The Ethiopian Experience
In the book of Acts (recorded by the same author of the gospel of Luke), there is a beautiful little story about an Ethiopian eunuch, who comes to find Jesus. The Ethiopian was an important official by occupation, but by religion he was a faithful Jew who was passionate about reading and understanding the Bible, and as I have found God often makes happen, he became fixated on one passage of Old Testament scripture. The story also involves a Greek Jew who had converted to following Jesus, whose name was Philip.
Have a read of the story below…
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.”
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.
(This story can be found in Acts, chapter 8, verses 26 to 39. Feel free to look it up yourself.)
I love this story – the ernestness of the Ethiopian to understand the Bible, his humility in asking questions, the way it shows that sometimes the Bible can be tricky to understand unless someone explains it to us, and even the miraculous way God’s Spirit leads Philip to be at the right place at the right time and then leave when his job is done. It’s a beautiful story of “the good news about Jesus” being explained to an honest seeker.
Although it’s also frustrating to me. I really wish the conversation between Philip and the Ethiopian had been recorded. Philip seemed to unpack who Jesus was and how he fulfilled the passage the Ethiopian had been reading in such a way that after a little journey, the Ethiopian develops an enthusiasm to be baptised and become a follower of Jesus immediately. He begins as a curious Jew and finishes a Christian who “went on his way rejoicing”.
I guess we will never know exactly what Philip said, but one thing we can do is, like the Ethipian, read that passage of Old Testament prophecy that proved to be so important.
The story tells us that it comes from the writings of the prophet Isaiah and the story includes some of the verses. This is very helpful, because it makes it quite easy to find the passage he was reading – It was Isaiah 53. I have included it below for you to read for yourself. It is a staggering passage when you consider it was written by the Jewish prophet, Isaiah, over 700 years before Jesus came.
I encourage you to read it and think about what it means, what it tells you about Jesus and ultimately, how it applies to you:
“Who has believed our message and to whom has the arm of the LORD been revealed? He grew up before him like a tender shoot, and like a root out of dry ground. He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him. He was despised and rejected by mankind, a man of suffering, and familiar with pain. Like one from whom people hide their faces he was despised, and we held him in low esteem.
Surely he took up our pain and bore our suffering, yet we considered him punished by God, stricken by him, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed.
He was oppressed and afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; He was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before its shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth. By oppressionand judgment he was taken away. Yet who of his generation protested?
For he was cut off from the land of the living; for the transgression of my people he was punished.
He was assigned a grave with the wicked, and with the rich in his death, though he had done no violence, nor was any deceit in his mouth.
Yet it was the LORD’s will to crush him and cause him to suffer, and though the LORD makeshis life a sin offering, he will see his offspring and prolong his days, and the will of the LORD will prosper in his hand.
After he has suffered, he will see the light of lifeand be satisfied; by his knowledgemy righteous servant will justify many, and he will bear their iniquities.
Therefore I will give him a portion among the great,and he will divide the spoils with the strong,because he poured out his life unto death, and was numbered with the transgressors. For he bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors.”
I’d love to give you my thoughts on all that this prophecy tells me about myself and about what the Messaiah was prophecied to do and how Jesus fulfilled all that, but I want you to have your own Ethiopian experience.
If you have questions like the Ethiopian had, I encourage you to ask them and may you find the joy that the Ethiopian found.
If you want some questions to think about for yourself, why not reflect on the following:
- Philip explains that the prophet Isaiah is talking about Jesus. What does Isaiah 53 tell us about Jesus?
- Does the description of the man in Isaiah 53, match your understanding about what happened to Jesus?
- How does Isaiah 53 help us understand what was happening “metaphysically” or “spiritually” when Jesus was being crucified?
- What does Isaiah 53 say about you and me? Do you think it is a fair assessment?
- Philip told the Ethiopian, “the good news about Jesus”. Whether you believe it or not, can you explain what is this news and why it is good?
- How did the Ethiopian respond to this “good news”? Why did he respond that way?
- How should you and I respond to Jesus?
If it helps, I will also leave you with the words of Peter, one of Jesus’ closest companions and the man commissioned by Jesus to look after the first Christians in those early years. He writes to Christians who faced great oppression these words that show he had also thought a great deal about Isaiah 53 and how it relates to Jesus:
If you suffer for doing good and you endure it, this is commendable before God. To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps. “He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in his mouth.” When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly. “He himself bore our sins” in his body on the cross, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; “by his wounds you have been healed.” For “you were like sheep going astray,” but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.
(This excerpt can be found in The First Letter of Peter, chapter 2, verses 20 to 25.)