I. The Ethiopian Eunuch
A. On the road
- After completing the story concerning Philip and Simon the sorcerer, the narrative in Acts continues to follow Philip. An angel of the Lord speaks to Philip and tells him to go to the road that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza. We are not told if Philip was given a more detailed explanation as to why he was going to go to this road, which was in the middle of the desert. We may have argued that our talents were being wasted by going to the middle of the desert. But Philip responds to the Lord’s command (8:27).
- On that road to Gaza there was an Ethiopian man who was a eunuch and high official in the court of Candace, queen of Ethiopia. Candace is not the name of the person, but the title of the queen mother who ruled in place of her son. Since he is a high ranking official in the land of Ethiopia, we must assume that this is a black man. In Acts 2 we saw many nations present at the day of Pentecost and the gospel message being preached to every person there. We continue to see the advancing of the gospel, where the scriptures do not look at culture or race but at the spirit that God given every person. There is no partiality in Christ.
- The breaking down of barriers through Christ extends even further. Understanding this man to be a eunuch would mean that though he could be a convert to Judaism, he could not fully participate in the worship assembly. Deuteronomy 23:1 says, "No one who is emasculated or has his male organ cut off shall enter the assembly of the LORD." Though he had traveled to Jerusalem to worship, he would have still been considered an outsider and foreigner and could not fully participate in the activities of the assembly. However, this would not be true in Christ, where all who come may have full participation and fellowship with God.
- We are also told that this Ethiopian was in charge of the whole treasury of the queen. This is a man with immense power and stature in the nation of Ethiopia. This is the man whom God wants Philip to encounter. While on his way home, the eunuch is reading from the prophet Isaiah. The Spirit tells Philip to go up and join this chariot.
B. Comprehending the scriptures
- Philip asks a great question: do you understand what you are reading? Philip has come up on this complete stranger on this desert road and asks if the eunuch comprehends what he is reading.
- Many people want to know what the Bible is all about. Many are surprised to know that the scriptures can be understood. Some have been taught that only the scholars can understand the scriptures. Others have been taught that everything is a matter of personal interpretation. Notice that Philip does not say to the eunuch, "What is your interpretation of what you are reading?" Philip asks if the eunuch understands the message. My point is that there was a message to understand and the scripture the eunuch was reading was not open to hundreds of different interpretations upon which none can agree.
- The eunuch tells Philip that he needs some guidance concerning the scripture he is reading. In verses 32-33 we find out that the eunuch has been reading from Isaiah 53. The eunuch has come across Isaiah’s prophecy of the Messiah. However, the eunuch is unsure who Isaiah is speaking about in the prophecy. So Philip opened his mouth and began to preach Jesus, beginning from this scripture.
- The prophecy of Isaiah that the eunuch is reading recalls the trial of Jesus. Before the people who could kill him or release him, Jesus offered no defense of himself. Instead of trying to set himself free, he allowed false witnesses declare their lies against him. The trial offered no justice for Jesus who was completely innocent of any crime. Therefore, his life was taken away, having no descendants to follow after him. Philip explains that this prophecy has been fulfilled in Jesus.
II. What Prevents Me From Being Baptized?
A. The importance of baptism
- All that we know from the text is that Philip was preaching Jesus to the eunuch. However, the discussion about receiving the grace of God, having forgiveness of sins, and becoming a disciple of Christ clearly involved a discussion about baptism. To preach about Jesus is to also preach about the need for baptism to have the grace of God applied to their lives.
- We quickly learn the importance of baptism. If baptism was not important, was not necessary, or could be done whenever one got around to it, why did the eunuch ask such a burning question, "Look! Water! What prevents me from being baptized?" The eunuch is excited to find water on this desert road and wants to use this water to be baptized. Many denominations teach that baptism is how you join their church. Does that make any sense concerning the eunuch? What church could the eunuch be joining himself to? Others say that baptism is to show the congregation your faith in God. What congregation was available on this desert road to see the faith of the eunuch? Clearly these are not the reasons for baptism. Baptism is not to show people your faith in God. Baptism is not to join a church. Baptism is to have sins washed away (Acts 22:16). The eunuch desires water so he can have his sins washed away. The eunuch is not trying to join a denomination along this desert road. Nor is the eunuch worried about displaying his faith. The eunuch is ready to submit to the Lord and desires to have God’s grace applied to him. If baptism was not important and was not necessary, then the eunuch is asking a pointless question.
B. Belief is necessary before baptism
- The eunuch wants to know what prevents him from being baptized. Philip responds that the only thing preventing baptism is the eunuch believing with all his heart. This is exactly what we saw earlier in Acts 8 when the Samaritans believed and were baptized. This is what we saw in Acts 2:41, "So then, those who had received his word were baptized." Through these eight chapters in Acts we have seen people become disciples of Christ and receive the forgiveness of sins in the same way: belief and baptism.
- The eunuch responds that he does believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God. The chariot is ordered to stop, they both went down into the water, and he baptized him. When they come up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord snatches Philip away and the eunuch went on his way rejoicing.
C. The form and example of baptism
- We learn much about baptism from this occasion with the eunuch. As we explore this text, we need to ask a few questions so that we can understand the full importance and implication of baptism.
- Why was a body of water needed? The eunuch had a very long journey ahead of him since he was traveling from Jerusalem to Ethiopia. Further, he is going to be traveling on some desert roads. Why didn’t the eunuch pull a canteen out and have Philip sprinkle him with water? Why not hold up the canteen and say, "Look! Water! What prevents me from being baptized?" This would have surely been easier and would have removed the difficulty of trying to find a body of water along this desert road. Obviously, this was not the way to be baptized. Sprinkling or pouring was not an acceptable method of baptism.
- Why did both the eunuch and Philip both go down into the water? Why did both of them come up out of the water? Verse 38 is very detailed, emphasizing how both of them went into the water. Verse 39 also tells us how they came up out of the water. Why did both of them have to go in and come out of the water? The answer ought to become clear that this is how one is baptized.
- 4. We find out that our suppositions about this text are correct when we learn the definition of baptism. Every Greek scholar, from Vines to Thayer, defines baptism as "to immerse, to submerge, to overwhelm (i.e. fully wet)." Sprinkling and pouring water is not considered baptism. That is why Philip does not pull out a vial of water and sprinkle some on the eunuch. That is why the eunuch does not hold up his canteen and say, "Look! Water! What prevents me from being baptized?" Verse 38 becomes very simple and clear when we read this passage with this understanding. The chariot is ordered to stop and Philip and the eunuch both go down into the water. In the water, Philip immerses or submerges the eunuch. This is the simplicity of the scriptures. Romans 6:4 says, "Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life." Baptism is described as a burial, not a sprinkling or a pouring. We are buried in water to unite ourselves with the death of Christ and we are raised from the water to unite ourselves with the resurrection of Christ through the glory of the Father.
- 5. There is no reason for anyone to make these things difficult or try to over think the event. Philip preached Jesus. In the preaching of Jesus, Philip must have spoke about the necessity of being immersed in water for the forgiveness of sins. The eunuch sees water and wants to be baptized. The eunuch believes that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God. The chariot stops, both go down into the water, and Philip baptizes the eunuch.
- 6. Allow me to ask one more question: why did the eunuch go on his way rejoicing at this point? Why was the eunuch not rejoicing when he declared Jesus to be the Christ the Son of God? The answer again is rather obvious: the eunuch was not saved at the point of belief or confession. The eunuch still needed to be baptized to be saved.
- The examples in the New Testament concerning how one receives the grace of God are overwhelming. In every example, people who wanted God’s grace submitted to God’s commands by believing Jesus is the Son of God, turning away from the sins of the world, confessing Jesus as Lord, and being baptized for the forgiveness of their sins.
- Salvation is as simple as this. Many want to twist the scriptures and distort the good news of Jesus. I believe Satan has worked his plan in this world to get people to think they are saved before they truly are, accepting belief as enough. Eight chapters have shown that belief is not the only condition of God’s grace. Baptism is our act of submission to God. Baptism is to be buried with Christ so that we are raised to a new life in Christ.