In the Word of God there is no distinction without a difference; and though the distinction may appear small, the difference is sure to present some striking and profitable line or shade of truth. Look, for instance, at the different ways in which the matter of “preaching” is presented to us in Acts 8.
In verse 4 we read, “They that were scattered abroad went everywhere preaching the word.”
In verse 5, “Philip went down to the city of Samaria, and preached Christ unto them.”
In verse 25, “And they, when they had testified and [a] preached the word of the Lord, returned to Jerusalem, and [b] preached the gospel in many villages of the Samaritans.”
In verse 35, “Then Philip opened his mouth, and began at the same scripture, and preached unto him Jesus.”
Here we have five distinctions in this one chapter—
1. “Preached the word.”
2. “Preached Christ.”
3. “Preached the word of the Lord.”
4. “Preached the gospel.”
5. “Preached Jesus.”
The first is clearly general: they went “everywhere”; their sphere of labour was, so far, universal, and they made use of that Word which has, thank God, a universal bearing. It was the world, and not one nation or people, that God had loved (wondrous fact!), and which the Son had come to save, so that “whosoever believes on Him should not perish, but have everlasting life,” and now these scattered and persecuted Christians wont everywhere; and as they went they “preached the word.” By it their own souls had been blessed, and they could not but communicate the blessing to others “everywhere.”
In the third we find the delegates from the assembly in Jerusalem preaching the word of the Lord to the young converts in Samaria. This is more specific, and intimates the claims of the Lord over His people. It was more in the way of instruction and counsel, and placing the believing soul more distinctly under the authority of Christ as Lord—a most important ministry. Hence the “word of the Lord.”
In the fourth they “preached the gospel” in many villages of the Samaritans. In such villages these delegates found themselves face to face with all the ignorance, and religious distance, and glaring sins of the Samaritans. What could they do? They had been eye-witnesses of the power of the gospel as preached in the city of Samaria; and what did for the city would assuredly do for the villages. It was the gospel—the good news of God to lost and guilty men, who, like the Samaritans, were “without Christ, having no hope, and without God in the world.”
This gospel they, therefore, preached, though with what effect we are not told. Doubtless, through grace, some believed its lovely story; others, too, despised. Such, at least, is the usual treatment God’s gospel receives at the hands of men, as it will receive till the door of mercy closes on the unbelieving world. However, they “preached the gospel.”
Now, turning to the second, we find that Philip went down to the city of Samaria and preached Christ unto them.
Why “preached Christ”? Why not the Word! Why not the gospel?
No doubt either would have described the work of this dear man of God; but the Spirit tells us it was Christ he preached. But it was to the Samaritans he did so. Now they, as we may find from John 4, were awaiting the Messiah, who should come and tell them all things. They claimed Jacob as their father, and considered themselves related to Israel, on whom, at the same time, they looked down in spiritual pride.
True, they knew not what they worshipped, and were, in fact, destitute of any scriptural claim; but yet in some unwarranted way they looked for the Messiah—the Christ. He was to come and instruct them.
But Philip, taking them on that ground, declared to them the Christ as having come, and he announced unto them His death, resurrection, and coming again; for he preached the “things concerning the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ,” whilst signs of power in connection with that kingdom attended his words. His preaching of Christ was appropriate, and God sealed his testimony with abundant fruit.
Blessing flowed on these Samaritans from the ascended Christ, who, having gone on high, no longer now as Israel’s Messiah, dispensed His saving grace as freely on one as another.
Hence Philip preached Christ (after this new and heavenly order) to them, with the happy results recorded.
Lastly, in the fifth we read, “Then Philip opened his mouth, and began at the same scriptures, and preached unto him Jesus.”
The scripture was Isaiah 53; and the person to whom Philip preached was the Ethiopian eunuch; and he “preached to him Jesus.”
Now here is a Gentile, one without promise or hope, but one full of interest to us, as having gone to Jerusalem in the expectation of finding in its religious forms satisfaction for the cravings of his needy soul. He believed God was there, and it was the knowledge of God he wanted. He travelled far, he searched diligently, he worshipped devoutly; but he returned empty as ever. Jerusalem could not meet his desperate need. Its day was over. Its Messiah was rejected, and had gone on high as the ascended Christ, subsequent to crucifixion at His people’s hands.
But he carried the Book.
Ah! that casket containing such infinite treasure for the seeking soul—that Book of God. He read that Book. Isaiah 53 was his study. But he wanted light. Philip was sent of God to help this enquirer in his difficulties and, taking up the portion before him, he preached unto him Jesus. Isaiah 53 is full of Jesus. True, his lovely name is not mentioned; but the story is all about the humbled, rejected, cut-off, slain Jehovah-Saviour—His humiliation and substitutionary death, with just a word of His coming glory at the end.
Such a Saviour sufficed for the eunuch, and in Jesus he found what could not be found in Jerusalem.
What a treasure did that casket contain for him! How divinely suitable.
What wisdom do we find, then, in these very noticeable distinctions of Acts 8; and how valuable the differences, and clear the shades of truth presented by them.
Such touches indicate the skill of the divine Penman, and may well enhance to us the worth of the Book that contains so much, and that is so little understood; so readily criticised and condemned, but so little approached in a spirit of spiritual need and reverence. Still it is God’s word, His one means of communicating His mind to fallen man; and for this we may indeed thank Him.