The expansion of the early church could be somewhat likened to the modern growth of online social or professional networks. I almost daily get invites and updates from a professional network called “LinkedIn” – though I’ve not been very active with it personally. But with such tools, people connect with other people and so on … until before long, there are even millions networked one to another.
Of course, God’s “salvation network” is the Gospel message, that when received in faith networks the new believer to the body of Christ – the Church. And the book of Acts details how this network grew – both in numbers and ethnically.
The very first believers were folks with a strong Hebrew Jewish background. We soon see that there are Hellenistic Jews in the early company of Christians – these being ethnically Jewish people who had adopted the Greek culture and language of the Roman world. Today’s passage will give the story of a proselyte coming to Christ – this being a Gentile who had fully adopted the Jewish faith and God as the one true God. In the soon-coming story of Cornelius there will be the inclusion of a “God fearer” – one who believed in the one true God, but who had not become Jewish. And finally we will see the Gospel extending to fully Gentile peoples. So … Hebrew Jews >> Hellenistic Jews >> Proselytes >> God Fearers >> Full Gentiles. Cool stuff!
We today read about an Ethiopian official of some high office who had travelled many miles to Jerusalem to worship and was now on his way home. This was quite a long journey, and it certainly indicates a person very serious about faith and knowing God. Such is also evident by his study of Scripture, as in this passage he is laboring over the meaning of Isaiah 53:7,8 – about the prophecy of Christ as the Lamb of God. Philip is divinely placed in the path of this man to explain this passage in the preaching of the Gospel and the completed work of Christ. The Ethiopian gladly receives the truth and publically proclaims his faith through baptism.
I would make two observations today about the heart of God – each of which should encourage us personally, as well as in the work we share of the spread of the Gospel.
1. Notice the vast heart of God in this expansion of the Gospel. This was not simply a message for the Jewish people, the descendents of Abraham … it was growing to be universal for all lost peoples. God always had a heart for the nations of the world. His desire was that Israel be a missionary nation to the countries around them, but they blew that assignment over and over. But this new message of Christ’s forever payment for the sin of all people presents a great new era of a message of God’s abounding grace. And Luke is recording the growing network of believers – this new program of God called “the church.”
2. Notice the warm heart of God for the individual. Here was a man with a passion for truth and for knowing God. Though he lived remotely from the center of what God was doing, the Lord did not lose him in the crowds of humanity, but rather orchestrated divine circumstances that this one man may know the plan and work of God.
How great it is to know the God who cares both about the masses of people in the world, yet also is the God of the individual worshipper … and that should certainly encourage us today.
Philip and the Ethiopian – Acts 8:26-40
26 Now an angel of the Lord said to Philip, “Go south to the road—the desert road—that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.” 27 So he started out, and on his way he met an Ethiopianeunuch, an important official in charge of all the treasury of the Kandake (which means “queen of the Ethiopians”). This man had gone to Jerusalem to worship, 28 and on his way home was sitting in his chariot reading the Book of Isaiah the prophet. 29 The Spirit told Philip, “Go to that chariot and stay near it.”
30 Then Philip ran up to the chariot and heard the man reading Isaiah the prophet. “Do you understand what you are reading?” Philip asked.
31 “How can I,” he said, “unless someone explains it to me?” So he invited Philip to come up and sit with him.
32 This is the passage of Scripture the eunuch was reading: “He was led like a sheep to the slaughter, and as a lamb before its shearer is silent, so he did not open his mouth. 33 In his humiliation he was deprived of justice. Who can speak of his descendants? For his life was taken from the earth.”
34 The eunuch asked Philip, “Tell me, please, who is the prophet talking about, himself or someone else?” 35 Then Philip began with that very passage of Scripture and told him the good news about Jesus.
36 As they traveled along the road, they came to some water and the eunuch said, “Look, here is water. What can stand in the way of my being baptized?”  38 And he gave orders to stop the chariot. Then both Philip and the eunuch went down into the water and Philip baptized him. 39 When they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord suddenly took Philip away, and the eunuch did not see him again, but went on his way rejoicing. 40 Philip, however, appeared at Azotus and traveled about, preaching the gospel in all the towns until he reached Caesarea.
If you are a really careful reader, you may have noted that verse 37 was omitted. In some manuscripts it is contained and says: Philip said, “If you believe with all your heart, you may.” The eunuch answered, “I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.” This would appear, from the evidence of manuscripts containing it, that this is likely a later addition and was not in the original writing of Luke. In any event, you can see that there is no theological controversy attached to these simple words.