Some years ago, a great sports figure was quoted as saying, “Winning isn’t everything. It is the only thing.” Sports enthusiasts who have winked and smiled at this on occasions are too numerous to count. It encases a whole philosophy of life. We play to win (in games and life). Why be satisfied with losing? Much can be said about sportsmanlike conduct and being considerate on the field or court. That’s all well and good. Games (and life) have to be played by the rules—or at least should be. So why not write the rules in your head and heart? Then why not play with every ounce in you to win?
The wisdom imparted suggests it is just not enough to work or play at something. We have to know what we are doing and how to do it. This requires faith and trust. We must have faith in those God sends to us. We also must trust them. It only takes a few words and the right moment to change entire lives. The sports world has taught many lessons that have made people great on and off the field or court. Of crucial importance is that interpretation has a spiritual dimension to it that benefits many, the result of listening and implementing the message.
I. Philip Meets the Ethiopian (Acts 8:26-30)
As was so often true in New Testament times, an angel of the Lord came to give direction. In this case, he has a special person for Philip to meet. Apparently, without hesitation the disciple got on the road. Soon he met an Ethiopian eunuch. The fellow wasn’t just anybody. He was somebody. In fact, he was in charge of all the treasury of Candace. She was the queen of the Ethiopians. He had been to Jerusalem to worship and was on his way home, reading the Book of Isaiah.
The Spirit told Philip to go to the chariot and stop near it, so he was poised for the right moment. His faith and trust in the living God led him to that moment.
Then, Philip popped the question! “I see you are reading Isaiah. Do you understand what you are reading?” This seems very brazen and decidedly inappropriate. Lesser men than the Ethiopian might have roared in anger and told him to get lost or expect dire consequences. On other occasions, he might have done that; but not this time. Why? Because the Spirit had prepared the way, and Philip was perfectly in tune. All things are possible with God not only for New Testament times, but as you and I live our lives today. Who dares say this was a chance meeting?
II. Philip Teaches the Ethiopian (Acts 8:31-35)
In some anguish, the Ethiopian must’ve blurted out that he couldn’t understand the passage unless someone explained it or interpreted it for him. There is no indication he felt Philip to be inferior as he invited him up to sit with him. There is no indication whatsoever of fear or distrust, but rather a tone of expectancy. Two men with quite different places in life sat there together before the words of the prophet Isaiah. They were brothers and don’t know it! It was a holy time for anyone to see and appreciate, as though predestination was at work. God’s will was being done.
The eunuch was reading verses Isaiah 53:7-8, which speaks of a sheep being led to slaughter and as a lamb before the shearer in silence—humiliated and deprived of justice. Who can speak of his descendants as his life is being taken away? The eunuch implored Philip to tell him to whom the text referred. Then Philip told the Ethiopian about the good news of Jesus the Christ. I can imagine the recipient of the good news laughing and crying seconds apart. “Praise God, my Savior and Lord has come to me. My search is over. I understand what I am reading!
III. Philip Baptizes the Ethiopian (Acts 8:36-40)
So, the two traveled along the road together and came to some water. The eunuch’s inquiry must have been deeply in earnest: “Why shouldn’t I be baptized?” Being a man of authority, he ordered the chariot to stop. Then, both went down into the water; Philip baptized him. The way Scripture reads, it must have been by immersion. Regardless of our preferences in such matters, praise God it happened and was a way of sealing what had occurred. He had been born anew by the water and the Spirit. As some theologians would say, “He became a new being.” The old was gone and the new had come.
Upon coming up out of the water, Philip suddenly was taken away by the Spirit. The eunuch did not see him anymore. What was his reaction? Did he send a search party to retrieve him? Did he settle into a deep depression because his spiritual benefactor disappeared. No! Scripture tells us he went on his way rejoicing. It was a precious moment in church history that merits to be told repeatedly. Indeed, how like the Spirit to enable us to do our work or ministry, then move us to another opportunity. Philip traveled about, preaching the gospel on the way to Caesarea.
The message is loud and clear: How shall those searching understand what they are reading unless we are there to tell them? Had Philip missed that grand and golden opportunity, what would have become of the eunuch?
Had Philip missed the moment, perhaps he would have drowned himself in pity and wept bitterly just as Peter had done previously. We all work out our salvation in fear and trembling by trusting and obeying the Spirit.