A Time To Snatch Away: Acts 8:39-40
“39) When they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord snatched Philip away; and the eunuch no longer saw him, but went on his way rejoicing. 40) But Philip found himself at Azotus, and as he passed through he kept preaching the gospel to all the cities until he came to Caesarea.” Acts‬ ‭8‬:‭39‬-‭40‬
The encounter with the Ethiopian eunuch was providential from beginning to end. An angel directed Philip to go south to the road that descends from Jerusalem to Gaza. (Vs 26) The Spirit said to Philip, “Go up and join this chariot.” (Vs 29) The Ethiopian just happened to be reading from a Messianic portion of a scroll of the book of Isaiah. (Vs 32-33) At the right time they came to a pool of water. (Vs 36) The encounter ended with the Spirit of the Lord snatching Philip away and dropping him in Azotus. (Vs 39) Philip continued on his way with his preaching ministry. (Vs 40)
All of these aspects of this story intrigue me. I believe God is sovereign to arrange Divine encounters with people. I try to be sensitive to the leading of the Holy Spirit and His promptings as I meet and talk with new people.
But most intriguing was how this encounter ended. The Spirit of the Lord abruptly snatched Philip away. (Vs 39) He had no time to devote to discipleship. It’s not the mode of transportation that gets my attention, it was the timing. It happened immediately after coming out of the water.
The whole gospel and biblical textual transmission to Ethiopia is unique. They have a Biblical text with slightly different wording in some verses. There is some question over which text is oldest and most reliable.
It’s almost almost like God was intentionally preserving two textual lines to prevent tampering with the text. When you read in the margin of your Bible that “some older manuscripts do not include this verse”; it is often referring to the Ethiopian text. Two witnesses are better than one. 99.99 % of the manuscripts read exactly the same. The textual transmission of our extant manuscripts are very trustworthy because of comparison with two textual lines.
But another unique phenomenon with this story was the emergence of three separate Christian traditions. The Jewish tradition was deeply stamped with Old Testament Judaism. The Western Gentile church picked up hints of Greek influence. The Ethiopian church went on to became uniquely African in worship style and church structure.
I maintain that this is good. The gospel message is universal, but church structure and tradition can reflect local culture. Biblical theology and morals should be the same, but methodology can be flexible. (Study 1 Corinthians 12:4-7 and Acts 15:13-35) The Apostles in Jerusalem granted liberty to the Gentile church to develop their own traditions.
This becomes important in world missions. This might be radical, but our goal at GoServ Global is to equip and empower nationals leaders to reach and care for their own people. We do not send typical western missionaries to “rule over” national church leaders. We see ourselves as their servants. We intentionally try not to export the dysfunctional American church to the mission field.
We focus on a solid gospel message, sound biblical theology and high and holy morals, but we trust the National leaders to seek the leading of the Holy Spirit for methodology. Honestly, in most cases they do a much better job and are more fervent in prayer and more studious in the Word than the western church. The Spirit of God is moving in profound ways around the world in many counties.
We recently had a lengthy meeting with a mission leader from a Spirit filled Lutheran church from Ethiopia. They are biblically sound, morally pure and on fire with the spread of the gospel. They now have over 50,000,000 believers who follow the Bible, walk in the Spirit, work in over 19 predominately Muslim nations and are seeing extraordinary signs and wonders accompanying the spread of the gospel. They plant many churches that are free to depart from Sunday Lutheran liturgy. Even their own mid week services focus on worship and healing ministry with no liturgy.
They recently sent letters to two American Lutheran denominations that embrace same sex marriages calling them to repentance. Upon refusal to adhere to biblical morals, the Ethiopian church leaders refused their money and closed the door on working together.
This story illustrates the value of indigenous national churches. It may have its roots in Acts 8:39-40 and the Spirit of God snatching Philip away from the Ethiopian eunuch. Jesus takes responsibility to build His Church around the world.
Daily Bible Commentary By Terry Baxter: Cofounder of GoServ Global