, increase in drought-related famine, the rise of non-state groups with access to ultimate weapons, religious fundamentalism and terrorism, extreme poverty, economic collapse and raging pandemics." In his made-up history at first the Church responded to the injustices beyond its doors. But then the Church starts bickering. He makes up three horrors - terrorist attacks and flu pandemics (making up the numbers of people who die - 11 million people from one flu pandemic - it was very detailed) and the collapse of the economies of the world powers where millions starve and die. And throughout it all he talks about the role and mostly lack of action by the Church. The Evangelical Church collapses. By the end it is mostly gone. There are small communes of Christians and the House Church is resurrected where Christians begin helping those in their community. India is the world power. Israel has been destroyed. The United States is nothing on the world power scene. It is a fascinating yet very scary read.
We western Christians are exclusive. We think so highly of ourselves and so little of others. We don’t see Jesus’ message being for the “undesirables.” (Look at our reaction to taking some Syrian refugees for example.) Yes, we say the gospel message is for ALL people, but we don’t live that way. Our money says “In God we trust”, but we don’t live that way. If we did trust God, we would be all over helping others, telling them about the Lord and trusting God to protect us or His will be done to us. We know that God is sovereign over all that happens. He controls history.
O Lord, the God of our fathers, are you not God in heaven? You rule over all the kingdoms of the nations. In your hand are power and might, so that none is able to withstand you. 2 Chronicles 20:6
For the kingdom is the LORD'S and He rules over the nations. Psalm 22:28
But what if God’s plan in the coming years is to destroy our nation because of our actions? Think about collective accountability and how we all impact each other. Perhaps down the road, there will be few people left in the United States who care about God and our nation will be judged. God has shown us in the Old Testament what happens to a nation when they turn away from Him. It isn't pretty. Don’t be naïve enough to think it couldn't happen to us. Don’t think we are something special.
I certainly don't profess to know God's plan for future history - well, except for the second coming of our Lord when evil is destroyed and God wins. But I do know He is a just God and whatever happens to us as individuals and also collectively as a nation will be just.
Do we truly believe the gospel message is for ALL people? Or do we want to distort what Christ commanded us to do to only apply to select people and to select nations? It's not too late for us to change our ways.
One man, Phillip, the evangelist impacted the world.
You can too.
Remember who Jesus died for.
But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.
Romans 5:8 (NASB)
All of us. Not just who we deem worthy to hear the good news.
"For My house will be called a house of prayer for all the peoples." The Lord GOD, who gathers the dispersed of Israel, declares, "Yet others I will gather to them, to those already gathered."
Isaiah 56:7b, 8