Summary: Philip preaches on Isaiah 53.
THE ETHIOPIAN AMBASSADOR
Many centuries ago, long before the birth of Jesus, the prophet Isaiah foresaw the suffering of “the Servant of the LORD” in dramatic language which hid nothing of the horror and the power of the vision which was disclosed to him. This same prophecy has been quoted many times in the New Testament, and one such occasion was when the Evangelist Philip was enabled to explain the words to the Ethiopian Ambassador, a worshipper of the LORD in the service of Queen Candace, who was returning from a pilgrimage in Jerusalem.
As was customary, the Ethiopian was reading out loud on the long chariot journey which would take him back to Africa. The Scripture which he read was Isaiah 53:7-8.
Drawing near to the chariot, Philip asked if the reader understood what he was reading. But how could he, without an interpreter? So the traveller asked Philip to join him on the chariot, making the most of the opportunity to tap into the preacher’s expertise.
We must not be afraid to ask questions of those whose mission it is to preach Christ. This encounter changed the life of the Ethiopian forever - he heard of Christ, His mission, His sacrifice, the gift of salvation to all nations, not just Israel.
Our Lord Jesus Christ is to be found in all the Scriptures - the Old Testament and the New Testament. It was from the Old Testament that Jesus taught two men also on a journey from Jerusalem, shortly after His resurrection, and before the New Testament had been written: “beginning at Moses and all the Prophets, he expounded to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning Himself” (Luke 24:27).
Likewise, when Jesus met His disciples later that day, He said to them, “These are the words which I spoke to you, while I was yet with you, that all things must be fulfilled, which were written in the Law of Moses, and the Prophets, and the Psalms concerning me.” And He opened their understanding, that they might understand the Scriptures (Luke 24:44-45).
Of whom was the Prophet speaking? asked the Ethiopian. Was it himself or some other man? From this point, Philip was able to preach Jesus.
The Old Testament passage which was being read on that occasion forms part of a series of songs about the Servant of the LORD in the book of Isaiah. This one begins at Isaiah 52:13-15, with a speech by the LORD in which He praises the wisdom of the Servant in anticipation of the work which He will accomplish. Seeing the end result of the suffering of Jesus before it had happened on the scene of history, the LORD promised that He would be exalted, that He would be worshipped, that He would be lifted high in the estimation of men.
This glorification of Jesus is set against the backdrop of His sufferings, which are immense. The awfulness of pain disfigured His face, causing astonishment and making Him undesirable to the onlookers. Yet through this very anguish, the mockers’ mouths would be shut, causing them to wonder, and many nations would be startled into the realisation of Who He is. Even Ethiopia would soon stretch out her hands to God (Psalm 68:31)!