Road Trip (Part 3): The Road to Gaza

The Road to Gaza

On our next stop in this series, we are going to find a man who was going down the road to Gaza. Here we will learn about preaching Jesus.

But an angel of the Lord spoke to Philip saying, ‘Get up and go south to the road that descends from Jerusalem to Gaza.’ (This is a desert road.) So he got up and went; and there was an Ethiopian eunuch, a court official of Candace, queen of the Ethiopians, who was in charge of all her treasure; and he had come to Jerusalem to worship, and he was returning and sitting in his chariot, and was reading the prophet Isaiah. Then the Spirit said to Philip, ‘Go up and join this chariot.’ Philip ran up and heard him reading Isaiah the prophet, and said, ‘Do you understand what you are reading?’ And he said, ‘Well, how could I, unless someone guides me?’ And he invited Philip to come up and sit with him.

Now the passage of Scripture which he was reading was this: ‘He was led as a sheep to slaughter; and as a lamb before its shearer is silent, so He does not open His mouth. In humiliation His judgment was taken away; who will relate His generation? For His life is removed from the earth.’ The eunuch answered Philip and said, ‘Please tell me, of whom does the prophet say this? Of himself or of someone else?’ Then Philip opened his mouth, and beginning from this Scripture he preached Jesus to him.

As they went along the road they came to some water; and the eunuch said, ‘Look! Water! What prevents me from being baptized?’ And 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.’ And he ordered the chariot to stop; and they both went down into the water, Philip as well as the eunuch, and he baptized him. When they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord snatched Philip away; and the eunuch no longer saw him, but went on his way rejoicing” (Acts 8:26-39).

This occurred at the time in which the disciples were “scattered” from Jerusalem due to persecution and “went about preaching the word” (Acts 8:4). Philip was among this number, but the Lord specifically directed him to go to this place. Let us notice some lessons from this.

Where We May Find Prospects

Prior to this, Philip had been teaching in Samaria. While he was there, many people were responding to the gospel (Acts 8:12-13). Yet after this he was directed to “go south to the road that descends from Jerusalem to Gaza” (Acts 8:26). There he found the man from Ethiopia. This was likely not a place Philip expected to be. Furthermore, compared to the work he was just doing among the crowd of people in Samaria, this probably did not seem like the best use of his efforts. Yet this was where the Lord sent him.

Prospects to hear the gospel can potentially be found anywhere. This is because all people need the gospel. Paul told the saints in Rome, “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). The gospel was given in order to address this problem. The apostle told these brethren at the beginning of his epistle, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek” (Romans 1:16).

The gospel is for everyone, but not everyone will respond to it. Jesus explained in the parable of the sower that one’s reception to the word will depend on the type of heart he has (Luke 8:11-15). Yet we cannot know someone’s heart to be able to determine – before we have attempted to teach them – whether they will be receptive to the message or not. Paul asked the question: “For who among men knows the thoughts of a man except the spirit of the man which is in him?” (1 Corinthians 2:11). The context of that question was addressing the topic of revelation. Paul explained that just as we cannot know what others are thinking unless they tell us, we cannot know God’s thoughts unless He reveals them to us. However, the principle behind that applies here – we cannot know the heart of others. Therefore, we need to be planting the seed wherever we can. As Paul wrote, “I planted, Apollos watered, but God was causing the growth” (1 Corinthians 3:6).

One point regarding evangelism and converting the lost that we need to understand is this – we may labor diligently and faithfully and not see the results of our efforts. When Jesus told His disciples that “the fields… [were] white for harvest” (John 4:35), He explained to them that they were going to “reap” where “others have labored” (John 5:38). This meant that the ones who began the work did not see this “harvest” Jesus mentioned. We may find ourselves in a similar position. If so, we need to keep working to spread the gospel without allowing ourselves to become discouraged if we do not see visible results. However, if we do reach the point with others in which they make it clear that they are not interested, then we need to “shake the dust off [our] feet” and move on (Matthew 10:14) in order to find prospects elsewhere.

People Often Need Help Understanding

From our first introduction to the eunuch, we are told that he was reading from the prophet Isaiah and that he was clearly interested in spiritual things since he had taken the time and effort to travel all the way to Jerusalem to worship. Yet he needed help in understanding what he was reading, so he invited Philip to help him.

God has revealed His word in such a way that we can understand it. Referring to the “mystery” Paul received from the Lord and then wrote down, he told the brethren in Ephesus, “By referring to this, when you read you can understand my insight into the mystery of Christ” (Ephesians 3:3-4). So it is certainly possible to understand the word of God; however, people often need help in doing so. It is common for people to misunderstand the word of God. Notice a few reasons why some will not understand what the Bible teaches:

  • Their opinions – The wise man said, “There is a way which seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death” (Proverbs 14:12). Many are content with what “seems right” to them that they cannot see the truth of God’s word.
  • False teachers – Peter warned of those who “distort…the Scriptures” and the threat they posed for others to be “carried away by [their] error” (2 Peter 3:16-17). False teachers continue to turn people from the truth in this way.
  • Sin – Paul spoke of those who were “perishing,” yet their minds had been “blinded…so that they might not see the light of the gospel” (2 Corinthians 4:3-4). The enjoyment people get from sin can cause them to not see the truth.
  • Unfamiliarity with the context – Given the eunuch’s good attitude, this seems to have been the reason why he did not understand the text he was reading. He simply did not yet know what it meant and had not yet heard of Jesus who was the fulfillment of this prophecy. Without this knowledge, he could not have understood it and needed help from someone like Philip.

This is why God expects His word to be taught. Paul wrote, “How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed? How will they believe in Him whom they have not heard? And how will they hear without a preacher?” (Romans 10:14). This was what Philip was doing in his meeting with the Ethiopian eunuch. “He preached Jesus to him” (Acts 8:35) and the eunuch learned the truth and obeyed it.

However, this work in teaching others is not just for the preacher to do. Elders have the responsibility of teaching the truth and refuting error (Titus 1:9). All Christians are involved in a spiritual war in which “we are destroying speculations and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God, and we are taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:5). To help people understand the truth so they can obey it, we need to be showing them what the truth is and helping them recognize and forsake the various errors that may be preventing them from following the Lord. All of us need to be involved in this work.

Start Where They Are

When Philip taught on this occasion, he did not begin where Peter did on the day of Pentecost – Joel’s prophecy (Acts 2:16-21; cf. Joel 2:28-32). Instead, he started with the passage the eunuch was already reading (Acts 8:32-35; cf. Isaiah 53:7-8). From there, he led him to Jesus.

This was the standard practice for those who preached the gospel in the first century. When Paul went to Thessalonica, he met with the Jews and “reasoned with them from the Scriptures, explaining and giving evidence that the Christ had to suffer and rise again from the dead” (Acts 17:2-3). The reason why he started there was because they were already familiar with the Scriptures. Yet when Paul spoke with the philosophers in Athens, he began by teaching them about the “unknown God” since they already had an altar with this inscription, acknowledging the fact that they did not yet know of Him (Acts 17:22-23). In our efforts to teach others today, we need to start where they are if we hope to lead them to Christ.

What happens if we do not start where they are? We will have no common ground upon which to build. This will make our efforts futile. God asked the question, “Can two walk together, except they be agreed?” (Amos 3:3, KJV). Without some common ground on which we agree, we will just be talking past one another. This will accomplish nothing. Even if we were to bully or manipulate someone into accepting what we say, it would do no good since his response would not be from faith.

As we have already discussed, we are to plant the seed of the gospel in people’s hearts (Luke 8:11-15). Once it has been planted, it must take root and grow. This means they must understand it for themselves and be personally motivated to follow it. Joshua told the people of Israel, “Choose for yourselves today whom you will serve” (Joshua 24:15). He could not decide for them. The Israelites then – as well as people today – needed to make their own decision to be faithful to the Lord. The only way this will happen is if we start where they are and lead them to accept the truth for themselves.

What Hinders One from Being Baptized

After Philip taught him, the eunuch asked, “What prevents me from being baptized?” (Acts 8:36). Water was necessary for this (John 3:5; Acts 10:47), yet it was not a lack of water that was not stopping him since they were evidently passing by some water. Since the water was available, the only thing that could stand in the way was a lack of belief. So Philip said, “If you believe with all your heart, you may” (Acts 8:37). After he affirmed that he believed, he was immediately baptized.

Notice what he did not say would prevent one from being baptized – past sins, limited knowledge, busyness of life, etc. If one truly believes, he/she can be baptized just as Jesus said: “He who has believed and has been baptized shall be saved; but he who has disbelieved shall be condemned” (Mark 16:16).

Why is it that if we truly believe, then nothing will prevent us from being baptized? It is because if we truly believe Jesus, we will follow Him in whatever He said to do – including being baptized (Mark 16:16). Jesus asked, “Why do you call Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I say?” (Luke 6:46). If we truly believe in Him, we will do whatever He instructs us to do. We make this commitment to follow the Lord in baptism. Notice how Paul described it:

Or do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into His death? Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have become united with Him in the likeness of His death, certainly we shall also be in the likeness of His resurrection, knowing this, that our old self was crucified with Him, in order that our body of sin might be done away with, so that we would no longer be slaves of sin” (Romans 6:3-6).

We conform to the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ by becoming dead to sin (repentance), being baptized into Him, and then being raised to live a new life for Him. If we truly believe in Jesus, then we will be eager to do this.

Conclusion

As disciples, we should recognize the importance of preaching Jesus. We need to be looking for those we might teach and do so in the right way, leading them to the point where there is nothing that hinders them from being baptized.


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