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.
Then Philip began with that very passage of Scripture and told him the good news about Jesus.
Acts 8:30-31, 35 (NIV)
Read: Acts 8
Consider: In the last post we looked at two incidents where Jesus himself opened up the Scriptures to show how his life, ministry, death and resurrection fulfilled the Old Testament prophecies about the promised Messiah.
Today we look at an incident from the time of the early church involving one of Jesus’ followers, Philip, and a foreign dignitary. To avoid any confusion this Philip is unlikely to be the apostle Philip, but the deacon chosen as one of the Seven (see Acts 6:5 and 21:8). This would explain why Philip was among those scattered because of the persecution of the believers (in Acts 8:1 we are specifically told that the apostles remained in Jerusalem). Secondly, it explains why Peter and John (apostles) were sent to Samaria to verify that the people there were believers. Lastly, in Acts 8:40 we are told that Philip preached in all the towns until he reached Caesarea (the home town of Philip the Evangelist mentioned in Acts 21:8).
We are told in Acts 8 that the dignitary, an Ethiopian eunuch, had been in Jerusalem to worship God and was returning via the road from Jerusalem to Gaza. Sitting in his chariot he was reading from the prophet Isaiah, specifically what we know as Isaiah 53. Notice firstly from this incident that Philip was open to God’s leading to go down to the desert road. Secondly, he was willing to also follow the Spirit’s leading to get alongside the chariot; close enough to hear what the eunuch was reading. We have to recognise that Philip could have refused to listen to God’s leading and, if he had, this Ethiopian eunuch would have missed out on the opportunity to have the Scriptures explained to him and to discover Jesus for himself. Thankfully Philip’s life was firmly fixed on following God’s will and leading.
Having heard the Ethiopian read from Isaiah, Philip again had a choice to make – either to engage with the man or to walk away. He could have had a question going round in his mind – ‘Do I know the Scriptures well enough to explain what this man is reading?’
Philip would most probably have been among those in Jerusalem whom we are told in Luke 24:45 ‘… he opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures.’ Having understood the Scriptures himself, Philip was willing to share the good news of Jesus with others. It is clear from Acts 8 that Philip took every opportunity to speak of Jesus (see 8:5, 8:12, 8:35 and 8:40).
Understanding the Bible does not come without effort and committing time on our part. Even when you think you understand all there is to know in a passage God can surprise you with fresh insight. I suppose the real question for us is ‘Do I want to be well-equipped to share the good news of Jesus with others?’ If your answer is ‘Yes’, then Bible study is vitally important in gaining the necessary insight and understanding to explain the Scriptures to others. Do not be content with superficially reading the Bible.
Pray: Father, give us a deep desire to be well-equipped to serve you in sharing the good news of Jesus with others. May we also be open to the leading of your Spirit. Amen