As is often the case, God's providence turns trials into triumphs. In spite of the persecution inflicted upon the early disciples of Christ by Saul of Tarsus (Acts 8:1-3), the scattering (diaspora) of the saints resulted in the propagation of the gospel of Christ : those who had been scattered went about preaching the word (Acts 8:4). In par-ticular, Philip went down to the city of Samaria and began proclaiming Christ to them (Acts 8:5). Dr. Luke notes in Acts 8:12 - - when they believed Philip preaching the good news about the kingdom of God, they were being baptized, men and women alike. The heat of tribulation in Jerusalem stirred up cool waters of baptism in unexpected places.
From Samaria, an angel of the Lord directed Philip to go south to the road that descended from Jerusalem to Gaza (Acts 8:26). Although it was a desert road it provided a important meeting place for one-on-one evangelism. At this juncture Philip encountered an Ethiopian (the treasurer for the queen Candace). As he was returning home in his carriage he was reading aloud from the scroll of Isaiah. Philip's respectful question, Do you understand what you are reading? (Acts 8:30) led to a Bible study which forever altered the life of the Ethiopian. Extra-Biblical sources tell how the treasurer returned to his home land and began teaching others about Jesus on the continent of Africa.
Many sub points in this narrative are remarkable, but one stands out that is worth noting very carefully. In receiving Philip, the treasurer asked Philip (Acts 8:34), Of whom does the prophet say this? Of himself, or of someone else? The text then states: Beginning from this Scripture he preached Jesus to him (Acts 8:35). The portion of Isaiah that had baffled the treasurer is found in Isaiah chapter fifty-three. It is the prophecy of “a suffering servant” upon whom the Lord has caused the iniquity of us all to fall on Him (Isa.53:6ff). It is the story of Jesus becoming sin on our behalf (2Cor.5:21. Without interruption we read in the very next verse (Acts 8:36) - - as they went along the road they came to some water; and the eunuch said, 'Look! Water! What prevents me from being baptized? As a reader we must ask, “Who brought up the subject of baptism?” We are led to conclude that as Philip told the story of Jesus he punctuated it with a call to be baptized! Any fair interpreter can see clearly that nothing else makes sense.
The proclamation of Jesus is more than a history lesson. The preaching of Jesus comes with a piercing hook in that it demands a decision on the part of the one hearing the gospel preached. Baptism open the door to a new and living way, allowing all who are willing to become a part of His-story. In baptism we become planted in Jesus. Jesus' way of life (the emptying of self) becomes our way of life. Paul description of Jesus (cf. Philp.2:5ff) becomes a model for us to follow as we choose to die with Christ in the watery grave of baptism thereby rising to walk in newness of life (cf. Rom.6:3ff). The treasurer understood the proclamation of the gospel clearly and promptly professed his faith in Christ and was baptized (Acts 8:37-38). HOW HAVE YOU RESPONDED TO THE PREACHING OF JESUS?
Terry Siverd / Cortland Church of Christ