Many preachers preach on subjects that are mysteries to them so that what is passed on helps no one to learn God’s plan or explain His care for people on the rocky road of life. This is disappointing. Mysteries do exist and maybe more often in the complex book of the Bible. The book of the Acts of the Apostles is filled with the things that the Apostles did after Jesus he ascended. The beginning of the end of the Jewish Nation as a chosen people was being replaced by a new beginning under the reign of Christ. Every story teaches the how, when and why that the gospel message was taught to the whole world of that time. Each encounter, miraculous or not, shows a man teaching the lost a better way of life through following Jesus.
The story in the book of Acts which describes the salvation of the Ethiopian eunuch at the preaching of Philip is one of the most impressive and obvious descriptions of what is essential to salvation by Jesus Christ and what is not. In chapter 8 of the book, starting at verse 26 and following to the end of the chapter, we can read that Philip was called by the an angel of God (a miraculous manifestation) to go to a road, south of Jerusalem that goes to Gaza. It is called a desert road meaning the road was deserted of traffic; not a hot and dry road.
There Philip met a man of high rank, riding in his chariot. This is not a military chariot. The man is in charge of the treasury of the Queen of the Ethiopians and has a driver who at one point was commanded to stop the cart at a place where there was water (v 38). The eunuch had a copy of Isaiah. This copy was very expensive as printing by press had not yet mass produced the books we enjoy today and this copy had to have been done by hand, typically by a Jewish scribe. Very expensive. The man was a eunuch indicating he had been castrated for service in the Queen’s court. This meant he did not have not sexual urges, nor could he be tempted to engage in sexual activity.
He was returning from Jerusalem where he had worshipped. Most likely, this was a Jewish feast, but which one is not mentioned. He was a proselyte to Judaism. Philip heard him reading Isaiah. He was invited up to explain the meaning of the passage, which read:
“As a sheep led to the slaughter
or a lamb before its shearer is dumb,
so he opens not his mouth.
In his humiliation justice was denied him.
Who can describe his generation?
For his life is taken up from the earth.”
This convert to Judaism asked the devout Jewish man, now to become a disciple of Christ, “About whom, pray, does the prophet say this, about himself or about someone else?” To this Philip, starting with this scripture, told him of the life and death and resurrection of the Christ. As he preached this “good news” about God’s sacrifice for sins the Eunuch noted water near the road, where he too could be baptized (immersed). This was an ancient Jewish custom for ritual purification especially for those going into the Temple to present themselves before God. This custom was adopted by Jesus as the means by which his disciples could identify with him in his death (a burial in water) and rise to a new life as His disciple (see Romans 6:1-6). It was a ritual of purification, the point when sins of the soul were removed by God (Acts 2:38, 22:16) once for all time (Hebrews 10:11-14). For the early movement of Christ, this act of submission was a personal appeal to God for a clean conscious (1 Peter 3:21).
The preaching of Jesus by Philip clearly included this kind of information about baptism in water. The Eunuch was obviously convinced that by this act, a transformation of life could be obtained. By this act he would once for all time be cleansed by the power of the blood of the crucified Son and inherit eternal life (John 5:24, 6:27, 6:47, Rom. 6:22), For a man must be ‘born again’ of water and the spirit before he can see the kingdom of God (John 4:4-6).
When he and Philip entered the water, he was immersed. Philip was caught up in a miraculous manifestation of the Spirit of God. The eunuch was left behind but went on his way with joy.
The story is not a mystery in any sense. The urgency God has for those who love him and want to hear him is revealed in the story. The need for people, not angels, to preach this message is taught. The gospel message was about the death of the Messiah whose blood was the payment for human sins. This message was not complete without the teaching of the importance and validity of the role of baptism in the life of those who want Christ as a Savior. The immediate need to immerse those who were convicted of their sins and at the same time offered the joy of eternal life is clear in this brief story. The joy experienced by the eunuch after his baptism reveals his understanding of what this symbolic act meant for his relationship with God.
What is not taught in the story is that the joy of the eunuch did not come from church attendance, contributions, Sunday worship or even fellowship. Valuable as these are to the complete New Testament story, they are the icing on the cake of personal salvation. The message was not about which church to join or what sins had been committed by the man. No one voted him into God’s fellowship. No one cared whether what remained of his manhood was circumcised or not. What is not taught in the story is the need for penance, purgatory, church buildings, preachers, elders or business meetings. A man became a Christ follower through the simple act of contrition and submission to the foolish act of being immersed in water for the forgiveness of his sins. A ritual cleansing occurred and at that moment, in the mind of God, this man’s sins were forgiven and he was guaranteed eternal life.
Can anyone read this story and not grasp the clarity of the Bible’s teaching on what the gospel message included in the early days of the start of the New Testament? Is it really a mystery that God wants willing souls to be part of the kingdom? Can anyone deny the need for baptism in the name of Christ in order to know the joy that passes understanding? No mystery here. Only the simple pure message of a soul redeemed by his Creator. Can anything be simpler than that? Who could read this story and say it is a mystery?
This is the message we have read and this is the message you have heard, if you are willing!