Summary: The Ethiopian Eunuch didn’t understand the Bible until someone explained it to him. The whole Bible points to Jesus’ life death and resurrection.
In a few minutes we’ll say the creed, as we do most weeks, and we’ll repeat these words almost without thinking: "For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate; he suffered death and was buried. On the third day he rose again - in accordance with the Scriptures." I wonder whether we ever stop to think about that last phrase. What do we mean when we say "in accordance with the Scriptures"? We might mean "in accordance with the gospel records supplemented by the writings of the Apostles." That probably what most people think we mean. But in fact I think that’s an insufficient understanding. As a matter of fact as we read through this passage today we discover that it’s all of the Scriptures that are meant by that phrase. All of the Scriptures point to Jesus death and resurrection. And as the Ethiopian Eunuch is puzzling over the meaning of Isaiah, Philip comes along to explain to him how those Scriptures have suddenly come alive for the Jewish people of his time.
But first let’s look at how all this comes about.
We read at the start of ch. 8: "On that day a severe persecution broke out against the church in Jerusalem." Not only do we discover in this book how Jesus’ work is continued through his disciples, we also see how those followers of Jesus receive the same treatment as Jesus. The result of Stephen’s speech and subsequent martyrdom is that the Jewish leaders, led by Saul, are motivated to wipe out this heretical sect. As a result Jerusalem becomes a dangerous place to be if you’re a follower of Jesus Christ. That is if you want to avoid his fate. And so the believers are scattered throughout Judea and Samaria.
But as I mentioned briefly last week, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Do you remember why? Because as the Christians were scattered the gospel spread with them. No longer was gospel proclamation the exclusive domain of the apostles. Now every believer became a missionary, forced onto the mission field as a result of this persecution by the Jewish leaders in Jerusalem.
One of them, Philip, like Stephen one of the seven deacons, ended up in Samaria. It may be that he remembered Jesus’ command to preach the gospel in Judea, Samaria and to the ends of the earth and so he took this opportunity to go there. Or perhaps he was led there by the Holy Spirit as he was later to the Gaza Road. Or perhaps that’s just as far as he got before the opportunity came to speak about Jesus Christ. In any event, when he got there, what did he do? He proclaimed Christ. He did great signs and wonders - just like Stephen.
Again we discover an ordinary man doing extraordinary things - in his own way as the Spirit leads and empowers him.
Philip stays there in Samaria preaching the gospel, until the apostles hear of his great success and send Peter and John to give him their support. In fact what they do is to lay hands on these Samaritan converts. The Samaritans receive the Holy Spirit in the same way the disciples had on the day of Pentecost, as a sign that the gospel has now come to them as well as to the Jews. Philip’s preaching, you see, has led to the formation of a new branch of the Church. The people of Samaria are now on equal terms with the Jerusalem converts. They too have the Holy Spirit who will enable them to share the gospel with others. And so Philip moves on. Well more accurately he’s told to move on.
An angel is sent to tell him to go south to the Gaza Road, where a ’chance’ encounter becomes an opportunity to send the gospel to Africa.
Now I guess you haven’t had many occasions when an angel has come to you to tell you to go somewhere, though there may be some who could recount such an occasion. But I’m sure all of us have had these sorts of chance encounters with people. Moments when someone has said something or asked a question and you’ve thought, "I wonder should I say something about my faith?" Or "should I pick up on this and continue the conversation to see where it’ll go?"
Well that’s what happens here.
Philip doesn’t know why he’s there. But as he walks along he comes across an Ethiopian eunuch, an important official of the queen of Ethiopia. Apparently he only sees him from a distance at first. Perhaps they’re on opposite sides of the road - the eunuch sitting in his chariot as it moves slowly along the road, Philip walking by the side of the road. But the Holy Spirit prompts him to go over to the Ethiopian and walk beside him. This is what might be called "intentional loitering." Just walking alongside to see what will happen. Well this man’s reading out loud from Isaiah 53, one of the so-called ’Servant Songs’. So Philip asks a perfectly natural question: "Do you understand what you’re reading?" Now if you think about it, that’s not a bad question to have up your sleeve when issues of religion and particularly Christianity come up is it?