Philip had spent some time in Samaria but was then directed by The Lord through the Holy Spirit to move on. He was instructed to go down the road from Jerusalem to Gaza as there was more work for him to do.
This was a significant road and there were people moving along it coming and going from Jerusalem. Among these travellers was an Ethiopian of high standing who had been to Jerusalem to worship God at the temple. This man was clearly a devout believer and was seeking the truth for we see him in his chariot as they travelled reading the prophet Isaiah.
But he was confused and unable to understand the scriptures that he was reading. It was at this point that the Holy Spirit instructed Philip to join the Ethiopian so as to instruct him further. And there is an important lesson in these scriptures for all of us today concerning baptism.
This meeting of Philip and the Ethiopian was not a chance coming together of two travellers going along the road. It was directed and orchestrated by The Lord through the working of the Holy Spirit. Philip was specifically instructed to go down this road, not really knowing why until the Holy Spirit told him to go up and meet with the Ethiopian.
One of the things we learn and understand from this is the fulfilment of the words of The Lord when he said in John 12:26,
If anyone serves me, he must follow me; and where I am, there will my servant be also. If anyone serves me, the Father will honor him.
The Ethiopian was seeking The Lord and trying to understand all that he could. And Jesus recognised his desire to serve The Lord and so He had his servant in the person of Philip attend to the needs of the Ethiopian by teaching him about the gospel of Jesus Christ and leading him to be baptised in the name of The Lord.
Preaching the Word
The Ethiopian had a need. He was unable to understand the scriptures and he had a burning desire to know what they meant. He was a seeker and was thirsting for the truth and the knowledge of God. In verses 30-31 we see the conversation between Philip and the Ethiopian.
30 So Philip ran to him and heard him reading Isaiah the prophet and asked, “Do you understand what you are reading?”
31 And he said, “How can I, unless someone guides me?” And he invited Philip to come up and sit with him.
The Ethiopian recognised in Philip that he was someone who could help him to understand what he was reading. And we see in the scripture he was reading the timing of The Lord for he was reading a scripture that was specifically relating to the death of Jesus by which salvation has come to all mankind. It was the perfect scripture for Philip to launch into a discussion about the gospel of Jesus Christ and how the new covenant had come into operation and worked.
Philip spoke about all of these things explaining how Jesus came and had to die so that He would be the perfect sacrifice to atone for the sins of mankind and how we can receive not just forgiveness of sin, but the complete washing away and removal of sin through entering into the death of Jesus Christ.
John the Baptist had said in John 1:29, “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” Philip explained that through Jesus we did not just receive forgiveness as it was possible to receive forgiveness through following the sacrifices under the old covenant law. Instead through Jesus we received both forgiveness AND release from sin. In Jesus we have freedom from sin and freedom from the law.
And the gateway to receiving this freedom was baptism.
Baptising the Ethiopian
Philip explained the processes of the new covenant including what baptism is and how baptism into Jesus Christ both forgives and frees us from sins, taking away our sins and giving us a full and total freedom by the death of Jesus Christ.
Clearly the Ethiopian understood the teaching and preaching of Philip for as they travelled down the desert road they came to some water where he announced in verse 36,
And as they were going along the road they came to some water, and the eunuch said, “See, here is water! What prevents me from being baptized?”
In other versions of this scripture there are some extra words added that appear in some of the original Greek manuscripts which adds a further insight. Philip says to the Ethiopian that if he believes in Jesus with all his heart then there was nothing to prevent him being baptised.
So they stopped the chariot and both Philip and the Ethiopian went down into the water where Philip baptised the Ethiopian in the name of Jesus Christ. For the Ethiopian this was the beginning of his walk with Jesus just as it is today for those who come to The Lord and are baptised.
Now it is also important to note the method of baptism.
First, the Ethiopian was an adult and knew what he was doing. He was consenting to the process fully understanding what was going on and why it was necessary to be baptised. This flies in the face of infant baptism that occurs in some places today. There is no scriptural basis for infant baptism and such a practice holds no benefit in a spiritual sense for any person that goes through it. How can it? A baby has no knowledge of what is occurring or the purpose of it so the exercise is pointless.
Second, we see that both the Ethiopian and Philip went down into the water. They needed to find sufficient water in the desert where they could enter and go down into the water. As such this again contradicts the practice where some churches baptise by just trickling some water on the forehead of a person. the correct process for baptism as we see in this example is to be fully immersed so the person being baptised can go down into and under the water fully.
And when we consider the symbolism that baptism represents, which is to go into the grave and be resurrected as a new creation in Jesus Christ, then it makes sense that full immersion is the way to go. Being a desert road I am sure they carried drinking water with them and if trickling a few drops over the forehead were an acceptable alternative, they could have done it with a little drinking water rather than waiting to find a body of water for both Philip and lithe Ethiopian to enter.
Baptism is an important and key aspect of the walk of a Christian. Every Christian should be baptised by full immersion to complete the righteousness of God. Jesus was baptised by John the Baptist and at that time he made this point abundantly clear saying in Matthew 3:13-15,
13 Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to John, to be baptized by him.
14 John would have prevented him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?”
15 But Jesus answered him, “Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he consented.
It was critical for Jesus to be baptised even though John initially objected knowing that Jesus did not need forgiveness for He had never sinned. But Jesus made the point that baptism is necessary to fulfil all righteousness. Jesus was already righteous, so He did not say this for His benefit but for our benefit. He was telling us that it is critical that we be baptised so that we could fulfil all righteousness. And like Philip and the Ethiopian, Jesus and John went down into the water in full immersion to be baptised.
To add even more emphasis to the importance that all Christians be baptised, and for some odd reason some believe it is not necessary which always amazes me when Jesus made it so clear, is the words of Jesus when he gave the disciples the Great Commission.
In the Great Commission Jesus instructed the disciples to do three things.
- Go out and make disciples
- Baptise them in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit
- Teach them all that The Lord had commanded them
This is the essence of the Great Commission as described in Matthew 28:19-20 and as we can see one of the key things is to baptise. It is most important that we observe this commission today as they did back then. And further emphasis is added in Mark 16:16 where Jesus also added these words to the Great Commission.
Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.
The emphasis here is that faith to believe is necessary and so is baptism. There is much more to baptism that needs to be said, but space and time do not permit at this point in time. If you would like to know more, please feel free to write to me at my email address or add something in the comments section of this post.
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