By Divine Appointment Only

Acts 8:26-40    |    Sermon Resources     |    15 March 2020


Printable Sermon Outline can be found here:  3-15-20 Sermon Notes


Our passage this week illustrates the principle of a divine appointment.  That is to say a divine appointment as opposed to human engineering.  There are certain things that we can bring about simply by careful planning and our own effort.  For instance, when I was a brand new believer, I had attended one of my first real youth group events.  We closed our gathering by getting in a prayer circle and holding hands.  I found myself holding hands in that prayer circle with the girl I had essentially just met who I would later marry!  This might sound like a divine appointment, but I found out later she worked very hard to just “happen” to be standing next to me at the end of that meeting!

But a divine appointment works differently.  This is what we cannot engineer on our own.  An outsider might say it just happened by “chance.”  But the person of faith knows better.  This is the story of Philip and the Ethiopian eunuch.  I want look at this passage through three lenses: (1) the obedience of Philip, (2) the teachability of the eunuch, (3) and the provision of God.


#1 The Obedience of Philip

Philip was instrumental in the revival going on in Samaria.  He had previously been chosen by the church and appointed by the apostles to look after the widows in Jerusalem.  But now he found himself stepping into the role of evangelist, attracting large crowds of people with his preaching and the signs and wonders that God was doing through him.  Scores of people were coming to faith and being baptized.  This must have been an incredibly rewarding and energizing time for Philip, though certainly he was facing fresh challenges – like the task of nurturing and instructing those new believers.

Philip was apparently still at work in Samaria when an angel of the Lord (v.28) appeared to him.   You have to wonder what was going through Philip’s mind at this point.  Is the angel here to affirm the good work going on?  Maybe delivering further instructions for the building up of that church?  But the angel covered none of this and instead directed Philip to go immediately to the road that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza (v.28).  For those of us not familiar with this area, Luke tells specifically that this is a desert place (v.28).  Can you imagine what Philip must have been thinking at this point?  There are so many objections that I would have made to this odd command.

-1- It’s unnecessary.  Philip could have asked the angel why he did not go himself.  Why send me?  Whatever task was being given to Philip could probably have been accomplished better by an angel.  And yet we have this pattern twice now in the book of Acts.  An angel breaks the apostles out of prison in Jerusalem and tells them to go to the temple and preach.  They could have levied the same objection – wouldn’t it be better for the angel to go himself?  But this is the not the task given to angels; it is the task given to the church – to you and I.  An angel might provide direction as to where to go, but it is the task of Jesus’ disciples to be his messengers.

-2- It’s impractical.   Secondly, Philip could have objected that it was unreasonable to expect him to give up a vibrant ministry in Samaria to go to an empty deserted place.  Philip was needed in Samaria.  Who would continue to preach to them?  Who would disciple them?  Philip had the skillset and experience necessary to lead an entire city in revival.  And now he was going to go out to the desert?  Was this a “waste” of his gifts and his talents?

-3- It’s risky.  Bad things happen on deserted roads.   Jesus’ parable of the good Samaritan illustrated exactly this point!  But nevertheless, Philip obeys.  On the road he comes upon an Ethiopian, a eunuch who was in charge of all the treasure of the queen of Ethiopia (v.27).  The Holy Spirit gives Philip further instructions: “Go over and join the chariot” (v. 29).  Here is another risk that Philip must take.  By approaching the eunuch, he is crossing barriers of rank, race, and religion.  That’s a lot of barriers!  The eunuch holds an elevated rank above Philip being part of the royal entourage.  The two men would certainly have been a part of different races.  And while a strong case can be made that the eunuch had some Jewish ties, Philip is crossing over religious barriers in that he was a Christian and the eunuch was not.

-4- It’s unwarranted. Finally, Philip could have objected at any point along the way that this whole venture was needless and unwarranted.  Didn’t Jesus say to Peter “I will build my church and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it”?  If Jesus wants to build his kingdom, let Jesus build his kingdom!  If Jesus wants to save the eunuch, why can’t he bring the eunuch to Philip?   Sadly, through the history of the church many self-proclaimed Calvinists practiced this very thing.   John Calvin would have been appalled by the idea that the sovereignty of God would be translated into complacent laziness in regards to Jesus’ “Great Commission” to make disciples of all nations.   Yes, Jesus will build his kingdom and he does so through the obedience of ordinary people like Philip.

The bottom line is that Philip obeyed at each of these points.  He made none of the objections that we might make – or least none were recorded anyway.  While the eunuch was the steward of the great treasure of his queen, so Philip was the steward of an even greater treasure of his king.  And he diligently obeyed the desires of his king, sharing that treasure even with this nameless eunuch.


#2 The Teachability of the Eunuch

We turn now to consider this passage through the lens of the eunuch.  Whereas we saw the uncommon obedience of Philip, now we will see the uncommon teachability of the eunuch.  But the eunuch certainly had his own reasons to ignore anything Philip had to say.

-1- He was a man of great power and influence.  The eunuch was part of a royal entourage.  His elevated station in life would have been obvious to anyone who encountered him.  He had the task of being in charge of all of the treasure of his queen.  This put him in a key position of power.  He had control over the queen’s checkbook!  This was also certainly the very reason he was made a eunuch in the first place –  to ensure that he would remain loyal to the queen.  Why should the eunuch, a man of great power, be bothered by yet another “nobody” who wants a moment of his time?  

-2- He had places to go.  When Philip comes upon the eunuch, he is traveling in his chariot (v.29).  The eunuch had gone to Jerusalem to worship (v. 27) and now was headed back home.  You know what it’s like to drive home from vacation don’t you?  If you don’t, go ask your kids!  There is excitement as you are headed to your destination but when the vacation is over, you just want to go home.  Don’t pass “go” – don’t collect $200 – just get me home!  Why should he stop and engage a total stranger on the way home?

-3- He was busy with something else.  As the eunuch is traveling, he is passing the time by reading.  And not just reading anything, he is reading the Bible.  How open are you to being interrupted when you are reading?  Or how about when you are having your “quiet time” in the Bible?  If you are like me, you might tend to be lost in thought as you read.  And along comes a stranger who wants a moment of your time.  Would you stop what you are doing?

And, of course, the eunuch verbalizes none of these objections.  Quite the contrary, he is open and receptive to the opportunity to hear from Philip.  He recognizes his need.  When Philip asks him, “Do you understand what you are reading?(v. 30), he responds in a very humble way: “How can I, unless someone guides me? (v.31).  This is teachability! The eunuch would have had no earthly reason to believe that Philip was anybody important.  He would have had no idea that this was the man who led a great revival in Samaria and who would be known to history as “Philip the Evangelist” (c.f. Acts 21:8).  But just as Philip was obedient, so the eunuch was teachable.  His teachability put him in position for a remarkable life change.


#3 The Provision of God

The main character in this passage is actually neither Philip nor the eunuch – it is God!  He is the one who is directing the steps of both men.  We saw the obedience of Philip, the teachability of the eunuch, and now we turn to the provision of God.  God provides!  In this conversion story of the eunuch God provided three things.

-1- God provided the messengerThe passage begins when an angel of the Lord comes to Philip.  We don’t know a whole lot about angels but we do know their purpose because we know what they are called.  They are called “angels” which in the Greek language of the New Testament is the word angelos.  This translates simply as “a messenger.”  The word angelos appears 176 times in the New Testament and only by a careful reading of the context can we discern whether a divine messenger (i.e. an angel) or a human messenger is intended.

In tis passage God provided a messenger but the twist is that the first messenger we meet, the angel, serves only to give instructions to another messenger, Philip.  Salvation is about to come to the eunuch because God raised up a messenger.  Here is the further twist – not only is Philip is used by God but you and I also have the privilege of serving as messengers ourselves.  God’s pattern is to build his kingdom through people!


-2- God provided the messageJust as God had stirred in Philip to send him along the way, so he stirred in the eunuch to pick up his Bible.   Likely due to his wealth he had access to a scroll of the prophet Isaiah.  He just “happened” to be reading from Isaiah 53 as Philip approached.  If you are not familiar with Isaiah 53, stop reading this commentary right now and go read it.  Seriously, go read that passage!  If there is any place in the entire Old Testament that you would want to take someone to, to explain to them why Jesus had come, this is it.  This passage written some 700 years before Jesus was born, provides unmistakable references to exactly what Jesus did.  So much so that some critics might charge that the book of Isaiah was a forgery written after Jesus came.  (By the way, this is easily debunked as the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls uncovered a copy of the book of Isaiah that even secular scholars date to the BC era.)

Can you imagine Philip’s surprise as he was jogging alongside the chariot, to hear the book of Isaiah being read (apparently the eunuch was reading out loud as was common practice in that day)?  God had already gotten Philip started.  I love that Philip does not begin by saying “I felt like God told me to come and talk with you.”  He didn’t need to play that card. And neither does Philip just launch into a sermon.  He begins with a question.  He is careful to note what the eunuch was engaged with and began there.


-3- God provided the meansWe see God orchestrating every aspect of this passage including the wonderful ending.   Philip joins the eunuch in his chariot which apparently continued to move along towards its destination.  And he opened his mouth (I find this to be a curious detail) and beginning with this Scripture (that is Isaiah 53) he told him the good news about Jesus (v. 35).  Early church preacher Chrysostom reminds us that it took a blinding light and a vision of Jesus to convert Saul. This eunuch was converted by a stranger who he welcomed into his chariot.

The eunuch must have professed faith in Christ but now what to do about his baptism? He is going to return home to Ethiopia.  Will he ever see Philip again?  Who will baptize him? They are in a deserted place but as they were travelling, they just “happened” to come to some water and the eunuch exclaimed “See, here is water!  What prevents me from being baptized?” (v.37).   God provided the means for him to be baptized.

The eunuch commanded the chariot to stop (v. 38) as it had been slowly moving this entire time.  We are told that they both went down into the water, Philip and the eunuch (v. 38) and the eunuch was baptized.  I can’t help but point this out – Luke does not tell us how the eunuch was baptized.  Was he immersed under the water?  Did he have water sprinkled on his head?  Or even poured on his head?  Luke does not say though there are plenty of pastors who would be happy to fill in for you exactly what Luke does not.  We know both men went down into the water.  If this meant they were immersed, then Philip would have had to be immersed as well.  I’ve never heard of a pastor going under the water while performing a baptism.  My point is this, if God wanted to prescribe a specific way for baptism to be performed, he would have expressly laid that out in Scripture. As it is, I see no explicit warrant from this passage (or any other) as to the precise way water is to applied in baptism.

But what we do see is God providentially providing a source of water for the eunuch to be baptized.  And as they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord carried Philip away (v.39).  Is this a supernatural flight out of the river?  We are not told.  Philip would proceed to Caesarea (v.40) which happens to be the next location in which we will find him (c.f. Acts 21) and presumably the eunuch continued on his way home rejoicing (v.39).  If he had picked up the scroll of Isaiah which he had been reading, he would have very quickly come to this passage just a few chapters later (c.f. Isaiah 56:3-5):

And let not the eunuch say,

“Behold, I am a dry tree.”

4For thus says the LORD:

“To the eunuchs who keep my Sabbaths,

who choose the things that please me

and hold fast my covenant,

5I will give in my house and within my walls

a monument and a name

better than sons and daughters;

I will give them an everlasting name

that shall not be cut off.”

What a promise!  A promise that just “happens” to be located just a short ways down the scroll he had just “happened” to be reading.  Yes, God does provide!


Discussion Questions

  1. What kind of excuses could Philip have made for not listening to the angel?
  2. What kind of excuses could the eunuch have made for not listening to Philip?
  3. What kind of excuses have you made for not doing something you know you should do?
  4. How does this passage illustrate the sovereignty of God?
  5. In light of all that is going on in our country right now how does an understanding of the sovereignty of God bring comfort?
  6. What can you as an individual (or as a family) do this week to love those in your community affected by the coronavirus?

Sermon Audio

Sermon Video