A MIRACLE IN GAZA
Surely you have heard of Gaza. It has been much in the news these days. It is SW of Israel,(between Israel and Egypt). The Palestinians live there now, controlled by Hamas, a political terrorist group. According to Unger’s Bible Dictionary, Gaza, the city, in what was formerly called the Gaza strip, was settled as one of the oldest cities in the world and was later the capital of the Philistines.(1) Philistines became known much later as Palestinians. Then to the North of Israel is Lebanon, which is being used in our present day by another terrorist group, Hezbollah, as a staging area to attack Israel. Every one of these names is the same as New Testament times (except the terror groups), but the divisions of the territory are not exactly the same today.
Of these seven, it is likely that only two, possibly three, are known by the average Christian. We know Stephen, who was to become the first martyr in the New Testament Church, (considering John the Baptist as the last Old Testament martyr). Martyr is from the Greek martus, which means witness..(3) Stephen and John the Baptist witnessed---with their lives! We have heard of Nicolas of Antioch, of whom we know more legend than truth.Then, I want us to look at Philip, of whom scripture tells us much. Like Stephen, Philip did not just wait tables and take care of other church business, he went to preaching Christ! While Saul, the persecutor, was making havoc of the church, and helped scatter them abroad (which only served to grow the church that much more), “Philip went down to the city of Samaria, and preached Christ unto them” (Acts 8:5). Great miracles were done, including the matter with Simon the sorcerer. Some of the apostles came down from Jerusalem. They also were there preaching and seeing mighty works done in the name of Jesus Christ.
In the midst of all these glorious events, just after Peter, John, and perhaps other disciples, returned to Jerusalem, Mssrs. John Gill, Matthew Henry, J.A. Alexander, M. Baumgarten, and James Grey all agree Philip was still in Samaria when God had an angel direct him to immediately change locations. “And the angel of the Lord spake unto Philip, saying, Arise, and go toward the south unto the way that goeth down from Jerusalem unto Gaza, which is desert” (Acts 8:26). He was going to see:
First it was an angel that changed the direction of Philip’s itinerary, and later he was prompted by the Holy Spirit. The man he was being led to see was a Cushite, a black man. He was a man of great authority in his native land, a land that still exists today, though for a time it was called Abyssinia instead of Ethiopia. He had charge of all the treasure of the queen called Candace ( a title, like Caesar or Pharaoh). The fact that he came to Jerusalem to worship indicates he was a proselyte Jew.
The meaning of the word “eunuch” usually means the male has been castrated..(4) Often in the east eunuchs were placed over the harems of the sheiks, and their emasculation prevented any troublesome problems with the women. Assuming this man was in that neutered category, he would have been forbidden to enter the temple under the Mosaic law. So he could be a"gate proselyte” which allowed him to worship at the temple gate, but not in the temple.(5) Since the things done concerning Christ “were not done in a corner”, he was possibly trying to connect things he had heard in Jerusalem about Jesus’ crucifixion with the scriptures. While John Gill favors the view he was reading Hebrew, Matthew Henry holds that he was likely reading the Septuagint (Greek translation of the Old Testament), which was common in the world, even in Israel. He says this because of some phrases that Luke, the writer of Acts, uses that are minor variations from the original Hebrew.
Whatever language he was reading as he was returning to his home from Jerusalem, he was intent on understanding it as he was sitting in his chariot reading the “Gospel of Isaiah.” You heard me right, for as Leonard Ravenhill points out, there is perhaps as much of Christ in Isaiah as any Old Testament book.(6) It was certainly in God’s purpose that he be reading that particular book.
Then we are told that the Spirit of God spoke to Philip, and told him to go near, and join him in his chariot. We are not told how the Holy Ghost spoke to Philip. Audibly? By a vision? An inner prompting?. Remember, we do know that Philip was one of “seven men of honest report, full of the Holy Ghost and wisdom.” So such a man knew when God was talking to him just as he knew the angel had led him some 60 miles to the Gaza desert in the first place.
Since he was on a mission from God, he ran up to the Ethiopian’s chariot and without any introduction, asked an urgent question. Note: often ministers of God have long introductions in their messages before they arrive at the urgent questions. Not Philip. He said as he heard the eunuch read the prophet Isaiah “Understandest thou what thou readest?” (Acts 8:30) This question is urgent and vital. Undoubtedly Phillip knew, even though Paul was later to pen the words (perhaps the clearest words on this subject), “But the natural man receiveth not the things of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned” (First Corinthians 2:14).
The answer of the eunuch “How can I except some man guide me?” (Acts 8:31-a), shows us, he, though a proselyte Jew, had no real understanding of the scripture he was reading. Religion is not enough to illuminate God’s word. Many people have a Bible in their home, and they might even read it, but without God giving them “ears to hear,” and “eyes to see,” and a thirst for the water of life, they will die and go to hell. “And he desired Philip that he would come up and sit with him” (Acts 8:31-b). Even this is remarkable. Here is a wealthy man, a man of great authority, in a desert area of a country not his own, and without hesitation, with hope that "some man", this man, a complete stranger, could help him understand, invites him to sit with him. Philip does so right away, for this is why he came on this evangelistic journey. Philip would be remembered after Samaria and Gaza throughout the centuries in the Christian church, not as Philip the Deacon, but as Philip the Evangelist.
“The place of the scripture which he read was this, He was led as a sheep to the slaughter; and like a lamb dumb before his shearer, so opened he not his mouth: In his humiliation his judgment was taken away: and who shall declare his generation? For his life is taken from the earth” Acts 8:32,33). You can see with the spiritual eye why Isaiah is called “Gospel,for this quotation from Isaiah 53:7,8 tells us much of what was to happen in the four gospels about 712 years before it happened! But I get ahead of myself a little.
I don’t have too much more to labor on the point of this “some man”, except to say: to deny that God uses human instrumentality to save sinners is insane. You see it again and again in the word of God. He not only uses humans, but when it pleases Him, He uses angels (as here in Acts). The Holy Ghost is always involved in the salvation of sinners. He does the setting apart (sanctifying), the drawing as the apostle proclaims “Elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through sanctification of the Spirit, unto obedience and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ: Grace unto you and peace be multiplied” (First Peter 1:2). This “some man” sent to guide the eunuch, though he was a deacon, and an evangelist, could do nothing to actually save this man. He was God’s “errand boy", a messenger of God, as the angel was to him. Yet he played a vital, God ordained, role in this miracle at Gaza.
SOME OTHER MAN
"And the eunuch answered Philip, and said, I pray thee, of whom speaketh the prophet this? Of himself, or of some other man?” (Acts 8:34). You see, the eunuch (whose name we never really know from scripture, though there has been much conjecture), was uncertain if Isaiah was speaking of some of his own suffering (which doubtless he had heard of), or of someone else. So we are told: “Then Philip opened his mouth, and began at the same scripture, and preached unto him Jesus” (Acts 8:35). Charles Spurgeon in “Commenting and Commentaries” tells us of Dr. Hawker in his “Poor Man’s Commentary" ,who found Jesus in practically every Psalm, in places where most could not see Him. (7) Well, I believe any preacher, perhaps any man, who has been a Christian for any time at all could read Isaiah 53:7,8 and preach a little about Jesus. Of course, the Jews, largely in blindness until this day, stumble over that stumbling stone; but it is clear to the regenerated person that this passage is talking about Christ. It can be none other!
So as Philip began to preach unto him Jesus as that “some other man” , this great miracle of grace is beginning to fully unfold. “Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved”(Acts 4:12).A person’s eyes must be opened that they see- not doctrines about Him, but Him! Not Him as the babe in the manger, but as the suffering savior who died on the cruel cross, and rose again the third day! As already stated, I believe in election, predestination, God’s decrees, justification, sanctification, preservation and all these grand old doctrines, as much as anybody alive. But, just knowing these truths will not save anyone! I don’t even care if you say you are elect! Have you ever been to the foot of the cross to close savingly with Christ? Have you ever trusted, and do you now trust in Him alone for salvation. I believe many will be deceived, even knowing good doctrine, even claiming to be full of the Holy Ghost, because they never looked in repentance, and faith to the suffering Lamb of God. That is where our salvation lies, not in the things we believe about Him, but Him alone! Glory to His Holy Name!
After Philip preached unto him Jesus as the one who was led as a sheep to slaughter, as a dumb lamb before His shearers, as one who silently suffered all the humiliation, and whose life was taken away for His sheep, they came upon water and the eunuch said:“See, here is water: what doth hinder me to be baptized? And Philip said, If thou believest with all thy heart, thou mayest. And he answered and said, I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God” (Acts 8:37). Most of the modern Bible revisers throw out verse 37, but it is in the received (or majority), text so I have no trouble declaring it. It was confirmed by Philip that baptism is for believers. He said “believe with all your heart”. Too many in our day go under the water a dry sinner, and come up from the water a wet sinner, but a sinner still! Baptism is for believers. I know our paedobaptist friends think if you are sprinkled as an infant, you are in the covenant, and will manifest true salvation later in life. That doctrine just doesn’t “hold water”. Sorry about the pun, but Greek baptizo means “to dip, to immerse."(8) Even John Calvin admits this was the original way in the early church. “Here we see the rite used among the men of old time in baptism; for they put all the body into the water.”(9)
The answer of the eunuch was the answer of every born again person: “I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.” So, satisfied with that confession, he and Philip go down into the water and Philip baptized him. I say all this was a miracle. A miracle in the sense that every conversion of a sinner is a miracle. You ask “is it hard for a sinner to be saved?” No friend, it’s not hard, it’s impossible! You see “There is none that seeketh after God” (Romans 3:11-b).
All men are by nature sinners, totally depraved. Totally unable to move savingly toward God. They are dead.(See Ephesians 2:1). It takes a miracle of God, the same kind of miracle that raised Jesus Christ from the dead, to save a poor, lost, (often religious),depraved sinner and place him in Christ for eternity. Yes this was a miracle in the Gaza desert. God in His grace bringing the preaching deacon to the black guardian of his Queen’s treasure to explain to him the treasure of eternal life as it is in Jesus.
Just as Cornelius was the first European convert, and