Alfred Place Baptist Church

The Conversion of the Ethiopian Eunuch

Acts 8:36 “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?’”

This is a well known and loved story. It tells how an African became a Christian. He became the forrunner of such distinguished African Christians as Cyprian, and Tertullian and Augustine. Before a single man living in Europe began to follow Christ this man became a baptized disciple. We don’t know his name, but we know that he held high office in Ethiopia, the chancellor of the exchequer.

He had come to Jerusalem. It was a long journey with his entourage and bodyguards. Other pilgrims came to the feast on foot, but he was taken there in a carriage. He did not come as a tourist. He must have been primarily sent there on official government business, improving trade and exports and building good relations with Israel. But we know that he also knew something of the Jewish faith and admired it and that he planned also to worship when he arrived in Jerusalem.

So here he was far from home in a different continent. He had the priceless opportunity to look at life, himself, his values, his purpose in living from a brand new perspective. He had a sense of freedom and inquiry. Things were now not necessarily true because the majority of people around him believed them, or that his parents and ancestors thought like that. He asked himself the most important questions. What is truth? Can I know it? What is man’s chief end? What is the good life? Can I find it? How can I be right with God? Would he accept a eunuch like me? How can I find forgiveness for the way I have behaved? He was no longer restricted and blinkered by his traditions and the customs he had received from earlier generations. Everything was on the table, open to examination.

1. WHAT HE FOUND IN JERUSALEM.

The heart of Jerusalem . . . THE TEMPLE . . . the altar. A place of atonement . . . confessing their sins . . . the spotless lamb dead in their place . . .

The ETHIC . . . 10 commandments . . . the atmosphere in the city . . . no idols, no temple prostitutes . . . a place of safety for women and young people

The VIEW OF GOD – one only, Creator, the God of Providence, Infinite, Eternal Unchangeable . . .

All this impressed him and moved him and persuaded him to put his faith in such a God,

Consider also the Roman centurions you meet in the gospels – their same high regard when they had left Rome and settled for some years in the land of promise

2. WHAT HE TOOK WITH HIM WHEN HE LEFT

The day came when he had to return to Africa. What would he take home with him besides memories? Seeds? Cedars, olives? A pot of earth? Better than all of that, the Scriptures! He would buy a scroll of the 66 chapters of the prophet Isaiah. There had been a translation into Greek for over a century. Greek was the lingua franca. Jesus and his apostles spoke it, and so did this man,

He began to read Isaiah and he discovered that it was not one in which God told the people of Jerusalem, “You’re so wonderful, so terrific.” No. God said to them in the very first chapter, “Why do you persist in rebellion? Your whole head is injured, your whole heart afflicted. From the sole of your foot to the top of your head there is no soundness–only wounds and bruises and open sores, not cleansed or bandaged or soothed with oil . . . When you spread out your hands in prayer, I will hide my eyes from you; even if you offer many prayers, I will not listen. Your hands are full of blood; wash and make yourselves clean. Take your evil deeds out of my sight! Stop doing wrong, learn to do right! Seek justice, encourage the oppressed. Defend the cause of the fatherless, plead the case of the widow.” Then God said something remarkable: “Come now, let us reason together, says the LORD. Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool.” All that was in the first chapter and it both warned the African, and also encouraged the African. So on and on he read. How could his own sins be made as white as snow?

He was gripped by the Bible, and as he was driven slowly home he sat in his chariot and he read aloud chapter after chapter. He could not stop, but he could not understand it all. He reached chapter 53 and then he was perplexed as he read of the suffering servant of the Lord. These were the words he read: “He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him. He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering. Like one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not. Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows, yet we considered him stricken by God, smitten by him, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed. We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all. He was oppressed and afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; he was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth” (vv.2-7)

Who is this? Who was this man of whom Isaiah was writing about? He did not know, and many still do not know, but God was merciful to this African. The God of the Bible (the God of Revelation) is also the God of Providence. In other words he guides favoured men and women to the Bible, and he also leads them to people who help them understand the Bible and he leads these teachers to them. He puts solitary people in the family of faith and the household of the people of God. None of us is allowed to be a loner. None of us can afford to be a loner. He puts us under elders and pastors and teachers and counselors. Their purpose is to explain to us the book of Isaiah – and all the books of the Bible. God does not expect us to walk along the lone prairie with a Bible in our saddle bags as lone rangers. He does not promise that any one of us is strong enough to cope without the means he has appointed of being made stronger, and that is by men explaining and preaching the word of God to us, officially in the Sunday services and then just as important, in private conversations answering our questions. We are intended to grow with others, and mature alongside others. That is how it is with every Christian here. We owe very much to other men and women who know God. So it was to be with this African.

3. WHO WAS THIS MAN WHOM GOD BROUGHT INTO HIS LIFE?

God brought Philip – he had been a deacon in the church and then displayed some evangelistic gifts and had been set aside to preach the gospel in resistant Samaria where hundred of people had come to know God through what he said to them. But God values one solitary person very highly, and so he indicated to Philip that his work in Samaria had ended and that he had to go down a road through the desert. He did not tell him why but Philip obeyed and as he was found himself there, in the middle of nowhere, hanging about wondering if this was where God wanted him to be, little traffic moving up and down the road, he saw coming towards him a chariot and soldiers approaching. He heard the sound of a man speaking, and soon he realized that he was reading the Bible and that he knew the words. “That is Isaiah 53,” he thought and he was fascinated at this providence. He approached the chariot where a man was seated reading aloud these verses, and so he asked him if he understood what he was reading. The African said that he couldn’t because there was no one to explain the passage to him. Who was the writer talking about, asked the African, himself or someone else? We are told, “Then Philip began with that very passage of Scripture and told him the good news about Jesus” (v.35). That is what I do every Sunday.

i] Philip explained to the African the great problem of man’s sin and lostness from this passage in Isaiah 53: “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way,” (v.6). We say that “we think of God like this . . . and we think that we should believe these things, and live like this and do that.” Every one has made up his own mind and turned to his own way. We have strayed this way and that way.

ii] Philip explained to him from Isaiah 53 what God has done to save man from this burden of guilt and confusion. He has laid on his Son, Jesus of Nazareth, our iniquity. He has extracted from our account all the blame that is attached to us for what we have done, how we answer to him for every bit of our guilt and shame, and God has imputed that to Jesus whom he has made the Lamb of God.

So we are saved from judgment by what Jesus Christ has done for us. That is the good news that Philip preached to this Ethiopian. “So,” he said, “Isaiah the prophet was writing about what happened in recent months in Jerusalem at the crucifixion of Jesus, the Son of God?” “Yes,” said Philip. “How can God have a Son?” And Philip explained to him from Genesis one, “Let US make man in our image” and the figure that appeared to the patriarchs and to Samson’s parents and to Joshua before Jericho who was certainly an awesome angel, and yet he was more than an angel, one whom Abraham called ‘Lord.’ David also said that the Lord spoke to his Lord. There was a Lord with the Lord. Isaiah had said – and the African would have noticed this in the early chapters of Isaiah, that this Messiah would come one day, born of a virgin, and his name would be called Wonderful Counsellor, the Mighty God, the Everlasting Father and the Prince of Peace. He is the Mighty God with Jehovah God. Two different persons but one God.

Because he was God his sacrifice makes infinite and immeasurable atonement for our sins. Let all the world come to God by his Son, in the name of his Son, and ask for forgiveness and cleansing through Jesus Christ, and not one will be turned aside. All will be pardoned. Their sins, though red as crimson will become as white as snow. God can do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think.

That was the good news he told the African, and that he could get the benefit of all that Christ had done by trusting in him, being joined to him by faith, giving himself – all that he was – to all that Jesus is, the great teacher who will tell us how to live, the great Lamb of God whose sacrifice can wash the foulest clean, and the Mighty King who will work all things together for our good and protect us for ever. You can be joined to him when you put your trust in him, when you believe that he is the Son of God and you are going to follow him all your days. Then you say, “I am going to be yours for ever,” and you are joined to Jesus Christ, you in him and he in you for evermore.

4. HOW HE WAS BAPTIZED.

Then you show that you are his by being baptized. We know that Philip said this to the African because when he stopped speaking to him the Ethiopian was silent for a while and then he said to him, “Look here is water, why shouldn’t I be baptized?” No reason said Philip if you believe in your heart and confess with your lips that Jesus Christ is God then you should be baptized.

What is the meaning of baptism? Union with God the Father, Son and the Holy Spirit . . . Confession of our need to be washed of our scarlet sins . . . Receiving from God an additional confirmation that as really as the water embraces you that you have been embraced body soul and spirit by the loving God . . . This baptism is the ordained testimony you make to the church and the watching world that God is your Saviour.

So both Philip and the African went down into the water together and Philip baptized him with the eyes of all his servants on him. They returned to Ethiopia with their master with all their tales of everything they’d experienced on their journey along the Nile and through Egypt and north to Jerusalem, but the most incredible part of the whole journey was when their master, the Chancellor of the Exchequer for Ethiopia, took Jesus Christ as his God and Saviour and was baptized by a Christian preacher who almost immediately afterwards disappeared as suddenly as he had arrived, but their Master was a new person and all the way back to Africa he had an abundance of joy that they had never seen in him before, nor in anyone else, and many of them wanted to have what he’d received and be change for the better like him.

There is no reason why any or all of you shouldn’t receive this spirit of joy. It is inseparable from Christ. Take him in whom all the fulness of joy is found and you too will know the joy of knowing God, and knowing forgiveness, and knowing reality, and knowing a purpose in life and know this wonderful Friend, Jesus Christ, to be your friend for evermore.