Last week we looked at the encounter of Philip and Peter with a magician named Simon Magus. And we called that message, false faith, false follower, and false prophet. Simon Magus claimed to believe, he was even baptized, and yet Peter was able to discern by the Holy Spirit that Simon was not a true believer. Peter said that Simon was still bound in iniquity. He had never truly repented and was consequently never saved. I told you last week that several Biblical historians wrote extensively about how Simon Magus ended up becoming a false prophet that misled many into the heresy of Gnosticism.
This week, as we continue this passage, we see the contrast to Simon Magus in this story of the Ethiopian eunuch. The Ethiopian eunuch is presented here as an example of a true convert. And so as we look at this event in his life as he is ministered to by Philip, we see the contrast to last week’s message. And so I am titling this message, true faith, true follower, and true prophet. But in order to follow the format of the story, we are going to change the order a little and start with the characteristics the text presents of a true prophet. Then we will look at the characteristics of true faith, and what it means to be a true follower.
So let’s start with a true prophet. Philip is the antithesis of everything that Simon Magus represented. You will remember that Simon relied on occult magic in order to perform signs and wonders, and this garnered him the attention that he was some sort of visible manifestation of the power of God. He claimed to be a believer, but in fact he was guilty of living in sin. And we saw that he went on to teach a false doctrine of Gnosticism that led many people into apostasy.
But Philip is the exact opposite of Simon. We saw last time that whatever signs and wonders that Philip did were to authenticate his message as the truth of God, in order to bring people to salvation through the preaching of the word of God, not to bring attention or prosperity to himself. And now we see Philip continuing to be used of the Holy Spirit to bring people to Christ.
So the first characteristic we see in this passage of a true prophet is that he is Spirit led. In vs. 26 the angel of the Lord spoke to Philip and said, ““Get up and go south to the road that descends from Jerusalem to Gaza.” (This is a desert road.) Look again at vs.29 and it says “Then the Spirit said to Philip, ‘Go up and join this chariot.’” Then look once more at vs.39, which says, “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.”
Now all of that illustrates that Philip was led by the Holy Spirit. He was under the control of the Holy Spirit. There was no earthly reason why a preacher would leave a burgeoning new church in Samaria, where the Lord was clearly working, and go out into the wilderness to a road in the desert to preach to one man. And at the time the Spirit first speaks to him, Philip isn’t even told that he is going there to preach to someone. He is just told to get up and go to the desert.
There is so much that I would like to say about this, but I don’t have the time. But suffice it to say that a true prophet of God is led by the Holy Spirit. He isn’t led by market surveys which predict the next big growth opportunity. He isn’t led by some ministerial committee. But he preaches what God tells him to preach and goes where God tells him to go. He preaches even when it seems foolish, when it seems impractical, when there is no visible support for what he is doing. Philip didn’t sit down and calculate the effect on his salary to leave a thriving congregation and go out to preach in this wilderness. He just got up and went because God told him to.
And by the way, a prophet of God is simply one who proclaims the word of God. Prophet doesn’t mean a fortune teller or a future teller, but a forth teller. A prophet simply means to be a preacher of the word of God. And let me warn you of something else. Don’t make the mistake of attaching yourself to a pastor if he is not a prophet. He may be the kindest, nicest man in the world, and he may visit all the little old ladies in the old folks home every week and never fail to visit the sick in the hospital, but if he does not preach the whole counsel of the word of God then you should separate yourself from him and find someone who does. Don’t try to drive him out of your church, but get out of there yourself and find someone who first and foremost preaches the whole counsel of the word of God without equivocation.
Next, the true prophet is obedient. When the Spirit tells him to get up and go, Philip doesn’t say I’ll pray about it. Philip doesn’t dilly dally around until he gets around to it. But he instantly moves out. Vs. 27, “So he got up and went.” And I really like the next one, vs. 29, “Then the Spirit said to Philip, “Go up and join this chariot.” And vs. 30 says, Philip ran. He was quick to obey. He didn’t object that this guy was a big court official. He didn’t object that this Ethiopian seemed preoccupied. Philip was eager to obey the Holy Spirit. Let me tell you something. If you’re not obedient to the light that you have, don’t expect a brighter light. We didn’t sign on to be copilots with Christ. We signed on to be the servants of the Almighty God of the Universe. In 1Sam. 15:22 Samuel said, “Has the LORD as much delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices As in obeying the voice of the LORD? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, And to heed than the fat of rams.”
The third characteristic of a true prophet is that he expounds the word of God. I really love this one. You know, I realize some people think I’m a little too boring just preaching line upon line every week. But I can assure you that it is not a lack of imagination that prompts me to preach this way. It is not that I lack the ability to order my sermons from Rick Warren or some other pulpit resource every week. But I deliberately have chosen to exegete scripture because I think I cannot embellish the word of God. You know, my son worked for a while as an intern for a five campus mega church in San Diego a couple of years ago when he was going to school to be a graphic designer. And one day I visited the ministry office. And as I talked with the lady in charge she told me in the process of our conversation that they had a sermon committee that wrote the sermons for the pastors. The pastors were kind of like actors, they just came in and practiced reading their lines. I was just floored. Listen, God doesn’t speak through committees, the best a committee can offer is a compromise. God speaks through preachers filled with the Holy Spirit, preaching the word of God.
The reason that I expound the scripture verse by verse because I believe that the foolishness of God is greater than the wisdom of men. I preach the word of God because 1Cor. 1:21 says, “For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not come to know God, God was well-pleased through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe.” I believe that God speaks through His messengers, and I dare not mess with His message. I must be true to that stewardship. As Paul said in 1Cor. 9:16 “For if I preach the gospel, I have nothing to boast of, for I am under compulsion; for woe is me if I do not preach the gospel.”
Philip also preached the word of God. God providentially had the Ethiopian eunuch reading from the book of Isaiah, chapter 53. And that became the text from which Philip expounds the word of God, telling him the good news about Christ. Vs.35 “Then Philip opened his mouth, and beginning from this Scripture he preached Jesus to him.” He begins in Isaiah 53, which is a beautiful Old Testament text which most clearly presents a picture fulfilled by Jesus Christ.
By the way, a lot of unbelievers today have a really limited understanding of the scriptures that has been unduly influenced by a lack of education. The average person doesn’t realize that the Old Testament scriptures are unquestionably documented as being intact in their present form well before the time of Christ. It’s an unquestionable statement of fact backed up by irrefutable proofs that the Old Testament scriptures existed long before the time of Christ in the same form that we know them to be in today. There are a multitude of historical references which establish this, as well as the monumental archeological find which is known as the Dead Sea Scrolls which date at least 200 years before Christ. Interestingly, there were 19 copies of the book of Isaiah found in those caves there along with copies of every other book in the Old Testament except the book of Esther. So there is no question as to the validity of the scripture that the Ethiopian is reading, nor any of the Old Testament scriptures for that matter, as existing exactly as we know them, since before the time of Christ.
And if people today were to understand that, then by showing them Old Testament texts such as Isaiah 53, we can literally prove the scripture’s authenticity. And because this scripture so clearly speaks of Jesus Christ then it validates the fact that Christ was who He claimed to be, the Son of God. He fulfills all of those prophecies written hundreds of years before in a way that is nothing short of supernatural. I don’t have time to read the whole chapter for you, but I would encourage you to read it, understanding that this chapter was written hundreds of years before Christ. Isaiah 53:4-6 “Surely our griefs He Himself bore, And our sorrows He carried; Yet we ourselves esteemed Him stricken, Smitten of God, and afflicted. But He was pierced through for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; The chastening for our well-being fell upon Him, And by His scourging we are healed. All of us like sheep have gone astray, Each of us has turned to his own way; But the LORD has caused the iniquity of us all To fall on Him.” And note vs.9, “His grave was assigned with wicked men, yet He was with a rich man in His death, Because He had done no violence, Nor was there any deceit in His mouth.” All those prophecies were fulfilled in Christ, which no man could ever orchestrate, especially once he was dead. So Philip expounded the word of God to prove that Christ was the Messiah, the Son of God and that by His death He paid the penalty of those that were lost, who believed in Him.
All right, we have to move on past Philip now and look at the Ethiopian eunuch. He is the example of person who has true faith. Simon Magus was a man of false faith. He said he believed, but he was not saved. The Ethiopian eunuch believed and is saved. What is the difference? What constitutes true faith?
First of all it’s important to understand that the Ethiopian eunuch was on his way back to Africa after having gone to Jerusalem to worship God. That means that this man was probably a proselyte. Now a proselyte is one who had converted from paganism to Judaism. They believed in the One True God of the Jews, who is Jehovah. They believed, at least in theory, in a Messiah who was going to come at some point in the future to redeem His people. The eunuch had come to Jerusalem to worship, to participate in some Jewish festival. So he believed in God yet he wasn’t saved.
And that is why the message that Philip preached is so important. Because under Judaism, they were taught the law. They were taught what God required. But no one could keep the law perfectly, even though they tried. That’s why Paul says in Gal. 3:24 that “the Law has become our tutor to lead us to Christ, so that we may be justified by faith.”
So how does one come to a true faith? Well, we can use virtually the same criteria as we did for a true prophet. First of all, it is necessary to be led by the Spirit. Jesus said in John 6:44 “No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him.” The Ethiopian eunuch shows evidence of being drawn by the Spirit of God. He was first of all drawn to worship the One True God of Israel. He was willing to renounce paganism and worship God. He hungered and thirsted for righteousness. He had a desire to know the truth. That is evident in the fact that he is reading the word of God in the carriage. And the fact that at the exact time that he is reading no less than a Messianic scripture this guy runs up alongside him to explain it to him is evidence that the Holy Spirit is working to bring him to Christ.
I wonder how many of you might be here today, and you think it’s kind of circumstance that you saw one of our signs, or maybe someone told you about this service and you found yourself thinking of it and prompted to come. You’re here out of curiosity perhaps. But I would suggest that maybe you are here today by the drawing of the Holy Spirit. Maybe God has been preparing your heart for some time now to hear the gospel. I don’t think there are any accidents in the plan of God.
Secondly, the Ethiopian eunuch was obedient to what the scriptures told him. I believe he was convicted when Philip read Isaiah 53 which said, “All of us like sheep have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; but the LORD has caused the iniquity of us all to fall on Him.” I believe that as Philip showed him how Christ took his sins upon Him and shed His blood for his salvation, that the Ethiopian eunuch repented of his sins and called out to Christ for salvation.
And third, he believes the word of God. Vs.37 “And Philip said, ‘If you believe with all your heart, you may [be baptized].’ And he answered and said, ‘I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.’” That is what Isaiah 53 makes so clear, isn’t it? That Jesus Christ is the One spoken of, that He is the Messiah who was promised, that He was the Son of God. That constitutes true faith, belief that Jesus Christ is Lord is the basis of faith, which results in imputed righteousness. Rom. 10:9-10 “that if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved; for with the heart a person believes, resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth he confesses, resulting in salvation.”
So, Philip is the true prophet, and the Ethiopian eunuch comes to know true faith, and then finally as a result, we see a true follower. The fact is, we don’t know for sure what happened after this event to the Ethiopian eunuch as far as what the Bible has to say. Tradition tells us that he went back to Ethiopia as a missionary and brought many people to Christ there, even possibly leading the Queen of Ethiopia to salvation. But that is not backed up by scripture, however it is verified by the historian Irenaeus in the second century.
But what we do know for certain is that his true faith produced a true follower as illustrated in this passage. And again I think there is evidence to support our same criteria. First he was filled with the Spirit. Jesus said in John 3:5 “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.” Jesus is not speaking of baptism there, but He is saying that we must first be born physically in water, and then born again spiritually by the Spirit. We know that Philip was saved by the Spirit because no one can be born again without the agency of the Holy Spirit. He opens our eyes. He convicts us of sin. He gives us the spirit of repentance. He gives life to the dead. He makes the scriptures come alive, because He is the author of scripture. And we know that He dwells in those that are saved, so that we might be empowered by God to do His will.
So the Spirit indwelling the Ethiopian eunuch prompts him to be obedient unto baptism. Notice that in the order of salvation baptism comes after salvation. It is not the means of salvation, but it is the evidence of salvation. It is the outward witness of what has been accomplished inwardly. When you become a true follower of Christ, then you are going to want to do what Christ told you to do. I wonder how many here today have yet to follow the Lord’s example of believer’s baptism? You’re going to have a chance in a month or so when we have our beach baptism. But I wish that more had the same sense of urgency that the Ethiopian eunuch had. He wanted to do everything that the Lord told us to do, immediately. He showed the same trait of obedience that Philip had shown. If the Lord said it, I will do it right now. I’ll run to obey. Not think about it, not pray about it. Listen, if the Lord said it, you don’t need to pray about it to see if you can somehow wiggle out of it. Just be obedient to what God has shown you. That is the reason so many Christians are still immature. They haven’t gotten past the ABC’s. And that is because they have not been obedient to what God has told us to do.
The great preacher Charles Spurgeon once said, “Be true to truth as it comes to you. If God gives you only common candle-light, make good use of it; and he will trim your lamp till it shineth like the sevenfold golden light of his holy place. Those who are willing to see God by the moon of nature shall soon be illuminated by the sun of revelation. Instead of complaining that you have no more light, make good use of what you have. Many groan over their inabilities, and yet they have never gone to the end of their abilities: this is sheer hypocrisy.”
The author of Hebrews in chapter 5 talks about the need to be obedient to Christ even as Christ was obedient to the Father. And he concludes that argument by saying in vs. 12, “For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you have need again for someone to teach you the elementary principles of the oracles of God, and you have come to need milk and not solid food. For everyone who partakes only of milk is not accustomed to the word of righteousness, for he is an infant. But solid food is for the mature, who because of practice have their senses trained to discern good and evil.” So obedience is necessary for a follower to grow in Christ, following faithfully the light that you have been given to this point.
And that leads to the last criteria of a true follower; he proclaims the word of God. Listen, your actions speak a whole lot louder and more effectively than your words. There are a lot of people running around today claiming to be Christians who would do the kingdom of God a better favor if they kept it to themselves. Because their talk doesn’t match their walk. You proclaim the truth of God’s word, you proclaim your salvation, by your testimony in front of the world. That is one of the things we do when we are baptized. It makes you a testimony, a witness to the world. It may seem foolish to some people perhaps, but it is an announcement that you are following Christ. And then you need to continue to manifest that testimony in all that you do.
Also I believe we can know that this man was a true follower of Jesus Christ because immediately after coming up out of the water Philip was snatched away by the Holy Spirit. Philip didn’t need to stick around with this guy to give him a 12 week discipleship course. I think that the Holy Spirit is signifying that this man was genuinely saved, and now that he had the indwelling of the Holy Spirit and the scriptures, and the willingness to be obedient to the light he was shown, he could go on from there. He had enough light to be able to witness to the Queen of Ethiopia. He was able to proclaim Jesus Christ from the scriptures. He was willing to be obedient and eager to get on with His ministry. The Holy Spirit would take him from that point on.
And you know what another evidence was? It says in vs. 39, “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.” He went on his way praising the Lord. That’s how I know he was a true follower. He went on his way praising God, rejoicing, proclaiming what God had done for him. He had the Holy Spirit in him to guide him, he had the Bible in his hand, and he was praising God as he went back to his homeland. That is how we witness. In reliance upon the Holy Spirit to lead us, to prepare good soil for the seed of the word, and then to have the word of God at hand to show people what Jesus has done for us in the gospel, and all the while praising God for what He has done in our lives.
Well, we’ve seen quite a contrast haven’t we? The contrast between true faith and false faith, between true followers and false followers, and the contrast between true prophets and false prophets. I hope that you have taken this opportunity to examine yourselves in light of this text. Do you have the evidence of the Holy Spirit in your life? I don’t mean some sort of mystical, emotional experience. But the practical filling of the Spirit to empower you to live a life of faith, to follow Christ obediently, and to be a witness in your home and your community. I urge you to examine yourselves today in light of God’s word. And if you fail the test, then I urge you to follow in the example of this Ethiopian, to receive the righteousness of Christ which comes through repentance and faith in Jesus as Lord, and to become a follower of Christ, obeying His word.