No matter how you look at it, it was a long way home! This Ethiopian proselyte from the court of Candace the queen traveled over 1,000 miles to Jerusalem and was finally headed home.
A 2,000-mile roundtrip journey by chariot was not an easy undertaking.
What is remarkable about this trip is that he even bothered to take it! Because he was a eunuch, the Law forbids him from even entering the courtyard of the Temple. He could offer no sacrifice, hear no instructions from the teachers inside; he would not receive the High Priestly blessing given to the people. All he could do in Jerusalem was pray somewhere outside the Temple precincts. Surely a 2,000-mile journey was not necessary to pray to God. But he came because God required it!
In the book of Acts, thousands of baptisms are recorded in a single verse. But to this man, an extraordinary Ethiopian believer, God draws our attention. Acts 8 is a wonderful chapter of belief, perseverance and baptism. It shows the great lengths our God goes to in order to save us.
Scripture tells us this Ethiopian man was an alien, a stranger, in bondage and cut off from God. He is found stopped in a wilderness alone. From this hopeless position, we are also told that he took extraordinary steps to worship God, to read God’s Word. This powerful man was not above asking the humble Philip to join him in the chariot and explain Isaiah’s prophecy.
He could be considered the first Gentile convert into the new ecclesia. It was five or more years earlier than Cornelius’ conversion.
This is a chapter of obedience! Describing Philip, Acts says, “and he arose and went” (v 27); “Philip ran thither to him” (v 30)! There was no hesitation on his part.
All of us have been in the same place as this eunuch, alone in a dry desert place, needing more. This is where all those without God are.
“Who shall declare his generation?”
For this Ethiopian man, it started with the reading of God’s Word and seeking to understand it. Paul was writing to all of us when he said “Study to show thyself approved, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed” (2Tim 2:15).
Study means “diligence”, “labor”. It’s an active tense. Studying doesn’t stop with baptism but continues a lifetime. And “studying” is pointless if it’s not shared! “Workman” implies sharing, using it with others.
I remember at one ecclesial business meeting we were discussing what type of bread should be used for the emblems. One sister, over 80 years old stood up and said “I’ve just studied that” and shared her views. She might have been retired from work, but not the Truth! There are many outlets in the brotherhood to share God’s Word. Teaching Sunday school, Bible class, CYC, preaching, internet preaching, and writing articles for the Tidings!
“Study to show thyself approved” applies to all of us.
The story of the Ethopian emphasizes the great lengths he took to be at God’s appointed place. Do we have that same urgency to attend our meetings on Sunday or the mid-week Bible class?
With all the activity going on now in Israel, Europe and Russia we should be preparing for Christ’s return. Paul bluntly tells us that the first step for 21st-century believers is to be at meeting:
“Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is: but exhorting one another: and so much the more as ye see the day approaching” (Heb 10:25).
The sole purpose in that eunuch’s journey was to obey God’s commands. What about us on Sunday mornings or Wednesday evenings?
Many people in the world view joining a church the same as joining a social club. They jump from one to another based on the ‘preacher’, the music, the building, activities, after-school programs, etc. This Ethiopian believer would never have gone to Jerusalem if that was all he was looking for! None of these elements of worship were open to him. He was very isolated in Jerusalem. He went because the Father required it. And that’s the reason we should be here each Sunday morning.
“The place of the scripture which he read was this, He was led as a sheep to the slaughter; and like a lamb dumb before his shearer, so opened he not his mouth: In his humiliation his judgment was taken away: and who shall declare his generation? for his life is taken from the earth. And the eunuch answered Philip, and said, I pray thee, of whom speaketh the prophet this? of himself, or of some other man? (Acts 8:32-34).
This is why we come here. To remember our Lord and all he did for us. To re-dedicate ourselves each week to be more like him and less like us.
“Behold I am a dry tree”
Imagine this eunuch, a Gentile proselyte, alone, alienated in Jerusalem, hearing words like this:
“For ye are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus. For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus. And if ye be Christ’s, then are ye Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise” (Gal 3:26-29).
Every phrase was full of meaning for him. Philip taught him the Truth on that desert road. It’s very likely that Philip read a bit further in Isaiah and started his lesson with these words:
“Neither let the son of the stranger, that hath joined himself to the LORD, speak, saying, The LORD hath utterly separated me from his people: neither let the eunuch say, Behold, I am a dry tree. For thus saith the LORD unto the eunuchs that keep my sabbaths, and choose the things that please me, and take hold of my covenant; Even unto them will I give in mine house and within my walls a place and a name better than of sons and of daughters: I will give them an everlasting name, that shall not be cut off. Also the sons of the stranger, that join themselves to the LORD, to serve him, and to love the name of the LORD, to be his servants, every one that keepeth the sabbath from polluting it, and taketh hold of my covenant; even them will I bring to my holy mountain, and make them joyful in my house of prayer: their burnt offerings and their sacrifices shall be accepted upon mine altar; for mine house shall be called an house of prayer for all people” (Isa 56:3-7).
Everything missing in the eunuch’s life would be given to him.
If you are not baptized, why? What hinders you? (v 36).
Of course the eunuch would be baptized! Philip had made this treasurer of Ethiopia keenly aware of what was lacking in his life.
“Believest?” (v 37). This means to “rely on”, to “commit to one’s trust”. Here was a man whom the Queen of Ethiopia “relied on”. And he realized only God could be truly relied upon. Sometimes we fail to realize that “belief” is not just for those dripping with the waters of baptism but for all believers. Believing in Jesus must be the focal point of our lives and the cause of our actions.
“Jesus answered and said unto them, This is the work of God, that ye believe on him whom he hath sent” (John 6:29). This implies that ‘belief’ is a lifetime duty for “the workman of Christ” (Matt 10:10, 2Tim 2:15).
One thing thou lackest yet
“Believest thou with all thy heart?” And so Philip baptized him. Then perhaps the oddest thing happens: “The Spirit of the Lord caught away Philip, that the eunuch saw him no more: and he went on his way rejoicing” (v 39). Did you spot it? It wasn’t that Philip was caught away by the Spirit. It wasn’t that the eunuch went on rejoicing. The oddity is that it ended so abruptly and one thing did not occur! The eunuch never broke bread with Philip. And he was headed back to Ethiopia where there were no believers. “For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them” (Matt 18:20).
You can be sure that the first thing on his mind was preaching and turning another from darkness. Only through saving another would he be able to break bread with others! We can only imagine the urgency in his preaching. What about us? How strong is our desire to save others, to preach, to be joined to new believers?
In John 14, we see that Philip had a hard time believing, even when walking with Jesus and witnessing his miracles. Jesus says:
“Yet hast thou not known me, Philip?” (v 9).
“Believest thou not that I am in the Father, and the Father in me?” (v 10).
“Believe me that I am in the Father, and the Father in me” (v 11).
“He that believeth on me… ” (v 12).
This lack of belief earlier must have goaded Philip in his preaching. Starting at Isaiah he absolutely convinced the Ethiopian of Jesus and the need for belief in him. The words of the Ethiopian are probably the ones that Philip himself wished he had said to Jesus back in John 14. You can imagine the Ethiopian shouting: “I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God!” (Acts 8:37).
We are like our brother from Ethiopia. We have only seen Jesus through the pages of Scriptures. Is our belief in Jesus as strong? Is our desire to preach so apparent? The book of Acts is full of men and women like this Ethiopian, needing to see the Way, the Truth, and the Light.
With events in the world swirling about us, perhaps our journey will not be as long as that Ethiopian’s journey home. But let’s be sure it is as fruitful.