At first, Philip wondered why he was here. It was not a place anyone in his right mind would choose to be. It was hot. It was dry. It was the road from Jerusalem to Gaza.
He had finished his work in Samaria, and an angel of God had told him, “Arise, and go toward the south unto the way that goeth down from Jerusalem unto Gaza, which is desert.” So, here he was, and there was nothing in sight but a chariot and its travel party. By its markings, the chariot was Ethiopian.
About this time, something told him, “Go near, and join yourself to this chariot.” As he approached the chariot, he saw a man – obviously an Ethiopian of some importance – reading from a scroll. As Philip got closer, he could hear, much to his astonishment, that the man was reading aloud from the prophet Isaiah. As he walked up to the chariot, he heard these words:
He was led as a sheep to the slaughter; and like a lamb dumb before his shearer, so opened he not his mouth: In his humiliation his judgment was taken away: and who shall declare his generation? For his life is taken from the earth.
By this time, all doubt about why he was here had vanished. He spoke to the Ethiopian and asked, “Do you understand what you are reading?” The Ethiopian replied, “How can I unless some man guide me. Would you care to join me?” When Philip had seated himself in the chariot, the Ethiopian asked, “Please tell me – of whom is the prophet speaking, of himself, or of some other man?” Philip began at that very point in Isaiah, and preached Jesus to the man.
As they continued on their way, possibly hours later, they came to a pool of water. “Look, here is water,” said the Ethiopian. “What hinders me from being baptized?”
Philip’s response is important. He did not put the Ethiopian on six months’ probation. He did not ask about his personal habits or sins. There was no discussion of his work or his role in the palace of the Ethiopian queen. Philip set forth only one requirement: “If thou believest with all thine heart, thou mayest” (Acts 8:37).
What did Philip tell him about Jesus, and what did he ask him to believe? The scripture they were discussing was Isaiah 53:7-8. The Ethiopian had wanted to know who the prophet was speaking about – what was the antecedent of “he.” Philip plainly understood it to be Jesus, but what did he say to the Ethiopian about Jesus? Philip’s exact words are lost, but the source of his message is not. You can read it for yourself in the 53rd chapter of Isaiah.
It should have been easy for the Ethiopian to read this passage and to uncover the antecedent of “he.” It was “my servant” of chapter 52, verse 13. The problem was that most Jewish readers would have assumed that the prophetic “servant” of God was the Messiah. But he had heard that the Messiah was to be a conquering king, not a suffering servant – and the “servant” of Isaiah 53 does suffer. He was to be disfigured, He was to be a man of sorrows (margin: pain) and acquainted with grief (margin: sickness). He was to be wounded, bruised, and to have stripes laid on his back.
There can be no doubt that Philip believed that the “suffering servant” of Isaiah was none other than Jesus Christ. From this it is easy to reconstruct what Philip told the Ethiopian and what he expected the man might believe. Philip told him that Jesus was indeed the expected Messiah, but that the Messiah would suffer and die for our sins. He recounted for the Ethiopian how Jesus was despised and rejected of men, how He had lived a sinless life, and yet had become sin for us. He explained what it meant for the Lord to lay on Jesus the sins of us all.
While the Ethiopian had probably heard of baptism, he could have no idea of the meaning of Christian baptism. Philip could have explained to him that baptism is the Christian’s acceptance of the death of Christ, that baptism symbolizes a burial and resurrection, that the would-be Christian is baptized into Christ’s death, and that just as we come up out of the waters of baptism, so we shall come up out of the grave on the great day of the resurrection of the dead (Romans 6:1ff). In the waters of baptism, we formally accept the sacrifice of Christ for ourselves – as some would say, we accept Jesus Christ as our personal Savior.
Having heard these things, it naturally follows that, coming to a body of water, the Ethiopian would ask, “Look, here is water. What hinders me from being baptized?”
That day was a window of opportunity for the Ethiopian. It was his “day of salvation.” There was no thought of delaying baptism to another time. He might never in his life have this chance again. There was no time for him to prove anything to Philip – no time for probation, no time for overcoming various faults. There was whole hearted belief in Jesus Christ as the Son of God and Savior, and there was water. For Philip and the Ethiopian, it was enough.
But was it enough for God?
This is not the only place in the Bible where people are told what they must do in response to the Gospel. On the Day of Pentecost (Acts 2), Peter preached a sermon that powerfully convicted his listeners. When they asked, “Men and brethren, what shall we do?”Peter replied, “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:38).
According to Peter, repentance and baptism are required for a man to be forgiven of his sins and to receive the Holy Spirit. But when we think about it, is this any different from what Philip required of the Ethiopian? Was it possible for him to believe “with all his heart” that Jesus had taken his sins upon Him and died in his place without being moved to profound repentance? Could anyone truly believe that Jesus suffered and died in his place and still wish to continue in sin? We aren’t told all that Philip explained to the Ethiopian eunuch, but it is plain that he required no less than Peter.
Like Philip, Peter required no lengthy probation period, no days of fasting and prayer, no overcoming or bearing of fruits. How could he when they baptized 3,000 in one day?
Baptism is an important decision – a turning point in a man’s life. Why did the Apostles baptize people so quickly? What was the rush? Why not take a little time to be sure? Wasn’t there a possibility that some of the people they baptized were not ready?
The answer is simple. Peter and Philip knew that baptism was required for salvation. Jesus had said: “Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature” (Mark 16:15-16). For them, it was not enough that a person nod his head when he heard the Gospel. Even an oral profession of faith would not do. When a man or woman accepted Jesus Christ, he or she had to go under the waters of baptism. If a person had not been baptized, he could not be saved. Eternal life was at stake – why delay?
The Ethiopian eunuch was ready for baptism. What about you?
Here are some things for you to think about:
1) Do you believe that Jesus is the Son of God?
This was the confession offered by the Ethiopian eunuch, and anyone who is ready for baptism will be able to echo it. Jesus was not merely a great teacher. He was not merely a great healer. He was not just another rabbi. He was, quite literally, the only begotten Son of God. You probably think you believe this, but do you, really?
2) Do you believe that you are a sinner?
Paul makes it plain that “All have sinned,” but that doesn’t mean everybody believes it. The simplest definition of sin is found in I John 3:4: “Sin is the transgression of the law.” But this question cannot be answered in the abstract. Does your life bear any of the marks of sin – pain, fear, loneliness, hatred, resentment, sickness, hunger, frustration, depression, or bitterness? Sin is not some mysterious religious idea. It is that collection of things we say, think, feel and do that systematically wreck our lives and the lives of those around us. Most people have heard that the “wages of sin is death,” but they think the penalty is a long way off. You only come to believe you are a sinner when you come to see the results of sin in your life – here and now. If you do not believe you are a sinner, you are not ready for baptism.
3) Are you ashamed of Jesus Christ?
For many, “ashamed” is too strong a word, but they may well be embarrassed by some of the things Christ demands of them. If you are embarrassed by Jesus Christ, then you are not quite ready for baptism. Paul wrote to the Romans:
But what saith it? The word is nigh thee, even in thy mouth, and in thy heart: that is, the word of faith, which we preach; That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved. For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation (Romans 10:8-10).
4) Are you ready to make a commitment to Jesus Christ?
No, I am not asking if you are ready to call him Lord, or to call yourself a Christian. Jesus said, “Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven” (Matthew 7:21). Commitment to Jesus Christ means that you are ready to surrender your life to Him and to live it His way. It means you are ready to make some real changes in the way you live your life. It means you are ready to repent.
5) Are you ready to enter into covenant with Jesus Christ?
On the night of the last supper, Jesus passed around a cup of wine to his disciples and said, “Drink from it, all of you. This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.” When we enter into a covenant, we create a new relationship. This new relationship carries with it certain privileges and obligations. These privileges and obligations are described in some detail in John, chapters 13 through 17. They are summarized in a short formula: “Whatever you ask of me, I will do it. Whatever I ask of you, you must do that.” The new covenant you will make with Jesus Christ is not a one way deal. It carries obligations.
If you can answer these questions, you may be ready for baptism. If you are not ready for baptism, you are in a lot of trouble. This is not merely a religious exercise that you can do or not do. It is not something for you to consider when you get around to it. It is quite literally a matter of life and death. Remember Jesus’ words: “He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned.”
There is no reason for you to wait a day. If it is time to change your life, if it is time for you to make a commitment to Jesus Christ, then today is the day of salvation for you. The Ethiopian did not put it off until another day. Why should you?
If you want to talk about it, write and let us know. There may be someone near you who can help.