Changed by His Leading (Acts 8:26-40)
Topic: One Mission: I am Not Ashamed Passage: Acts 8:26–40
I. Holiday Travel
For some of you, travel is a normal part of the holiday routine. Even now dread is filling your heart as you think about a trip to the airport or sleeping on your in-laws hide-a-bed.
For some of you, travel was a normal part of your holiday routine. Even now you have fond memories of your dad loading up the station wagon for that Christmas trip to grandma's.
But if there's one thing the New Testament makes clear about the Christmas Story, holiday travel has been there from the beginning. Think about it the trips, the travel the original Christmas Story describes: the most famous of course is Joseph and Mary's 80 mile trip from Nazareth to Bethlehem. That was followed by a much shorter trip for the shepherds, who traveled into Bethlehem from fields around the town. Finally, there were the magi, who, if they came from Persia, would have traveled 1000 miles to find the new king.
But notice what we have here. We have another pattern, another common thread weaving its way through the Christmas Story. And as you may remember, over the past couple of weeks, we've been thinking about these common threads. The title of our series is a bold statement: “Christmas Can Change Your Life”. As I've said before, I know Christmas can change your life, because Christ can change your life.
But we also know Christmas can change our lives, because that's exactly what happened on the first Christmas. That's where these common threads come in. What have we seen already? We've seen that all of the very real people in the Christmas Story were first changed by God's voice. Revelation from above was always moving the action forward in the Christmas Story. Second, we saw how these people were changed by God's wisdom. As they stepped out, trusting God's counter-intuitive wisdom, their lives were changed.
But in light of this latest thread, this theme of 'holiday travel', I think we can say that many of these people were also changed by God's leading. And as we'll see this morning, the same thing can happen to you. Turn over to Acts 8.
II. The Passage: "Rise and Go" (8:26-40)
Listen as I read verses 26-40, and consider what we learn here about God's leading...
Now an angel of the Lord said to Philip, “Rise and go toward the south to the road that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.” This is a desert place.  And he rose and went. And there was an Ethiopian, a eunuch, a court official of Candace, queen of the Ethiopians, who was in charge of all her treasure. He had come to Jerusalem to worship  and was returning, seated in his chariot, and he was reading the prophet Isaiah.  And the Spirit said to Philip, “Go over and join this chariot.”  So Philip ran to him and heard him reading Isaiah the prophet and asked, “Do you understand what you are reading?”  And he said, “How can I, unless someone guides me?” And he invited Philip to come up and sit with him.  Now the passage of the Scripture that he was reading was this: “Like a sheep he was led to the slaughter and like a lamb before its shearer is silent, so he opens not his mouth.  In his humiliation justice was denied him. Who can describe his generation? For his life is taken away from the earth.”  And the eunuch said to Philip, “About whom, I ask you, does the prophet say this, about himself or about someone else?”  Then Philip opened his mouth, and beginning with this Scripture he told him the good news about Jesus.  And as they were going along the road they came to some water, and the eunuch said, “See, here is water! What prevents me from being baptized?”  And he commanded the chariot to stop, and they both went down into the water, Philip and the eunuch, and he baptized him.  And when they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord carried Philip away, and the eunuch saw him no more, and went on his way rejoicing.  But Philip found himself at Azotus, and as he passed through he preached the gospel to all the towns until he came to Caesarea.
So right away we have a connection to the Christmas Story. Did you see it? As with Zechariah, as with Joseph, as with Mary, as with the shepherds, it is “an angel of the Lord” who speaks to Philip, telling him to “rise and go”.
But wait a minute. Who is Philip? This is not Philip the Apostle. This is Philip, one of seven men from the Jerusalem Church selected by the Apostles to oversee the food distribution for widows and others who were in need.
But out of those seven, Luke (the author of Acts) goes on to highlight two of these men by describing other ways in which God used them. Chapter 7 was all about how God used one of these men, named Stephen. But here in chapter 8, the focus is on Philip. For example, look at verses 4-7:
Now those who were scattered went about preaching the word.  Philip went down to the city of Samaria and proclaimed to them the Christ.  And the crowds with one accord paid attention to what was being said by Philip when they heard him and saw the signs that he did.
So like the Apostles, Philip is proclaiming the word of God and even confirming the message through signs and wonders. You see, Philip was doing what the Apostles had not done: he was going out to the very places Jesus had spoken of, to the Apostles, just before He returned to the Father. He said this in Acts 1:8:
“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”
So here at the beginning of chapter 8, Philip is taking the good news of Jesus to Samaria. But at the end of chapter 8, in our main verses, the passage I just read, we discover that God has another mission for Philip, one that also involves pushing out the boundaries of the church's witness for Christ.
But what might this passage teach us about God's leading? Let's look at four ideas that I believe are at work in this passage. I think the opening verses remind us...
1. God's leading will take us to unexpected people and places (vs. 26, 27a).
Clearly Philip already had some experience with going to unexpected people and places for Jesus. Remember, in those days, Samaritans and Jews despised each other, and Jews would take 'the long way round' Samaria when traveling north or south in Israel.
But this trip was different. This was not what Philip had seen in Jerusalem, with thousands coming to Christ. This wasn't an exciting urban ministry. It also wasn't the revolutionary, cultural challenge of working in a place like Samaria.
Notice what Luke tells us about this road from Jerusalem to Gaza: “This is a desert place.” An interesting footnote, right? Philip is sent into the middle of nowhere to a single individual from a far away land. This is how God was leading him. Unexpected people, unexpected places.
Who is this man we meet in verse 27? He is an official of the Nubian kindgdom, a kingdom whose borders stretched from what is today southern Egypt, down into central Sudan. And in those days, this kingdom, also called Ethiopia, was considered the “end of the earth” going south. Even as far back as Homer's Odyssey, the Ethiopians were called “the last of men”. So in sharing the word with this Nubian court official, Philip has once again played an integral part in sending the gospel out, even to the “end of the earth”.
As with Philip, when we are changed by God's voice and God's wisdom, we should also expect to find ourselves changed by His leading. A true encounter with Jesus will always take us to new places. He doesn't call us in order to leave us in the same place. He calls us to step out of what is comfortable and into being available. And when we do that, he will take us to unexpected people and places. It may not always be easy, but we can trust it's always good.
Little did I know, when I first trusted Christ, and as a I grew in my faith as a teenager, little did I know that his leading would take me to places and people I couldn't even imagine; in different parts of the world, and even right here, to you today. Where has God lead you? Where is He leading you? But wait. When God leads like this, we should ask “Why?” Well...
2. God's leading will direct us to opportunities for the word to do its work (vs. 27b-35).
Notice that when Philp arrives at this desert road, the Spirit (in v. 29) directs him to join a nearby chariot. And what happens when he gets closer to the chariot? He hears this Nubian official reading from the prophet Isaiah. That probably indicates that this man was a God-fearer, a name given to those non-Jews, who, even though they hadn't converted to Judaism, were still worshipers of the God of Israel.
Now, as we see in verse 32, this guy wasn't just reading any old passage from the prophet Isaiah. He was reading one of the clearest (if not THE clearest) prediction of the coming of Jesus (written 700 years before the time of Christ). In fact, those passages from Isaiah 53 might be the clearest verses in the whole OT in terms of pointing to Jesus Christ.
So undoubtedly, Philip quickly realizes God's design for this whole trip. Just as God directed Philip to this desert road, so too had he directed the Ethiopian to that chapter from Isaiah. And now, as their paths crossed, Philip could see a super wide open door for God's word.
And Philip knows by this time that God's word will do the work. He doesn't need to 'close the deal' or pressure this guy emotionally. He just needs to share the word; to 'connect the dots' using the word. And that's exactly what he does.
When God leads us into unexpected places and to unexpected people, will we be ready with the word? Sure, like Philip, God also gives us opportunities to share the word with others. But that could be with someone who has never heard; it could be with a fellow follower of Christ. Or the word could be working on you in those times!
A new relationship, a new job, a new neighborhood, a new group, a new crisis, a new victory, a new position...wherever God might lead you, will you see it as a new opportunity for the word to do its work? For God's promises to encourage you? For God's truth to inform you? For God's warnings to sober you? For God's revelation to empower you? Or maybe for God's word to be spoken through you?
Brothers and sisters, God's voice, revealing God's wisdom, will lead us onto new paths, into new circles, with a new sense of purpose. But there's more. We also see here that...
3. God's leading gives us front row seats as He changes lives (vs. 36-38).
God's work in bringing Philip and preparing the Ethiopian resulted in a changed life. We see that in verses 36-38. This Nubian official, when heard the good news about Jesus, he embraced it with all his heart. Clearly, Philip must have echoed Peter's words from Acts 2, “Repent and be baptized!” And as we see here, this man gets it. He is ready to confess Christ as Lord. And he does.
So because Philip followed God's leading, he was able to see, once again, the miracle of new birth. He was able to witness the power of God at work in a human life. And, he was able to be used in that incredible process.
Brothers and sisters, there are few sights that can compare with the light of God breaking into a human heart. No sunrise or sunset can come close to that beauty.
Are you interested in seeing that very thing, up close? If you are a follower of Jesus, you should be. And God will change your life as he leads you into places, as He leads you to people, whose lives are also being changed; or whose lives will be changed.
But there's one more thing we see here. We also discover that...
4. God's leading is not a singular event, but a call to faithfulness (vs. 39, 40).
Isn't it interesting that as soon as Philip's work there is done, God whisks him away. We see that in verse 39. This time, God doesn't simply say “go”. No, this time God plucks and places. From the desert road between Jerusalem and Gaza, God puts Philip in Azotus, which was called Ashdod in the OT, and was about 30 miles up the coast from Gaza.
But notice what we read there about Philip's reaction to this act of divine teleportation. We read in verse 40,
But Philip found himself at Azotus, and as he passed through he preached the gospel to all the towns until he came to Caesarea.
I love that! What does Philip do in response to this dizzying series of events, into and through which God is clearly leading Him? He responds with faithfulness. Even though the revelation from the angel, and the guidance from God's Spirit were unique events for Philip, he doesn't consider God's leading as a unique thing, as a one-time event. No! He is faithful to share God's word, not only in Azotus, where God placed him, but also up the coast, all the way to Caesarea (almost 60 miles).
Brothers and sisters, we should rejoice when we see God leading in a unique way, opening doors, positioning us, bringing people into our lives, unique opportunities. And we should be faithful in response, to care and to share. But even when things seem 'normal', we shouldn't lose sight of God's leading. Philip didn't. He knew what His Lord called him to do. He knew what Christ had taught, and what the Apostles had passed on. He knew a commitment to God's word would lead him to regularly care and share, every place he went.
III. What If They Never Went?
Let's stop and think about all of this very practically. When God leads, it can be scary. It can be hard. Think about a very pregnant Mary and that very long ride to Bethlehem. Think about the Magi, and all they faced. Think about the shepherds leaving those flocks behind to go look for a Messiah...in a manger of all places. The same is true for us today. Think for a moment... where might God lead you this Christmas?
Here's a real life example of God's leading: imagine you've just landed a new job; your dream job, in fact. There is no doubt that God orchestrated things; things others would call luck or crazy coincidences. But it doesn't take long to know your new boss is a very difficult man. He is harsh, and your fellow employees have nothing good to say about him. As the situation worsens, you begin to wonder about God's leading. But then you look back to God's word. As a result you begin to pray for and love your boss. You take an interest in him as a person. You look for ways to bless him. Through this, you find this hard man opening up to you and sharing hard things about his life. Eventually, wonderfully, you see God's grace change him.
Brothers and sisters, like the first Christmas, God changes lives by taking his people, by leading his people into what can be hard, scary, and/or confusing situations. He calls them to get up and go. And if my will informs those situations, I will look for the nearest exit. But if God's will, if His word informs those situations, we can trust He has a path ahead.
And thank God those individuals got up and went, right? Thank God the Magi took their journey. Thank God the shepherds left their fields. Even more so, thank God Joseph and Mary complied with Caesar's decree, I'm sure trusting that God's decree was behind it. How many lives have been blessed as a result of these individuals, of how God used them? Just think of how God used this Ethiopian to bless others, just as God had led Philip into his life.
But above it all, thank God, praise God that the eternal Son left the Father's presence, making that journey from heaven to earth; and that He followed God's leading to the cross; and that He eventually returned to the Father's side, to be our victorious High Priest. How many lives have been blessed because He got up and went? May each of us know His blessings, and may each of us follow his lead in response to God's leading.