When God Opens a Door (Acts 8:26-40)
I. From There to Here
7,496 miles. That's the distance between Jerusalem and Buckeye. I'd like you to think about that distance because I'd like you to think about how the word of God, specifically the Good News about Jesus, got from there to here.
Of course, in addition to the geographical distance, there is a chronological distance, right? Almost twenty centuries have elapsed since the days of Jesus and his apostles, during which the time gospel message has made its way to us, in the hearts and on the lips of countless individuals.
And on top of the geographical and chronological distance, there is a linguistic-al distance as well, isn't there? From Aramaic and Greek, this Good News (when we think about those who have verbalized it) has journeyed through many languages down through the centuries.
Isn't that amazing? When we think about how the word of God got from there to here, we should be astonished.
I think this same theme is present in our study passage this morning. Turn, if you haven't already, over to the book of Acts, chapter 8. This book's full, traditional title is “The Acts of the Apostles”. But as we talked about last time, a better title might be “The Acts of the Holy Spirit”. And we're going to see that emphasis again this morning.
II. The Passage: “Unless Someone Guides Me” (8:26-40)
This chapter, of course, is from this past Thursday in Our Bible Reading Plan. We're looking specifically this morning at the account preserved for us in verses 26-40. This is what we read...
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.
Now, there is no doubt that this is an amazing story, for many different reasons. But if your desire, if our desire, is to discover what God wants to say to us today through this ancient account, then the first thing we need to do is make sure we understand why the writer, Luke, has included this account in his record of the early church.
Everything we know about the early church, from both biblical and non-biblical writers, leads us to believe that Luke could have included hundreds of stories about any number of tens of thousands of individuals who were impacted by the Christian message. But he didn't. He chose to highlight particular stories. We certainly believe that God was at work in all this, to guide and guard, so that his word would be breathed out in writings like these. But that doesn't change the fact that God used Luke as a writer; as an historian. So let's talk about three reasons Luke included this account of Philip and the Ethiopian eunuch.
The first and foremost reason Luke included this story was to demonstrate that the growth happening was a result of God opening doors for the word.
The book of Acts includes seven summary statements (2:46-47; 6:7; 9:31; 12:4; 16:5; 19:20; 28:30-31), scattered throughout the book, that highlight the growth of the Christian faith. Now what's important to note is that four out of the seven explicitly mention the ongoing spread of the word of God. We read in 6:7... And the word of God continued to increase... And again in 12:4... But the word of God increased and multiplied. Yet again in 19:20... So the word of the Lord continued to increase and prevail mightily. And at the end of the book, in 28:30-31, we read...
[Paul] lived there two whole years at his own expense, and welcomed all who came to him, proclaiming the kingdom of God and teaching about the Lord Jesus Christ with all boldness and without hindrance.
Episode after episode in Acts highlights how God was at work to open 'doors' for the proclamation of the Good News about Jesus (by the way, that 'opening doors' language, it comes straight from Paul, who used that imagery to describe the excellent opportunities he we presented with for effective gospel ministry—I Corinthians 16:9; II Corinthians 2:12, and Colossians 4:3). Just think about these 'open doors' in the book of Acts: crowds who hear their own languages being spoken by strangers, miracles being performed, believers being arrested, prisoners being liberated, supernatural light and a voice from heaven, divine visions, and visits from angels. And that's just some of the divinely appointed 'open doors' we find in Acts.
As we just heard, our passage this morning fits right into this pattern. It begins with an angel, an angel who is directing Philip to the middle of the desert, in order to intercept a specific chariot. So is this Philip the apostle? Actually, no. You may remember from Acts 6 that Philip was one of the seven men appointed to help oversee the church's food distribution to needy widows. But Luke wants us to understand that God used these men in other ways. So he highlights the expanded ministries of both Stephen and Philip.
But please don't miss the other earmarks of divine intervention here: in addition to the angel and the divine directions, this Ethiopian official just happens to be reading, at that moment, the clearest Messianic prophecy in the OT (from Isaiah 53). And at just the right time, this man and Philip come upon a watering hole... in the middle of the desert! The growth happening in the book of Acts was a result of God opening 'doors' for the word.
And God was doing this to help the first Christians fulfill the words of Jesus, who called them to go to “all nations”; or as we heard last time in 1:8... to proclaim the word “in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” So who is this man Philip meets? He is an official of the Nubian/Kushite kingdom, 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”. Talk about the word increasing! About an open door!
But with the larger context of the book in mind, we also see that, second, Luke has included this account in order to demonstrate that belief then baptism is a right response to the word.
As with references to the Holy Spirit, the book of Acts talks about baptism far more than any other book in Scripture. In fact, it's not hard at all to see the pattern: Acts 2, Acts 8, Acts 9, Acts 10, Acts 16, Acts 18, Acts 19. In all of these passages the order is clear: the gospel is preached, listeners believe, then they are baptized. Our main passage this morning makes it's fairly obvious that even the Ethiopian understood the importance of baptism as a personal expression of saving faith. Wonderfully, he's the one who brings it up when he spots the watering hole. The book of Acts is unambiguous: belief then baptism is a right response to the word of God.
Finally, I believe there's a third reason Luke has included this story of Philip and the Ethiopian eunuch. When God opened a door, Philip was faithful to step through it.
There is not one hint of hesitation or deviation or protestation from Philip when God opens 'door' after 'door'. Do you see that? When the angel directs Philip into the desert, (v. 27) And he rose and went. When the Spirit directed Philip to the chariot, (v. 30) So Philip ran... When the man asked about this divinely positioned passage from Isaiah, (v. 35) Then Philip opened his mouth, and beginning with this Scripture he told him the good news about Jesus. When water suddenly appeared in the desert, (v. 28) ...and he baptized him. And when Philip realized that he had been spiritually 'teleported' and (v. 40) ...found himself at Azotus (OT Ashdod, 30 miles up the coast), Luke tells us that as he passed through he preached the gospel to all the towns until he came to Caesarea.
Acts is a book full of these portraits of faithfulness. Yes, God powerfully at work; but so often, God powerfully at work through the faithfulness of his people.
III. From Here to There
And what an encouragement for us! Shouldn't these portraits of faithfulness in Acts inspire faithfulness in us? Think about the encouragement God has given us this morning: when we think about how the word of God got from there to here, we should be astonished. But what is most astonishing is not the miles, or years, or languages, or cultures crossed. It is the way in which God himself worked to open doors for his word. Is that your God? Is that the same God we, that you, continue to serve today? The God who opens 'doors' for the gospel?
Think about this: you sit here today as a result of this same story. No, the divine orchestration of your salvation might not be as obvious as it was to Philip and Luke. I doubt an angelic vision or spiritual teleportation are factors in your own story (if they are, see my afterwards). But... someone was moved to share with you. Someone came up alongside of you. Someone shared God's word with you. Someone pointed you to Jesus (maybe that's me this morning). But all of these were 'doors' that God himself opened, including, ultimately, the 'door' of your heart.
If this was the case, then that means all around us today God is opening 'doors', right? Brothers and sisters, we don't need an angel of the Lord to appear to us in order to know when God has, in his sovereign grace, opened a 'door' for the word. We simply need to have a heart for God, his word, and the people in our circles. And to cultivate such a heart, we need to invest our time and energy into God, his word, and the people in our circles. And when we do that, then by the grace of God, through the Spirit of God, we will continue to gain an ever-deepening sensitivity to God, his word, and the people in our circles.
The question you should ask is not, “Is God opening doors in my circle?” The question is, “When God opens a door, what will I do?” Will your life be a portrait of faithfulness? So many of you already are and have been, in so many ways. I love hearing about the opportunities God has given you to share, to serve, to open up your homes, to pray, to bless in one way or another.
But others of you have forgotten that God blessed you that you might bless others; that Christ served you, that you might serve others; that God spoke to you, that you might speak to others; that Christ died on the cross and rose again to new life, that you might die to your self and live a new life for God and others.
For a variety of reasons (some responses to hard situations, some deliberate steps toward worldly compromise), many of you have turned inward. You've responded by closing doors in your life, rather than stepping through the doors God opens. You're fearful. You're distracted. You're indifferent, or maybe demoralized. Whatever it is, whatever the reasons, God wants you to reach out to him this morning. Ask him for that change you need in light of his word this morning. In light of Philip's example, shouldn't all of us be regularly praying this prayer...
“Father, give me a heart for the lost, eyes to see your open doors, and lips to speak as I step through them.”
Yes, God definitely wants us to think about how the word of God got from there to here. But he also wants us to think about how the word of God will go from here to 'there'; to and through the 'open doors' he's providing all around us... all of us. In the very next chapter of Acts, chapter 9, there is a story of radical transformation; of one reached, who then reaches others. Listen to the heart Paul has for the 'open doors' of God. Listen to how full his response is, full of surrender and zeal and sacrifice. This is I Corinthians 9:19–23...
For though I am free from all, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win more of them.  To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law (though not being myself under the law) that I might win those under the law.  To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (not being outside the law of God but under the law of Christ) that I might win those outside the law.  To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some.  I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them in its blessings
May God give us this same heart in light of sovereign grace.
More in Our Bible Reading Plan (2021-2022)
November 28, 2021Pray Also for Us (Acts 20:28-32)
November 21, 2021Troubling Those Who Turn (Acts 15:13-21)
November 14, 2021Like a Baby Shower for Your Church (Acts 13:1-3; 14:26-28)