At the beginning of chapter 8 we read how Saul began to persecute the church. So all except the apostles were scattered through Judea and Samaria. And wherever they went, they preached the word of God.
And so Luke tells us of what happened when Philip the Evangelist went to a city of Samaria. He went there and proclaimed the Christ. And he was also enabled to perform miraculous signs. And the people paid attention to his message and many believed and were baptised.
When the apostles heard that the Samaritans were accepting the word of God, they sent Peter and John to them to see what was happening. And when Peter and John arrived, they prayed for the Samaritans that they might be filled with the Holy Spirit. And they placed their hands on the believers. And they received the Holy Spirit. And I suggested last week that by doing things this way — by sending the Spirit on the Samaritan believers when the apostles were there to see it — by doing things this way, God was showing beyond a shadow of a doubt that he was prepared to accept into the church Samaritan believers as well as Jewish believers. God was teaching the apostles that salvation and membership of the church wasn’t for Jews only, but it’s for whoever believes.
But then Luke also tells us about Simon who made a profession of faith and was baptised like the others. However, after he tried to buy the authority to send the Holy Spirit on whomever he wanted, Peter pronounced a curse on him. And though Simon had made a profession of faith, nevertheless it became clear to the apostles that this man did not have a true, saving faith in the Lord Jesus. And this is a reminder to us that not everyone who makes a profession of faith has really been born of the Spirit of God. Only time will tell whether or not they have really repented and believed in the Lord Jesus.
Verses 25 and 26
In verse 25 we read that, after they had testified and proclaim the word of the Lord, Peter and John returned to Jerusalem. The word ‘testified’ reminds us of the special calling of the apostles to bear witness to what they had seen. They had been with the Lord throughout his public ministry. Therefore they had seen all that he did — and they had seen that he has been crucified and had died and was buried. But they were also eye-witnesses of his resurrection. And so, they could testify to everyone that yes, they had seen the Lord alive again after he had died. And so, they had been appointed by the Lord Jesus and they had been commissioned by him to go and bear witness to what they had seen. So, Peter and John testified that the Lord has risen indeed. And they proclaimed the word of the Lord. And then, on their way back to Jerusalem, they preached the gospel in many other Samaritan villages. In other words, having received the green light, if you like, they took every opportunity to make the gospel of Jesus Christ known among the Samaritans. Wherever they went, they proclaimed the good news of salvation through faith in Jesus Christ.
In verse 26 Luke tells us what happened to Philip next. An angel of the Lord appeared to him and said to him to travel southwards to the desert road that leads from Jerusalem to a place called Gaza. And that’s what he did. Now, we would love to know what happened to the new church in the city of Samaria. You see, Philip, who brought the good news to them, had been instructed to leave and go elsewhere. The apostles had returned to Jerusalem. What happened to those new believers who had been baptised and filled with the Holy Spirit? We would love to know how they got on and who took over the leadership of the church and taught them from God’s word. We would love to know if others in the city were convinced and converted to faith in Christ and were added to the church. We’d love to know these things, but Luke doesn’t tell us. His focus is on Philip and the story of the Ethiopian eunuch who believed in the Lord Jesus Christ and who was baptised by the side of the road.
Verses 27 to 31
And so we read in verse 26 that Philip listened to the angel and went to this desert road. And there he met the Ethiopian eunuch. Well, the Ethiopia in the Bible is different from the Ethiopia today. Ethiopia in the Bible is also known as the land of Cush and is now part of Sudan. And this man from Ethiopia is a eunuch. While it’s possible that this word refers to someone who was impotent from birth, it’s more likely to mean that this man had been castrated because castrated males often held positions of honour and trust in royal courts at that time. And this man did indeed hold a position of honour and trust because Luke tells us that he was an important official in charge of all the treasury of Candace, queen of the Ethiopians. So, he’s from Ethiopia. He’s a eunuch. And he’s an important person. But then Luke adds another detail about him. He explains that this man had gone to Jerusalem to worship. You’ll remember that the Temple in Jerusalem comprised several courts. At the centre was the Most Holy Place and immediately surrounding it was the Court of the Jews. Beyond that was the Court of Women. And beyond that was the Court of the Gentiles. And so, it was not uncommon for Gentiles to come to the temple to worship. They had heard about the Lord, the God of Israel who made the heavens and the earth and all that they contain. And they believed that this was the true God. And so they wanted to worship him at the temple.
And so, although this man was a Gentile and not a Jew, he had been in Jerusalem to worship the Lord. And now he was on his way home. Well, the fact that he had travelled so far suggests that his devotion to God was great. And also impressive is the fact that he was reading from the Bible on the way home. How many of us, on the way home from church, read the Scriptures and talk about what we’ve just heard? That’s what this man was doing.
So, the scene is set. The Ethiopian eunuch is reading his Bible. And Philip is there, at the side of the road. Now the Holy Spirit tells Philip to go over to the chariot. Now, if his chariot was being pulled by an ox, then it was probably moving very slowly. And in those days people read aloud. So, it was easy enough for Philip to hear what he was reading. And Philip heard that he was reading from the Old Testament book of Isaiah. And Philip asks him:
Do you understand what you’re reading?
And the man replied:
How can I unless someone explains it to me?
This verse highlights the important of preaching and teaching in the church. God has given us his word. And his word shows us what we’re to believe about him. And it shows us what duty God requires of us. It teaches us what we’re to believe and what we’re to do. And what a privilege it is to have God’s word in our own language and to be able to read it for ourselves. What a privilege to be able to take up God’s word and to study it ourselves. However, if we’re honest, we have to admit that there is much in the Bible which we do not understand. There is much which puzzles us. And therefore, we need a preacher, or a teacher, someone to help us to understand God’s word and to show us what it means. But that’s okay, because God has always provided his people with preachers and teachers to help us.
There’s a marvellous example of this in Nehemiah 8 where the people gathered to hear God’s word. And we read how Ezra and the Levites not only read God’s word to them, but also gave the meaning. In other words, they explained the Scriptures so that they people understood them. And so we have our church’s Larger Catechism which says that the Spirit of God makes the reading but especially the preaching of God’s word an effective means of enlightening, convincing and humbling sinners and of drawing them to Christ. This Ethiopian had the Scriptures to read. But God the Holy Spirit sent him a preacher to enable him to understand what he was reading and to convince him to believe in the Saviour. And so we’re reminded that God uses other people to help us to understand his word. Before I stand up to preach in the church on Sundays or here on Wednesdays, I spend time during the week reading books and commentaries and listening to other preachers because though I am your teacher, I too need others to teach me. And by doing things this way, the Lord keeps us humble because he’s showing us that we can’t manage on our own and we must always rely on others to help us if we’re to grow in the grace and knowledge of Jesus Christ.
Verses 32 to 35
So, in verse 31 the Ethiopian invites Philip up into his chariot. He had been reading from Isaiah 53. And in verse 34 the Ethiopian asks Philip whether Isaiah was referring to himself or to someone else whenever he wrote about a Suffering Servant. He can’t figure it out on his own. And so, verse 35, Philip began with that very passage of Scripture and told him the good news about the Lord Jesus because the Lord Jesus is the Suffering Servant who was pierced for our transgressions and crushed for our iniquities.
Now, verse 35 reminds us of two things. First of all, it reminds us that all the Scriptures are about the Lord Jesus. The Bible, from beginning to end, is about the Lord Jesus. And so, we haven’t understood the Old Testament properly until we see how it relates to the Lord Jesus. All those people we read about in the Old Testament are there to teach us about the Lord Jesus. Isn’t that what we learn in Luke 24 when the Lord met the two disciples on the Road to Emmaus? Luke tells us that beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, ‘he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself’. It’s all about him.
And then secondly, this verse reminds us that evangelism should begin with God’s word. How does this man come to faith in Christ? Well, he needed a preacher to explain the good news to him. But the preacher explained the good news by using the Scriptures. He took as his text this passage from Isaiah. And from this passage he explained to him about the Lord Jesus.
We want people to trust in Christ and in his saving work for us on the cross. We want them to trust in Christ. And therefore we must teach them about Christ. And the way to teach them about Christ is to start with the Scriptures, because the Scriptures teach us about the Saviour.
Verses 36 to 40
Moving on: Luke doesn’t tell us in any detail what Philip said to the man. He doesn’t tell us how long they were talking. But, since in verse 36 the eunuch asked to be baptised, we must assume that he heard enough to convince him that he needed to believe in the Lord Jesus and to be baptised as a new believer. And so, he gave orders for the chariot to stop beside some water. And both of them went down into the water from the chariot. And then Philip baptised him. And then, both of them got out of the water. As I said on Sunday night this passage doesn’t say anything about how the sacrament was administered or whether he was baptised by full immersion or by sprinkling or pouring. All it says is that he was baptised. And then, afterwards, the Holy Spirit suddenly took Philip away to a place called Azotus where he continued to travel about, preaching the gospel. And the Ethiopian eunuch went on his way, rejoicing. And isn’t that always one of the results of believing the gospel? Knowing that our sins have been washed away for ever for the sake of Jesus Christ who died to pay for all our sins, knowing that we have peace with God knowing that we have the hope of everlasting life, fills us with joy.