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The One Limitation of Baptism

AN EXPOSITION OF

ACTS 8:26-39

AD 34

     26 And the angel of the Lord spake unto Philip, saying, Arise, and go toward the south unto the way that goeth down from Jerusalem unto Gaza, which is desert.

The reference to the angel of the Lord raises many questions that are left unanswered. What is certain is that Christians in the emerging church believed in angels, were protected by angels, and were aware of their presence. The command comes, “Be not forgetful to entertain strangers: for thereby some have entertained angels unawares” (Heb. 13:2).

God sovereignly directed Philip to go from Jerusalem to Gaza. In fulfillment of prophecy, in 93 BC, the ancient, commercial, Philistine city of Gaza was destroyed which meant that some important Biblical history perished in its rubble. Gaza, one of the oldest cities of the world, with trade in Egypt, it had been assigned to the Tribe of Judah by Joshua, but was not immediately conquered, which created tension between the Hebrews and the Philistines.  One of the Judges of Israel, Samson, made war upon the city, and carried away the gates of Gaza. Samson died in Gaza when he pulled down a temple of Dagon upon himself and his enemies.

Later, Gaza became part of the kingdom of David and Solomon. It was strongly fortified, and held off the armies of Alexander the Great in a siege of five months. A new city bearing the name Gaza, was constructed nearer the Mediterranean Sea in 57 BC. Today, the population is about 15,000.  A road runs south-west from Jerusalem to Gaza that is about six miles long. It was the road through the desert hills of Southern Judea, not the city itself that was in a deserted place.

An important lesson to learn from verse 26 is that the heart must be sensitive to the will of God, and be geographically where the Lord would have a person to go. Even if the road to be travelled is desert, and difficult, it is good to obey the Lord.

     27 And he arose and went: and, behold, a man of Ethiopia, an eunuch of great authority under Candace queen of the Ethiopians, who had the charge of all her treasure, and had come to Jerusalem for to worship,

Having discerned the will of God, Philip was obedient. His gospel obedience is an example to all the saints. In the act of obedience, something wonderful happened to Philip. “Behold!” He was given an opportunity to evangelize. Philip met a man of Ethiopia, an eunuch.

Because every word in Scripture is significant, special attention should be paid to the man whom Philip met. Several details are given about him.

First, the man was an eunuch, which means that he was never to be allowed into the congregation of the righteous, under the Law.  “He that is wounded in the stones, or hath his privy member cut off, shall not enter into the congregation of the Lord” (Deut. 23:1). However, under grace, the eunuch would be welcomed in the kingdom of God.

Second, the man was an Ethiopian. Ethiopia is an ancient African nation south of Egypt. It was known for the Blue Nile, and the While Nile. Papyrus boats sailed these rivers, loaded with precious topaz gems for sell and trade. Ethiopians can trace their lineage back to Ham, one of the three sons of Noah. Known for their tall height, and smooth black skin, many Ethiopians were mercenaries. The Egyptians employed the Ethiopians, as did the Israelites. A Cushite, or Ethiopian soldier served as a runner in David’s army, and brought him the news of Absalom’s death (2 Sam 18:21-32).

In the centuries to follow, the judgment of God fell upon Ethiopia for their mercenary work against Israel, but so did the grace of God. The prophet Isaiah anticipated the conversion of many. “And it shall come to pass in that day, that the Lord shall set his hand again the second time to recover the remnant of his people, which shall be left, from Assyria, and from Egypt, and from Pathros, and from Cush, and from Elam, and from Shinar, and from Hamath, and from the islands of the sea” (Isa. 11:11). Prophecy was being fulfilled the day Philip spoke to the man on the desert road.

Third, the man was a trusted officer under the authority of Candace. Candace is probably a title used by successive queens, similar to Pharaoh, Ptolemy, Herod, or today, President.

Fourth the treasury man was educated, and religious, for he had a scroll of the prophet Isaiah which he was reading.

    28 Was returning, and sitting in his chariot read Esaias the prophet. 29 Then the Spirit said unto Philip, Go near, and join thyself to this chariot.

God has many ways to speak to His people. He speaks through an angel. He speaks by His Spirit. The Holy Spirit provided specific instruction to Philip. He was to go, stop the carriage, and join himself to it. The Spirit did not tell Philip how to unite with the chariot, only to do it. There is room for creativity, and common sense in the Christian experience. Philip found a way to engage in conversation when he heard the man reading the words of the prophet Isaiah. Wisely Philip asked an engaging question, “Do you understand what you are reading?”

     30 And Philip ran thither to him, and heard him read the prophet Esaias, and said, Understandest thou what thou readest?

One of the great questions of the Bible is, “What must I do to be saved?” One of the great questions of Evangelism Explosion is,  “If you were to die today, and God were to ask you why He should allow you into heaven, what would you say?” Here is another wonderful question for use in evangelism. “Do you understand the Bible?” Many people have read the Bible, or at least some portion of it. An opening question for discussion could be, “Do you understand what you read?

     31 And he said, How can I, except some man should guide me? And he desired Philip that he would come up and sit with him.

To Philip’s inquiry, the man gave an honest answer. He did not understand what the prophet was saying, but he wanted to. The reason why Isaiah could not be understood is because the natural man does not comprehend the things of God apart from the illuminating ministry of the Holy Spirit.

One of the instruments the Holy Spirit uses to illuminate the minds of men is another person. “And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; 12 For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ: 13 Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ” (Eph. 4:11-13).

     32 The place of the scripture which he read was this, HE WAS LED AS A SHEEP TO THE SLAUGHTER; AND LIKE A LAMB DUMB BEFORE HIS SHEARER, SO OPENED HE NOT HIS MOUTH.

This is a quotation of Isaiah 53:7. He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth: he is brought as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is dumb, so he openeth not his mouth.

     33 IN HIS HUMILIATION HIS JUDGMENT WAS TAKEN AWAY: AND WHO SHALL DECLARE HIS GENERATION? FOR HIS LIFE IS TAKEN FROM THE EARTH.

This is a quote from Isaiah 53:8. He was taken from prison and from judgment: and who shall declare his generation? For he was cut off out of the land of the living: for the transgression of my people was he stricken.

     34 And the eunuch answered Philip, and said, I pray thee, of whom speaketh the prophet this? Of himself, or of some other man?

What a wonderful moment that was when a seeking heart asked about the Saviour. This was not an accidental moment. This was the call of God to Christ, ordained before the foundation of the world. If you are converted, it is by Divine design. No one has ever come to Christ apart from a Divine appointment, nor has anyone wanted to come to Christ apart from the working of the Spirit. From a human point of view, this meeting of the treasurer with Philip was a fortuitous event. It was a chance meeting. It was a coincidence. From a divine perspective, the Shepherd was gathering His lost sheep.

From a practical point of view it was good that Philip was prepared to share the gospel. The Bible says, “But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts: and be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear” (1 Pet. 3:15).

     35 Then Philip opened his mouth, and began at the same scripture, and preached unto him Jesus.

To preach Jesus is to tell of His love for sinners, His substitutionary death, His bodily resurrection, His ascension into heaven, and His second coming to judge the world.

“I heard an old, old story,
How a Savior came from glory,
How He gave His life on Calvary
To save a wretch like me;

I heard about His groaning,
Of His precious blood’s atoning,
Then I repented of my sins;
And won the victory.

O victory in Jesus,
My Savior, forever.
He sought me and bought me
With His redeeming blood;

He loved me ere I knew Him,
And all my love is due Him,
He plunged me to victory,
Beneath the cleansing blood.

I heard about His healing,
Of His cleansing power revealing.
How He made the lame to walk again
And caused the blind to see;

And then I cried, “Dear Jesus,
Come and heal my broken spirit,”
And somehow Jesus came and brought
To me the victory.

I heard about a mansion
He has built for me in glory.
And I heard about the streets of gold
Beyond the crystal sea;

About the angels singing,
And the old redemption story,
And some sweet day I’ll sing up there
The song of victory.”

Eugene Monroe Bartlett, 1939

     36 And as they went on their way, they came unto a certain water: and the eunuch said, See, here is water; what doth hinder me to be baptized?

37 And Philip said, If thou believest with all thine heart, thou mayest. And he answered and said, I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.

A simple question was asked.  “See, here is water, what doth hinder me to be baptized?”   A divine answer was given. “If thou believest with all thine heart, thou mayest.”

Some Paedobaptist brethren smile over this plain interaction and refer to it as “The Ethiopian Heresy”.  What is really in error is insisting on an important practice that is not authorized by Scripture. What is in error is assigning the sign of salvation and cleansing to an unbelieving infant. What is in error is trying to include into a covenant relationship those whom God has not authorized, because they have come into the sheepfold by some other way than Christ.   “Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that entereth not by the door into the sheepfold, but climbeth up some other way, the same is a thief and a robber” (John 10:1).

What stops any person, of any age, from being baptized? Nothing, if that person believes with all their heart. “And he answered and said, “I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.” Unbelief in the soul is the single limit to Christian baptism.

     38 And he commanded the chariot to stand still: and they went down both into the water, both Philip and the eunuch; and he baptized him.

What is the significance of baptism? Baptism is a sign of salvation. It is the outward sign that an inward transaction has taken place in the heart. Baptism is a witness to the world that a person wishes to confess Christ as Lord.  Baptism is an act of gospel obedience. There is no such thing in the Bible as an unbaptized believer, with the exception of the thief on the cross.Baptism is a symbol of cleansing from sin. Baptism is a picture of being identified with the work of Christ at Calvary. In the baptismal pool, the believer is buried with Christ, in the likeness of His death. Coming up out of the water, the believer is raised with Christ in the likeness of His resurrection to walk in the newness of life.

39 And when they were come up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord caught away Philip, that the eunuch saw him no more: and he went on his way rejoicing.

The result of salvation, and gospel obedience in baptism, was happiness. The Ethiopian treasurer went on his way rejoicing. The soul has a right to rejoice when sins are forgiven, and their name is written down in glory.

“I was once a sinner, but I came
Pardon to receive from my Lord:
This was freely given, and I found
That He always kept His word.

There’s a new name written down in glory,
And it’s mine, O yes, it’s mine!
And the white robed angels sing the story,
“A sinner has come home.”

For there’s a new name written down in glory,
And it’s mine, O yes, it’s mine!
With my sins forgiven I am bound for Heaven,
Never more to roam.

I was humbly kneeling at the cross,
Fearing naught but God’s angry frown;
When the heavens opened and I saw
That my name was written down.

In the Book ’tis written, “Saved by Grace,”
O the joy that came to my soul!
Now I am forgiven, and I know
By the blood I am made whole.”

Austin Miles, 1910

     40 But Philip was found at Azotus: and passing through he preached in all the cities, till he came to Caesarea.

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