By: Douglas R. Young
The late and lamented brother Foy E. Wallace Jr. entitled a sermon on the conversion of the Ethiopian eunuch, "The Story that Never Grows Old." It indeed is a story that should reach the inner depths of the heart and would serve us good to allow it to course through our veins often. The word of God is not leaving anytime soon. Peter proposed, "Being born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the word of God, which liveth and abideth forever" (I Peter 1:23). As we deal with others in relation to eternal matters, this story should never grow old as to its pertinence to much needed salvation.
With this story in view, the candid mind will see and see again the value of the soul saving sacrifice of the Saviour on the cross and how the cross can change a person’s life. This story is illustrative of the convicting power of the word of God as seen in respect to the messianic prophet Isaiah (Isaiah 53). The concurrent theme in the Old Testament points to the Christ. The 53rd chapter of Isaiah points specifically to the Lamb of God as He is sacrificed for the sins of humanity.
One cannot help but recognize the joy and elation that comes from the recipient of the salvation that is rooted in Christ. There was a notable change in the eunuch following his response to the gospel of Christ. No one knows the exact disposition of the eunuch prior to his conversion, but there is no doubt as to his disposition when he departed. What a joyous occasion it must have been.
We will be greatly rewarded by addressing this conversion account with a distinctive purpose in mind. We shall endeavor to discover what made the difference to this recipient of the grace of God. What caused the eunuch to respond in such haste?
THE EUNUCH IS APPROACHED
There has never been a conversion of a sinner who was not taught from the word of God. Jesus told a group of Jews on one occasion, "No man can come to me, except the Father which hath sent me draw him: and I will raise him up at the last day" (John 6:44). If someone is to come to Christ, the Father must draw him. How does the Father draw a man? The 45th verse of John 6 has the answer. Jesus continued by stating, "It is written in the prophets, And they shall all be taught of God. Every man therefore that hath heard, and hath learned of the Father, cometh unto me."
Salvation is by grace through faith (Ephesians 2:8) and faith can only come by hearing the word of God (Romans 10:17). A person may subjectively believe that salvation comes by some other means, but one cannot believe such and be in harmony with Scripture at the same time. There is not a conversion account in the book of Acts where an individual is saved without having heard the gospel. After all, the gospel is the "power of God unto salvation" (Romans 1:16).
Philip was a part of the scattered church that went everywhere "preaching the word" (Acts 8:4). In addition, Luke chronicles for us the specific place where Philip had been preaching (Samaria – Acts 8:5). Following the conversion of Simon and then Simon’s wicked proposal (8:9-24), Philip is sent southward by an angel of the Lord (v. 26). On his journey, while on a road between Jerusalem and Gaza, he discovers "a man of Ethiopia" (v. 27). The text makes it clear this man was a man of authority under the queen of Ethiopia. Moreover, Luke lets us know that this eunuch had come to Jerusalem to worship (v. 27).
The question generally now begins to fester as to whether or not this eunuch of Ethiopia was a Jew. There are several possibilities that are plausible for understanding why this Ethiopian eunuch was in Jerusalem "for to worship." First, it may be the case he was a Jew living in Ethiopia as a servant to the queen of Ethiopia. Second, it is plausible he was of Ethiopian descent but was a Jewish proselyte. Third, there is a possibility that he was a non-Jew who simply went to the temple at Jerusalem. Whatever the case, on his way home from Jerusalem the Ethiopian eunuch was presented with the greatest opportunity ever to be afforded him.
Peter is told by the Spirit to approach the chariot where the eunuch was reading of the prophet Isaiah. It is here that one must reflect upon the providence of God. The eunuch is definitely at the right place at the right time. As the text will later reveal, he is reading a particular text of scripture likened to none other. Philip had already been preaching Christ unto the people of Samaria (Acts 8:5) and now he finds an Ethiopian eunuch who happens to be reading a Messianic prophecy concerning the death of Christ. What a tremendous opportunity!
THE EUNUCH IS TAUGHT
It is at this point that I am thankful Philip did not react to this situation in the way that I have in the past. Had Philip not possessed such conviction, he might of let this opportunity to teach a searching soul the Truth. Letting such opportunities pass us by is not difficult. Philip’s example is a boisterous testimony to what should take place every moment we have such opportunity.
The simplicity of Philip’s question is illustrative of all that is needed to commence a conversation with someone about the risen Saviour. Philip does not begin this dialogue by lecturing the eunuch but by asking him a simple question that applied to the particular circumstance, "Understandest thou what thou readest?" Philip desired to know if the eunuch understood or knew whom he was reading about. A simple question evokes a simple response serving to illustrate the necessity of instruction in order to obtain salvation. Philip’s question opened the door for further instruction as the eunuch offers him a place in the chariot (v. 31).
In verses 32-33 we find out just exactly what the eunuch had been reading. He was reading a portion of scripture that portrays, in unique fashion, the suffering of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. In our Bibles, a mere 13 verses with every word seething of the purpose, passion, and prominence of the Christ of Nazareth. As the sacrificial Lamb of God (John 1:29), Isaiah reveals approximately 700 years before He was born in Bethlehem that He was to die. His purpose was to die so the world might live.
The eunuch realizes this is a reference to someone, but whom? He asks Philip, "of whom speaketh the prophet this? of himself, or some other man" (v. 34)? The eunuch asked the question, so what was Philip to do but from the very scripture under consideration preach unto him Jesus (v. 35). Therefore, Christ can be preached from the Old Testament. He is interwoven throughout from the book of Genesis to the book of Malachi. Luke makes it clear that Jesus taught two from Emmaus by "beginning at Moses and all the prophets" and in doing so He "expounded unto them in all the scriptures the things concerning himself" (Luke 24:27).
If Philip preached Jesus unto the eunuch, how did the eunuch arrive at the point where he considered baptism? This has become a serious quandary for many in the brotherhood. There is a movement among us, which avers we should ONLY preach about Jesus and his death, burial, and resurrection. They are tired of hearing about the church and in many cases the plan of salvation. There are several congregations in the area which I live who really no longer offer an invitation. You too may have heard certain ones propose, "Teach the man, not the plan." Based upon the conversion of the Ethiopian eunuch, you cannot teach the man without teaching the plan because if the two were mutually exclusive, there is no way to conclude why the eunuch asked Philip "See, here is water; what doth hinder me to be baptized" (v. 36). You cannot read chapter eight of the book of Acts and not understand that in preaching the word, Philip preached Christ and the kingdom of God. The Record is clear in Acts 8:12 the people of Samaria "believed Philip preaching the things concerning the kingdom of God, and the name of Jesus Christ" and then "they were baptized, both men and women."
We must conclude that in preaching Jesus to the eunuch, Philip taught him a person must by faith; repent of their sins (Luke 13:3; Acts 2:38), confess their belief in Christ (Acts 8:37; Romans 10:9-10), and be baptized into Christ (Mark 16:16, Galatians 3:26-27, Acts 8:38) to become a Christian. The eunuch had heard the word of God preached unto him, but how will he respond?
THE EUNUCH IS BAPTIZED
As Philip points out, the eunuch’s response to the gospel message must originate from the heart. Obedience to the gospel of Christ is not something someone does haphazardly. It is the greatest decision someone can make and therefore must be addressed with gravity. It would have been useless for the eunuch to respond had it not been taken seriously. Though he could have simply gone through he motions, all would have been vain had it not been done for the right reason and from the heart.
Many would have us to think that all the eunuch needed to do was believe and everything would be fine. Belief is a part of what God desires for one to become a Christian, but is not all that is required. John 12:42 is interesting in light of this particular discussion seeing how "Nevertheless among the chief rulers also many believed on him; but because of the Pharisees they did not confess him, lest they should be put out of the synagogue." God demands more than just belief in His Son!
The eunuch confessed before Philip his belief that Jesus was the Christ. Certainly that must have been enough! If it was, then why command the chariot to be still at that moment? What was the rush? They moved in haste because the eunuch could only have his sins remitted by the blood of Christ (Revelation 1:5). The blood of Christ can only be contacted when one is immersed into Christ (Acts 22:16; Romans 6:3-5; Galatians 3:26-27). Both went into the water, Philip immersed him and in the end, one was added to the church. The end result was a man was washed of his sins, not by the water, but by the blood of Jesus Christ.
The gospel of Christ is a changer of lives. It refreshes the stagnant soul and breathes life into the spiritually dead. The world is in need of the gospel of Christ. Christ is humanity’s only hope. May we never let this story grow old!
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