Acts 8:26 – 9:31

Thursday Evening Bible Study

October 11, 2007


The Holy Spirit came upon the church.  But it wasn’t until persecution began that they gospel began to be spread outside of Jerusalem.  The first place the gospel went was to the Samaritans in the north.  God used one of the table-servers, Philip, to bring about a great revival in Samaria.

:26-40 Philip and the Ethiopian Eunuch

:26 Now 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.

Here Philip has been in the middle of an amazing revival. Things are really going great. And God tells him it’s time to go.

Sometimes it seems that God’s will doesn’t fit our idea of what makes sense.

:27 So he arose and went.


The first step in God’s will

We are often looking for God’s will in our lives. We talk about wanting all that God has for us.
But it usually starts with a single step.
We might say to ourselves, “Well fine, I’ll get around to that, but I want to know what’s up ahead!” Yet often God won’t show you the next step until you take the first one.
God didn’t give Philip all the details about what was up ahead. He just said, “Go to Gaza”.
Example: You may be saying to God, “When are you going to fix all the problems in my marriage?” And God responds, “When are you going to start loving your spouse like you should?” You respond with, “Well I know that it’s important, and I plan to do that, but I want the problems fixed first!” Yet often God is waiting to fix the problems until you take the first step.
It’s important in understanding God’s will for my life that I learn to take the step in front of me.
This is from J. Oswald Sanders’ book, Spiritual Discipleship (pg.27):
At a conference in Ben Lippen, South Carolina, a young woman was giving testimony to her call to service. In the course of her message she held up a blank sheet of paper, saying that it contained God’s plan for her life. The only writing on it was her signature at the bottom. Then she said, “I have accepted God’s will without knowing what it is, and I am leaving it to Him to fill in the details.” She was a true disciple, and she was on safe ground. With such a yielded will, the Holy Spirit would be able to guide her mental processes as she moved along the path of life.
God is looking for the day when we’ll just say “Yes” without having all the details.
Often I find that I’m not told what “step 2” is until I’ve taken “step 1”.

Years ago before the days of GPS and radar, the old Norwegian sea captains devised a way of navigating through the sometimes treacherous fjords at night.  They set up a system of light houses at certain key points in the fjords.  All the captain needed to do was to point his ship towards the lighthouse until he could see around the corner and get a glimpse of the next lighthouse.  Then he’d turn his ship towards the second lighthouse until he could see the third lighthouse.

We may want to see the whole map of what is up ahead for our lives, but often I find that God just shows us the next lighthouse.

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,

Candace – this is a name, but the title for the queen of Ethiopia, like “Pharaoh” was the title of the Egyptian kings.

The Ethiopian monarchy claimed to have been a direct descendant from Solomon.  Their claim was that when the Queen of Sheba came home from her visit with Solomon, she was pregnant, and her offspring was the Ethiopian royal line.

Ethiopia remained a monarchy until 1974, and was ruled for most of the 20th century by Emperor Haile Selassie. His name meant "Might of the Trinity." One of his numerous titles was “Lion of Judah”.  He was overthrown in 1974 by a Marxist coup.

Jerusalem – this fellow had been in the temple in Jerusalem

:28 was returning. And sitting in his chariot, he was reading Isaiah the prophet.

:29 Then the Spirit said to Philip, "Go near and overtake this chariot."

:30 So Philip ran to him, and heard him reading the prophet Isaiah, and said, "Do you understand what you are reading?"

:31 And he said, "How can I, unless someone guides me?" And he asked Philip to come up and sit with him.

:32 The place in the Scripture which he read was this: "He was led as a sheep to the slaughter; And as a lamb before its shearer is silent, So He opened not His mouth.

:33 In His humiliation His justice was taken away, And who will declare His generation? For His life is taken from the earth."

The fellow was reading from Isaiah 53.

:34 So the eunuch answered Philip and said, "I ask you, of whom does the prophet say this, of himself or of some other man?"

:35 Then Philip opened his mouth, and beginning at this Scripture, preached Jesus to him.

I like the way this happened.

It is good to sharpen your skills at evangelism. It is very good to think about ways to start a discussion about Jesus with another person.

But I like the way the Spirit has orchestrated this. All Philip said was, “Do you understand what you’re reading?” The Lord took over from there.


Evangelism starts with my willing heart

Do you even want to be used by the Lord to reach others for Christ?
Forget about whether or not you know what to say. Forget about whether or not you will be able to answer all their questions.
Do you want to be used to share Jesus with others?
I have this notion that it starts there.
The person who is reluctant to share their faith is not going to find many opportunities like Philip. God is looking for the person who is willing.
(2 Chr 16:9 NKJV) "For the eyes of the LORD run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to show Himself strong on behalf of those whose heart is loyal to Him…


Do you care about them?

Philip took notice of the fellow in the chariot and what he was reading.  He expressed an interest in the man.
I think one of the mistakes people make in personal evangelism is that we get so focused on the goal of sharing the gospel that we sometimes run right over the person we’re talking to.  I get the feeling from some people that they just think they’re another “notch” in our “gospel belt”, that we’re not as concerned with them as we are with being able to make the claim that we’ve witnessed to another person.

Sometimes is seems to be that we come across as a person who is not feeling very well.  Our stomach is hurting and we feel a bit nauseous.  We don’t get to feeling better until we vomit this thing out of our stomach all over the person we’re talking to.  I know that is a gross illustration, but sometimes our sharing of the gospel comes across like this.

Philip took time to ask the fellow about his reading.  He listened before he responded.
Ask people about their lives.  Ask them to tell you their story.  Find out what they’re interested in.
There are going to be people like this eunuch where you’re probably not going to see them ever again.  But most people that you will share with are going to be people that you will see over a period of years.
Don’t cut the relationship short by ignoring them just so you can get to the gospel and feel better.
People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.


Familiarity with the Word

Philip recognized the passage that the eunuch was reading from.  He recognized that it was no coincidence that this passage was about Jesus, and he moved the conversation towards Jesus.
It is important that we continue to sharpen our edge in the Word.
1. The Word contains the spiritual nourishment we need for our own spiritual growth.

(Psa 1:1-3 NKJV)  Blessed is the man Who walks not in the counsel of the ungodly, Nor stands in the path of sinners, Nor sits in the seat of the scornful; {2} But his delight is in the law of the LORD, And in His law he meditates day and night. {3} He shall be like a tree Planted by the rivers of water, That brings forth its fruit in its season, Whose leaf also shall not wither; And whatever he does shall prosper.

2. There are many things in our knowledge base that are not that important.  They will change and fade over time.  But God’s Word is eternal.  It contains truths that will never change.  It’s the one thing you can invest in that never changes (unlike computer software).

(Isa 40:8 NKJV)  The grass withers, the flower fades, But the word of our God stands forever."

3. God’s Word is helpful in our own lives but also in the kinds of things we share with others – how we counsel them, how we encourage and guide others.

(2 Tim 3:16-17 NKJV)  All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, {17} that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.

4. God’s Word is what contains the truth of the gospel.  It’s this “good news” (gospel) that brings eternal life.

(Rom 1:16 NKJV)  For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek.

My point is not that you can’t witness to others until you’ve completed seminary.  My point is that we have found that we can never stop learning and studying the Word.  It’s important to our own lives as well as the people we find ourselves talking with.

:36 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?"

:37 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."

:38 So he commanded the chariot to stand still. And both Philip and the eunuch went down into the water, and he baptized him.

:39 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.

:40 But Philip was found at Azotus. And passing through, he preached in all the cities till he came to Caesarea.

:39 caughtharpazo – to seize, carry off by force.  It’s the same word used by Paul in 1Th. 4:17 to describe the “rapture”

(1 Th 4:17 NKJV)  Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And thus we shall always be with the Lord.

Philip experiences something like the “rapture”.  He gets “beamed” to Azotus, about 20 miles up the coast from the city of Gaza. One moment he’s in Gaza, the next he’s twenty miles away.  For us, one moment we’ll be here on the earth, the next we’ll be in heaven with Jesus.

Philip doesn’t stay in Azotus, but moves 50 miles to the north to Caesarea. Caesarea was the political capitol of the area known to the Romans as “Palestine”. Caesarea was where the governors lived. It was a thoroughly Roman city. Philip apparently settles here and raises a family because he’s still there 20 years later along with his four daughters who were “prophetesses” (Acts 21:8-9).

Acts 9

:1-9 Saul meets Jesus

:1 Then Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest

Saul was probably one of the men that Stephen had been debating with before he was arrested (Acts 6:9).  When Stephen was stoned, Saul was there holding the coats of the people throwing rocks.  As a great persecution began for the church, Saul was one of the men driving it all:

(Acts 8:3 NKJV)  As for Saul, he made havoc of the church, entering every house, and dragging off men and women, committing them to prison.

:2 and asked letters from him to the synagogues of Damascus, so that if he found any who were of the Way, whether men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem.

the Way – this is what the Jews were calling the Christians at this time.  Christianity was still being seen as a “sect” of Judaism, not as a separate religion.

:3 As he journeyed he came near Damascus, and suddenly a light shone around him from heaven.

Damascus is about 150 miles north of Jerusalem.

:4 Then he fell to the ground, and heard a voice saying to him, "Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?"

The church is called the “body of Christ”.  When the church is being persecuted, Jesus is being persecuted.

:5 And he said, "Who are You, Lord?" Then the Lord said, "I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. It is hard for you to kick against the goads."

What a shock for Saul.  He has felt that he was serving God by persecuting these Christians.  And then he finds out that he’s been working AGAINST God instead of for Him.

Being passionate about something doesn’t make it right.  You can be passionately “wrong”.

kick against the goads – “goads” are sharp sticks used to poke at animals to guide them.  It would seem that Saul’s conscience had been bothering him with what he had heard about Jesus.  But instead of being led by the pricking of his conscience, Saul had been “kicking” against his conscience by persecuting the church.  All Saul is doing is hurting himself.

:6 So he, trembling and astonished, said, "Lord, what do You want me to do?" Then the Lord said to him, "Arise and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do."

:7 And the men who journeyed with him stood speechless, hearing a voice but seeing no one.

:8 Then Saul arose from the ground, and when his eyes were opened he saw no one. But they led him by the hand and brought him into Damascus.

:9 And he was three days without sight, and neither ate nor drank.

:10-19 Saul and Ananias

:10 Now there was a certain disciple at Damascus named Ananias; and to him the Lord said in a vision, "Ananias." And he said, "Here I am, Lord."

This is not the same Ananias that lied to the Holy Spirit and was killed back in Acts 5. This Ananias wasn’t just a Christian, but a good law-of-Moses-abiding Jew as well.  Later Paul would say of Ananias:

(Acts 22:12 NKJV) … a devout man according to the law, having a good testimony with all the Jews who dwelt there,

There’s a place in ancient Damascus called “The House of Ananias”, an underground chapel that was supposedly the cellar of Ananias’ house.

:11 So the Lord said to him, "Arise and go to the street called Straight, and inquire at the house of Judas for one called Saul of Tarsus, for behold, he is praying.

:12 "And in a vision he has seen a man named Ananias coming in and putting his hand on him, so that he might receive his sight."

:13 Then Ananias answered, "Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much harm he has done to Your saints in Jerusalem.

:14 "And here he has authority from the chief priests to bind all who call on Your name."

:15 But the Lord said to him, "Go, for he is a chosen vessel of Mine to bear My name before Gentiles, kings, and the children of Israel.

:16 "For I will show him how many things he must suffer for My name's sake."

:17 And Ananias went his way and entered the house; and laying his hands on him he said, "Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus, who appeared to you on the road as you came, has sent me that you may receive your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit."

Note:  Saul came to believe in Jesus on the road to Damascus.  But it’s here when Ananias lays hands on Saul that he is filled with the Holy Spirit.  A separate experience.


God uses ordinary people.

Ananias was just a simple disciple of the Lord, and yet he was used to be the first one to welcome Saul into the family of God.
You may not be a Billy Graham, but you can be an Ananias.  All it takes is a willingness to say, “yes Lord”.

A Sunday School teacher, a Mr. Edward Kimball, in 1858, led a Boston shoe clerk to give his life to Christ.  The clerk, Dwight L. Moody, became an evangelist.  In England in 1879, he awakened evangelistic zeal in the heart of Fredrick B. Meyer, pastor of a small church.  F. B. Meyer, preaching to an American college campus, brought to Christ a student named J. Wilbur Chapman. Chapman, engaged in YMCA work, employed a former baseball player, Billy Sunday, to do evangelistic work. Billy Sunday held a revival in Charlotte, N.C. A group of local men were so enthusiastic afterward that they planned another evangelistic campaign, bringing Mordecai Hamm to town to preach.  During Hamm's revival, a young man named Billy Graham heard the gospel and yielded his life to Christ.

Think of the impact that this one Sunday School teacher has had …

:18 Immediately there fell from his eyes something like scales, and he received his sight at once; and he arose and was baptized.

:19 So when he had received food, he was strengthened. Then Saul spent some days with the disciples at Damascus.

:20-22 Saul preaches Jesus

:20 Immediately he preached the Christ in the synagogues, that He is the Son of God.

We aren’t all called to be preachers, but when you become a Christian, others should know about it.

(Mat 10:32-33 NKJV)  "Therefore whoever confesses Me before men, him I will also confess before My Father who is in heaven. {33} "But whoever denies Me before men, him I will also deny before My Father who is in heaven.

Saul no sooner is touched by the Lord than he lets other people know where he stands.

:21 Then all who heard were amazed, and said, "Is this not he who destroyed those who called on this name in Jerusalem, and has come here for that purpose, so that he might bring them bound to the chief priests?"

:22 But Saul increased all the more in strength, and confounded the Jews who dwelt in Damascus, proving that this Jesus is the Christ.


The intellect and the will

I’m sure that for some people they truly have an intellectual problem in accepting who Jesus is.
But I think that for most people, it’s simply a matter of their “will” or their “pride”.
Saul had heard all the arguments about who Jesus was.  I believe he probably had heard Stephen when he spoke of Christ (Acts 6:8-10)
(Acts 6:8-10 NKJV)  And Stephen, full of faith and power, did great wonders and signs among the people. {9} Then there arose some from what is called the Synagogue of the Freedmen (Cyrenians, Alexandrians, and those from Cilicia and Asia), disputing with Stephen. {10} And they were not able to resist the wisdom and the Spirit by which he spoke.

Saul was from the area of “Cilicia” and was likely in these meetings hearing Stephen speak.

Yet even though Stephen was presenting compelling evidence about Jesus, Saul resisted the truth – not because Stephen was unclear, but because Saul was unwilling.
And now that Saul has met Jesus on the road to Damascus, I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s using the same arguments that Stephen was using.
But it wasn’t the power of the arguments that won Saul, it was meeting Jesus and humbling his pride.
It’s not that we shouldn’t study and learn the intellectual arguments – I believe God uses them.  It plants seeds.  But when people reject the intellectual argument we shouldn’t be disappointed.  We need to recognize that some people are just stubborn and proud.

:23-25 Saul escapes Damascus

:23 Now after many days were past, the Jews plotted to kill him.

many days – When Paul is telling the Galatians his testimony (Gal. 1:17-18), he tells us that during these “many days” he spent time in the desert of Arabia and returned to Damascus, over a period of three years.

:24 But their plot became known to Saul. And they watched the gates day and night, to kill him.

:25 Then the disciples took him by night and let him down through the wall in a large basket.

:26-31 Saul goes to Jerusalem

:26 And when Saul had come to Jerusalem, he tried to join the disciples; but they were all afraid of him, and did not believe that he was a disciple.

:27 But Barnabas took him and brought him to the apostles. And he declared to them how he had seen the Lord on the road, and that He had spoken to him, and how he had preached boldly at Damascus in the name of Jesus.

Barnabas – This is the second time we’ve run into Barnabas.  His given name was “Joseph” (or, “Joses”).

(Acts 4:36-37 NLT)  For instance, there was Joseph, the one the apostles nicknamed Barnabas (which means "Son of Encouragement"). He was from the tribe of Levi and came from the island of Cyprus. {37} He sold a field he owned and brought the money to the apostles for those in need.

At some point in his life he took on a different name, Barnabas, “son of encouragement”.
Here we see Barnabas doing his thing by coming alongside Saul and helping him into the church in Jerusalem.
The next time we’ll see Barnabas is when the church in Jerusalem (Acts 11) sends him up north to Antioch to encourage and strengthen the Gentile believers that have come to Christ.  Part of his ministry in Antioch will involve looking Paul up and bringing him with him to Antioch to help with the teaching and encouraging of the believers there.
Eventually Paul and Barnabas will team up to go on the first missionary journey (Acts 13).


Being a Barnabas

It seems to me that one of the chief characteristics of Barnabas was the ability to see a need and then without needing to be asked, he does something about it.
We see this when he sells a piece of property to meet needs in the church.  We see it here when Paul needs a helping hand into the church.
A Barnabas is a person who has his eye open to needs, and then responds with encouragement.
It might be a new person visiting church and doesn’t quite know how to fit in.
It might be a person who has not been around awhile, perhaps they even have slipped a bit in their walk.
It might be someone who is simply going through a rough period and need a word of encouragement.
We all are called to be a “Barnabas”.
There are some specific ways we can “encourage” one another:
(Heb 3:12-13 NKJV)  Beware, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief in departing from the living God; {13} but exhort one another daily, while it is called "Today," lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin.

Part of our encouragement ought to be about staying on track with the Lord and not being deceived by sin.  Paul gives us an example of this when he writes,

Eph 4:1 I, therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you to walk worthy of the calling with which you were called,

(Heb 10:24-25 NKJV)  And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works, {25} not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching.

The word “exhorting” is the same Greek word translated “encouragement”, what a Barnabas does.

Part of our encouragement ought to be about being together at church and stirring up love and good deeds.

:28 So he was with them at Jerusalem, coming in and going out.

:29 And he spoke boldly in the name of the Lord Jesus and disputed against the Hellenists, but they attempted to kill him.

It kind of sounds like Saul is now debating with his former colleagues, the ones that Stephen used to debate with (Acts 6:9).

:30 When the brethren found out, they brought him down to Caesarea and sent him out to Tarsus.

Caesarea is over 50 miles northwest of Jerusalem on the coast.  Tarsus is over 300 miles to the north in modern Turkey.  It was the capital of ancient Cilicia.  Tarsus is also Saul’s home town. Saul will be there for about 5 years before Barnabas picks him up and takes him to help with the work in Antioch.

:31 Then the churches throughout all Judea, Galilee, and Samaria had peace and were edified. And walking in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, they were multiplied.

After Saul’s conversion there was a period of peace and growth for the church in the land of Israel.