12 May 2011

Acts 8:26-40

"So Philip ran up to it [the chariot] and heard him reading the prophet Isaiah. He asked, 'Do you understand what you are reading?'" (v. 30)


This is a story of the Church's progress to the non-Jewish world. Philip, a leader within the Jerusalem church meets an important official from Ethiopia. The official was curious about the Jewish faith and committed enough to both make the journey to the temple and read some of the Scriptures. Luke (the author of Acts) makes it clear that the Spirit guided Philip to him and helped develop the conversation. This passage implies a divine initiative to the expanding activity of the Church.

Note how the official remains in control of the process: it is he who asked Philip to sit with him; it is he who asked the question; it is he who initiated the opportunity for Baptism. This feels like the official was empowered to develop the conversation at his own pace. Philip was open to what God was doing and then he joined in. This 'mission' appears to be an activity of God and man working together.

The passage raises complex issues to do with the Old Testament and the Christian faith. Here Philip made an explicit connection between the Suffering Servant passage of Isaiah 53 and Jesus.

The encounter between these two men on the dusty road between Jerusalem and Gaza ends with the cool water of Baptism. Baptism predates Christianity and was an important rite within Judaism to signify a change of heart and a desire for new beginnings. Within the early Church it quickly became the means by which new followers of Christ expressed their commitment.

To Ponder

Donald English once said, "The job of the church is to find out what God is doing and join in." What is your experience?

Philip and the official seemed to have a natural conversation. What makes a good conversation for you and where does control and influence lie?

The Ethiopian official took his new found faith back to Africa long before it reached Europe. What do you know about the World Church?

Bible notes author

The Revd Tony Morling

Tony ministers in the Methodist Forest Circuit of London. He has a particular interest in making connections between faith and contemporary culture.