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Acts 8:26-40 – A Believer’s Baptism

The Book of Acts is filled with many wonderful stories of how God worked in the lives of people. At the beginning, the disciples were afraid but, after they received the Holy Spirit, they were empowered to preach the good news of Jesus to many people. Thousands of people believed and were publicly baptized. There was some opposition to this but the persecution that followed only caused the gospel to be spread into the rest of the world. One such case involved a believer named Philip. He was one of the original deacons in the church at Jerusalem. After some time, he began preaching about Jesus in other places. In Acts 8:5-8,12, we find that he had been preaching the gospel to the people of Samaria. It was a wonderful time when many believed and were baptized.

After such a great ministry, God decided to move Philip to another place—an unexpected place—so that another person could hear about Jesus and be saved. We read about this in Acts 8:26-40.

  1. What does it say?

    Philip met the eunuch (Acts 8:26-31).

    An angel of the Lord told Philip to go down to the desert road between Jerusalem and Gaza. Philip obeyed and went to that location. An Ethiopian eunuch who was the treasurer for Candace was returning from his trip to Jerusalem for worship. As he sat in his chariot, he read from the prophecy of Isaiah. It was at this time that the Spirit of God told Philip to run to the chariot. Philip ran to the chariot and heard the eunuch reading Isaiah. He asked the man if he understood what he was reading. The eunuch said, “How can I unless someone guides me?” He then asked Philip to sit with him in the chariot.

    Philip preached Jesus to the eunuch (Acts 8:32-35).

    The eunuch had been reading the part of Isaiah that talks about someone being led as a sheep to be slaughtered. The lamb was like a silent sheep being sheared and did not open his mouth. He was humiliated and didn’t receive justice. Who would declare his generation since his life was taken away? The eunuch asked Philip if Isaiah was writing about himself or some other man. Philip used the opportunity to preach about Jesus.

    Philip baptized the believing eunuch (Acts 8:36-40).

    As they traveled down the road, the eunuch saw some water. He pointed it out and asked Philip what would keep him from being baptized. Philip told him he could be baptized if he truly believed. The eunuch stated that he believed that Jesus Christ is the Son of God. He then called for the chariot to be stopped. Then the two of them went into the water where Philip baptized him. When they came up out of the water, the Spirit took Philip away and the eunuch left with joy. Philip was later seen at Azotus. He preached in all the cities between there and Caesarea.

  2. What does it mean?

    The Bible shows how God is working behind the scenes.

    There are two people and two situations that come together with God’s perfect timing.

    First, God was working in the heart of the Ethiopian eunuch. He had traveled to Jerusalem for worship. Presumably, he was a Jew who lived in Ethiopia or a proselyte to Judaism. Whatever the case, he was “a man seeking God [who] had come to Jerusalem for help and had failed to find any. Now he is going home, still seeking, searching the Scriptures.”1

    Second, God was working in the heart of Philip the evangelist. If you read the beginning of the chapter, you will find that Philip had been preaching about Jesus in Samaria. Many people had believed and been baptized. God chose to send this successful evangelist “down to a desert. He is to leave the place where there has been a great moving of the Spirit of God and go into a place, a desert, where there is nobody. However, when he gets there, he finds that God does have someone to whom he is to witness.”2

    This should be encouraging to everyone. God is at work behind the scenes in the lives of unbelievers and believers. He was actively working in the life of the eunuch to prepare him to hear about Jesus, believe in Him, and be baptized. God cares about people and prepares their hearts ahead of time. He was also actively involved in Philip’s life. He had given him many opportunities to preach the good news of Jesus in other places so that he would be prepared to do so with this man. God was at work, behind the scenes, to accomplish what was needed.

    The Bible points us to Jesus.

    When Philip arrives, the Ethiopian eunuch is reading the prophecy of Isaiah. It appears that he was reading it aloud and that Philip recognized what he was reading. The Spirit tells Philip to run up to the chariot. So Philip runs up to the chariot and says, “Do you understand what you are reading?” The eunuch was honest. “How can I understand unless someone guides me?” It is at this point that the eunuch invites Philip to sit with him in the chariot. I presume that the chariot was more like a carriage or wagon big enough for them and the driver to sit in with no difficulty.

    What was the eunuch reading? He was reading from Isaiah 53. This is a chapter that very specifically describes what happened to Jesus when he died on the cross for our sins. In that chapter, Isaiah tells us that Jesus would be rejected and despised. But it goes on to say that Jesus would be wounded to pay for our transgressions. Even though we are like sheep that go astray, the Lord laid our iniquities on Him instead of us. And he did all of this without complaining.

    This was the perfect setup for giving the gospel. Philip started with the verses the eunuch couldn’t understand and then preached Jesus to him. While we are not told what exactly he told him, he must have told him about Jesus dying on the cross, paying the price for our sins, that He was buried and rose again.

    Isaiah 53:4-5 – “Surely He has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed Him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities; the chastisement for our peace was upon Him, and by His stripes we are healed.”

    And when you see the eunuch’s eventual request to be baptized, it seems apparent that Philip also talked about the need for personal faith in Jesus and the public response of being baptized.

    The point here is that Philip showed the Ethiopian eunuch the truth about Jesus from the Bible. The Old Testament part of the Bible was designed to prepare people for the coming of Jesus. If you keep your eyes open, you will see Jesus often in the Old Testament. You can find Him in Genesis, in the sacrifices required in the law, in the psalms of David, and in the prophesies. God designed the Old Testament to point us to Jesus. Do you see that?

    The Bible shows that baptism is for believers.

    After hearing Philip’s explanation about Jesus from the Bible, the Ethiopian eunuch asked what would keep him from being baptized right then. Philip’s response is interesting. He told the man that he could be baptized if he believed with his whole heart. Why did he say this? If you look back at the beginning of the chapter, you will see that a sorcerer believed and was baptized but later offered money to be able to give people God’s Holy Spirit. “Philip had an experience with Simon the sorcerer up there in Samaria. He is not about to have a repetition of that. When this man asks for water baptism, Philip wants to be very sure that he believes with all his heart.”3

    This is an important thing to remember when we think about baptism. It is only for believers. There is nowhere in the Bible where baptism is offered to someone who is not a believer. Why is this? It is because baptism is not a magical rite that gives you something. No, it is a public statement showing what has already taken place in your heart. This is why Philip wanted to be sure that the eunuch truly believed. If not, it would not be appropriate. Baptism is only for those who have believed.

  3. How does it apply?

    Make yourself available for God’s work.

    It is wonderful to see how God used Philip at just the right time to lead this man to faith in Jesus. Because he listened to God’s leading and obeyed, he was at the right place at the right time and was able to preach the truth to someone who was ready to receive it. If he had refused to go (like Jonah) or had argued with God (like Ananias), God would have sent someone else. But he did go and was used by God.

    What about you? Are you willing to be used by God whenever and wherever He desires? Some Christians are afraid that if they make themselves available to God, to do whatever is needed, that they will be sent to the dark jungles of Africa where they will be eaten by lions or large snakes. Why is it that we jump to the worst possible conclusion when we think about surrendering ourselves to God’s will? Maybe He just wants you to talk to someone. Maybe He just wants you to hand someone a gospel tract to someone. Why don’t you start with that? Make yourself available to God in the little things and trust Him to put you in the right place at the right time.

    Make Bible study an important part of your life.

    One of the things that our passage makes clear is that Philip had a good understanding of what the Bible says about Jesus. He had been listening. He had been reading. He had been meeting with the church on a regular basis. And that personal Bible study came in handy when he had the opportunity to explain Jesus to the Ethiopian eunuch.

    How about you? Are you making Bible study a big part of your life? If you want to know what God says, if you want to know the truth, and if you want to be useful to the Lord, you will need to study the Bible. Learn what God says, what it means, and how it applies. When you do that, you will grow in your knowledge and become closer to the Lord. Now this doesn’t mean that you must have the whole Bible memorized or even know exactly where everything is at all times. But as you study the Bible and learn more about God, you will grow in your confidence because you will know the truth. Make the time to study the Bible this week.

    Make a public statement about your faith.

    In our passage, the Ethiopian eunuch wanted to be baptized. He had believed in Jesus and wanted others to notice it. No doubt, there were a number of soldiers and chariots with him at the time. As he and Philip went into the water, all of them would have been watching. When Philip immersed him under the water, they would have wondered what was going on. What was going on?

    Baptism is a public statement of a person’s faith in Jesus. It is a way of saying that you have repented of your sin and have put your faith in Christ. When someone is immersed in the water it is a symbol of what has already happened. The person has died to their old way of life and have risen with Christ to a new life in Him.

    How about you? Have you made that public statement of your repentance and faith by being baptized? If you are a Christian, this is something that you should do. When you stand in front of friends and family and profess your faith in Christ, you are stating publicly what God had already done in your life. This is a great thing to do because it shows what God had done for you.

Conclusion

After Philip baptized the Ethiopian eunuch, the Spirit caught him away and sent him to another place. But the eunuch still went on his way with great joy. He was happy because of all that God had done in his life that day. Today, we have an opportunity to experience great joy as well. In just a moment, a believer will join me at the front to be baptized. She will be sharing her faith in Jesus publicly for all to see. And for that we are very thankful.

Bibliography

Custer, Stewart, Witness to Christ A Commentary on Acts, Greenville: BJU Press, 2000.

Kent, Homer A., Jerusalem to Rome – Studies in Acts, Grand Rapids: Baker, 2000, orig. 1972.

McGee, J. Vernon, Thru the Bible with J. Vernon McGee, Vol. 4, Matthew through Romans, Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1983.

Toussaint, Stanley D., “Acts” in The Bible Knowledge Commentary New Testament, USA: SP Publications, 1983.

Footnotes

  1. Custer 112. ↩︎
  2. McGee 546. ↩︎
  3. McGee 547. ↩︎