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Do You Understand the Bible?
Meet someone who did not understand the Bible, but then see what he learned
By Don Ruhl
You read the Bible because you know it is the word of God. Yet, some of it you cannot figure out. What does the Bible mean in such and such a passage?
You keep reading, asking yourself questions, thinking that perhaps you need to consult someone.
You ask someone, and they clear things up for you. You feel good, you rejoice.
The Bible shows a man just like us, who wanted to know the meaning of God’s word, but he could not figure it out until the Lord worked to bring someone into his life momentarily, which changed everything for this man, because his new found understanding led to more than he anticipated.
Acts 8.26 – Angels Behind the Scenes
26 Now an angel of the Lord spoke to Philip, saying, “Arise and go toward the south along the road which goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.” This is desert.
We first meet Philip in Jerusalem when a problem arose in the church over the neglect of some widows. The apostles asked the congregation to select seven men who could take care of the matter. The congregation chose Philip as one of the seven. Later we find this deeply spiritual man traveling to Samaria and preaching Christ to the people there. Philip’s work showed great success, “And the multitudes with one accord heeded the things spoken by Philip, hearing and seeing the miracles which he did” (Acts 8.6). However, the Lord decided that He wanted Philip down South, for the sake of one man, because the soul of one man is as valuable as the soul of a city, and the soul of a city is as valuable as the soul of one man.
Thus, the Lord sent an angel to Philip, but not to the Ethiopian Treasurer! Could not the angel have gone to the man? If the angel could speak to Philip, could not the angel speak to the eunuch? Truly, the Lord wants man to preach to and to teach man. Why did He do it that way? We have a tendency to ruin things, yet, the Lord still believes we can do it.
We do not see angels speaking to all other New Testament preachers. This shows the Lord working behind the scenes. It also shows what Hebrews 1 says angels do, “Are they not all ministering spirits sent forth to minister for those who will inherit salvation?” (Heb 1.14).
The angel sent Philip at the right time to rendezvous with the Ethiopian, leaving a successful campaign in Samaria to go to a desert. Has the Lord used angels in your life, though you have been unaware of it?
Acts 8.27–28 – A Worshiping Government Official
27 So he arose and went. And behold, a man of Ethiopia, a eunuch of great authority under Candace the queen of the Ethiopians, who had charge of all her treasury, and had come to Jerusalem to worship, 28 was returning. And sitting in his chariot, he was reading Isaiah the prophet.
Philip arose and went because Philip focused on the job. What mattered to Philip is what the Lord wants. We are servants, we are slaves, we are children, we are disciples.
See the man whom Philip would meet:
- He was from Ethiopia.
- He was a eunuch.
- He had great authority under the queen of Ethiopia.
- He had charge of all her treasury.
- He worshiped God.
- He read the Scriptures.
Please do not in your haste declare that all politicians and government officials are evil, “I said in my haste, ‘All men are liars’” (Psa 116.11). I wish we had more non-politicians like this man!
Acts 8.29–31 – The Need for Guidance
29 Then the Spirit said to Philip, “Go near and overtake this chariot.” 30 So Philip ran to him, and heard him reading the prophet Isaiah, and said, “Do you understand what you are reading?” 31 And he said, “How can I, unless someone guides me?” And he asked Philip to come up and sit with him.
First, an angel, then the Holy Spirit worked to bring people together.
The Spirit spoke to Philip, but did not speak to the Ethiopian. The Spirit could have spoken to the man. Therefore, the angel, the Spirit, all by the direction of the Lord, worked to bring together the preacher and the lost soul.
Philip ran to the man and heard him reading Isaiah. Evidently, the man read the Scripture out loud, like we do when trying to figure out something.
Acts 8.32–34 – The Scripture
32 The place in the Scripture which he read was this:
“He was led as a sheep to the slaughter;
And as a lamb before its shearer is silent,
So He opened not His mouth.
33 In His humiliation His justice was taken away,
And who will declare His generation?
For His life is taken from the earth.”
34 So the eunuch answered Philip and said, “I ask you, of whom does the prophet say this, of himself or of some other man?”
Now we know the passage that puzzled the Ethiopian. If you did not know Jesus, the New Testament, or Acts 8, would you know of whom the prophet spoke?
If you cannot understand something initially, do not give up, but do what you can first. If you just cannot do it, pray to God, and ask someone who knows.
I had a question recently about Second Kings 6.23–24, “Then he prepared a great feast for them; and after they ate and drank, he sent them away and they went to their master. So the bands of Syrian raiders came no more into the land of Israel. And it happened after this that Ben-hadad king of Syria gathered all his army, and went up and besieged Samaria” (2Ki 6.23–24). Finally, I asked brother Steve Lloyd in a FaceTime chat. His first questions was: Did you check any commentaries? I told Him: Brother, You are my commentary. We talked about some possible solutions, but we did not arrive at a conclusion. I would tell you what we proposed, but that would only detract from the story of Acts 8, so I will let you puzzle over it.
Another thing before we move on. I have heard some people challenge teachers and preachers, alleging that they did not quote a whole verse, as though they left out something important. Why do we want to hold people to a manmade standard? The Holy Spirit did not give us the chapter and verse divisions. Man did. Archbishop Stephen Langton divided the Bible into chapters in the 13th century. Rabbi Isaac Nathan ben Kalonymus versified the Old Testament in 1440. William Whittingham versified the English New Testament in 1557. I bring this up now, because if you compare Luke’s quotation of Isaiah 53 and what Isaiah said in Isaiah 53, according to the versification, you will find that Luke quoted starting from the third line of verse 7 to the third line of verse 8. He left off the first two lines of verse 7, and he left off the fourth or last line of verse 8. Quote what the writer said, not how later men divided up the text.
Acts 8.35–37 – The Message
35 Then Philip opened his mouth, and beginning at this Scripture, preached Jesus to him. 36 Now as they went down the road, they came to some water. And the eunuch said, “See, here is water. What hinders me from being baptized?” 37 Then Philip said, “If you believe with all your heart, you may.” And he answered and said, “I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.”
The Holy Spirit decided not to give us the specifics of Philip’s preaching.
We can know: that he used Isaiah 53 and whatever it prophesied of Jesus, that his message included the need for baptism, and that he must have spoken of Jesus as the Christ, the Son of God.
If it had been me, I would have started at Isaiah 52.13, for that is where the prophecy begins. Why did the rabbi start the 53rd chapter where we currently have it?
- Isaiah 52.13–15 speaks of the marring of His appearance.
- Isaiah 53.1–3 says that no one would believe the report about Him.
- Isaiah 53.4–9 reveals that He would suffer for the sins of the people.
- Isaiah 53.10–12 concludes by saying that all of this pleased the Lord.
Let us notice the part that Luke says the Ethiopian tried to understand,
He was led as a lamb to the slaughter,
And as a sheep before its shearers is silent,
So He opened not His mouth.
8 He was taken from prison and from judgment,
And who will declare His generation?
For He was cut off from the land of the living;
The enemies of Jesus of Nazareth led Him to the slaughter, taking Him before the Roman governor, who authorized the scourging and then the crucifixion of Jesus. Amazingly, Jesus, innocent as a lamb, yet, never objecting or fighting against their tyranny against Him. He so remained silent that both the Jewish leaders and Romans marveled at His silence while His enemies made serious charges against Him. The enemies of Jesus of Nazareth did not even put Him into prison, and the judgment against Him was a joke. They cut Him off from the land of the living, a way of referring to their killing of Him. He received this brutal treatment for our sins, but to benefit from His suffering, we have to reenact it in a sort of way by being immersed in water, for then we imitate His death and burial, but He rose from the dead to live forever, and so coming up out of the water, we also walk with a new life, “Or do you not know that as many of us as were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life” (Rom 6.3–4).
Acts 8.38 – Baptism
38 So he commanded the chariot to stand still. And both Philip and the eunuch went down into the water, and he baptized him.
Knowing that we are saved from the destruction that our sin brings, the Ethiopian wanted baptism, and when he passed the test, he stopped the chariot and submitted to baptism.
By the way, if Philip only needed to sprinkle or pour water upon the man, they did not both need to go down into the water. In fact, neither one had go to in.
Acts 8.39–40 – On to Other Places
39 Now when they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord caught Philip away, so that the eunuch saw him no more; and he went on his way rejoicing. 40 But Philip was found at Azotus. And passing through, he preached in all the cities till he came to Caesarea.
The Spirit then wanted Philip somewhere else, and the eunuch no longer had contact with Philip. The eunuch did go on his way rejoicing. How do you think he rejoiced?
Suddenly Philip was in Azotus. He continued to journey, preaching in all the cities between Azotus and Caesarea.
- Have you sinned?
- Do you know the consequences of sin?
- Jesus of Nazareth provided a way of escape from those consequences.
- Do you believe He is the Son of God?
- Are you ready right now to let us immerse you in water that you might connect with Jesus?
“Now we know the passage that puzzled the Ethiopian. If you did not know Jesus, the New Testament, or Acts 8, would you know of whom the prophet spoke?”
Regarding the above passage of your sermon; We now do have the New Testament so why do we still need human teachers to help us understand God’s word after we have become a Christian, especially when many in and out of the church teach error? How is one to know which of the many doctrines are the true doctrine if not for the Holy Spirit’s guidance?
It is not my intention to try to put you, and others like you, out of work because preachers and teachers are desperately needed to introduce Christ and His Word to the masses. My concern is merely how does one differentiate between God’s truth and man’s probable misinterpretation of God’s Word? The answer seems to be that only the Holy Spirit can keep this from happening.
I know of no one who has learned all of the Bible completely by himself. We all gain from listening to others. Although we do have the completed New Testament, the Lord has still set human teachers in the church:
“Now in the church that was at Antioch there were certain prophets and teachers…” (Acts 13.1).
“And God has appointed these in the church: first apostles, second prophets, third teachers…” (1Co 12.28).
“And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ…” (Eph 4.11–12).
We know the difference between truth and error by doing what the Jews did in Acts 17.11,
“These were more fair-minded than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness, and searched the Scriptures daily to find out whether these things were so.”
I know that you have no intention of trying to put me out of work, but if everyone could understand all of Scripture by themselves, I would be happy to be out of a job and to go back to operating a backhoe.
We definitely need to pray, as we search the Scriptures when we listen to someone teach the word of God, and of course, compare what they say with what the Bible actually says.