Mass conversions to Christ
The first part of this chapter gives us the account of the church spreading to Samaria and of mass conversions to Christ occurring. The growth was through the evangelist Philip’s preaching first and then through the apostles Peter and John.
The Lord now directs Philip to leave that happy scene and go to a lightly traveled road in a desert place. There he encounters an Ethiopian eunuch traveling home in a chariot from Jerusalem. This man was a high court official of the queen of Ethiopia, and he had been to Jerusalem to worship (verses 27-28).
The man is reading the book of Isaiah, and the Lord directs Philip to go over to him. Philip approaches the man and asks, “Do you understand what you are reading?” The man knows he needs help, so he invites Philip to sit with him.
The passage the man was reading was from Isaiah 53, a chapter about the servant of God bearing the iniquity of sinner. Philip begins with the passage in Isaiah and tells him the good news about Jesus (verse 35). The man believes, is baptized, and then continues his journey rejoicing (verse 39).
One of the things we learn here is that evangelism is about the person and work of Christ Jesus. This is taught to us in the Scriptures. Philip explains Scripture to the man. Isaiah 53 points to the suffering and atoning work of Christ on the cross for sinners.
In Isaiah 53:4-5 we read, “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 crushed for our iniquities, upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his stripes we are healed.”
The principle of substitution is plain; he is bearing the guilt of others in their place. Also, it is penal. He is punished not for his own guilt, but the guilt of others. And the guilt of those he dies for is from willful transgression. In verse 6, the prophet says, “We all like sheep have gone astray, each to his own way.” Your “own way” means not God’s way, not the righteous way. So Christ died for sinners.
The Ethiopian man was sinful and knew it. His traveling on a desert highway was indicative of his soul, parched and thirsty. This man rejoices after his baptism, as only a forgiven sinner can rejoice. And he is not alone. Jesus said in Luke 15 that the angels in heaven rejoice over one sinner who repents. They don’t rejoice over men going their own way. They rejoice over one who, knowing his sinful condition, turns to Christ. Do angels rejoice over you?
This joy of coming to Christ is unlike any other joy. It is of the Holy Spirit, so it comes with the light of God’s word. It is a glorious word that shines out of the darkness. It is a pleasant and delightful thing to the soul to behold this light.
In his ministry on earth, Jesus healed many blind men. It is not burdensome to a man to go from years of darkness to having his eyes opened if he can see the grass of the fields, and the heavens above. The soul that comes into an understanding of God’s word discovers the excellency of God and the beauty of Christ the Savior. He sees by faith the light that was hidden to him before.
It is pleasing and refreshing to the soul to give oneself to Christ upon seeing the light of his truth, as it would be for a man locked up in a dark dungeon in chains to be set free and brought out into the world. So too, those escaping from the darkness of the devil’s kingdom can’t but rejoice in entering into the kingdom of God’s beloved Son (Colossians 1).
Thankfulness, humility, and love toward the Lord Jesus for bearing your sin are not miserable to the soul, but are the spring of all happiness. The way of Christ is the best way, and the most pleasing way for your soul. It is a great joy to me to confess my Lord. Whatever my sins may be, I am not ashamed of Jesus, nor do I fear to declare the doctrines of his cross.
The Ethiopian man, on a long journey, found the path of life; the narrow way, but joyful way. Jesus promises to confess before his Father those who confess him in this world.
The Rev. Chris Shelton is the pastor of The First Presbyterian Church of Union.