Philip was in the middle of a very successful evangelistic campaign in Samaria when God told him to go to somewhere with very few people. It seemed a strange request, but he went obediently.
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 Candace, 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.
This Ethiopian may have been what the Jews called a ‘God-fearer’ – someone who believed in their God but had not converted to Judaism. He would have had a large number of servants with him and, after seeing the worship in the temple in Jerusalem, was returning home. He wanted to know more, and was reading the Jewish scriptures aloud.
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. The eunuch was reading this passage of Scripture: “He was led like a sheep to the slaughter, and as a lamb before the 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.
What a great opportunity Philip was presented with! Here was a man whose heart had been prepared by God, and Philip was in the right place at the right time to tell him the gospel. What would Philip have said? What would you say to someone starting with that very passage of Scripture?
This is the passage that we looked at in last week’s study. It was recognised by the Jews as a Messianic prophecy, so the Ethiopian would have known about the Messiah. Philip was able to explain to him how the life, death and resurrection of Jesus exactly fulfilled the prophecy, and fulfilled all the other prophecies of a Messiah. God had done what He promised and sent a Saviour to rescue not only His chosen people, but the whole world, if they would just turn to him.
Philip’s words obviously had an effect, because the Ethiopian immediately responded with an act of submission.
As they travelled along the road, they came to some water and the eunuch said, “Look, here is water. Why shouldn’t I be 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 travelled about, preaching the gospel in all the towns until he reached Caesarea.
Having done the job that God sent him to do, Philip was whisked away to serve somewhere else. And the Ethiopian went home and no doubt told others about his new-found faith. Today we know that Ethiopia has a very long Christian history. Maybe it was started by this man, converted by God’s obedient servant.
So what was Philip’s part in the story and what was the Spirit’s part? Did Philip convert the man? No. Only God can work on a man’s heart. But he did his part, he did what God asked of him.