Devotional # 49. 8/26/13. Philip and the Ethiopian Eunuch.
This week’s Reading: Acts 8: 26-40.
Introduction. Last week we talked about Philip leading many to Jesus but then Simon the Sorcerer wanted it for personal gain. Now we pick up right where we left off with Philip ministering to an official. This story is very famous because it teaches us about searching for Jesus and how God blesses that quest.
vv. 26-28. An angel tells Philip to start walking down a road. He doesn’t tell him his destination or what to do – just go! So he goes and he sees an Ethiopian official riding in his chariot. This official is probably a “dark-skinned African” (Source 1) who was like a “Minister of Finance or Secretary of the Treasury” (Source 2). He had “come to Jerusalem to worship” and was on his way home. We don’t know if he was a proselyte (which is a “Gentile convert to Judaism”) or just a Gentile who followed godly ways (Source 1) but he had a copy of a scroll of the Scripture. He had probably heard the book of Isaiah read and was trying to figure it out himself.
Notice God knows where the eunuch is, what he needs, who to send and when to send him! As Jesus said He really will go after just one lost sheep who seeks Him (Luke 15:3-7)!
vv. 29-33. The Holy Spirit guides Philip to run up to the chariot (“overtake it“). Philip obediently runs alongside the chariot and asks the Ethiopian if he understands what he is reading. The man says exactly how we feel sometimes, ‘How can I understand if I don’t have someone to explain it?’ So we see that reading the Bible is not the same as understanding it but God will always provide an explanation. Who knows how long the Ethiopian had been trying to figure out this passage. So often we want to reach for a commentary to figure out what something means instead of praying that the Holy Spirit reveals it to us. He is reading from Isaiah 53:7-8.
vv. 34-37. The eunuch asks if Isaiah is talking about himself or someone else. We don’t know exactly how the Holy Spirit explained the gospel to the Ethiopian but it made sense. I am inclined to think that Philip probably used the rest of Isaiah to explain the Messiah, “dealing with baptism at Isaiah 54:9-10 (compare 1 Pet 3:21) and the new day of salvation at 55:1, to 56:4-8, where a eunuch participates without hindrance in the people of God” (Source 1). I love that no matter where the conversation starts it turns towards Jesus. The Ethiopian was trying to understand the things of the Old Testament when Jesus had already fulfilled it. So as they come upon some water the eunuch asks if he can be baptized. Philip agrees that if he has believed (by extension he means: 1. Confessed your sins, Jesus is Lord and 2. Believed in your heart [Romans 10:9-10]) then he can be baptized. And the eunuch acknowledges Jesus to be God (in saying He is the Son of God)!
vv. 38-40. Remember we talked about baptism being a proclamation to people that you are a Christian and also a picture of the “old man” dying (being buried) and a new start with Jesus (resurrection) [for more see Devotional 42]? So Philip goes with the Ethiopian and baptizes him. But a strange thing happens. Philip is “miraculously transported* over thirty miles to the seacoast town of Azotus” (Source 1) and continues “preaching” the good news of Jesus. We will follow up with Philip in Caesarea in Acts 21:8. But the Ethiopian is not scared instead he knows that he is saved and heads home “rejoicing.”
*v. 39 “caught Philip away“: “Caught away” is hapazo in the Greek and means “catch, seize, taken by force” (http://biblesuite.com/greek/726.htm).
Conclusion. The story of the Ethiopian eunuch is one full of promise. When we are depressed or discouraged thinking that our friends or family members will never come to saving faith, we can look to this story. I’m sure there were people in this eunuch’s life who were praying for him to stop relying on his position of power and to come to Jesus. But in this case it wasn’t one of them who led him to the Lord it was the first evangelist that the New Testament mentions. It was a man who was sent to talk to one man – and then disappeared. This strengthens our faith that God is in control and he knows each step man takes. He is faithful to call and answer when a person submits themselves to knowing him.
Another thing I keep thinking about is if I was Philip I would be questioning myself regarding Simon the Sorcerer. I brought him in, vouched for him and even baptized him but he turned out to only want it for selfish gain. But here God gives Philip another chance to bring someone to Jesus and to baptize them. It is important that Philip, and us, realize it is God who is “the author and finisher of our faith” (Hebrews 12:2): we are nothing but a surrendered vessel to be used by Him.
Source 2: John MacArthur, The MacArthur Study Bible, p. 1649.