Have you ever been one way and then in the next moment you were transformed? Maybe it didn’t happen in a moment, overnight, or even over a week; maybe your transformation took place over years. However it happened, or is happening, there are people in our lives who knew (or know) us before the transformation, and even we, ourselves, had no idea a transformation was (or is) coming! That is the first scene we come upon in Acts 8, one of someone in their pre-transformation stage.
Acts 8:1 begins, “Saul agreed with putting [Stephen] to death.” This doesn’t mean much unless we know who Stephen was; if he was a criminal of some sort then Saul’s agreeing with putting him to death might make at least some logical sense, especially within that cultural context. But was he a murderer, robber, etc? Who was Stephen?
The first description of Stephen is found in Acts 6:5, “They chose Stephen, a man full of faith and the Holy Spirit…” Wow, what an introduction! Can you remember a time when someone introduced you as full of faith and the Holy Spirit? But wait...there’s more. Imagine being around someone who is introduced as “a man full of faith and the Holy Spirit.” Acts 6:8-10 gives us a glimpse of what that must have been like, “Now Stephen, full of grace and power, was performing great wonders and signs among the people. Opposition arose, however, from some members of the Freedmen’s Synagogue, composed of both Cyrenians and Alexandrians, and some from Cilicia and Asia, and they began to argue with Stephen. But they were unable to stand up against his wisdom and the Spirit by whom he was speaking.”
So this was the man Saul agreed with putting to death. How could this be? A man such as Stephen, full of faith and the Holy Spirit, full of both grace and power simultaneously. What’s more, that very day is when persecution broke out against the church in Jerusalem, and Saul himself, “was ravaging the church. He would enter house after house, drag off men and women, and put them in prison.” (Acts 8:3) This is so far from the post-transformation man that we know of as Paul. Praise God that none of us is too far lost to be transformed by our Creator.
This persecution that broke out scattered everybody in the church except for the apostles, the remaining Eleven who had walked with Jesus and Matthias who was added to the apostles to replace Judas. (Acts 1:15-26) One of those scattered was Philip, a follower of Jesus who had been appointed into a church role along with Stephen and five others who were “men of good reputation, full of the Spirit and wisdom.” (Acts 6:1-6) Philip was in his post-transformation stage. Read on and open your eyes to how God can use those who have been transformed.
When scattered, “Philip went down to a city in Samaria and proclaimed the Messiah to them. The crowds were all paying attention to what Philip said, as they listened and saw the signs he was performing. For unclean spirits, crying out with a loud voice, came out of many who were possessed, and many who were paralyzed and lame were healed. So there was great joy in the city.” (Acts 8:1-8) I don’t know about you but I usually bring joy to a place with smiles, hugs, and good conversation. How I would love to bring joy to an entire city through signs and healings.
Father God, In Jesus’ mighty name, use us in the same ways you use people like Philip who have been entrusted with the same Spirit you have entrusted to us!
Through Philip’s obedience to the Holy Spirit, even the town sorcerer, Simon, came to faith. Know any sorcerers? Imagine the person who know who is furthest from God. Simon wasn’t just far from God, he was consulting with darkness. Lord God, reach the “Simons” in our lives and help them to not be “poisoned by bitterness” or “bound by wickedness” like Simon was.
Help us to follow in Peter’s example and pray for our “Simons” so that they will repent, be forgiven, and be transformed. In Jesus’ name. (Acts 8:18-24)
Now what about the people in our lives who are in a different place than our “Simons?” What about the people in our lives who are curious about God and Jesus: does God transform them, too? Let’s take a look at the person Philip interacts with next; in possibly one of the most extreme examples of obedience and the result of that obedience in the Bible.
Acts 8:26, “An angel of the Lord spoke to Philip: ‘Get up and go south to the road that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza. (This is the desert road.)’” Now put yourself in Philip’s shoes. What would you do? It said that an angel of the Lord spoke to Philip. That’s it! No explanation. Did the heavens part? Did an angel appear to him in the form of a man? Was it an audible voice or just a thought? I have often heard modern-day Christians say that if God appeared to them like He appeared to prophets in the Old Testament, like in a burning bush, for example, then they would respond to it. Well, this is in the New Testament, and actually thousands of years closer to us now than Moses and God in the burning bush was to Philip in the 1st century AD. We have no context for this interaction between the angel and Philip; no burning bush, no dream. If we’re asking ourselves how the angel of the Lord spoke to Philip, we may be asking ourselves the wrong question. Philip heard from an angel, but we have the Spirit of the Living God inside of us directing us every day; we are able to hear from God Himself! Let that sink in for a second. The question isn’t “What does it sound like when God speaks to us?” the better questions are “Has God has spoken to me and have I been obedient? “ Have I passed His voice off as something else?” Maybe you are truly confused about whether it’s your tired brain telling you to talk to that person at the counter, or you’re not sure if you’re just a little delirious from missing lunch or it truly is the Spirit trying to guide you. How can you tell the difference between God’s voice and your own? Well, Hebrews 4:12 tells us. “For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit…” So the Word of God divides soul from spirit; our sinful soul from God’s pure Spirit. Speaking for myself, I couldn’t discern between my own voice and God’s until I finished reading through the whole Bible. The Word itself separates the two for us. Father God, help us to desire to know you through your Word and grant us understanding. Help us, through your Word, to recognize your voice, and obey it. In Jesus’ name I pray.
So now imagine that you heard a heavenly voice telling you what it told Philip, in his case it was to get up and go to the desert road. In our context, while we’re sitting watching Netflix and all of a sudden we are told, “Get up and walk south on Main Street.” Would we think it was a crazy thought or would we get off of the couch and start walking? Here’s what Philip did (Acts 8:27-28), “So [Philip] got up and went.” I pray, Lord, that we will do the same, in Jesus’ name.
Continuing, “There was an Ethiopian man, a eunuch and high official of Candace, queen of the Ethiopians, who was in charge of her entire treasury. He had come to worship in Jerusalem and was sitting in his chariot on his way home, reading the prophet Isaiah aloud.” So, in our context, you got up from the couch and are walking south on Main Street, it’s not a busy day but you do see a government official’s car; you can tell by the flags on the four corners. The windows are tinted but you can see that there is a man reading and saying something out loud in the back seat. Why would the Holy Spirit have sent you here? Maybe it was just your thoughts.
But then, “The Spirit told Philip, ‘Go and join that chariot.” (Acts 8:29) “Go up to the car and join the government official? This better be the Spirit…” you think. “When Philip ran up to [the chariot], he heard [the Ethiopian official] reading the prophet Isaiah, and said, ‘Do you understand what you’re reading?’” Now imagine yourself, not just casually and cooly making your way to this car, but running up to it! You run, muster up some courage, and knock on the window. When you notice that the government official has the Bible open to Isaiah you ask, “Do you understand what you’re reading?” How do you think he will respond? Be offended? Feel threatened or in danger? Well let’s see what happens.
The Ethiopian official responds, “‘How can I [understand] unless someone guides me?’ So he invited Philip to come up and sit with him.” (Acts 8:31) Well you’re certainly surprised at that response! Now you’re sitting with the government official, who is clearly of high rank, in his official vehicle. You didn’t see this one coming. “Lord God, give me the words to say!” you think as the government official begins to share with you what he had been reading. “‘He was led like sheep to the slaughter, and as a lamb is silent before its shearer, so he does not open his mouth. In his humiliation justice was denied him. Who will describe this generation? For his life is taken from the earth.’ (Isaiah 53:7-8) ‘I ask you, who is the prophet saying this about - himself or someone else?’” You then tell the government official “the good news about Jesus, beginning with that Scripture.” (Acts 8:35)
“As they were traveling down the road, they came to some water. The [Ethiopian official] said, ‘Look, there’s water. What would keep me from being baptized?’ So he ordered the chariot to stop, and both Philip and the eunuch went down into the water, and he baptized him. When they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord carried Philip away, and the [Ethiopian official] did not see him any longer but went on his way rejoicing. Philip appeared in Azotus, and he was traveling and preaching the gospel in all the towns until he came to Ceasarea.” (Acts 8:36-40)
Wow! You can hardly believe the government official was so open to hearing the good news about Jesus! You’re also amazed at how quickly he understood and responded; even asking the driver to pull aside for him to be baptized at a lake you were driving past; he didn’t even mind that he would have to get back into the car wet. You’re so excited that you almost don’t even notice that you’re in Springfield, MO now. You recognize God’s voice for what it is and go on traveling and preaching all the way up to Kansas City, KS, all the while praying for more transformations like yours, Simon’s, and the government official’s.
Now let me ask you - Was this true story of God teleporting Philip more exciting than the multiple stories of God transforming lives in this short passage? Would you be willing to obey a voice from God like Philip did and go knock on the door of a stranger’s house just because the voice told you to, “Get up and go south to the road that…”? Would you be more willing to listen AND obey if you truly believed it was God leading you there and that He had already gone before you and prepared the way?
I encourage you to read the Word. Know it like Philip did to be able to explain any passage of scripture and how it points to Jesus. Don’t overthink baptism. You can baptize someone in a public pool, their bathtub, a rain barrel, the pond near your house. Don’t overthink the Spirit nudges we feel throughout the day. Imagine if we reached out to every person the Spirit brings to our minds throughout the day instead of dismissing it as a passing thought. How many people could be impacted? How many more lives could be transformed?
Lord God, help us to follow Philip’s example, and do something big like teleport us only if we are ready to obey like Philip did. Help us be trustworthy with little so that you can entrust us with much. (Luke 16:10) In Jesus’ name I pray. Amen.
Kelsey is a missions mobilizer serving with the CMM (Center for Mission Mobilization.) She is in Fayetteville through the end of this year while preparing to launch to Latin America where she will live for 3 years. God gave her a heart for the Muslim people before He even gave her a heart for Himself and now she will be mobilizing Latin American believers to take the gospel to the Muslim world! She is new to Fayetteville and loves to meet up to talk about what God has done so reach out to her via Facebook or email to schedule a coffee meeting!