"Now 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. So he arose and went. 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, was returning. And sitting in his chariot, he was reading Isaiah the prophet. Then the Spirit said to Philip, 'Go near and overtake this chariot'" (Acts 8:26-29).
The Lord instructed Philip that it was time to move on from Samaria. In fact, God told Philip exactly where to go--to a deserted region. Once there, the Holy Spirit commanded him to catch up to particular chariot. The chariot contained a traveler from Ethiopia, and he was a prominent man. He was the treasurer of the queen of that country. He had traveled a great distance to Jerusalem to worship at the temple (no doubt bouncing in his chariot all the way there and back!). He was very devoted to the Jewish religion. Not only had he traveled hundreds of miles to worship, but we also find him reading from the Scriptures on his way home. There were many ways he could have been spending his time on the road, but he, as a searcher for truth, was using his time wisely. Notice the importance of a single soul. May we remember that Philip was sent down the road for one soul (cf. Matt. 16:26)! Of course, there is no telling how many the eunuch may have converted thereafter. Additionally, the gospel is color blind; it is for all (most likely the eunuch was dark skinned).
"So Philip ran to him, and heard him reading the prophet Isaiah, and said, 'Do you understand what you are reading?' And he said, 'How can I, unless someone guides me?' And he asked Philip to come up and sit with him. The 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. In His humiliation His justice was taken away, and who will declare His generation? For His life is taken from the earth.' So the eunuch answered Philip and said, 'I ask you, of whom does the prophet say this, of himself or of some other man?' Then Philip opened his mouth, and beginning at this Scripture, preached Jesus to him" (Acts 8:30-35).
Think about Philip running to the chariot. How many people are lost today because we aren't aggressive enough with the saving gospel message? We need to chase after evangelistic opportunities that present themselves! Luke indicates that Philip heard the eunuch reading; in other words, he read out loud.
Philip broke the ice by asking him if he understood the passage he was reading. Many would reply with: "What do you care?" But the eunuch had a good heart and was not bothered by the question. He acknowledged that he needed help so Philip joined him in the chariot, "opened his mouth, and beginning at this Scripture, preached Jesus to him." And there you have the theme of the sermon: Philip told him all about Jesus. He shared facts to be believed, commands to be obeyed, and promises to be enjoyed!
"Now 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?' Then 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.' So he commanded the chariot to stand still. And both Philip and the eunuch went down into the water and he baptized him. Now 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. But Philip was found at Azotus. And passing through, he preached in all the cities till he came to Caesarea" (Acts 8:36-40).
We aren't told the details of what Philip said, but when they came to some water, the eunuch asked - "See, here is water, what hinders me from being baptized?" He had evidently learned that Jesus required baptism. Thus, when Philip "preached Jesus," he not only preached about what Jesus had done but also about what Jesus expected man to do in response. The Lord once said - "He who believes and is baptized will be saved" (Mark 16:16). From the beginning of the gospel age, baptism in the name of Christ "for the remission of sins" was required of every penitent believer (Acts 2:38).
Philip told the eunuch that he could be baptized if he believed. "'If you believe with all your heart, you may.' And he answered and said, 'I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.'" It is interesting to notice that many later translations omit the entire 37th verse. This is because of some differences in some of the ancient manuscripts. This is not a problem, however, because the point is made clear in other passages that a confession of one's faith is essential. For example, Romans 10:9,10 states - "That if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation" (cf. I Tim. 6:12,13). Clearly, confession of faith is a part of the plan of salvation.
Luke records that immediately after the eunuch confessed his faith, he stopped the chariot, and both of them went down into the water where Philip baptized him. When they came out of the water the Lord took Philip to another place, and the eunuch "went on his way rejoicing." Certainly he rejoiced because he knew his sins were washed away! Thus, the marvelous account of the eunuch's conversion ends.
There is no indication that the Ethiopian eunuch was ever told how Philip was guided to meet him. We might say that it seemed to be just a chance meeting of two strangers, just a lucky "coincidence." I want to emphasize this because similar encounters and opportunities occur in our own lives. What sometimes seems to be no more than an ordinary coincidence may bring about great changes in our lives. The eunuch had not planned to meet and study with Philip, he had made no arrangements for such, and there was no way he might have anticipated such. But, this seemingly coincidental meeting with a stranger resulted in his life being changed for all eternity.
Did seemingly ordinary or coincidental events bring you into contact with the truth of the gospel? We need to appreciate that the providence of God is involved in our lives. But first we need to consider some of the things that made this meeting on the road so successful. There are six elements I would like to draw attention to at this time. If any of the six were lacking, the eunuch would not have been converted to Christ that day.
First, we find that the Ethiopian eunuch was a SINCERE SEEKER. Keep in mind that this Ethiopian was already a religious person. He had been to Jerusalem to worship at the temple, but he wasn't satisfied just being religious. He wanted to know the truth. It often happens that people may be religious but still not understand God's plan of salvation. Paul wrote of those who have zeal for God "but not according to knowledge. For they being ignorant of God's righteousness, and seeking to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted to the righteousness of God" (Rom. 10:2,3).
Some people are already seeking to know. Others may need to be encouraged to seek the right way. They need to be shown why they need forgiveness, they need to be taught what it means to be saved, they need to be told about heaven, about hell, and about eternity. It is a wonderful thing when someone sincerely seeks to know the will of God. Jesus said, "Seek, and you will find" (Matt. 7:7). The person who really wants to believe and obey the truth will be able to understand it.
The queen's treasurer had both an open mind and an open Bible. He was sincerely seeking to learn the plan of God. He was like the Bereans of Acts 17:11 who received the word with readiness of mind. Their minds were open to accept the truth, and they searched the Scriptures daily to see if the preaching they heard was true. That's how one learns the will of God: with an open mind and an open Bible.
Second, we notice that Philip was a RELIABLE TEACHER. The eunuch admitted that he needed help understanding what he was reading, and he was fortunate that the man who had come to guide him was a man who knew the truth and was faithful to it. It was a good thing that some of the preachers in our world today didn't get a hold of him because if so they would have never taught him that he needed to repent and be baptized to be forgiven. No, they would have told him to just have faith and pray Jesus into his heart. What a tragedy! So many people today are being deceived by such lies and many souls will be lost as a result. Thankfully, the eunuch not only had a teacher, but he had a reliable one. Philip's only purpose was to share the simple truth about Jesus and His requirements for salvation.
A third thing we want to notice is that they studied from a POWERFUL TEXT. The passage he was reading was from Isaiah 53. This is possibly the most famous of all Old Testament prophecies of the vicarious suffering of Christ. This is the great section that points to the Messiah as "the Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world." I can't image a better text for the eunuch to just happen to be reading than this passage--another "coincidence!"
Of course, it is just as important that this eunuch was searching for God's truth in the Scriptures and not in philosophy, opinions, creeds, or human traditions. It's not just that he happened to be in Isaiah 53, what's really important is that he was in the word of God searching. The Scriptures are inspired of God and they equip us completely for every good work (cf. II Tim. 3:16,17). Some people think that the word alone is ineffective, but they're wrong. I Peter 1:23 says that we are "born again, not of corruptible seed but incorruptible, through the word of God which lives and abides forever." If this man from Ethiopia was going to be born again, it was necessary that he be taught the word of God.
A fourth thing that should be emphasized is that Philip preached a NEEDED SERMON. He preached Jesus to the man. You might think that this would be obvious, but we're living in a time in which just about everything except Jesus is being preached. If Philip had been like some so-called preachers today, he might have preached on politics or perhaps he would have impressed him with a lesson on economics. Maybe he might have spent the time telling some jokes or sensational stories. Today we hear preachers on the radio and television who spend their time with farfetched interpretations of prophecies. People are being entertained and satisfied with many different kinds of sermons, but they are not hearing the sermons they need to hear.
You might hear a preacher deliver a lesson that is filled with much truth but you might not hear the truth you need to hear. Some preachers avoid saying what is wrong, but they also seem to avoid saying some things that need to be said. A man who declares that God loves you and that Christ is the Savior is telling you the truth, but he is not really a gospel preacher unless he also tells you what the Lord requires for you to do in order to be saved.
The fifth essential we need to appreciate is that the eunuch had a RECEPTIVE HEART. All of the other good things in this narrative would have been nullified if he had not been willing to accept the truth when he heard it. James 1:21 urges that we receive the word with meekness. The eunuch obviously did this. He was willing to be taught and he readily accepted what was shown to him out of the Scriptures.
It's impressive that even though he was a man of great authority, he wasn't any less willing to accept the simple plan of salvation. He was receptive to listening to a stranger he met on the highway. Many people are too proud to hear God's word and obey it. They are not willing to humble themselves enough to repent and submit. Others aren't plagued by pride as much as they are by indifference. They just don't care. They are too involved in the here and now to care about heaven and eternity. Others just plain love sin and don't want to change the way they are living. They are rebellious against God, but not this man from Ethiopia. He didn't treat the word of God as just another opinion. He received the message, believed it, and obeyed it.
This brings us to our sixth point that is shown by the text to be very important. Once the eunuch heard and believed, he immediately submitted to SCRIPTURAL BAPTISM. They came to water and he asked about being baptized. When he had confessed his faith, Philip baptized him. It was as simple as that. There is so much confusion on the subject of baptism in the religious world, but if a person just studies what the Bible teaches on it with an open mind, it's not hard to learn what Bible baptism is all about.
In essence, the Bible teaches that a person should be baptized (i.e., immersed in water) for the forgiveness of his sins if he meets the following conditions: (1) Realize that he has sin that needs to be forgiven; (2) Develop faith in Jesus Christ as the Son of God and be willing to confess that faith; (3) Decide to turn away from sinful living and live righteously for God. It's that simple! But don't take my word for it; study the following passages for yourself: Matthew 28:18-20; Mark 16:15,16; Luke 13:3; John 8:24; Acts 2:38; 17:30; 22:16; Romans 3:23; 6:3,4; 10:9-17; I Peter 3:21. I also encourage you to consider our three feature lessons on baptism from 03/12/05, 03/19/05, and 03/26/05.
It's important to point out that the eunuch was baptized immediately. This emphasized the urgency. There is not a single example in the New Testament of a penitent believer wanting to put off being baptized. In Acts 16:33, we find that the Philippian jailer was baptized the same hour of the night in which he was taught. It didn't matter that it was after midnight; he didn't wait until morning light because it was just too important!
Furthermore, it does not appear that Philip grilled the eunuch on "the issues." There is an important lesson here: A person does not need to know everything about New Testament Christianity before submitting to baptism. Look at the order Jesus sets forth in the Great Commission (cf. Matt. 28:19,20). Most of the learning comes after being baptized! If we had to wait to have all the right positions on various issues, then most would never get baptized.
Some will try to argue that the eunuch just had a canteen by his side that he gestured to as he mentioned water for being baptized. If so, what a miracle! Both went into the jug! Let's be reasonable; clearly the eunuch is referring to a larger body of water than what might be held in a typical drinking vessel. Bible baptism is a burial (cf. Rom. 6:4; Col. 2:11,12). They both went down into the water (which is not necessary for anything except immersion). Had sprinkling or pouring water upon the eunuch been sufficient, they probably could have done so without ever stopping the chariot!
When it comes to salvation, some people talk about having some kind of sensational experience. They tell of strange feelings, of seeing signs in the sky, or of unusual dreams. The only "experience" this man had was that someone came to him and studied the Bible with him, and it only took him one sermon to be converted! Again, let it be stressed that the gospel is God's power to save (Rom. 1:16)!
I believe all of these six factors were brought together, not by mere coincidence, but by the providence of Almighty God! It was more than a lucky coincidence that the lives of Philip and the eunuch intersected that day. The eunuch may not have realized it (and we often won't realize it today), but the Lord arranged the meeting. Philip was sent by God to be at the right place at the right time. The providence of God is amazing!
What exactly do I mean by the word "providence"? Simply stated, it means that which God provides. Whatever God provides, whatever He arranges--that is His providence. In the case of Philip, providence involved certain miracles; namely, the angel and the Holy Spirit gave him specific directions. But, providence doesn't have to involve miracles. What the Lord does through natural means is also His providence. It's a shallow view of God to think that He can't accomplish His purposes except through miracles. The God who made the world and all things therein can use all things for His purposes. Ephesians 3:20 says that He is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think. How He works is beyond our understanding. Romans 11:33 - "Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and His ways are past finding out!"
Dear friends, every opportunity to be saved is made possible by the providence of God. You can be certain that God wants you to be saved and that the Lord's goodness has brought you to this time and place in your life (cf. I Tim. 2:4; II Pet. 3:9). God has done His part in making redemption possible, and in His providence He still works today and invites sinners into His grace. You may think of someone you met, someone who turned you toward Jesus. You might think about a person who invited you to church. Maybe it's the "coincidence" of the friends you have made, the person you married, the place to which you moved, something that happened where you work, or a website you visited. In truth, a thousand things might be considered, and their influence upon you, and we still would not be able to see the whole picture. But we need to see it all as a part of the glorious providence of the heavenly Father.
The time and circumstances have changed, but the story of the conversion of the man from Ethiopia can be the story of your conversion. What is hindering you from being baptized? Have you obeyed the gospel? I've done my best to be a reliable teacher and present a powerful text and needed lesson to you. The rest is up to you. Are you a sincere seeker? Do you have a receptive heart? Do you believe what we've studied from God's word? Do you have faith in Jesus as the Son of God? Are you willing to confess your belief in Him and repent of your sins? Are you willing to submit to scriptural baptism? The eunuch learned that he needed to be immersed into Christ and he responded appropriately. Will you? He didn't wait and I hope you won't either. If you know what you need to do, then do not let another day pass without doing it! Please do not hesitate to contact us if we can be of assistance to you.
Thank you for listening, and may the Lord bless you as you strive to do His will.