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)!
The Chorus of this Servant Song begins with a lamentation at the lack of faith, “Who has believed our report? and to whom is the arm of the LORD revealed?” (Isaiah 53:1).
The singers bemoan both the extent of His sufferings, and their blindness to recognise Who He is; and they acknowledge that He is the burden-bearer, the only Saviour:
“He is despised and rejected by men:
we hid our faces from Him;
we did not esteem Him.
He was wounded for our transgressions,
and by His stripes we are healed.”
Why does the world, the nations of the world, the people of the world - why do you and I need someone to die for us? It is because we have all sinned (Romans 3:23). The wages of sin is death - the awful death of eternal separation from our Lord God (Romans 6:23).
“All we like sheep have gone astray;
We have turned, every one to his own way.”
What is the solution to our predicament?
“The LORD has laid on Him the iniquity of us all.”
The Evangelist Philip would have been able to show the Ethiopian the meekness of our Lord Jesus Christ, how He went to His death like a lamb to the slaughter. The figure of a lamb is highly significant, as it shows Jesus to be the final sacrifice for sin.
Thus John the Baptist could call out, “Behold the Lamb of God, Who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29).
We were the ones who behaved like sheep, following one another into the way that leads to eternal death, but it was Jesus who offered Himself as the sacrificial Lamb, dying in our place, and giving us the opportunity to return to the Way of Life.