Acts 8: 26 – 40 Philip and the Ethiopian
Now an angel of the Lord said to Philip, ‘Go south to the road – the desert road – that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.’ So he started out, and on his way he met an Ethiopian eunuch, an important official in charge of all the treasury of the Kandake (which means ‘queen of the Ethiopians’). This man had gone to Jerusalem to worship, and on his way home was sitting in his chariot reading the scroll of Isaiah the prophet. The Spirit told Philip, ‘Go to that chariot and stay near it.’
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.
This is the passage of Scripture the eunuch was reading:
‘He was led like a sheep to the slaughter, and as a lamb before its shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth. In his humiliation he was deprived of justice. Who can speak of his descendants? For his life was taken from the earth.’
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.
As they travelled along the road, they came to some water and the eunuch said, ‘Look, here is water. What can stand in the way of my being baptised? And he gave orders to stop the chariot. Then both Philip and the eunuch went down into the water and Philip baptised him. When they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord suddenly took Philip away and the eunuch did not see him again, but went on his way rejoicing. Philip, however, appeared at Azotus and travelled about, preaching the gospel in all the towns until he reached Caesarea.
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Perhaps one reason St Luke included this story about Philip is to teach us about effective evangelism.
Philip was prompted by the Holy Spirit to go to a particular place. He was listening for the Spirit’s voice, he recognised it, and he obeyed what he was told.
As he was doing what the Spirit told him, he saw a chariot that belonged to an important man. Once again, the Holy Spirit spoke to him: “Go to that chariot and stay near it.” Once again, Philip obeyed.
As he obeyed, he heard the man reading from the Jewish Scriptures, the passage being: “He was led like a sheep to the slaughter, and as a lamb before its shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth. In his humiliation he was deprived of justice. Who can speak of his descendants? For his life was taken from the earth.”
This is a quotation from Isaiah 53: 7, 8.
Philip asked him whether he understood the passage. It is important when telling somebody about Jesus to find out what they already know. In this case, the man was a foreigner from ‘Ethiopia’ (not necessarily the same as the modern state of that name; it may just have indicated a place to the south of Egypt). He had been to Jerusalem to worship, so he must have been at least a proselyte to Judaism. However, he didn’t understand what he was reading. Whatever his position towards Judaism, he had not had the benefit of instruction.
By asking whether he understood the passage, Philip had opened the way for the man to ask for instruction. Teaching goes better when the pupil wishes to learn.
The passage of Isaiah is all about Jesus as the suffering servant. It’s an excellent starting point. Philip used Scripture to tell the man about Jesus. So powerful was his evangelism that the man wanted to be baptised as soon as possible. They came to some water, and Philip baptised him. Then the Spirit took Philip away, and the man went on his way.
Now the man was returning to Ethiopia. He would have had no support there from the early church. Nevertheless, God thought it worthwhile to send Philip specially to bring him the good news of Jesus. Every single soul is precious to God. And we don’t know the impact of the man’s Christian faith on his family, his colleagues and the Kandake. What we do know, is that Ethiopia was one of the first nations to make Christianity the state religion, in the late 4th century. I can’t help wondering whether this was due to Philip’s evangelism!
Thank you for all those who, like Philip, witness to your love. Please help me to be more eager to share my faith in Jesus with those around me.
In Jesus’ name, Amen