The story of the Ethiopian takes place during the early years of the Church, when Christians have come under great persecution in Jerusalem. Fellow believer Stephen has just become the first Christian martyr, and a zealous Pharisee by the name of Saul is relentlessly pursuing other believers. As a result, Christians have been scattered throughout Judea and Samaria. The Church is going underground in Jerusalem, and other Christians are traveling away from the city to preach the gospel in other places.
And Saul approved of their killing him. On that day a great persecution broke out against the church in Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria. Godly men buried Stephen and mourned deeply for him. But Saul began to destroy the church. Going from house to house, he dragged off both men and women and put them in prison. Acts 8:1-3, NIV
It is interesting to note, that the persecution did not hinder the effect of the Church, but rather furthered the work of the Church, by moving the believers out of Jerusalem and into other areas, just as Jesus predicted they would do in the first chapter of Acts.
“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” Acts 1:8, NIV
According to Dr. J. Vernon McGee, Philip became the chief witness abroad after Stephen was killed. When our story opens, Philip is in Samaria, in an area north of Jerusalem. He is boldly proclaiming the gospel, healing people, and receiving quite a warm reception from the townspeople.
Philip went down to a city in Samaria and proclaimed the Messiah there. When the crowds heard Philip and saw the signs he performed, they all paid close attention to what he said. For with shrieks, impure spirits came out of many, and many who were paralyzed or lame were healed. So there was great joy in that city. Acts 8:5-8, NIV
Philip receives instruction from the Holy Spirit to go on a little mission. He is told to travel south, pass Jerusalem, and continue further south. Philip does as he is instructed and meets an Ethiopian on the desert road.
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. Acts 8:26-28, NIV
This man is Secretary of the Treasury of the Ethiopian Queen. He is a high ranking official in the government of his country, and has been to the center of religion to worship. Now on his journey home, he’s catching up on some Scripture reading, and with great difficulty, is trying to understand the text of Isaiah 53. The Holy Spirit tells Philip to make a mad dash for the Ethiopian’s chariot, and run alongside it.
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. Acts 8:29-31, NIV
The man is reading an Old Testament description of Jesus, but cannot understand what the prophet Isaiah is talking about.
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. Acts 8:32-35, NIV
Philip explains how the Messiah is woven throughout all of Scripture. He tells him how the life, death and resurrection of Jesus has fulfilled the very prophecy he is reading in the book of Isaiah! With the enabling of the Holy Spirit, the man understands and becomes a follower of Christ. Now an enthusiastic new believer, he is anxious to be baptized.
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. Acts 8:36-39, NIV
The Ethiopian had traveled to Jerusalem to find religion and left confused. God then orchestrated the Spirit of God, to direct a man of God, to use the Word of God, to help the Ethiopian become a son of God.
The Ethiopian’s story was one of puzzlement, but God’s provision was one of discernment.
Join me tomorrow for a story involving an attentive listener, an anxious hostess, and a provision of focus!
If you’ve missed any part of this series, you can find all of the posts in the side bar category 31 Days of God’s Provision.
On the journey toward Home,