April 25, 2018
Philip opened his mouth, and beginning with this scripture he told him the good news of Jesus. ~ Acts 8:35
The “scripture” that the eunuch is reading and that Philip uses to evangelize him is one of the “suffering servant” passages in the Book of Isaiah (53:7-8): “As a sheep led to the slaughter or a lamb before its shearers is dumb, so he opens not his mouth. In his humiliation justice was denied him. Who can describe his generation? For his life is taken up from the earth” (Acts 8:32-33). The man is puzzled: is the prophet here speaking about himself as a victim of maltreatment by others, or is he referring to someone else? The prevailing view among the rabbis was that Isaiah either had in mind Jeremiah, who complained of just this persecution at the hand of his fellow countrymen (Jeremiah 11:19-20), or was referring in a representative way to Israel as a nation, who had to suffer in order for God’s purposes to be accomplished through her. The first Christians, however, identified this anonymous sufferer with Jesus, and saw in him the true fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophetic words. In doing so, they were taking their cue from Jesus himself, who taught them that “the Son of man must suffer many things” (Mark 8:31). In the early preaching of the Church recorded elsewhere in Acts, Jesus is spoken of not only as God’s Son but also as his “servant” (Acts 3:13), a clear reference to his role as the mysterious figure of Isaiah’s prophecy. Philip does not hesitate, then, to answer the eunuch’s question by directing him to Jesus as the one of whom the prophet is speaking. But notice that this passage is only the beginning of the good news that Philip shares. No doubt he moves from the vicarious sufferings of Jesus on the cross for our sins and his death in our place, through his burial, to his resurrection on the third day for our justification, his ascension into heaven, his being seated at the right hand of the Father, and his sending of the Holy Spirit upon the disciples, the same Spirit who led Philip to this man reading the scriptures and who now moves the believing eunuch to desire baptism (Acts 8:36).