Now an angel of the Lord said to Philip, “Go south to the road—the desert road—that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.” So he started out, and on his way he met an Ethiopian eunuch, an important official in charge of all the treasury of the Kandake (which means “queen of the Ethiopians”). This man had gone to Jerusalem to worship, and on his way home was sitting in his chariot reading the Book of Isaiah the prophet. The Spirit told Philip, “Go to that chariot and stay near it.” Then Philip ran up to the chariot and heard the man reading Isaiah the prophet. “Do you understand what you are reading?” Philip asked. “How can I,” he said, “unless someone explains it to me?” So he invited Philip to come up and sit with him. This is the passage of Scripture the eunuch was reading: “He was led like a sheep to the slaughter, and as a lamb before its shearer is silent, so he did not open his mouth. In his humiliation he was deprived of justice. Who can speak of his descendants? For his life was taken from the earth.” [Isaiah 53:7,8]. The eunuch asked Philip, “Tell me, please, who is the prophet talking about, himself or someone else?” Then Philip began with that very passage of Scripture and told him the good news about Jesus. As they traveled along the road, they came to some water and the eunuch said, “Look, here is water. What can stand in the way of my being baptized?” And he gave orders to stop the chariot. Then both Philip and the eunuch went down into the water and Philip baptized him. When they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord suddenly took Philip away, and the eunuch did not see him again, but went on his way rejoicing. Philip, however, appeared at Azotus and traveled about, preaching the gospel in all the towns until he reached Caesarea. Acts 8:26-40
I am not a baseball fan and I will definitely not wade into the whole MLB debate and debacle about boycotts and voting rights, but there is a baseball concept that comes into today’s passage. My rudimentary baseball understanding is that a “closer” is a pitcher that is brought in toward the end of a game to win the game. This pitcher apparently is not usually the best or most valued pitcher but they have the right skills at the right time to “close the deal”. Philip is the “closer” for the God and the Holy Spirit in this story.
The main character of today’s passage is really the Holy Spirit, with Philip and an Ethiopian Eunuch in strong supporting roles. Philip has been sent out by the disciples to share the Good News about Jesus. Crucial to this witnessing are the insights and promptings provided by the Holy Spirit. The passage begins with the Holy Spirit prompting Philip to “Go south to the road—the desert road—that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.” There is no indication that Philip knew why he was prompted to do this only that he was supposed to go and find out along the way. This is faithful following at its finest, striking out because we feel led to do so even before we know where or why we are going.
The scene then shifts to the Ethiopian Eunuch who was apparently a very important and respected person in charge of treasures and wealth. His is apparently a wondering soul because he was on his way back from worshiping in Jerusalem. I am not sure how common it was for a person who was not Jewish to travel to Jerusalem to worship. It seems like it was probably not a common thing, but I could be wrong. In any case the Ethiopian Eunuch was clearly a curious God seeker who was looking for answers to some big questions. God was reaching through time, and the words of Isaiah, to speak to this Ethiopian man (I am going to drop the eunuch part as it seems somewhat unfair to define the man in this way).
Along comes Philip, the closer, listening intently to the Holy Spirit to figure out why he is supposed to be on the road from Jerusalem to Gaza. The Spirit tells Philip “Go to that chariot and stay near it.” The account is not specific about the way the Spirit communicated with Philip so we do not know if this was an audible voice, an inner sense, or merely a decision that Philip made which he later understood to be prompted by the Holy Spirit. I am not sure it really matters.
Philip got close enough to the Ethiopian’s chariot to overhear him reading this passage from Isaiah: “He was led like a sheep to the slaughter, and as a lamb before its shearer is silent, so he did not open his mouth. In his humiliation he was deprived of justice. Who can speak of his descendants? For his life was taken from the earth.” I reflected on this passage in Isaiah back on November 19, 2015 in a post entitled “Pierced for our Transgressions”.
The Ethiopian is wondering who this passage is talking about and Philip helps him to understand that Jesus is the man described in the prophecy. Clearly God had been at work in this man’s heart and soul for some time before Philip showed up to “close the deal”.
The Ethiopian’s is ready to commemorate his conversion right away by being baptized with water. This outward act of an inner change has been common practice since John began doing it by the Jordan River. Philip has the privilege and honor of baptizing this unnamed Ethiopian man then is whisked away by the Holy Spirit.
I have to be honest here the last part about the spirit miraculously whisking him away seems overly dramatic and out of sync with the rest of the story. It is certainly within God’s power to transport Philip away like this, but it seems unnecessary and a bit like showing off. As if the repentance and recovery of a lost sheep is not miracle enough. I could be totally wrong but this just seems like decorating the altar to me. Almost as if the author felt the need to make Philip more supernatural and spiritual.
It would have been just as meaningful to me, perhaps more so, if the author had described Philip hugging the Ethiopian and walking off down the road to other Holy Spirit inspired encounters.
Prayer: God help us to listen and look intently for where the Holy Spirit leads.