This post is part of the Acts series.
You can tell what something is by certain marks. The marks of a disciple are found in Philip: Go Where You’re Needed, Earn the Right to Speak, See Hope in All, Hear and Obey God’s Voice, Take Risks, Share the Gospel, and Follow Up.
I used to be a youth pastor for many years and no gathering was complete without a couple of games and prizes from what we called The Tub of Love. Now, the Tub of Love is to be revered. It is most holy. If you’ve ever seen Raiders of the Lost Ark you’ll understand what happens if you gaze upon the inconceivable beauty of its treasure-store.
So, hey, why not this morning kick off the message with a quick game of, “Guess What it Is!” The winner gets a prize from the Tub of Love. Which, I’m not sure if I told you, was really random things I got at conferences or the discount aisle at Wal-Mart for under a dollar. Shh, don’t tell my former students!
Here we go!
[play “Guess What it is!” and give out some prizes.]
That was fun. Now, let me ask you this question, how were you able to guess what the pictures were, without seeing the entire thing?
You saw certain patterns, clues, or marksthat belong to those unique items. Giraffes have a honeycomb pattern of brown and tan, school buses are notoriously bright yellow, and the Herren Family’s cupcakes just look delicious.
There are even patterns and marks of people. Athletes are spotted working out, students are known to read books late at night, and parents of small children look as if they haven’t slept in months. But, let me ask you this morning, what marks do you exhibit in your daily life? And, would they lead someone to believe, much like the game we played, that you are, in fact, a disciple of Jesus Christ?
We’ll find out together.
This morning we continue our walk through the Book of Acts. This is the second half of Luke’s Gospel. In the first half we read about all that Jesus began to do and teach. In Acts, we read about all Jesus continued to do and teach, not through His personal hands and feet, but through the physical presence of the Church. Today we are concluding our series.
Have you enjoyed it? I have. We are stopping right at the major break in Acts. The first eight chapters were primarily about Peter, John, and their followers in Jerusalem, but the rest of Acts is devoted to Paul, his followers, and the ends of the earth. We are here now in Acts 8, and I can think of no better way to end this series than to become challenged to continue the work the church began in Acts through our own lives. Philip is the focus of our text, and he presents to us several marks of being a Disciple of Jesus. May we be inspired and challenged by his example.
Turn with me then, to Acts, chapter 8:4 to the end.. Again that’s Acts 8, and we will be working through almost the entire chapter, beginning in verse 4.
While you’re turning there, here’s the context. Stephen has just been stoned to death after making a very clear declaration of the Gospel before the Jewish religious rulers. This sparks a persecution which forces most of the early Christians out of Jerusalem and into the greater world. A man named Saul is the attack dog. You can see this in Acts 8:1-3.
Now, before we begin, I want to get one extremely important point out of the way. It’s foundational. You cannot miss this.
Philip is not an Apostle. That is, Philip did not know Jesus in person, and Philip was not chosen or appointed as one of the twelve super-leaders of the Early Church. Can you guess why that is important? Because, you and I are in that same boat. Sure, we can say, “well I’m not Jesus, the Son of God”, or maybe “well I’m not Peter, one of the Apostles”, but what we cannot say is “well, I’m not Philip, a guy who… was a Christian.”
So, keep this in mind as we look at the Seven Marks of a Disciple seen in Philip, known to the Church as Philip the Evangelist.
- A Disciple Goes Where Their Needed
Those who had been scattered preached the word wherever they went. Philip went down to a city in Samariaand proclaimed the Messiah there. Acts 8:4-5 NIV
Yes, the Disciples had to leave Jerusalem, due to the religious authorities there, but they had a choice about where they would go next. Philip makes a crazy decision, to go to Samaria. Now, there is a lot of water under the bridge regarding Samaria. The easiest way to think about it is that the Samaritans aren’t true Israelites, but rather “half-bloods” or “mud-bloods” for you Harry Potter fans. Back in 2 Kings 17, we read about how the Assyrians took over part of Israel, including Samaria. Then, they placed several people groups there from other lands that had been conquered. Apparently, lions attack, and the king of Assyria believes it may be because the people aren’t obeying the god of the land, in this case, the one true God, Yahweh.
So, a priest is sent there to teach the people. According to this account in 2 Kings, the people took on the new practices, but never gave up the old. They had their own understanding of the Old Testament and disagreed on what mountain was the right one to worship on. Interestingly, these people are not exiled from the land the way the rest of Israel is during the time of the Babylonian empire, and so they believed that they are the truer, more pure Hebrews than the rest of Israel. There are terrible accounts of animosity found in history, including the New Testament itself. In AD 52, for instance, a group of Samaritans massacred an assembly of Jews who were traveling to worship in Judea.
With this in mind, look at where Philip chooses to go. To Samaria.
Let us ask of ourselves this morning.
Application Question: Am I willing to go where I’m needed? Or only where I want to go?
A true disciple is strategic. I think often of what I call “gateway communities” And, I believe we will implement this strategy in time. A gateway community is an area that is a gateway to a people group. It could be a subdivision, a certain street, or an apartment complex. Sometimes it’s a trailer court or a gas station. But, there are hubs in every city that, if the leaders in that gateway became passionate followers of Jesus Christ, hundreds or thousands would receive the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Philip got this. May we not look at people different than us, who think they are better than us, or think they are too far gone from us, as those we ought to avoid. Instead, let us become strategic and go where God needs us to go.
- A Disciple Earns the Right to Speak
When the crowds heard Philip and saw the signs he performed, they all paid close attention to what he said. For with shrieks, impure spirits came out of many, and many who were paralyzed or lame were healed. So there was great joy in that city. Acts 8:6-8 NIV
Listen to those words, they all paid close attention to what he said.
Because the crowds heard the content and the delivery of Philip’s message, alongside acts of power and love, which caused them to lean in.
You’ve heard it said, “people don’t care how much you know, until they know how much you care.” You know what, that is absolutely the truth. All of us have walls and gates around our hearts and minds. We don’t allow everything we hear, from every person, to affect us personally. We each have the ability to give or revoke someone’s access to deposit facts. If we would like to share the life-transforming message of Jesus Christ to others, we must learn to earn that right.
Philip shows us two ways of doing it: One, speaking with compassion and clarity, and two, acting in power and love.
Application Questions: Am I earning the right to speak into others’ lives by sharing with compassion and clarity, as well as acting in power and love?
We must speak with such compassion and clarity that people realize what we’re saying is special. When the disciple of Christ speaks, their eyes are wet and their pupils are fixed and dilated. When Philip spoke, he declared with all the urgency of a doctor insisting his patient see a specialist. He truly cared, and explained the stakes. He was full, as Jesus was, of grace and truth. If we would do the same, our listeners would let up the guard-gate of their heart and allow us access to deliver eternal truth.
And then, when we do things that are meaningful and powerful, as well as full of love, people cannot help but hear what we have to say.
Think about what Philip’s actions were. Philip was working with people who were possessed by demons and had physical disabilities. And, those he was working with were changing! It worked!
What if we, as New Journey Community Church, became the largest group of visitors and prayer warriors at Vernon Manner. What if we started a prisoner or jail transition mentoring ministry? What if we offered a deliverance ministry for those who may have demonic strongholds in their lives? These are the types of ministries which earn us the right to speak into the lives of Wabash.
I believe, when our local churches have no powerful, loving, actions in a community, when all we do is hole up in our buildings, it turns our declarations of truth into annoying squeaks. If, however, we become so instrumental to altering the statistics of Wabash for the positive, then when we share what Scripture has to say about Jesus, family, substances, violence, and even governmental policies, our hearers will “pay close attention” to what we have to say.
- A Disciple Sees Hope in Everyone
Now for some time a man named Simon had practiced sorcery in the city and amazed all the people of Samaria. He boasted that he was someone great… Simon himself believed and was baptized. Acts 8:9, 13 NIV
Simon was not a good man. He was steeped in the occult, which is demonically influenced magic. He is self-absorbed. He is hungry for power. We have writings about Simon from even outside the Bible, revealing that people considered him a god.
Yet, Philip was not intimidated. Where other believers may have seen imminent disaster, Philip saw opportunity. It’s easy to fear powerful people, especially those immersed in dark arts. It’s understandable that one would want to avoid confronting a public figure. We figure to ourselves, “they wouldn’t be interested, anyway” But, not Philip.
He shares the Gospel with Simon the same that he shared with a boy with a bad leg and a woman caught in spiritual bondage.
Application Question: Am I willing to see hope in everyone?
There is a long list of hopeless people.
Many will see “destined for destruction”, but a disciple sees, “destined for discipleship”
Growing up in Puerto Rico, Nicky Cruz was regularly beaten from the age of 3-1/2 years old.At the age of 9, his heart turned to stone after a severely abusive episode and failed suicide attempt. As one of 19 children born to witchcraft-practicing parents, bloodshed and mayhem were common occurrences in his life.
When he was 15, Nicky’s father exiled him to live with an older brother in New York City. Full of anger and rage, he soon left his brother to take his chances on the streets.
By age 16, he became a member of the notorious Brooklyn street gang known as the Mau Maus. Within six months, he had risen through the ranks to become their warlord – ruling the streets as a leader of one of the gangs most feared by rivals and police. Lost in the cycle of alcohol and brutal violence, his life took a tragic turn for the worse when his best friend and fellow gang member, Manny, was jumped and stabbed repeatedly. Manny bled out and died in Nicky’s arms.
As Nicky Cruz’s violent reputation grew, so did his haunting nightmares. Arrested countless times, a court-ordered psychiatrist pronounced Nicky’s fate as hopeless. He was destined for “…prison, the electric chair, and hell.”
No authority figure could reach the young warlord – until he met David Wilkerson. This skinny country preacher disarmed Nicky by showing him something he’d never known before: relentless love. His interest in the young thug was persistent. Nicky beat him up, spat on him and seriously threatened his life, yet the love of God prevailed. It was stronger than any adversary Nicky had ever encountered.
One night, against all odds, Jesus Christ broke through the walls that surrounded Nicky’s heart. Nicky describes it as if he had been admitted to a Holy Ghost hospital. As Nicky lies there vulnerable, Jesus walks to his side, opens Nicky’s chest, takes out his heart, and puts it to his lips to kiss it. The Lord then placed the transformed heart back into his chest and raises him up as a brand new creation.
Nicky Cruz has reached millions of people with his story and ministries. All because a Philip saw hope where everyone else saw hopeless.
- A Disciple Hears and Obeys God’s Voice
Now an angel of the Lord said to Philip, “Go south to the road—the desert road—that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.” So he started out, and on his way he met an Ethiopian eunuch, 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, and on his way home was sitting in his chariot reading the Book of Isaiah the prophet. The Spirit told Philip, “Go to that chariot and stay near it.” Acts 8:26-29 NIV
This is in my top few favorite stories in all of the Bible. There is so much here for us to glean.
A huge part of walking as a Disciple of Jesus is hearing the voice of the Holy Spirit. Jesus said so simply in John 10:27, “My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me.”
But, hearing and heeding God’s voice takes instruction and practice. I have a couple of great books on the subject, I just loaned one out to a church member recently, and plan to lead a small group on hearing God’s voice in the future.
Here in the couple of minutes we have on this point, though, what can we learn? One very important point:
God’s voice is often specific, but not complete.
You see, an angel of the Lord speaks to Philip, and instructs him to go south to a certain road.
Now, regardless of whether God speaks via an angel, a person, a vision, a Scripture, or a “thought not your own”, we know that Jesus intends for us to hear and heed His voice.
What does He reveal to Philip? God speaks of a specific road, but He does not reveal the entire plan. This makes walking with God a daily-bread situation. It’s a DE-pendent relationship. It takes faith. That is a basic principle of hearing God’s voice. Often, God doesn’t reveal the next step of a plan until you have faithfully obeyed the first.
See this principle in action. After Philip obeys the message from the angel, the Spirit speaks to Philip in his heart, saying, “now go to that chariot and stay near it.”
Application Question: Am I listening for, and obeying, God’s voice?
One of the reasons I love this story is that it’s almost absurd when you put it in a modern context.
Now an angel of the Lord said to Jaeden, “Go south to the road—the pot-hole-ridden road—that goes down from Habanero Grill to Poole Foods.” So she started out, and on her way she met a business owner from Marion, an important official in charge of all the treasury of Via Credit Union. This man had gone to Wabash to a self-help conference, and on his way home was sitting in his car reading How to Win Friends and Influence People. The Spirit told Jaeden, “Go to that car and stay near it.” Acts 8:26-29 NIV
Now, you may laugh. But, this is so often what walking in the Spirit on a daily basis is like! You become in tune with God, and become part of His great plan! The story continues into the next point.
- A Disciple Takes Risks
Then Philip ran up to the chariot and heard the man reading Isaiah the prophet. “Do you understand what you are reading?” Philip asked. “How can I,” he said, “unless someone explains it to me?” So he invited Philip to come up and sit with him… Then Philip began with that very passage of Scripture and told him the good news about Jesus. Acts 8:30-31 NIV
Sometime you need to take risks when you’re hearing and heading God’s voice. Notice something important here, Philip runs up to the chariot. What’s that about? My guess is that Philip wanted to make sure it didn’t take off. Perhaps the animals were getting a drink of water, or it was difficult to read and ride at the same time.
Application Questions: What if you ranto obey God’s voice? Am I willing to take risks to share the Gospel?
But I just wonder, what would have happened if Philip hadn’t ran? What if he had walked? We know from history that a strong church grew in Ethiopia and it is attributed to this very incident. The term used for eunuch here, may mean that he had been castrated for service to the queen, or as it is sometimes used in antiquity, that he was just a high-ranking official. Either way, this encounter affected thousands, if not millions of people throughout history.
Again, I ask you this morning, what if you didn’t walk, but ran to obey God’s voice?
What plans does God have in store for Wabash, and what plans has God had to pass over us to others? What plans have never been enacted?
- A Disciple Shares the Gospel
Then Philip began with that very passage of Scripture and told him the good news about Jesus. Acts 8:35 NIV
I don’t need to develop this. It’s simple. It’s clear. A disciple can share the Gospel from Scripture because they read the Scriptures and find Jesus in them. The entire Old Testament is leading up to Jesus. Moses speaks about Jesus because he delivers his people from slavery. Joshua speaks about Jesus because Jesus conquers our enemies. Elijah speaks about Jesus because with a word, he calls down fire and embarrasses all the other powers surrounding him.
Application Question: Am I willing to share the Gospel? Am I able?
I’m not here to browbeat us. It’s not helpful to say “you ought to do this” when it’s the call of your pastors to equip you. I want to do this for you. I want to equip everyone to have personal devotional time with God and learn to study the Bible. I want everyone to be able to clearly explain the Gospel. Let’s work together toward that end!
- A Disciple Follows Up
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?” And he gave orders to stop the chariot. Then both Philip and the eunuch went down into the water and Philip baptized him. Acts 8:36-38 NIV
Philip does not just share the Gospel and get out of dodge. He clearly explained more than just the Gospel. He must have been fielding questions as they rolled along in the chariot. First of all, I love that Philip is riding in this chariot, he is clearly focused on the Gospel and not how to get home. There’s no Uber out there. Secondly, Philip is willing to take time to help this man in his next steps. Can we say the same?
Application question: Am I willing to follow up with those I share with?
Follow up is hard. It’s when we help apply the life changing truth of the Gospel to life. It’s when we decide to give out our number or invite someone on an errand we’d rather do alone. Follow up is when we answer texts and spend time finding out real answers. Follow up transforms lives, because follow up is basic discipleship. It’s the model Jesus calls us to, to make disciplesof all nations.
Band, come on up at this time.
Church, will you measure yourself up against Philip? I am. And, I’m not totally there yet, but it’s my ambition. I know Philip wasn’t a super-Christian, but he was sold-out to Jesus. Maybe if we just take a few more risks and wake up with an intention, not to build our own lives, or secure our plans, but instead listen for the voice of God and seek opportunities to join Him in this adventure, we might end up looking an awful lot like a disciple.
As we take up our morning giving, let’s also respond to God’s Word through song. May our commitment be, not to be perfect, but just give in to a little more trust, risk, and adventure as we write the next chapter of Acts together.
Please stand and respond to God’s Word through song.
Eph. 3:20-21 – Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.
Go with God.