Baptism in the Desert: The Gospel of the Great 50 Days

The season of Easter continues! Too often we let Easter Sunday come and go. This series of blogs is simply an aid, helping us to linger in the reality of the resurrection, the ascension and the sending of the Holy Spirit - the "Great 50 Days" of Easter. 

As we approach the Fifth Sunday of Easter our Lectionary reading comes from Acts 8:26-40. This wonderful narrative has a number of intriguing elements. I would encourage you to read this text with the eyes of faith and allow God to speak to you through the power and inspiration of his Word.

ACTS 8:26-40

Philip and the Ethiopian Eunuch
26 As for Philip, an angel of the Lord said to him, “Go south down the desert road that runs from Jerusalem to Gaza.” 27 So he started out, and he met the treasurer of Ethiopia, a eunuch of great authority under the Kandake, the queen of Ethiopia. The eunuch had gone to Jerusalem to worship, 28 and he was now returning. Seated in his carriage, he was reading aloud from the book of the prophet Isaiah.

29 The Holy Spirit said to Philip, “Go over and walk along beside the carriage.”

30 Philip ran over and heard the man reading from the prophet Isaiah. Philip asked, “Do you understand what you are reading?”

31 The man replied, “How can I, unless someone instructs me?” And he urged Philip to come up into the carriage and sit with him.

32 The passage of Scripture he had been reading was this:

“He was led like a sheep to the slaughter.
    And as a lamb is silent before the shearers,
    he did not open his mouth.
33 He was humiliated and received no justice.
    Who can speak of his descendants?
    For his life was taken from the earth.”

34 The eunuch asked Philip, “Tell me, was the prophet talking about himself or someone else?” 35 So beginning with this same Scripture, Philip told him the Good News about Jesus.

36 As they rode along, they came to some water, and the eunuch said, “Look! There’s some water! Why can’t I be baptized?” 38 He ordered the carriage to stop, and they went down into the water, and Philip baptized him.

39 When they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord snatched Philip away. The eunuch never saw him again but went on his way rejoicing. 40 Meanwhile, Philip found himself farther north at the town of Azotus. He preached the Good News there and in every town along the way until he came to Caesarea.


The Mysterious Leading of God

It's hard to overlook the mysterious nature of this text! From the outset we read about an "angel of the Lord" speaking to Philip and telling him to go down to the desert road that runs from Jerusalem to Gaza. To clarify, this is not Philip the Apostle, but Philip the Evangelist. This Philip was one of the seven chosen to care for the poor of the Christian community in Jerusalem as recorded in Acts 6. 

This is a clear case where we must read with the eyes of faith for our rational minds will find it hard to believe that such events could really take place... but they did, they do! This narrative is the outworking of the commission that Jesus gave to his followers in Acts 1:8,

"You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you. And you will be my witnesses, telling people about me everywhere—in Jerusalem, throughout Judea, in Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

In this story, Philip the Evangelist is following the commission that we all have as Christ's followers to take the Gospel message to those near and far. In a similar way, we should always be open to God's leading in our own lives. We may be surprised who he may bring across our path.

The Prophetic Power of God's Word

I think it is so cool that the passage the Ethiopian was reading was one of the most clear and poignant prophecies and descriptions of Christ's crucifixion, Isaiah 53! It is also amazing that he Holy Spirit spoke to Philip and told him to go over to the carriage where the Ethiopian was reading. 

This whole passage feels reminiscent of the passage in Luke 24 where Jesus encounters the disciples on the road to Emmaus. In that narrative Jesus opens this Scriptures to the two followers and shows them how Jesus fulfills all of the Law and the Prophets. 

In this passage, we find someone curious about God, but lacking in a deeper understanding of Christ. Just like the men on the road to Emmaus, I would have loved to have overheard the conversation between Philip and the Ethiopian eunuch! Clearly it was a very convicting and faith-filled dialogue! 

We never know the people to whom God will lead us. As we encounter those in our own lives who are curious about God, but who don't know all of the truths and promises about Christ, all we need is the power of the Word and the Holy Spirit to guide us. Like Philip, we can share the good news of Jesus from the Old and New Testament Scriptures - one beautiful, powerful covenant and story of grace!

The Welcoming Waters of Baptism

Having heard the good news, the Ethiopian had to respond! He asked to be baptized and there, in the middle of the desert, Philip baptized this faith-filled Gentile. The power of the Gospel extends to all nations; it knows no boundaries... ethnicity, gender, class, etc. In this story we see a clear example of revelation and response - the Gospel is shared and act of worship and submission follows in the welcoming waters of baptism. Once a curious seeker, now this African convert was brought into the fold.


God of all hope and joy, 
you extend your promise to all,
yet we seek to cut off and exclude.
Forgive us, God of grace.
Sanctify us in your perfect love,
the love that casts out all fear,
so that we may truly love one another.
Let all who have been cast aside
be welcomed into the covenant of your care,
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.


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