“Now an angel of the Lord said to Philip, ‘Rise and go toward the south to the road that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza” (Acts 8:26).
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ!
You’re probably familiar with the idiom, “a window of opportunity.” “A window of opportunity” is a phrase used to describe a limited time when things are especially ripe to accomplish a particular task or achieve a particular goal. For example, many early childhood development experts speak of “windows of opportunity” when the brains of infants and toddlers are more open to learn skills like foreign languages and mathematics. Medical researchers use “window of opportunity” trials in which patients receive one or more new compounds between their cancer diagnosis and standard treatment to try to gain further insights into the disease and potential treatments.
You and I come across “windows of opportunity” in our daily life as well. Farmers are looking for “a window of opportunity” to get their crops put in between rain showers or to sell their products at the highest price. Some of you might look for “a window of opportunity” for job advancement, making a sale, or gaining a new client. And parents have “a window of opportunity,” when they can influence and direct their children before sending them out in the world.
But have you ever thought how “a window of opportunity” might be a good way to describe a situation in which you might share your faith in Christ Jesus? Such “windows of opportunity” occur when God opens doors to share His love with others. There are times when people are more receptive to the Good News we have to share about Jesus. But like other “windows of opportunity,” they don’t last forever. So it would be good for us to learn to recognize and seize them when they come.
In our text, Philip seized a “window of opportunity” provided by God to tell an Ethiopian about Jesus. Philip was one of the deacons chosen to assist the apostles. When the believers were scattered after Stephen’s martyrdom, he preached the Gospel in Samaria and it was received with “great joy.”
Then the angel of the Lord came to Philip with special instructions: “Go south to the road—the desert road—that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.” Philip, who had just done miraculous signs and preached the Gospel to hundreds in Samaria, was sent a long way to open the Scriptures to one individual soul.
Obediently, Philip headed down the desert road. By God’s providence, he met an Ethiopian official who believed in the true God. Having made the 200-mile journey to Jerusalem to worship, it’s obvious that he was committed to his faith and desired to learn more of God’s will. But he must’ve wondered about his own religious status. As a foreign eunuch, God’s law in Deuteronomy 23:1 excluded him from full membership and barred him from entering the temple.
But the fifty-sixth chapter of Isaiah promises something better when the day of the Messiah would come. “Let not the foreigner who has joined himself to the Lord say, “The Lord will surely separate me from His people”; and let not the eunuch say, “Behold, I am a dry tree.” For thus says the Lord: “To the eunuchs who keep My Sabbaths, who choose the things that please Me and hold fast My covenant, I will give in My house and within My walls a monument and a name better than sons and daughters; I will give them an everlasting name that shall not be cut off” (Isaiah 56:3–5).
While we can’t be certain, perhaps this is why the man was reading the book of the prophet Isaiah. He wanted to know if he had a place in God’s kingdom, and what that place might be. Whatever his reasons, this “window of opportunity” was surely arranged by the Lord. God had prepared this pupil for his new teacher.
As Philip stayed near, he found the perfect “window of opportunity” to tell the good news about Jesus. “Do you understand what you are reading?” he asked. The question was not meant to insult, but was intended to draw out the man’s religious position and conviction. It’s a question that all Bible readers ought to keep in mind. It’s far too easy to just read the words without understanding their meaning and connection with other Bible passages.
The Ethiopian answered, “How can I, unless someone guides me?” This doesn’t mean the Bible can’t be understood without an expert’s interpretation. It simply shows that beginners can use some help in learning how to read and understand the Bible. That’s what we have Bible studies for—not just for the immediate learning, but to learn how to study God’s Word personally.
The Ethiopian invited Philip to sit beside him. He was reading Isaiah 53:7-8: “He was oppressed, and He was afflicted, yet He opened not His mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent, so He opened not His mouth. By oppression and judgment He was taken away; and as for His generation, who considered that He was cut off out of the land of the living, stricken for the transgression of My people.”
This was the Gospel of the Old Testament—a beautiful and clear account of the Messiah’s willing sacrifice. But its meaning was hidden from the Ethiopian because he did not know how it had been fulfilled. So he asked, “About whom, I ask you, does the prophet say this, about himself or someone else?”
And Philip, full of the joy of the missionary who finds an eager inquirer of the truth began to explain. The Ethiopian couldn’t have found a more suitable text, for its subject was the Messiah. Philip had a fine opportunity to talk about Jesus. That He was the Suffering Servant, the innocent Lamb of God, who was silent before His enemies and judges. How He was falsely accused, wrongly convicted, and sentenced to die unjustly.
Jesus is the Servant who fulfills in His passion, death, and resurrection all the Scripture passages about the Messiah. Jesus is the Servant who has brought the day when foreigners and eunuchs are not barred from the assembly, but are wholeheartedly welcomed into His body and are given His everlasting name.
And while Philip was still picturing the glories of Christ in glowing colors, they came to some water. And the Ethiopian, half in eagerness and half in fear, pointed to the water and said, “See, here is water! What prevents me from being baptized?” While he was hesitant to dare believe he could have full benefit of God’s blessings, the eunuch wanted very much to be baptized.
His question demonstrates the centrality of Baptism in Christian preaching and teaching. Jesus’ Great Commission directs the church to “make disciples” by baptizing and teaching the Good News to all nations. And that is what Philip did. He first taught the Ethiopian and then baptized him, making him a disciple of Jesus Christ. And suddenly, Philip was taken away by the Spirit of the Lord.
The Ethiopian went his way rejoicing. He was no longer dependent upon his teacher. He had heard the essential facts that enabled him to understand the Scriptures. In Baptism, he had received Christ’s everlasting name, and was made a full member of His church. According to tradition, he went home to share the good news, establishing the church in Ethiopia.
Philip was sent to a new “mission field.” He appeared in Azotus and preached the Gospel in all the towns until he reached Caesarea. Mission and ministry are never finished on earth. One conversion does not mean the end of work in the harvest fields. It continues, day and night, in many different people and locations. When God closes one window of opportunity, He opens another!
The story of Philip and the Ethiopian offers valuable insights for our own Christian faith and life. First, the Ethiopian understood the harsh truth of separation and spiritual ignorance. He had been excluded from full membership in the religious community because, as a eunuch, he was considered unclean. And until Philip pointed him to Jesus, he lacked a complete knowledge of God and His plan of salvation.
But all people are ultimately separated from God because of sin. All of us are by nature sinful and unclean. And because of that nature, no one has a saving knowledge of God and His will. No one can understand His saving Word. But that all changes when we are brought to faith in Jesus Christ. He is the fulfillment of God’s purpose and Word. By faith in Him—in His death and resurrection as God’s solution to our need—we know God’s plan of salvation. Jesus willingly offered Himself, the perfect sacrifice, for the sins of the world. We are His chosen people, saved by His mercy and grace.
Second, the Ethiopian recognized his own need. As Philip proclaimed the truth of God’s judgment upon sin and His call to repent, the eunuch, like the first converts at Pentecost was “cut to the heart.” He believed God’s Word. He felt His guilt. The Spirit was at work in his life. He repented and asked to be baptized.
All people are separated from God because of sin. By nature, no one has a saving knowledge of God and His will. Yet Christ is the fulfillment of God’s purpose and plan. He lived the perfect life we cannot. He died to pay the penalty for our sin. And through repentance and Baptism He makes these ours.
Baptism brings us into a new relationship with the living God. It is God’s appointed means to forgive sin and strengthen His people for service in the Kingdom. In our Baptism into Christ, we are connected with His crucifixion and resurrection. We share in His death, that we may also share in His life—now and forever. And knowing God’s plan of salvation, we are motivated by His love to seek windows of opportunity in which we can tell others of His love for them.
One of those “windows” is coming up soon. We’ll be holding an Every One His Witness Workshop, where we will learn how to be more effective witnesses of Jesus in our everyday life. We’ll also be hosting several community outreach events, like the Trosky Carnival and Our Saviour’s Block Party. Vacation Bible School is a wonderful opportunity for our congregations to reach out to the children in our area. Take the time to invite the children in your family and neighborhood to join us. Each of these is a “window of opportunity,” a time that is ripe for sharing the Gospel. I encourage you to seize it. But it’s very likely that your “window of opportunity” is probably something we couldn’t even begin to imagine. God likes to surprise us. Look for your “window” this week!
We must humbly confess that in the past we’ve neglected to seize many of the “windows of opportunity” that we’ve had to share our faith. For those failures, we repent. But we rejoice in the forgiveness Jesus earned for us on the cross, which covers all sin—even that sin of neglect of His Word and failure to love our neighbor. Renewed by His Holy Spirit, we pray that we would go out as witnesses and givers of mercy. And that we would be empowered to boldly seize whatever new “windows of opportunity” we may encounter in the mission field of our own world. May God grant this to us all! Amen.
The peace of God that passes all understanding guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus unto life everlasting. Amen.
Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.