It’s quite incredible that Philip, immediately after the brutal murder of his friend Stephen and the continuing persecution by Saul (v1), continued the brave work of preaching the gospel. Both Stephen and Philip had previously been appointed to attend to the needs of poor Greek widows and assist in distributing food and support to them (see Acts 6:1,5). The opening few verses of this chapter tell us that “devout men” carried Stephen’s body for burial and expressed great sorrow over his murder. The persecution by Saul was intense and he continued in both Judea and Samaria to viciously persecute anyone who was a Christian, and both men and women were arrested and taken to prison. Verse 5 says, “Then Philip went down to the city of Samaria, and preached Christ unto them.” This is an amazing and courageous action in the very area that Saul was persecuting believers in Christ, and he continued to preach the gospel even though his life was under threat. Not only that, but previously, in Luke 9:53-54, the Samaritans had rejected the preaching of Jesus, so the disciples Peter and John suggested to Christ that the Samaritans should be destroyed and consumed by “fire from heaven” like as it was in the days of Elijah on Mt Carmel.

However, Philip now preached in this same area and had wonderful success, through which many people came to an understanding of the Truth. Notice particularly that the sound exposition of the Bible he gave is emphasised in verses 6,12 and 14. “The Word of God” was clearly explained and convinced the Samaritans of the need to change their lives. In fact, Philip was so successful in his preaching of the gospel, that the apostles sent Peter and John to help in the work (v14). The lesson for us is that, although we may similarly suffer some persecution or physical abuse, we need to have the courage to quietly continue preaching the good news of the coming kingdom of God and the saving name of Jesus Christ (v12), as Philip did, and God will bless our teaching efforts.

Although Philip was having wonderful success with his preaching, God suddenly directed him away from Samaria into the Gaza desert (v26). This area was very isolated and Gaza was the last area you would enter before heading further south into the desert and through the barren wilderness before coming eventually to Egypt. If you were the young man Philip, who had just initiated a most exciting ministry and seen scores of Samaritans—who originally hated Jesus—come to the Truth, and then you were suddenly instructed in the middle of all this successful preaching to go into the desert, you’d probably say, “Wait a minute. You don’t understand. What do you mean, go into the wilderness? We’re in the middle of one of the most exciting preaching campaigns ever conducted, with multitudes of people being baptised. The potential here is enormous!” From a natural viewpoint, Philip may have wondered about leaving the Samaritan area with all the success he was having, but the work of God is not simply to impress lots of people and draw huge crowds. God will eventually work His purpose on a global scale, when all nations will come to appreciate the work of Christ, but meanwhile the saving and education of individuals is vitally important. That’s encouraging to all of us, in that we may not be able to draw multitudes of people to God’s Truth, but we can individually talk and share the hope we have.

So, the command came to Philip in the midst of his peaching effort: “Go to the desert road down to Gaza. Be there at high noon.” It’s very clear what God wanted Philip to do, and he responded immediately without argument. Sadly, many people in today’s world argue about God’s clear instructions—they tend to only listen to what they want to hear, and if the Truth of the Bible message is not palatable to them, they make up what they want to believe and refuse to listen to God’s plain instructions. Or sometimes they come to an understanding of the Truth, but decide to defer on baptism or refuse to change their life habits. The Apostle John says very clearly, “By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God, and keep his commandments. For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments: and his commandments are not grievous (burdensome, hard to follow)” (1 John 5:2-3).

Verse 27 simply says, “And he arose and went.” Philip travelled in faith, not knowing the reason or the end result of his journey. He knows the direction of the road, but is not told what he is to do on that road, or how far he is to proceed. God simply required of him implicit obedience, and his response to God’s instructions is the evidence of his deep faith and trust in God. His reaction was parallel to the substantial faith that Abram showed 2000 years before, when he too was told to leave his house and go on a journey of faith to an unknown destination: “By faith Abraham, when he was called to go out into a place which he should after receive for an inheritance, obeyed; and he went out, not knowing whither he went” (Heb 11:8). There was no procrastination, no excuse, no debating with God. Similarly, Philip arose and went, without objecting, or even asking, “What business have I there?” or, “Who am I to meet?” God has also called us to a particular journey in life, and we need to travel that road without question, in obedience to Him, while not knowing all the circumstances that may occur on that journey. The journey may have some danger, it may at times seem confusing to us, sometimes we may not feel comfortable with what is happening to us, but we need to have faith that God will direct us and that eventually He will guide us to the kingdom.

Philip was told to walk on the road towards Gaza and into the desert, but, surprisingly, at the end of this event (v39,40) he was physically, instantly, and miraculously, transported from there back to Azotus—without walking—but to start this journey, he had to walk to get there. Sometimes we have this idea that our life in the Truth will be easy and just happen miraculously in front of our eyes, as if we’re going to be transported right through it to the kingdom, and God’s going to do it all for us! The lesson is that He requires us first to commence a faithful walk, to get up and be active, not just sit down and wait for everything to happen: “And this is love, that we walk after his commandments. This is the commandment, that, as ye have heard from the beginning, ye should walk in it” (2 John v6).

We can imagine the excitement and interest of Philip when he met the Ethiopian travelling in his chariot along that same road (v27). He was an official of the Queen and in charge of all the treasury and her finances, so he was obviously a man of significance and great importance. However, the success and position he enjoyed did not answer all the questions in his life. He was concerned enough to travel over 2000 kilometres to worship God in Jerusalem and seek answers, but he was perplexed by passages in Isaiah 53 and was reading that with concern. How wonderful that every now and again we meet people who are interested in the Bible and looking for answers. He was like “those in Thessalonica, in that they received the Word with all readiness of mind, and searched the Scriptures daily, whether those things were so” (Acts 17:11). You can imagine Philip’s excitement, and the narrative captures that when it says “Philip ran.” There are times in our lives when we need to run, to show our enthusiasm, passion and energy for God. Paul says, “Let us run with patience the race that is set before us” (Heb 12:1).

We also need to be at the study classes and continue to educate ourselves in God’s Word by reading daily, because people will ask questions of us and we need to know the answers: “Wherefore be ye not unwise, but understanding what the will of the Lord is” (Eph 5:17); “Be ready always to give an answer to every man that asks you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear” (1 Pet 3:15).

The Ethiopian struggled to understand who the person described in Isaiah 53 was, because it seemed that the man there was persecuted, humiliated and put to death without leaving any descendants. (Note: this would have been of great interest to the Ethiopian eunuch as he had no children either, and that is emphasised with the constant use of the word “eunuch” in v27,34,36,38,39.) He could not find an explanation from the Jewish Rabbis or teachers because their idea of the Messiah was a person of great power and influence who would conquer and provide freedom to the Jews and set up God’s kingdom. So who was the important man in Isaiah 53? Philip explained to him that the man was Jesus, who had been despised and rejected, brutally treated and put to death exactly as Isaiah 53 prophesied. He had no children or natural descendants, but because of his perfect life and voluntary death, God resurrected him out of the grave and all who followed him would become part of his spiritual family. The eunuch immediately saw the connection and was excited as Philip taught him the Truth about Jesus. He explained the various chapters of Isaiah:

Chapter 53 – How God’s servant would be bruised and suffer but provide salvation from sin (The Edenic promise)

Chapter 54 – How God’s grace would be extended to the faithful (the Abrahamic promise)

Chapter 55 – How all who seek God can be saved through the “sure mercies of David” (the Davidic promise)

Chapter 56 – How even eunuchs will be blessed in the kingdom (the global promise to all Gentiles)

The Ethiopian was so impressed with the teaching of Philip that he responded and wanted to be baptised. This shows us the importance of the act of baptism as a right response to understanding the Bible. Even more important is the question of Philip, “Do you believe with ALL your heart?” We are not to be half-hearted when we commit to a life in Christ. We must continue to maintain our love of God with ALL our heart, for as Jesus said, to love God with all our heart, all our soul and all our might is the most important thing in a believer’s life. This is followed by his wonderful declaration of faith, for the Ethiopian said, “I believe Jesus Christ is the Son of God.” This is the same remarkable phrase uttered by Peter (Matt 16:16) and Martha (John 11:27), indicating that Jesus is not a trinity God but the Son of God and was resurrected from death by God because of his obedience.

The Ethiopian eunuch “went on his way rejoicing” and this joyfulness corresponds to a passage in Isaiah 56:4-7 that talks about eunuchs being blessed as part of a great world-wide family. It says, “For thus saith the Lord unto the eunuchs that keep my sabbaths, and choose the things that please me, and take hold of my covenant; Even unto them will I give in mine house and within my walls a place and a name better than of sons and of daughters: I will give them an everlasting name, that shall not be cut off…Even them will I bring to my holy mountain, and make them joyful in my house of prayer.”

It is this same sentiment of joy that we have today as we think about the saving work of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is directing our lives, and like Philip we may not always understand why certain events occur in our lives. Sometimes they are difficult to deal with, just as Philip had to accept the death of his friend Stephen. Sometimes we are unsure why God is directing us along a particular pathway, and at times it may feel like a lonely wilderness road in the desert. It’s so important for us to continue to grow in the Truth so that like Philip we can share the joy we have with others. We need to continue to read the Bible so we can provide answers to the questions others may ask. Let us continue to maintain our walk of faith so that one day we too can meet the Ethiopian eunuch in God’s kingdom and spend eternity rejoicing in the wonderful work of our Lord Jesus Christ.