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THE BOOK OF ACTS: PART FOURTEEN

SERMON DELIVERED ON 07-14-18

       This will be Sermon number 14 in our continuing series on the book of Acts.  Last time I provided an overview of Stephen’s speech to the Sanhedrin and he being stoned for his efforts.  I then discussed the conversion of the Samaritan’s and provided insights into the sorcerer Simon Magus who tried to buy the power that was being demonstrated by Peter and John when thy laid hands on the Samarian’s to receive the Holy Spirit. We saw that Peter quickly put Simon in his place and that was the end of that.  We concluded with Peter and John returning to Jerusalem from Samaria as shown in Acts 8:25.  Today we will pick up were we left off and begin with Acts 8:26.

       Acts 8:26-27: Now an angel of the Lord said to Philip, "Go south to the road--the desert road--that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza." So he started out, and on his way he met an Ethiopian eunuch, an important official in charge of all the treasury of Candace, queen of the Ethiopians.

       Let’s unpack this passage a little bit.  The Greek word translated “angel” is angelos which has the basic meaning of messenger, envoy or simply one who is sent.  While angelos can be used to designate a human messenger, a review of the use of this word in the NT shows it is used to designate a heavenly messenger about 99% of the time and this appears to be the case with the angel that spoke to Philip. We are not told how the angel appeared to Philip. Did an angel visibly appear to Philip? Did Philip only hear the voice of the angel?  We don’t know.  All we are told is that an angel spoke to Philip and directed him to go south to the desert road that goes to Gaza.

       As discussed last time, Philip had been in Samaria bringing the Gospel message to the Samaritan’s which resulted in a number of Samaritan’s coming to believe in the Christ event and reacting accordingly.  Peter and John had come up to Samaria from Jerusalem and after facilitating the receiving of the Holy Spirit by the Samaritan’s, they returned to Jerusalem, preaching the Gospel in a number of Samaritan villages as they traveled back to Jerusalem.  Nothing is said about Philip returning to Jerusalem so it is possible Philip traveled straight down to the road south of Jerusalem that went to Gaza.     

       So he started out and on his way met this Ethiopian eunuch.  By definition, a eunuch is generally seen as a castrated male but the word can also be used to designate a man who has chosen not to marry.  The Greek word for eunuch appears only here and in Matthew 19 where Jesus deals with the issue of divorce.

       Matthew 19:9-12: I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for marital unfaithfulness, and marries another woman commits adultery." The disciples said to him, "If this is the situation between a husband and wife, it is better not to marry." Jesus replied, "Not everyone can accept this word, but only those to whom it has been given.  For some are eunuchs because they were born that way; others were made that way by men; and others have renounced marriage because of the kingdom of heaven. The one who can accept this should accept it."

       In this passage, Jesus gives the full range of the meaning of eunuch by showing a man can be born that way, made that way or simply choose to act that way.  The Catholic Church uses this passage to justify their doctrine of the celibacy of the Priesthood.   

       It was common in the Orient for castrated men to be placed in charge of looking after the harems of kings.  However, the eunuch presently under consideration is described as an official of a queen not a king.  So we can’t be sure whether this eunuch was born a eunuch, was a castrated male or was someone who choose to remain unmarred in order to devote all his time to serving his queen. 

       Acts 8:27-28: This man had gone to Jerusalem to worship, and on his way home was sitting in his chariot reading the book of Isaiah the prophet. 

       The distance between Ethiopia and Jerusalem is nearly 1600 miles. This eunuch was on a round trip of 3200 miles. That is a long way to travel in a modern day car let alone a horse drawn chariot. He must have been on the road for many weeks.

  

       It is said he had gone to Jerusalem to worship. Now we don’t know what the entire purpose of his trip was.  It is recorded that he was “an important official in charge of all the treasury of Candace, queen of the Ethiopians.”  He may have been on a business trip on behalf of his queen and Jerusalem was part of his itinerary.  It also may be that he went to Jerusalem for the specific purpose to worship. 

       We are told he was an Ethiopian.  He could have been an Ethiopian Jew as there were Jews living throughout the region including Ethiopia.   On the other hand, he could have been a Gentile convert to Judaism.  We are not told which it was.  What we do see is that this man must have been a worshiper of the God of Israel.  He recognized Jerusalem and the temple as the place where God had placed His name and thus came there to worship.  He appears to be devout as he is seen reading from Isaiah.  Yet he is having a difficult time understanding what he is reading.

       It is recorded that the Spirit of God led Philip to the chariot where he heard the eunuch reading from Isaiah.  It is apparent the eunuch was reading out loud.  Philip asks the eunuch if he understands what he is reading.  The Eunuch indicates he doesn’t understand and invites Philip to sit with him and explain what it is Isaiah is saying. 

       Now this has to be a much abbreviated record of what took place.  Since Philip and the eunuch had not previously met we can assume there must have been some introductory communication that took place between them.  It is unlikely the Ethiopian official would have invited a complete stranger into his chariot without knowing something about him.  Something must have been communicated to the eunuch that this man who suddenly appeared at his chariot had something to offer relative to understanding the Isaiah passage.  Acts records the eunuch reading a passage of Scripture taken from Isaiah 53:7-8.

       Isaiah 53:7-8: He was oppressed and afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; he was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth. By oppression and judgment he was taken away. And who can speak of his descendants? For he was cut off from the land of the living; for the transgression of my people he was stricken.

       Acts 8:32-33: "He was led like a sheep to the slaughter, and as a lamb before the shearer is silent, so he did not open his mouth. In his humiliation he was deprived of justice. Who can speak of his descendants? For his life was taken from the earth."

        The eunuch asked Philip who it was the prophet was talking about, himself or someone else.  Philip begins with that very passage of Scripture to explain to the eunuch the good news about Jesus.  It apparently was a very complete explanation as it is evident the eunuch was able to become convinced of what Philip said and we see Philip baptizing the eunuch when they found a body of water along the road they were on.

       Acts 8:36 & 38.  As they traveled along the road, they came to some water and the eunuch said, "Look, here is water. Why shouldn't I be baptized?"  And he gave orders to stop the chariot. Then both Philip and the eunuch went down into the water and Philip baptized him.

       You notice the eunuch gave orders to stop the chariot.  The eunuch wasn’t driving the chariot.  Being the high ranking official he was, he probably had an entourage of people traveling with him and there may have been several chariots.

       You may have noticed that I quoted Acts 8:36 & 38.  What happened to verse 37?   I’m quoting from the NIV.  You will not find verse 37 in modern translations. You will find it in older English translations such as the KJV.

       Acts 8:37: 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 (KJV). 

       This verse is also found in the NKJV and the ASV.  So why isn’t this verse found in more modern translations?  This verse is not found in modern English translation because verse 37 is not found in the oldest extant Greek manuscripts such as the fourth century Sinaiticus and Vaticanus.  It is these Greek manuscripts that are used to produce modern translations.

       The KJV is based on a fifteenth century Greek Manuscript called Textus Receptus which was based on twelfth century Greek Manuscripts available at the time. Most scholars believe verse 37 was added by copyists based on their particular doctrinal perspectives.

       However, it is interesting to note what the Church leader Irenaeus wrote in his document called Against Heresies which was written around 180 AD. This is what he wrote

       “Philip declared that this was Jesus, and that the Scripture was fulfilled in Him; as did also the believing eunuch himself: and, immediately requesting to be baptized, he said, ‘I believe Jesus Christ to be the Son of God.’ “

       Theologian Cyprian wrote a document around 250 AD entitled The Treatises of Cyprian. In this document Cyprian writes that in the Acts of the Apostles it is written that "Lo, here is water; what is there which hinders me from being baptized? Then said Philip, If you believe with all your heart, you may”

       These writings of early church leaders indicate that the eunuch may very well have said what is recorded in the KJV and other older English translations.  The writings of these two Church leaders predate all of the extant manuscripts that omit this verse.  It’s to be noted that the official Greek text of the Greek Orthodox Church, the 1904 Patricarchal Text, has included Acts 8:37.

      In view of references to the eunuch saying what is seen in verse 37 in some ancient writings by Church leaders, it just may be that verse 37 did appear in ancient Greek Manuscripts that were available to these writers but are no longer extant. If this is the case, it isn’t that verse 37 was added to later manuscripts, as is believed by many NT scholars, but that verse 37 was eliminated from such manuscripts either through scribal error or because of differing doctrinal perspectives on the part of translators.    

       It should be obvious that Phillip not only explained who it was Isaiah was talking about but probably cited a number of OT prophecies that pertained to Christ.  It is likely Phillip covered many details of the ministry of Jesus including His death, resurrection and ascension to the Father and what all this meant for Israel and the world.

       Phillip must have explained how repentance, forgiveness of sin and the granting of eternal life was now available through Christ and that this can be facilitated through baptism as we see the eunuch asking to be baptized.  Philip may well have repeated Peter’s Pentecost admonition to believe in Jesus and repent and be baptized.  It would not be unreasonable to conclude Philip asked for and received a confession of faith in Christ from the eunuch before being baptized.

       My personal feeling is that verse 37 was probably part of what Luke wrote in the Acts of the Apostle which is what the book of Acts is often called.

       Chapter eight of Acts ends with Philip suddenly leaving the eunuch and continuing his travels.  We can assume the eunuch returned to Ethiopia. Its recorded the eunuch went on his way rejoicing. It can be safely assumed he shared his experience with Phillip to all who would listen. This may have been how the Gospel was introduced to Ethiopia and other parts of Africa. 

       Acts 8:39-40:  When they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord suddenly took Philip away, and the eunuch did not see him again, but went on his way rejoicing.  Philip, however, appeared at Azotus and traveled about, preaching the gospel in all the towns until he reached Caesarea.

       We can’t be sure what is meant by “the Spirit of the Lord suddenly took Philip away.”  Some translations use the phrase “snatched away.”  Was Phillip literally moved through the air to another place or did the Spirit of God simply lead Philip to his next stop which apparently was Azotus which is the Ashdod of the OT.  Since we have no additional information provided in Scripture I will not speculate as to how Phillip got to Azotus.

       It is written that Philip traveled about preaching the gospel in all the towns until he reached Caesarea.  Caesarea came to prominence during the reign of Herod the Great.  Herod had theatres, amphitheatres, and temples built in this city and had a harbor constructed.  When I was in Israel some years ago, I remember climbing the stairs of the amphitheatre build by Herod.  In touring Caesarea, there was a great deal of archeological excavations going on uncovering what Herod had built.

       Herod actually had the city built in honor of the Roman Emperor Augustus.  It appears from Acts 21 that Paul stayed with Philip in Caesarea which indicates Philip may have taken up residence in Caesarea and may have made it the head-quarters of his work as an evangelist.

       Acts 21:8: Leaving the next day, we reached Caesarea and stayed at the house of Philip the evangelist, one of the Seven.

       Notice Philip is identified as one of the Seven. In Acts six, Philip is seen as one of the seven men ordained as deacons to take care of administrative duties so the Apostles could devote their time to ministry.  One of the Apostles was named Philip as seen in Matthew 10.  So now we have an Apostle named Philip and a deacon named Philip.  Which Philip was it that ministered to the Samaritans and baptized the Ethiopian eunuch?

       In Acts eight we saw how that after the death of Stephen, the believers were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria except for the Apostles. The Philip named in Matthew, being one of the twelve Apostles, would be part of the group who were not scattered. He would have been part of the group of Apostles who stayed in Jerusalem. This being the case, it would appear it was Philip the deacon who ministered to the Samaritans and the Ethiopian eunuch.

       Acts 8:40 shows that after Philip left Samaria, he ended up in Caesarea. Acts 21:8 show Paul stayed with the deacon Philip, one of the seven, while visiting Caesarea.  This gives evidence to the Philip who preached to the Samaritan’s being not the Apostle Philip but the deacon Philip who was seen as an evangelist.

       It is apparent that the seven men chosen to perform various administrative duties did a lot more than that.  Last time we saw how Stephen, who was one of the seven, did mighty works and paid for it by being stoned.  Now we see Philip as a travelling preacher of the Gospel also performing mighty works as we covered last time in reviewing his ministry among the Samaritan’s.  Acts 21 identifies the deacon Philip as an evangelist.  What is an evangelist?

       The Greek word translated here as “evangelist” is one of three forms of a Greek word found in the NT documents that pretty much all mean the same thing.  One form appears 55 times and another form appears 77 times and a third form appears 3 times.  The basic meaning of this word that appears in three different forms is simply the preaching of the good news.  The first two forms of this word are usually rendered into the English as the preaching of the gospel.  Gospel is another word for “good news.”  The third form of this word is used to identify a specific person who preaches the good news.

       When the Greek NT was translated into Latin by Jerome between 382 and 405 AD, a work called the Latin Vulgate, Jerome used the Latin word "evangelista" to translate the form of this Greek word that identifies a particular person as preaching the good news.  “Evangelista” carried over into our English versions as "evangelist."

       So to be an evangelist is to be someone who preaches the gospel. However, from early on it appears this word came to designate not just anyone who preaches the gospel but someone who is in the ministry full time and travels to different areas to preach the gospel much as we see the deacon Philip doing. This word is still used in that sense today. 

       Church denominations often have ministers who travel from one church to another to hold special meetings and such ministers are often referred to as evangelists. The most famous is Billy Graham who named his organization The Billy Graham Evangelistic Association.  My friend Ralph Woodrow who has spoken all over the United States and various parts of the world calls his ministry, Ralph Woodrow Evangelistic Association. 

       If being an evangelist is to be a traveling minister of the gospel, what does it mean to be an evangelical?  You have all heard the term evangelical.  This word is derived from the same Greek word rendered evangelist in Acts 21:8 and two other passages of Scripture in the NT.  While the word evangelical is not found in any English translation of the NT that I know of, you hear the word evangelical often applied to those considered conservative Christians.  You hear this term a lot during political campaigns where politicians are seen as courting the evangelical voting block. 

       According to the Institute for the Study of American Evangelical’s, Martin Luther first used the word evangelical to describe the non-Catholic churches that developed out of the Protestant Reformation in the 1500’s.  However, it appears the term took hold in the English-speaking world more than a century later during what is referred to as the “Great Awakening.”   

       The so-called “Great awakening” was characterized by a series of revival meetings in America and Britain largely carried out by the fire and brimstone preachers Jonathan Edwards and George Whitfield.  Due to their influence, evangelicalism became a synonym for revivalism and those who participated in these so called revivals came to be called evangelicals.

       In 1942, the National Association of Evangelicals was formed in response to what was seen as movement away from the fundamental teaching of Scripture. Evangelicals came to be seen as those Christians who ascribed to the fundamental teaching of Scripture and claimed to have been “born again.”  Evangelicals were generally seen as believing in the Genesis account of creation while disagreeing with evolutionary theory.  Evangelicals were further identified as those who opposed abortion and homosexuality and in general embraced what are considered conservative values.  Evangelicals were also generally seen as being politically conservative.  

      In 1976 the term evangelical Christian took a new twist when Jimmy Carter was elected president.  Carter identified himself as a “born again” evangelical Christian.  Newsweek ran a cover story declaring 1976 the “year of the evangelical.”  However, Jimmy Carter was a Democrat and was seen as being politically a liberal.  So how could he be an evangelical Christian?  Aren’t evangelical Christians supposed to be politically conservative?

      This did not set well with many conservative Christians.  So a number of conservative Christians mobilized into organizations such as the Christian Coalition and the Moral Majority. 

       Defining a so-called evangelical Christian today is somewhat difficult. It’s reported that Billy Graham was once ask what an evangelical is and his response was “you tell me.”  For an increasing number of those who still identify themselves as evangelical Christians, you will find their belief system has become a mixture of traditional belief and modern adaptations.  While Christians who consider themselves evangelicals still believe in the basic tenets of the Christ event and consider themselves “born again,” a number of these same evangelicals have also come to believe in evolution and accept same sex marriage and even accept abortion as OK. 

      Politicians tend to see modern day evangelicals not so much in terms of their religious beliefs but in terms of their beliefs about law enforcement, the military, the judicial system and various social issues.  If a Christian is very supportive of law enforcement, the military, strict enforcement of the constitution, and generally conservative as to the role of government, they are considered to be an evangelical Christian even though they may have become less opposed to things like same sex marriage, abortion and other behaviors that were in the past clearly opposed by those considered evangelical Christians.  So defining a so-called evangelical Christian has become more and more problematic. 

       The reality of the matter is that being designated an evangelical Christian or having any other kind of tag added to the word Christian is quite unnecessary.  Being labeled a liberal or a conservative Christian is rather pointless.  By definition, a Christian is one who has come to believe that Jesus the Christ died and was resurrected so that we can be reconciled to God by having the death penalty for sin forgiven.  By definition, a Christian is one who has come to acknowledge that Jesus is the Lord of our life and as such is to be obeyed.   

       The Christ event, as it is often called by Biblical scholars, was a multipurpose event.  Jesus came to facilitate our salvation on behalf of God the Father.  Jesus also came to teach a way of life.  He came to teach behavioral standards based on what is generally called the Law of love.  The standards Jesus taught are not liberal or conservative.  They are not Protestant standards or Catholic standards.  They are not Lutheran, Baptist, Methodist, Mormon or evangelical standards. 

       We should simply call them Christian standards because they are standards taught by Christ when he walked this earth and they continue to be taught because we have these standards recorded in the Scriptures.  As we will see as we move through Acts, the followers of Jesus were first called Christians at Antioch.  The name stuck as we see king Agrippa seeing the followers of Jesus as Christians in Acts 26 and Peter defining followers of Jesus as Christians in 1 Peter 4:16. 

      To be a Christian is to be a follower of Christ and to acknowledge Christ as Lord. To acknowledge Christ as Lord is to behave according to the standards of behavior Christ taught.  To acknowledge Jesus as Lord and not behave according to the standards He taught is to fraudulently claim Jesus as Lord.  It’s to fraudulently embrace the moniker Christian.  Jesus plainly taught that to call Him lord and to love Him is to obey him

       Luke 6:46:  "Why do you call me, `Lord, Lord,' and do not do what I say?

       John 14:15: If you love me, you will obey what I command.

       Jesus established a standard of behavior designed to provide a firm foundation upon which to order ones life.  To call oneself a liberal Christian or a conservative Christian is often to deviate from that standard. While some believe that to be an evangelical Christian is to be recognized as not deviating from the behavioral standards established by Jesus, as easily seen, there is significant  differences in the behavioral standards and beliefs expressed by those who call themselves evangelicals.

       When all is said and done, it is best we strive to be worthy of simply being called a Christian which is to be seen as a follower of the standards of behavior taught by Jesus as recorded in the NT Scriptures.  To add designations such as evangelical Christian, conservative Christian, liberal Christian or any other such added designation is to muddy the water as to what it means to be a follower of Christ. 

       When Jesus made the statement about calling Him Lord and not doing what He said, He went on to define the consequences of either doing what He says or failing to do what He says. 

       Luke 6:47-49: I will show you what he is like who comes to me and hears my words and puts them into practice. He is like a man building a house, who dug down deep and laid the foundation on rock. When a flood came, the torrent struck that house but could not shake it, because it was well built. But the one who hears my words and does not put them into practice is like a man who built a house on the ground without a foundation. The moment the torrent struck that house, it collapsed and its destruction was complete."

       Matthew’s account of this parable is even more graphic.

       Matthew 7:24-27: "Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash."

       To do what Christ Jesus said is the true definition of Christian.  It is not a matter of being this or that type of Christian.  There is only one type of Christian.  That is the one who hears the words of Christ and puts them into practice. 

       Next time we will begin with Acts 9 and discuss the conversion of Saul.

PART FIFTEEN