Then Philip ran up to the chariot and heard the man reading Isaiah the prophet, “Do you understand what you are reading?” Philip asked.
"How can I,” he said, “Unless someone explains it to me?” So he invited Philip to come up and sit with him.
The eunuch was reading this passage of Scripture:
“He was led like a sheep to the slaughter, and as a lamb before the shearer is silent, so he did not open his mouth …”
The eunuch asked Philip, “Tell me, please, who is the prophet talking about, himself or someone else?” Then Philip began with that very passage of Scripture and told him the good news about Jesus. (verses 30-35)
This is a remarkable story, filled with angelic sightings and directions, Holy Spirit nudgings, divine coincidences, and sudden departures and transitions.
But right at its heart is a profound focus on Jesus. Like a shaft of sun-ray breaking through the clouds, the fogged understanding of this man from Ethiopia is suddenly brightened with Spirit-inspired clarity. Jesus comes into view.
Just as Stephen’s story unfolded for us in chapters six and seven, this now is Philip’s chapter, giving us sightings of God at work in and through him. He’s come fresh from ministry in Samaria, having preached the good news of Jesus and seeing many people in that community turning to faith and being filled with the Holy Spirit. Now, directed by an angel, he makes his way to the road that runs south from Jerusalem, and en route he encounters a man who is returning home to Ethiopia after worshipping at the temple. Prompted by the Spirit, he approaches the man’s chariot, discovers he’s reading Isaiah 53 and uses it as a launching pad for the gospel of Jesus.
Two things strike me:
(1) This is a prime example of Old Testament scriptures speaking powerfully about Jesus, just as he himself had said. On the day of his resurrection Jesus met two of his followers on the road to Emmaus and “explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself” (Luke 24:27). Then, just a short time later, having spoken to his disciples about all that was written of him “in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms … he opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures” (Luke 24:44-45). Philip does the same thing right here with this Ethiopian eunuch. Starting with Isaiah, he unfolds the good news about Jesus. The man’s eyes open. Sight pours in.
The Old Testament scriptures are full of Jesus. Don’t miss them.
(2) Eyes having opened, the Ethiopian simply trusts Jesus for salvation. The next step strikes him as obvious. Without hesitation, he asks, “Why shouldn’t I be baptized?” (verse 37). He assumes there’s no impediment. Philip agrees. They’re traveling alongside a body of water, the chariot comes to a halt, both of them go down into the water, and the eunuch is baptized in Jesus’ name. Wonderfully. Memorably.
Believe and be baptized. The two go together. It’s the testimony of the scripture. Don’t miss it.
All of this is saturated in Jesus. The scriptures reveal him. Baptism declares him. Enter into both. Give him the glory. Amen.
Lord Jesus, I thank you that the whole scripture – Old and New Testaments together – shine a light to reveal your goodness and glory. Give me ears to hear and eyes to see.
Lord Jesus, I thank you for the gift of baptism, by which to declare your grace toward me and my devotion toward you. Give me a will to obey and heart to rejoice.
Response: If it’s been too long, re-engage with Isaiah 53. If never before, plan to be baptized.