One of the things I love about Jesus is how He intentionally uses Misfits… That Jesus chooses the most unlikely people to do the most extraordinary of things. That God used a slave named Joseph to save the entire world from a coming famine… A dejected and self-conscious wanderer named Moses to deliver His people from bondage… A young shepherd boy named David to be His King over Israel. How amazing that Jesus specifically chose a group of uneducated, redneck fishermen to be the foundation of His church?
As Paul would write in 1 Corinthians 1:26-29, “For you see your calling, brethren, that not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called. But God has chosen the foolish things of the world to put to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to put to shame the things which are mighty; and the base things of the world and the things which are despised God has chosen, and the things which are not, to bring to nothing the things that are, that no flesh should glory in His presence.” You see God uses Misfit so that no one could ever mistake the origins of the work and power.
This morning I want to examine the life of one of my favorite New Testament Misfits - a man named Philip. In order to provide a bit of the framework for our study, I plan to emphasize two components to Philip’s story: (1) The ways in which he was used by God, and (2) The interesting mechanisms that would keep Philip right in the center of God’s will.
While one of Jesus’ Apostles was also named Philip, the Philip I’m referring too is first introduced in Acts 6. “In those days, when the number of the disciples was multiplying, there arose a complaint against the Hebrews by the Hellenists, because their widows were neglected in the daily distribution. Then the twelve summoned the multitude of the disciples and said, ‘It is not desirable that we should leave the word of God and serve tables. Therefore, brethren, seek out from among you seven men of good reputation, full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom, whom we may appoint over this business; but we will give ourselves continually to prayer and to the ministry of the word.’ And the saying pleased the whole multitude. They chose Stephen, a man full of faith and the Holy Spirit, and Philip…”
Biblically speaking we know absolutely nothing about Philip before his first-mention here in Acts 6. Historically, we have zero records of his family or upbringing, and no account of when or how he came to be a follower of Jesus. That said we can assume a few things…
Whether it was on Pentecost when Peter preached an amazing sermon where 3000 souls were saved or some other occasion, a day did arise in his life when Philip heard the Gospel preached, rejected the religion of his fathers, repented of his sin, became a follower of Jesus, joined this Jerusalem church, was likely discipled by one of the Apostles, and started looking for simple ways to live out his faith within the community of believers.
Most interestingly, Philip’s story begins no different than yours or mine. He wasn’t one of the original twelve and Scripture doesn’t indicate he enjoyed some unique religious pedigree. Philip had no formal training, didn’t attend seminary, nor possessed a degree in theology. He’s never mentioned as an Elder and we none of his sermons are recorded in Scripture.
Instead, Philip came to faith in Jesus, plugged into his church, and started faithfully serving. He was a normal man who’s initial experiences are literally no different than ours. And yet, over a period of time Luke says Philip came to demonstrate a “good reputation” among the brethren being known as a man “full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom.” When the Apostles ask the church to “seek out from among you seven men” Philip was chosen to be a Deacon.
Please note… Philip was chosen for this new position within the church for one simple reason - it was a role he was already filling! You see Philip wasn’t waiting for a title or some formal position to begin serving. Instead, he was already proving himself to be a faithful servant. Philip was chosen to be a Deacon, because he was already being a Deacon.
The first movement in Philip’s life, when he goes from being a member of the church to possessing a position of authority within the church, occurred through his simple faithfulness. Because Philip was faithful over little, God decides to increase his plate.
The second movement in Philip’s life occurs the next time we see him in Acts 8. It’s likely he’d been a Deacon for a number of years when, “At that time a great persecution arose against the church which was at Jerusalem; and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles. And devout men carried Stephen to his burial, and made great lamentation over him. As for Saul, he made havoc of the church, entering every house, and dragging off men and women, committing them to prison. Therefore those who were scattered went everywhere preaching the word.
Then Philip went down to the city of Samaria and preached Christ to them. 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.”
Don’t miss this… This second movement in Philip’s life, when he leaves Jerusalem and ends up in Samaria, occurs for one simple reason - a difficult circumstance “arose” completely out of his control! Life was good in Jerusalem. Ministry was fruitful. Philip no doubt was excelling in his role as a Deacon. Then, without warning, his friend Steven is murdered, this man Saul starts making “havoc of the church,” and he’s forced to “scatter!”
The grand irony is that this was all part of God’s plan. As we read it would be through this persecution in Jerusalem, that God would lead Philip down “to the city of Samaria” where he’d end up “preaching Christ!” Almost overnight Philip the Deacon becomes Philip the Preacher! The man charged with waiting tables and cleaning toilets is now called into the mission field through an event he was literally powerless over.
Never forget… Any event or circumstance that is completely out of your control still remains in His! And since this is the case, you can trust that whatever you may be facing or for that matter experiencing is part of God’s larger will for your life. Philip could have been bitter - angry at God. His friend had just been murdered. His church had come under fire. Philip had been forced to leave his job, ministry, home for an unfamiliar city in Samaria.
And yet, notice the remarkable faith in Philip. The moment he arrives in Samaria what does he immediately begin to do? He “preached Christ to them.” Friend, understand such a reaction only occurs when a person has come to fully trust the providence of God.
I love the fact Philip simply “preached Christ!” Remember, Philip has no formal training. He’s not a polished public speaker. Philip was a doer, but now he’s placed into a position where the most pressing need was evangelism. Notice, Philip doesn’t preach a religious code to live by or rules to obey. Rather, Philip tells these Samaritans about the Person who changed his life! He told them about Jesus - who He is and what He’s done for them.
Luke continues by telling us “the multitudes 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.”
Don’t overlook the significance of this subtle detail… This Awakening among the Samaritans occurred as they were first “hearing” the words of Philip, but secondly as they were also “seeing” the power of God being practically demonstrated in and through his life.
As a preacher Philip did more than tell these Samaritans about Jesus. His life demonstrated a power that could be seen! In a profound way Philip’s life validate his message and his message was consistent with life that he lived! Philip preached Christ not from an intellectual basis, but from the experiential. He spoke of a Christ he personally knew!
May I ask… What makes your life any different from the unbelieving world around you? Is there a difference? Do people people see the joy of the Lord? Do people see a peace that can only be described as otherworldly? Do you demonstrate the grace of God and the love of the Father to those around you? Consider… If people were only reaching conclusions about Jesus by looking at your life, what conclusions would they reach?
I’ve mentioned this before, but this is what so many often get so wrong about evangelism and witnessing. Evangelism is not so much an activity you do, but a witness you are. It’s a light that shines not from oneself, but from the Light of the Spirit indwelling you!
In his book “The Work of the Pastor” William Still wrote, “My whole view of the Christian’s responsibility for primary evangelism is founded upon that belief that the greatest evangelistic and pastoral agency in the world is the Holy Spirit dwelling naturally in God’s children, so that Christ shines out of them all the time… We have to let our light shine - not hide it, and certainly not flash it, which draws attention to ourselves… Let its beam blaze out like a lighthouse, believing that Jesus Christ is witnessing through us, in and to the world.”
Since Saul had initiated this “great persecution” in Jerusalem, Philip ends up becoming the central figure behind this spiritual awakening taking place in the region of Samaria. Through events not of his own making Philip the Servant had become Philip the Preacher. He’d been called and commissioned to be God’s man to reap a most incredible harvest.
To say the Samaritan church was trending would have been an understatement. She was bursting at the seams. Attendance and conversion rates were never higher. This church was new and fresh; and because of this work Philip immediately found himself in the spotlight.
This church was rocking and Philip’s ministry had never been better when… Acts 8:26, “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.’ This is desert.”
Wow! Talk about a wicked curve. God abruptly interrupts this season of vibrant ministry by sending this “angel” to Philip with instructions to leave Samaria! And if that weren’t enough, notice the particulars of these new marching orders… The destination would not be the populated cities of Jerusalem or Gaza, but instead the road between the two!
This was such a bizarre directive Luke even goes out of his way to point out that this trek of road was nothing but desert. These instructions didn’t make any sense. Why would God remove Philip from the midst of this incredible work happening in Samaria? Why would God send him to a place that was literally unpopulated? It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see that this would be the last place on earth you’d send a gifted preacher!
Knowing that his destination was to simply head “south along the road which goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza” we’re told in Acts 8:27 that “Philip arose and went.” Philip abruptly leaves Samaria seemingly unannounced, proceeds to travel back through Jerusalem, and begins the long, lonely walk through the hot desert towards Gaza.
Acts 8:27, “And behold a man of Ethiopia, a eunuch of great authority under Candace the queen of the Ethiopians, who had charge of all her treasury, and had come to Jerusalem to worship, was returning. And sitting in his chariot, he was reading Isaiah the prophet.”
What do we know of this man? First, Luke tells us this “man of Ethiopian” was “a eunuch” who had “great authority” serving as a type of “Treasury Secretary” under “Candace the queen of the Ethiopians.” This means he was wealthy, powerful, and influential, but as a “eunuch” was also largely in servitude to the Queen. Note: “Candace” was a title not a name.
Luke also tells us this Ethiopian “had come to Jerusalem to worship.” While this man had traveled some 200 miles up from Ethiopia with the desire to “worship” the true God of Israel, it’s safe to reason his experience at the Temple hadn't been a positive one.
For starters, because he was of African descent, the furthest into the Temple he would have been allowed would have been the outermost Court of the Gentiles - which Jesus called on two occasions a “dean of thieves.” Let’s say it hardly possessed a worshipful environment.
Beyond this, if the religious leaders correctly applied Deuteronomy 23:1 it’s unlikely as a eunuch he would have even been allowed into the Temple precincts at all… The Law stated, “He who is emasculated by crushing or mutilation shall not enter the assembly of the LORD.”
Regardless, we read that as he “was returning… sitting in his chariot” this Ethiopian was “reading Isaiah the prophet.” Though he had been turned away from the Temple or at a minimum left disappointed by the charade that was the outer courtyard, on a positive note he had been able to use his wealth to procure a copy of the Prophet Isaiah.
It’s clear from our text this Ethiopian was a noble man on an even nobler quest. He was searching for the Truth. The world and all that she offered had left him empty. Religion and all that it promised had left him wanting. He desired a real, life-altering encounter with God.
Though his situation was disappointing, as he makes his way back to Ethiopia, there were two things going for him. (1) He was digging into God’s Word. And (2) While he needed someone to help make sense of the things he was reading, God was one step ahead of him.
Acts 8:29, “Then the Spirit said to Philip, ‘Go near and overtake this chariot.’” Don’t forget Philip is walking this lonely, dusty road from Jerusalem to Gaza when this chariot with all of its entourage comes speeding by. How else would he have noticed the chariot?
Then as Philip admires such an interesting sight (imagine being on a deserted road in West Texas and a row of black Escalades come whizzing past you), Luke says “the Spirit” tells Philip to “go near and overtake (or literally “attach yourself to”) this chariot.”
Acts 8:30-31, “So Philip ran to him, and heard him reading the prophet Isaiah, and said, ‘Do you understand what you are reading?’ And he said, ‘How can I, unless someone guides me?’ And he asked Philip to come up and sit with him.”
Explain the hilarity of this section of Scripture.
Acts 8:32-38, “The place in the Scripture which he read was this (Isaiah 53): ‘He was led as a sheep to the slaughter; And as a lamb before its shearer is silent, So He opened not His mouth. In His humiliation His justice was taken away, And who will declare His generation? For His life is taken from the earth.’
So the eunuch answered Philip and said, ‘I ask you (literally I beg of you), of whom does the prophet say this, of himself or of some other man?’ Then Philip opened his mouth, and beginning at this Scripture, preached Jesus to him.
Now as they went down the road, they came to some water. And the eunuch said, ‘See, here is water. What hinders me from being baptized?’ Then Philip said, ‘If you believe with all your heart, you may.’ And he answered and said, ‘I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.’ So he commanded the chariot to stand still. And both Philip and the eunuch went down into the water, and he baptized him.”
While Philip only saw a lonely, desert road stretching from Jerusalem south to Gaza, God knew there would be a man from Ethiopian traveling this same road in desperate need of someone to share the Gospel with him… God had another harvest primed for the reaping!
Though many in the same position would have hesitated to make the kind of move that Philip did - especially when obedience would take him from the amazing work in Samaria… A position of security to uncertainty, from a sure thing to a who knows, from the hotbed of success to ministry in a desert, once Philip heard from God he acted immediately.
This third movement to Philip’s life and this incredible event that followed was only possible because he was willing to obey God’s Word. And don’t overlook the fact Philip was only armed with a one word command. God said, “Go” and Philip went! He didn’t need an explanation. Didn’t ask God for the details. All Philip needed to act in obedience was his marching orders. He trusted God and his life was lived in complete surrender.
And while obedience to God’s Word got Philip to this desert road, the fourth movement (or the catalyst to all that followed) was his sensitivity to the Holy Spirit. Notice this entire story begins with God giving Philip a command that contained a specific destination.
And what did Philip do? He went to this road, traveled south as he was told, and simply waited for God to provide further instructions. Then, as a result of his obedience to be exactly where God told him to be, the Spirit broke the silence with a second command…
Philip “catch the chariot!” Once again Philip followed God’s leading with a simple faith… He ran up, caught the chariot, and proceeded to run alongside it. It was only then, after a continued obedience that seemed bizarre to say the least, that God’s ultimate purpose began to come into view when he heard the man reading from the prophet Isaiah! If Philip hadn’t been sensitive to the Spirit and obedient the exchange would have never happened.
You see Philip understood the best place for him to be was in the will of God, but he also realized the only way to be in the will of God was to obey the commands of God given through His Word and His Spirit. Always remember, “Obedience to the simple commands of God is the only key by which you can unlock God’s ultimate plan for your life.”
Now if you’re like me the obvious question that jumps off the page is how did Philip hear the voice of the Holy Spirit? While Luke is clear that “the Spirit said to Philip, ‘Go near and overtake this chariot'” how was Philip certain this was actually God’s voice speaking?
Though it’s unlikely Philip received an audible directive, I am convinced the answer lies in (1) A person being Spirit-filled, (2) That person possessing a desire to listen, (3) developing a familiarity with His voice, and (4) having a bold faith to act upon a particular impression.
I’m amazed at a central idea this story illustrates that few discuss… There is no question God evaluates ministry opportunities and determines ministry success in a much different way than we do. Though God sent Philip to Samaria because a harvest was ripe for reaping, it is also true He sent Philip to this desert road for the same reason.
You see from God’s perspective one opportunity was not greater than the other - which is why God deliberately uses the same man for both occasions! While mass evangelism undoubtedly brought God glory, it’s evident individual evangelism was just as important to the heart of God. Numbers don’t always equate to greater ministry success.
Consider that after declaring in Matthew 18:11 that “the Son of Man had come to save that which was lost” Jesus posed a rhetorical question to His disciples in the very next verse, “What do you think? If a man has a hundred sheep, and one of them goes astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine and go to the mountains to seek the one that is straying? And if he should find it, assuredly, I say to you, he rejoices more over that sheep than over the ninety-nine that did not go astray. Even so it is not the will of your Father who is in heaven that one of these little ones should perish.”
It’s clear this Ethiopian man was a genuine seeker desperate for God to reveal Himself. The world had ripped him off. Religion had left him empty. But God would not stand idly by and allow the cries of his heart to go unanswered - which is why He sent His man Philip! And once again notice Philip’s role wasn’t to invite the Ethiopian to church so that he might encounter Jesus. Instead, Philip was sent to him so that he might encounter Jesus.
In the book of Acts, we see this reality (God’s heart for the one lost soul) demonstrated over and over again. You see God always responds to a genuine seeker by sending one of His servants to them to “preach Jesus!” For example… The Apostle Peter was sent by God to the house of Cornelius. Paul would be sent to find the man in Macedonia. And in this instance Philip is sent to reach this Ethiopian Eunuch. Who is He sending you to reach?
If you’re like me sometimes it’s so easy to become overwhelmed by the entirety of the lost world around us that we loose sight of the one lost soul right next to us. Understand… That person you’re thinking of this very moment is so important to God that He is sending you to share with them the love of Christ! Like Philip - will you go?
For a perfect example of this I ask you to consider Jesus’ own experience on the cross… In the midst of a divine work designed to save the masses, what did He do? Jesus took time to care and minister to the needs of that one man hanging on a cross next to him.
Well there was one final movement to Philip’s life and it’s much different than being lead through simple faithfulness, moved to new areas through difficult circumstances, being obedient to His Word, or possessing a sensitivity to the Holy Spirit… Sometimes God will lead us in such a supernatural way that it’s hard to explain and in many ways defies reason.
Acts 8:39-40, “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. But Philip was found at Azotus. And passing through, he preached in all the cities till he came to Caesarea.”
According to Luke’s account as soon as the Ethiopian emerged from the water “the Spirit of the Lord caught Philip away!” This Greek phrase “caught away” is the word “harpazô” meaning “to snatch out.” In Latin this word is translated as “raptura” or literally “raptured.”
Because “the eunuch saw him no more” it can be reasoned that this act of snatching Philip away initiated by the “Spirit of the Lord” resulted in his body physically disappearing from one location only to then reappear in another. In this instance, Philip was “caught away” from this baptism scene only to then be physically placed elsewhere on earth.
The story closes with the Ethiopian “going on his way rejoicing” and Philip, finding himself in Azotus (which was a town north of Gaza), now working his way along the Mediterranean coast “preaching in all the cities” before finally settling in the northern seaport of Caesarea.
And while Luke narrative will shift away from Philip, this is not the last we see of this man. In Acts 21:8 Luke writes, “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. Now this man had four virgin daughters who prophesied.”
It would appear Philip eventually settles in Caesarea where he continues serving Jesus. It’s likely he finds a job, in the process eventually plants a church, over time gets married, and ends up having four daughters who grow up to love Jesus and have a ministry of their own.
I find it so very interesting where God eventually leads Philip… He goes from being a simple servant to a Deacon in Jerusalem, from a Deacon to a Preacher in Samaria, from a Preacher to an Evangelist on the road to Gaza, from this encounter with the Ethiopian to Caesarea where he ultimately settles down as a Husband and a Father! Not only is God’s hand evident every step along the way, but Philip’s legacy ends up being his family - not ministry!
As a Misfit, Philip’s life challenges us in many ways… Are you willing to serve because it’s a natural response to His grace or are you waiting on a position or title? If a difficult situation were to arise out of your control are you willing to trust God and see His larger purposes?
If God says “Go” are you willing to obey even when it doesn’t make sense? Beyond this… How far as you willing to go to share Jesus with the lost soul he places along your path? Do you possess the same type of sensitivity to the Spirit’s leading?
In the end, God’s supernatural hand was all over Philip’s life and his journey was incredible. Philip was a normal guy who became one of the first Deacons, was instrumental in this Awakening that occurred in Samaria, was central in this Ethiopian coming to Jesus (who then took the Gospel back into Africa), and when it was all said and done left behind Godly children. And if Jesus could do all of this through Philip, He can do it through you as well.
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