Recent events have made it fashionable to jump on the “Black Lives Matter” bandwagon. However, Scripture tells us the real reason why it is not only black lives who matter, but it is all lives who matter.
The eighth chapter of Acts gives us the account of Philip and the Ethiopian eunuch. The nameless eunuch was a government official serving the African queen Candace (1) as treasurer. It is likely this eunuch, who had gone to Jerusalem to worship and was reading the Scriptures while returning to his homeland, was a convert to Judaism.
It’s a long trip from Jerusalem to Ethiopia, so the eunuch had plenty of time to read. As he read through the scroll of the prophet Isaiah, he likely came across this passage: “And it shall come to pass in that day, that the Lord shall set his hand again the second time to recover the remnant of his people, which shall be left, from Assyria, and from Egypt, and from Pathros, and from Cush (Ethiopia), and from Elam, and from Shinar, and from Hamath, and from the islands of the sea.” (Isaiah 11:11) The eunuch no doubt longed for the day when God would gather in His people that were scattered over the face of the earth. But how would God accomplish this?
As he continued to read, the Holy Spirit told Philip (2) to go near his chariot, where he heard the eunuch reading from Isaiah 53, the famous “Suffering Servant” passage. The eunuch did not understand to whom the prophet was referring, so he humbly asked Philip to explain this to him. Philip, beginning at that very passage, taught that Isaiah referred to the Messiah, Jesus. What themes are found in that passage, and in the following chapters, that would have been meaningful to the eunuch?
Philip begins at Isaiah 53:7, and the rest of the chapter explains why the LORD’s Servant must suffer. Jesus would be struck down for transgression of the Lord’s people (v. 8). As “an offering for sin” (v. 10), He would bear the sin of many (v. 11). If the eunuch was a convert to Judaism, he would have understood the concept of sin and his own state as a sinner. It is also possible he understood the Levitical sacrificial system, so, in this case, he would have understood the need for a sacrifice to bear the penalty for sin. Even though he understood the things Philip explained to him, he still had some obstacles that had to be overcome.
First, under the Old Covenant, Gentiles were excluded from the community of God’s people. Yet Isaiah 54:3 promises “thy seed shall inherit the Gentiles.” In addition, verse 5 praises the Lord for not only redeeming Israel, but for being the “God of the whole earth.” By His work as the Suffering Servant, Jesus redeemed Israel and his tent will be enlarged to include the Gentiles (read v. 1-5). They will be “grafted into” the covenant people of God.(3) Philip had solved one of the eunuch’s obstacles, but the man still has another problem unique to his condition.
At the end of their conversation, the eunuch asks, “See, here is water; what doth hinder me to be baptized?” (v. 36) Where did he learn about baptism? A similar ceremony is found in Judaism so it’s possible he learned it from there, but it’s also possible he learned it from Philip as he exposited Isaiah 54 to the eager eunuch. Verse nine mentions the waters of Noah. In the NT and in the early church, the Flood was used to symbolize baptism.(4) It represented our escaping the “waters” of the wrath of God through Jesus Christ, our Ark. This metaphor of the Flood also carries with it the kindness and the covenant faithfulness of God, for just as He made a covenant with Noah that He would never flood the earth again,(5) so has He made a covenant with Jesus to be merciful to Him and by extension, all who are in Him.(6) Finally, Isaiah 54:8-10 speaks of the stability and immutability of God’s promises.
Repentance is inseparable from and inherent in baptism. Note that John the Baptist’s baptism was called a baptism of repentance.(7) Isaiah 55 includes a couple of calls to repentance and salvation.(8) Philip would have preached to him repentance and faith unto salvation, the outward symbol of which was baptism.
That brings me to the second obstacle the Ethiopian eunuch had to overcome: the fact that he was a eunuch. According to Deuteronomy 23:1, eunuchs were banned from the congregation of the Lord. The eunuch no doubt knew this and likely felt that even though he was a convert to Judaism – or at least a God-fearing Gentile – he could never be a full-fledged member of God’s covenant community. He could never truly belong. That’s where Philip gives him the good news. Isaiah 56:3-8 promises that the faithful eunuch will not be cut off and will be given a name better than sons and daughters. Even though he couldn’t physically sire children, the blessing inherent in the New Covenant is infinitely better! He will have a seat on God’s holy mountain and rejoice with His people Israel. This man, who had his male organ cut off, and was therefore cut off from the congregation of Israel under the Old Covenant, has now been grafted into the people of God and given a name that shall not be cut off. Imagine his joy at receiving such news! Is it any wonder why he was so eager to be baptized?! He had just believed in Jesus the Messiah of Israel and been accepted into the covenant people of God!
“Eunuchs…who manifest saving faith by their godly life are assured eternal life and a glory far more significant than that of a long line of descendants.” ~Wycliffe Bible Commentary, p. 649
The new spiritual Kingdom inaugurated by the death of Christ welcomes people from all nations.
“The eunuch also, who cannot produce seed, nevertheless is not to permit this fact to discourage him, for it will not exclude him from God’s kingdom. According to Deuteronomy 23:1 eunuchs were excluded from God’s assembly. Isaiah is not ignorant of this law nor is he endeavoring willfully to disqualify it. In pointing to the Messianic age, however, his prophecy transcends the restrictions that the civil law of the Israelites had imposed…No personal disabilities will exclude one from God’s kingdom.” ~The Book of Isaiah, A Commentary by Edward J. Young, Vol. 3, p. 391
Church history tells us what the eunuch did after this encounter.
“This man was also sent into the regions of Ethiopia, to preach what he had himself believed, that there was one God preached by the prophets, but that the Son of this [God] had already made [His] appearance in human nature, and had been led as a sheep to the slaughter; and all the other statements which the prophets made regarding Him.” ~Irenaeus, Against Heresies, Book III.12.8
“While the saving message spread day by day, some providence brought from Ethiopia an officer of the queen, for that nation is still traditionally ruled by a woman. He was the first Gentile to receive the divine Word from Philip by revelation and the first to return to his native land and preach the Gospel. Through him the prophecy was actually fulfilled that states, “Ethiopia shall [soon] stretch out its hands to God” (Ps. 68:31). ~Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History, Book 2.1
The eunuch took the Gospel to Ethiopia, the site of the first great church in Northern Africa. Because he took the Gospel to the continent of Africa, we can thank him for early Church fathers like Tertullian, Cyprian of Carthage, and Athanasius (AKA the “black dwarf”), who worked tirelessly to defend the doctrine of the Trinity. Several early churches claim him as their founder.
Because of the redemptive work of Christ, every life matters!
(1) pronounced Kan-dak-ay
(2) the “deacon” from Acts 6, and an evangelist later in Acts 21
(3) Romans 11:17
(4) see 1 Peter 3:18-22
(5) Genesis 9:9-17
(6) see 2 Sam. 7:8-16, Eph. 1:4-12
(7) see Mark 1:4, Luke 3:3, Acts 13:24 and 19:4
(8) verses 1-3 and 6-7