Philip and the Ethiopian (Acts 8:26-40)

This is one of my favourite quotes: “The problem with the world today is communication. There’s too much communication.” ~ Homer Simpson.

I love this, first of all because it speaks a lot of truth about our digital world which is inundated with communication, second of all because it was spoken by my favourite cartoon character, and thirdly because my first degree is in communications (thus a joke about communication appeals even more to my sense of humour).

Today we’re going on another adventure with Philip and there’s a lot of communication going on. Let’s take a look.

Philip and the Ethiopian

Acts: 8: 26-29 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 Book of Isaiah the prophet. The Spirit told Philip, “Go to that chariot and stay near it.”

Did you notice that God communicates directly with Philip in a couple of ways here? First of all, in v26 an Angel speaks to him directly and gives him specific instructions about where to go. Philip is obedient and he starts to follow the directions that have been given to him. But then, Philip encounters an unexpected interruption, and the spirit speaks to him and tells him to go to the chariot he has seen on his travels. Philip just continues to blow me away with his faith in this story. The past few days we’ve seen him leave his home due to extreme persecution, ad yet he continued to spread the gospel everywhere he went. Philips unwavering faith continues to be displayed here as he obediently follows the instructions this angelic being has given him and he heads along the road towards Gaza.

Along this road, he meets and Ethiopian eunuch (I’m not going to speculate/elaborate on what eunuch means in this context – but go ahead and google it if you’re interested). This eunuch has just been to Jerusalem to worship, and here Philip discovers him reading the Book of Isaiah. The spirit then communicated with Philip and told him to go over. An angel, the spirit – I’m beginning to think that perhaps God has a purpose for Philip here and wants to make sure there’s no way he’s going to miss this message.

8:30-35 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 shearer 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.

I’m not sure about you; but I can very much relate to the eunuch in this passage. How many times have I been reading my Bible and thought, “How can I understand this without someone to explain it to me?” Perhaps one of the main reasons I ended up studying at Bible college – please someone explain this book to me! But here, we find the eunuch who has been earnestly reading Isaiah, a book we know as belonging to the Old Testament (remember, the New Testament that we have today didn’t actually exist when this story happened). And it just so happens that Philip knows something pretty unique about this very passage that he’s able to share it with the eunuch. How great that Philip was obedient to the promptings of the angel and spirit to be in the right place at the right time.

Philip overhears the eunuch reading a passage he knows very well, and he is able to explain to him the story of Jesus who is the fulfilment of this prophecy in Isaiah. How great that God provided Philip to explain this passage to the eunuch so he could understand what he was reading!

8:36-40 As they traveled 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 baptized?” And he gave orders to stop the chariot. Then both Philip and the eunuch went down into the water and Philip baptized 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 traveled about, preaching the gospel in all the towns until he reached Caesarea.

Well… that was weird. What’s going on here? Firstly it’s great – the eunuch has been so transformed by this story of Jesus that he asks Philip to baptise him there on the spot and declare him a believer. This is fantastic news! But then, the Spirit takes Philip away. What on earth is going on with that? Scholar Campell Morgan (1990, Stott, The Message of Acts, BST, p.162) explains that this particular instance may not have been so much a miracle (I think they refer to his as ‘disapperating’ in Hogwarts, when you leave one place and instantly are transported to another), but more a way of explaining that the eunuch didn’t see Philip again after that. Philip had been obedient, and as a result of this one-off encounter the eunuch had become a believer and his life was forever transformed, now Philip was needed elsewhere and the eunuch was left with the joy of the Spirit.

To think about

Have you ever heard a specific message from God, and known there was somewhere you needed to go or a place you needed to be at a specific time? This may not have been as obvious as the angel that appeared to Philip (although it might have been!), but God still communicates with us in many other ways today doesn’t He? It might be through a revelation when reading Scripture of having a quiet time, it could be it an unexpected place, like the shower, the car, the office or the classroom. Today, be on the lookout and listening for where the Spirit might be prompting you to go, you never know who you might have a divine encounter with along your road.

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