November 20, 2017

The Conversion of the Ethiopian Eunuch

By Jesse Flowers 

When one comes to the eighth chapter of the Book of Acts, one comes to a very crucial time in the spread of the gospel in the first century. In the opening verses we read of a great persecution arising against the church immediately following the stoning of Stephen. A young, not yet converted Paul, goes about harassing and tormenting those belonging to the Way. Something which would normally be viewed as negative, turns into something quite positive: “Those who were scattered went everywhere preaching the word” (Acts 8:4).

In the following verse we are introduced to a Christian and gospel preacher by the name of Philip. Of course, we are first introduced to him back in Acts 6, Philip being among the seven chosen to serve in a special capacity in administering to the Hellenistic widows that were being neglected in the daily distribution. He was chosen on ac- count of his good reputation, full of the Holy Spirit, and wisdom (Acts 6:3). In Acts 8:5, we read of Philip going down to the city of Samaria in order to preach Christ to them. Preceding Jesus’ ascension he told the apostles that they would be witnesses to him in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth (Acts 1:8). The gospel of Christ had been proclaimed in Jerusalem and Judea, now the “good news” was brought to Samaria.

Philip is the man who makes his way to this despised area of Palestine, and there he begins to preach and teach. We find that the multitudes heeded the things spoken by Philip concerning the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, and both men and women were baptized. What a successful and encouraging beginning for this evangelist. As a result of his work, lives were being changed, souls were being saved, and thus a church is started in the city of Samaria. It is after this grand event that we come to the conversion of the Ethiopian eunuch. The writer Luke pens these words in Acts 8:26: “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 a deserted place . . .”

For a moment, put yourself in Philip’s shoes (sandals). Here you are in Samaria preaching and large numbers of people are coming to Christ as a result of your efforts. Then in the midst of all that success, God instructs you to go to an area where, as far as you know, there isn’t anyone around! The Samaritans are hearing and obeying and now you’re being told to move on — do you ignore or do you listen? Well, Luke tells us in five words Philip’s response to the instruction he received from the angel of the Lord, “also he arose and went”. He goes from a well-populated city to an unpopulated desert. Most likely a strange request to the ears of Philip, but no questions were asked or hesitations made, for the instruction was a divine one. Behind him the good news was being preached, miracles were being performed, and people were being converted, but at God’s instruction he headed to Gaza. What an amazing attitude Philip possessed! Philip realized that this wasn’t his work he was leaving behind, it was God’s. God said, “Go,” and Philip, a man whose heart was sensitive to the word of God, went!

It is interesting to note that Gaza as a destination was really insignificant for Philip will never make it to the actual city. At this point, neither Philip or the eunuch is even aware that the other exists. Yet out in a deserted place, the road going down from Jerusalem to Gaza, God will bring the paths of this sincere seeker and this sensitive teacher together. It is on this road that we find a political leader riding in his chariot, reading the word of God and receptive to its truths. We learn that this man was employed in the service of Candace, who is described as being the queen of the Ethiopians. This eunuch was placed under tremendous responsibility for he had charge of all her treasury. He had travelled at least 800 miles in coming from Ethiopia to Jerusalem, and he had made that trip in order to worship! As the eunuch traveled back home he read aloud from the prophet Isaiah. 

It is at this point that God will bring these two individuals together. “Then the Spirit said to Philip, Go near and overtake this chariot” (Acts 8:29). Philip, following the Spirit’s direction, engaged the eunuch in conversation. Philip did not wait for the man to lean out of his chariot to ask him for help. Rather, Philip took the initiative to ask him simply, “Do you understand what you are reading?” Philip’s tactfulness paid off. For he asked a question that opened the door for the message of the gospel to be taught. I believe it is interesting to note that Philip doesn’t shoot into some sermon, but first listens to what the Ethiopian eunuch is curious about. For part of the eunuch’s curiosity was not what was written, but to whom the passage applied. First Philip initiated the conversation, next he listened, and then he began to teach. In fact, beginning at this wonderful passage in Isaiah 53, Philip proceeds to preach Jesus to him.

Philip recognized that for a man lost in sin, Jesus is the only issue that really matters! There is a multitude of subjects that can be discussed at a later time, but Jesus isn’t one of them.

One cannot help but to wonder what kind of things Philip spoke of when he preached to the eunuch about Jesus. Once again, God’s word does not always satisfy all of our curiosities. One subject we know without a doubt that Philip spoke to the eunuch about was the subject of baptism. It only makes sense that when one preaches Jesus, one preaches about baptism. As Philip spoke to this truth seeker about the identity of the One mentioned in Isaiah 53, the preacher must have spoken of God’s eternal plan in redeeming man from his sins. And that God’s only begotten Son, came to this earth and gave his life on the cross for the world, in order that all might have the opportunity to inherit eternal life. Naturally, Philip explained to this sinner that in order to come into contact with that precious blood that was shed for him there was a need to be baptized into Christ. It then makes perfect sense when the reader comes to verse 36, and sees the response of the eunuch. 

“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?” How wonderful those words must have been to the ears of Philip! Both go down into the water, Philip baptizes the eunuch, and then when they came up out of the water the Spirit of the Lord caught Philip away. Philip’s part in bringing this Ethiopian eunuch to Christ was through, and the Lord wasted no time to send him where he was needed next. Some of the sweetest words in all of this text is found in verse 39, when it simply states that the eunuch went on his way rejoicing! Because of God’s love, mercy, and grace for one soul he made it possible for this eunuch to hear the “good news” of salvation. After learning about his loving Savior and after receiving the forgiveness of sins, how could he do anything but go on his way rejoicing?! Before meeting Philip he was without Christ, but after hearing Philip tell him about Jesus, he found Christ. And didn’t each of us go on our way rejoicing when we came to Christ?!

In the conversion of the Ethiopian eunuch in Acts 8, we find a willing teacher + a sincere seeker + the providence of God = the saving of a soul. Philip started with the road the eunuch was on and from there led him to the cross. Earlier in Acts we have seen 3000 and 5000 souls saved, and it is easy to be impressed with such figures. Yet we must never forget that those big numbers represent individuals, single solitary souls. Philip was in Samaria where he was experiencing a tremendous amount of responses. God took this preacher and sent him to a desolate place and brought him across the path of a man who was searching. Sent him to a city that to our knowledge he never reached (Gaza), but in the process of his going, he was able to reach one man for Jesus. One is never a waste of time, one is never too much trouble, one is never insignificant. May God always help us to see the value of only one soul, and may that realization produce a zeal within us to bring as many souls as possible to our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ!

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