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Associate Editorial: The Conversion of the Ethiopian

In the 8th chapter of Acts, we find the record of the work of Philip the Evangelist in Samaria, and as he was called by an angel of God for a special mission to preach to one man (Acts 8:5; Acts 8:26). He preached to multitudes in Samaria with great success. Philip was not an apostle, but was obviously a gifted teacher and preacher of God’s word who had the gift to do miracles but not the apostolic privilege of passing on his gifts to others (Acts 8:7, 13, 18).

In the case of both circumstances where Philip preached, people were baptized into Christ (Acts 8:12, 13, 38). The record tells of his preaching “the good news about the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ” (Acts 8:12) and simply preaching “Jesus” (Acts 8:35) both of which resulted in the baptism of those who heard him preach and believed what they heard. All of this was in keeping with the command of Jesus given first to His apostles to “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature. He who believes and in baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned” (Mark 16:15-16).

The conversions in Acts 8 under the preaching of Philip each lend their unique contribution to our understanding of the salvation or conversion process. This is vital, based on the teaching of Jesus in Matthew 18:3; where He said, “Truly I say to you, unless you are converted and become like children, you shall not enter the kingdom of heaven.” In the conversion of the Samaritans, we see the role of the Holy Spirit in simply revealing and confirming the spoken word, not in the conversion process itself. God’s Spirit does not act in such a way as to fill a man to coerce him to do that which is against his own human will. God seeks those who will obey him from the heart (John 4:23-24; Romans 6:17). The conversion of the Ethiopian teaches us several things about baptism that I want us to consider in this article.

Acts 8:26-39

    • “He was led as a sheep to slaughter; And as a lamb before its shearer is silent, So He does not open His mouth. “In humiliation His judgment was taken away; Who shall relate His generation? For His life is removed from the earth.”
  • But an angel of the Lord spoke to Philip saying, “Arise and go south to the road that descends from Jerusalem to Gaza.” (This is a desert road.) And he arose and went; and behold, there was an Ethiopian eunuch, a court official of Candace, queen of the Ethiopians, who was in charge of all her treasure; and he had come to Jerusalem to worship. And he was returning and sitting in his chariot, and was reading the prophet Isaiah. And the Spirit said to Philip, “Go up and join this chariot.” And when Philip had run up, he heard him reading Isaiah the prophet, and said, “Do you understand what you are reading?” And he said, “Well, how could I, unless someone guides me?” And he invited Philip to come up and sit with him. Now the passage of Scripture which he was reading was this:

    And the eunuch answered Philip and said, “Please tell me, of whom does the prophet say this? Of himself, or of someone else?” And Philip opened his mouth, and beginning from this Scripture he preached Jesus to him. And as they went along the road they came to some water; and the eunuch said, “Look! Water! What prevents me from being baptized?” And Philip said, “If you believe with all your heart, you may.” And he answered and said, “I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.” And he ordered the chariot to stop; and they both went down into the water, Philip as well as the eunuch; and he baptized him. And when they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord snatched Philip away; and the eunuch saw him no more, but went on his way rejoicing.”

Initially, let us consider the role of the preacher. The angel told Philip to go to the man, and the Holy Spirit specifically instructed the preacher to join the stranger in his chariot. Picture this in your mind. Two men are riding down a desert road of all things studying the Bible. Friends and brethren, we need to learn the importance of Bible study. Deuteronomy 6:6-9, “And these words, which I am commanding you today, shall be on your heart; and you shall teach them diligently to your sons and shall talk of them when you sit in your house and when you walk by the way and when you lie down and when you rise up. And you shall bind them as a sign on your hand and they shall be as frontals on your forehead. And you shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.” While our judicial system is restricting the free access and posting of the word of God, the Bible tells us to put the word in out hearts, teach it to our children, and talk of it day in and day out in every aspect of life. We need to study the Bible. Philip, fully understanding his role in this situation, asked the man about his level of understanding. Teachers, learn this lesson as well. Find out where your students are in their knowledge and their ability to grasp and understand teaching, principles and concepts. Paul, the apostle, even found common ground in his pagan audience in Athens. Acts 17:22-23, “And Paul stood in the midst of the Areopagus and said, ‘Men of Athens, I observe that you are very religious in all respects. For while I was passing through and examining the objects of your worship, I also found an altar with this inscription, “TO AN UNKNOWN GOD.” What therefore you worship in ignorance, this I proclaim to you.'” Once Paul established the common ground, he proceeded to that which was Uncommon and preached the gospel to the people. Such is the nature of the work of Philip with the Ethiopian. Philip took his student from where he was and delivered him to where he needed to be, and he did it through preaching.

We are being told today that there are better ways to reach people with the truth of God’s word. There is not. So-called “scientists” among us are telling us that we can better understand the story of creation through the scientific method. I deny it. Philip took a heathen and “preached unto him Jesus.” Paul declared, 1 Corinthians 1:21, “For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not come to know God, God was well-pleased through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe.” Jesus said, in the great commission already cited to go “preach the gospel.” We need to cease with all the “modern” approaches and get back to preaching the gospel to a lost and dying world. It worked for Philip. It will work for us. It is the only thing that will work.

How is it, back in our text of Acts 8, that the Ethiopian could go from reading Isaiah to the waters of baptism only through the preaching of Jesus? Is it such a stretch to conclude that the preaching of Jesus not only suggests water baptism, but rather, demands it? After the Holy Spirit fell on those in the household of Cornelius in Acts 10, the record tells us that “And he ordered them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ” (Acts 10:48). Baptism is the natural conclusion of the preaching of Jesus. Everywhere the apostles and prophets of the Lord went and preached the gospel found people who believed it being baptized. Of course, some did not believe the gospel and refused baptism, but every believer whose conversion is recorded in the Word of God is said to have been baptized. It all happened through the foolishness of preaching.

How did the Ethiopian react to the preaching? Or better yet, how did he not react? He did not react with any recorded opposition. He did not react with any recorded questioning of the authority by which Philip obviously commanded the water baptism to which he submitted himself. He did not react with any recorded reference to some ancestral tradition that may or may not have shed some negative light on a long deceased relative. He reacted with excitement! Preachers who simply read the words of Acts 8:36, “See here is water.” need to look at the New American Standard Bible and get a feel for the excitement in the voice of the eunuch. The translators there add exclamation points which lexicographers tell us actually belong. This man was excited to see the water, and not due to the dryness of the desert road. He was excited at the opportunity to be buried with Christ in baptism for the remission of his sins. No regrets! No rebellion! No self centeredness! No annoying questioning! He showed the attitude, “Lord, you speak and I will listen and I will do your will.”

It was the same attitude of Saul of Tarsus when the Lord knocked him on his face on a different road. Saul said, “Who are you, Lord?” Upon hearing what he did not expect to hear, that it was Jesus of Nazareth, Saul asked with full confidence concerning the One to whom he addressed his question, “Lord, what would you have me to do?” This question and the answer thereto provided the means whereby this heretic was saved. A preacher eventually went to him and told him to be baptized in order to wash away his sins (Acts 22:16).

All we need is preaching coupled with good and faithful hearts. The combination is unbeatable. It is the only scriptural combination that works. Shall we follow the example of this foreigner’s conversion and learn to put things in their proper place? May God bless you as you “study to show your self approved unto God” (2 Timothy 2:15).