The Ethiopian Eunuch
Copyright © 2004 Jeremy Myers
Chapters 8, 9 and 10 contain three remarkable instances of conversion. Out of all the conversions that were taking place, these three are lifted out because they represent the Gospel being spread to all the peoples of the earth. If you remember from Genesis 10, all people come from three sons - Ham, Shem and Japheth. The Ethiopian is a Hamite. Saul comes from Shem, and Cornelius is a descendant of Japheth.
26Now an angel of the Lord spoke to Philip, saying, "Arise and go toward the south along the road which goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza." This is desert.
Just as Philip's ministry was really starting to take off in Samaria, he is told to go to a desert road in between Jerusalem and Gaza. God's ways are not always man's ways. Sometimes, when we want to stay in a certain area because of a good job, or because people know us, or we are becoming more and more well known, God says, "OK, time to move on. I have something else for you."
This is what God does to Philip. He takes him out of an area where things are really happening, and tells him to go to the desert region on a dry and dusty road in the middle of nowhere.
27So he arose and went.
This is always the response of people whom God uses. God called Abram, and he rose and went. Jesus called his disciples, and they left all and followed Him. God tells Philip to go, and he arose and went. He doesn't know exactly where he is going, or why, but he obeys anyway.
And behold, a man of Ethiopia, a eunuch of great authority under Candace the queen of the Ethiopians, who had charge of all her treasury, and had come to Jerusalem to worship, 28was returning. And sitting in his chariot, he was reading Isaiah the prophet.
While Philip is there walking along this desert road, a caravan comes along, and among them is a man from Ethiopia, a descendant of Ham. But not only was he Ethiopian, he was also powerful. He was in charge of the treasury, and so was probably the second in command behind the queen. This reminds us of Joseph in Egypt.
Next, he had come to Jerusalem to worship God. We don't know how he had heard about God and Judaism way down in Ethiopia, but there is a good possibility, Biblically and historically that King Solomon's interaction with the Queen of Sheba might have had something to do with it. Also, there is evidence of a Jewish population in Ethiopia from about the time of King Solomon also, so maybe this Ethiopian had learned from them. But however he had heard of God and Judaism, he had come to Jerusalem to worship. On his way home, he was sitting and reading a scroll of Isaiah. This again tells us that he was rich since scrolls, especially of the Bible, cost a lot of money back then. It's possible he only had a portion of the scroll of Isaiah, but even a portion was expensive. However, he knew what was important in life. He probably didn't have much of the Bible back in Ethiopia, and knew that no matter how much it cost, he must have the Word of God and he must read it. For it contains the words of life. And in fact, he was reading some of the words of life that day on the road.
Anyway, Philip is walking along the road wondering why God brought him there, and probably praying for the next step God wants him to take, when he receives in answer in verse 29.
29Then the Spirit said to Philip, "Go near and overtake this chariot."
Again, Philip obeys immediately and quickly. This is one place in Scripture that proves to me that when someone honestly and earnestly seeks God, God sends someone to them to share the Gospel with them. Nobody will be able to stand before God on judgment day and say, "I really wanted to know you, but I couldn't figure out how." No, God will always send a Philip to such people. Acts 10:35 teaches similarly. See the article by Bob Wilkin at http://www.faithalone.org/news/y2002/wilkin2.html.
30So Philip ran to him, and heard him reading the prophet Isaiah, and said, "Do you understand what you are reading?"
He was reading out loud as that was the common practice of the day. Few people could read, and so those who could read would read out loud for the benefit of those who could not. It wasn't a pride issue, "Look at me, I can read" but a service issue, "I can read, and so let me read to you." Though he didn't know much, this Ethiopian Eunuch was trying to pass on what he did know to those who worked with him and for him.
Philip overhears what is being read, and sees the opportunity that God has led him to, and so asks the simple question, "Do you understand what you are reading?" The truth is that it was impossible for him to understand what he was reading. 1 Corinthians 2:14 says that spiritual matters are foolishness to the unsaved. 2 Corinthians 4:3-4 says they cannot understand the Gospel. That is why we need to go. That is why we need to explain. That is why we need to pray for Spirit-led opportunities to share the Gospel. This is what Philip receives here in verse 31.
31And he said, "How can I, unless someone guides me?" And he asked Philip to come up and sit with him. 32The place in the Scripture which he read was this:
"He was led as a sheep to the slaughter;
And as a lamb before its shearer is silent,
So He opened not His mouth.
33In His humiliation His justice was taken away,
And who will declare His generation?
For His life is taken from the earth."
This comes from the Isaiah 53:7-8. The whole passage is one of the best Old Testament passages describing the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
Birth: Isa. 53:1-2
Life and Ministry: Isa. 53:3
Substitutionary Death: Isa. 53:4-9
Resurrection: Isa. 53:10-12
34So the eunuch answered Philip and said, "I ask you, of whom does the prophet say this, of himself or of some other man?" 35Then Philip opened his mouth, and beginning at this Scripture, preached Jesus to him.
Starting with this passage, Philip explained what the Bible taught about Jesus Christ and how to enter into eternal life. Such an event can only be divinely appointed! Of all the passages in Scripture that the eunuch was reading, he is reading a passage that clearly foretells the death and suffering of Christ. And not only is he reading it, but he is asking questions of the text. One of the best ways to evangelize people is to invite them to study the Word of God, and ask questions of the text. Any question. They can doubt it and challenge it, but when we get people into the Word of God, which is the sword of the Spirit, God is then able to work on them in ways not possible otherwise. The Word of God is living and active and when people start reading it and studying it, it cannot help but bring about change.
Jim Petersen wrote an excellent book called Lifestyle Evangelism in which he challenges Christians to make friends with non-Christians, and then invite them to learn about Jesus through the Gospel of John. It does not meet at the church, but in someone's home. He says that for too many of us, our goal is to present the Gospel to them. But it is far more effective, Petersen says, to aim at bringing the nonChristian to a point where they want to examine the Bible with us. Others have done this and found it quite effective. As they make friends with neighbors and co-workers, they eventually get to the point where they can tell these friends thaty are going to have a spiritual discovery group where they study the teachings of Christ. They donít call it Bible study. There are no songs, no prayer, nothing "churchy." All questions are allowed. No one is ridiculed. People are hungering for spirituality, but they donít think the church offers the right kind. And they are probably right.
Too often, we get caught up in preaching the church. Our doctrinal distinctives. Our denominational history. The things outsiders need to do to fit in with us. But notice that Philip preaches none of this stuff. He preached Jesus. If we can teach the Bible and not teach about Jesus, we aren't teaching the Bible. There are a lot of people out there like this eunuch. They read the Bible. They pray. They go to church to worship. They love God and love Jesus. They listen to Christian radio and give money to Christian organizations. But they know nothing about how to be saved. If you ask them, they say something about how they have tried to live a good life, and they are just hoping that when they die, the good they have done outweighs the bad.
We need to be looking for opportunities to not only share the Gospel with the unchurched, but with those who are in church too.
36Now as they went down the road, they came to some water. And the eunuch said, "See, here is water. What hinders me from being baptized?"
37Then Philip said, "If you believe with all your heart, you may."
And he answered and said, "I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God."
38So he commanded the chariot to stand still. And both Philip and the eunuch went down into the water, and he baptized him.
Verse 37 is not in most Greek manuscripts. Including it doesn't really cause much confusion, except that some people have read this and wondered if they have really believed or not. But you cannot quantify belief. You either believe something or you don't. You either believe that Jesus is God or you don't. You either believer that the Bible is God's Word or you don't. Similarly, you either believe in Jesus Christ alone for eternal life or you don't. The Ethiopian believed this, and so was baptized. Belief in Jesus is the only condition for being baptized. The baptism here was most likely immersion since they went down into the water.
39Now when they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord caught Philip away, so that the eunuch saw him no more; and he went on his way rejoicing. 40But Philip was found at Azotus. And passing through, he preached in all the cities till he came to Caesarea.
So the Eunuch goes home, and Philip is caught away. I don't know if this means that Philip vanished, or if God just called him to go somewhere else. But either way, Philip went where God wanted him to go next. He found himself at Azotus, which is near present day Tel Aviv, and then went on up to Caesarea where he stayed.
Philip is a fascinating man. First he was a deacon in the Jerusalem church. Then he went and was instrumental in getting a revival going in Samaria. Then, just when things started going in Samaria, he is called to minister to one person on a dusty, desert road. Then he goes back to preaching along the coast, until he get to Caesarea, where he apparently gets married and becomes the father of four daughters who later prophecy to Paul. Philip wore many different hats in his ministry, but no matter what he was doing, whether it was a deacon, an evangelist, a preacher or a father, he did it with all his energy. He obeyed God completely.
Notice also that the Eunuch went on his way rejoicing. Do you know where one of the greatest group of churches in early church history was located? Not in Europe. Not in Asia. Not even in Jerusalem. The greatest group of churches in early church history was in North Africa. In fact, even to this day, some of the greatest theologians in all of history came from North Africa. Men like Origen, Athanasius, Cyril, Tertullian, Cyprian and Augustine. And of all the places in Africa that had Christian communities, Ethiopia remained the strongest for the longest, even up to the present day. When Mohammed began to ravage North Africa with his Muslim zealots, the only Christian community that survived was the one in Ethiopia. We cannot say how much of this was due to the influence of a powerful Ethiopian eunuch, but it is exciting to think that maybe, when he went home, he used his power and influence to raise up a Christian generation for the future.
And all of this is because Philip allowed himself to be used by God to share the Gospel with one man who wanted to hear it.
What does God use to reach people with the Gospel? First of all, he uses the Spirit of God. The Spirit draws men to Jesus Christ. He convicts them of their sin and convinces them of their need of a Savior. Through nature the Spirit reveals to them that there is a God, and through conscience, He shows them that they are sinners. The Spirit of God is the first ingredient to reaching people with the Gospel.
The second ingredient is the Word of God. There can be no true evangelism without the Word of God. Romans 10:17 says that faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God (cf. also 1 Peter. 1:23-25). The Holy Spirit is most active where the Word of God is most clearly proclaimed because the Word of God is the Sword of the Spirit. Can the Spirit work without the Word? Certainly. But it is like sending a gladiator out into the arena without a weapon. The Spirit of God works best where the Word of God is used the most.
Finally, the Gospel needs a man of God to proclaim it. This is why it is so important to understand our mission in this world. We are to do the work of an evangelist and be witnesses in this world. The Spirit of God uses a the man of God to declare the Word of God about the Son of God to produce one who is born of God.