Acts 8 is a chapter about preaching the gospel. Those who preached in this chapter were the persecuted, scattered saints (8:4), Philip the evangelist (8:5, 35, 40), and the apostles Peter and John (8:25). The message they preached was “the word” (8:4), “Christ” (8:5), things concerning the kingdom, the name of Jesus Christ, and baptism (8:12), “the word of the Lord” (8:25), “the gospel” (8:25), and “Jesus” (8:35). The result of their preaching was the conversion and salvation of souls. People believed and were baptized, and by doing so, they “received the word of God” (8:12-14). A sinning Christian learned from hearing the apostle’s teaching that he needed to repent and pray for God’s forgiveness (8:18-24). A lost Ethiopian came to believe in Jesus Christ and was baptized, resulting in great joy (8:35-39). One cannot read Acts 8 without being impressed with gospel preaching’s central role in saving sinners. The Samaritans, Simon, and the Ethiopian eunuch were brought to faith, obedience, and salvation from sins through preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ. Sinners cannot hear the word of God, believe it, call on the name of the Lord, and be saved without gospel preaching (Rom. 10:13-17). Why and what are you preaching, preacher? What kind of preaching do you want, Christian? Gospel preaching is not entertainment. It is not a psychology session. It is not the pleasing pabulum of positive platitudes. It is not a sharing session of opinions. It is the proclamation of the gospel, God’s power to save the lost (Rom. 1:16; Gal. 1:6-12; 2 Tim. 4:1-5). We need more gospel preaching, not less.
35 Then Philip opened his mouth, and beginning from this Scripture he preached Jesus to him. 36 As they went along the road they came to some water; and the eunuch said, “Look! Water! What prevents me from being baptized?” 37 And 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.” (Acts 8:35–37, NASB95)
This passage resolves important questions about the salvation of sinners. 1) The lost need to hear the gospel to be saved. Faith comes from hearing the word of God (Rom. 1:16; 10:17). When Philip “preached Christ” in Samaria, it included things concerning the kingdom of God, the name of Jesus Christ, and baptism (Acts 8:5, 12). Philip preached the same gospel to the Ethiopian. We correctly conclude that infants do not need saving because they cannot hear and believe the gospel. 2) Preaching Jesus includes the evidence needed to believe He is the Christ, the Son of God. How else did the Ethiopian come to believe Jesus is God’s Son except by hearing the evidence (cf. Jno. 20:30-31; Acts 2:40-41)? 3) Preaching Jesus includes water baptism. The Ethiopian would have known nothing about water baptism without Philip explaining it to him. Undoubtedly, he explained it is for the remission of sins to be saved by Christ (Acts 2:38; 1 Pet. 3:21). 4) Belief in Christ precedes water baptism. This is more evidence that babies are not proper candidates for baptism since they do not have the mental and moral capacity to believe. 5) Christ’s plan of salvation is belief plus baptism equals salvation (Mk. 16:16). It is not belief, salvation, and then baptism. Neither is it baptism, saved, and then believe.
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.” 38 So he commanded the chariot to stand still. And both Philip and the eunuch went down into the water, and he baptized him. (Acts 8:35–38, NKJV)
Was the Ethiopian saved before he was baptized? Many think so. We know he heard about Jesus, without which he could not learn of his sin and come to Jesus for salvation (Jno. 6:44-45). We know he believed what he heard (that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, Jno. 8:23-24). Both his belief and his confession of faith were unto (in order to) salvation (Rom. 10:9-10). Although repentance is not mentioned, we infer it (Acts 2:37-38). But, what about baptism? Why did he want to be baptized? Was it because he was already saved? Or, did he believe he was still lost until he was baptized? Mark 16:16 gives the Bible answer to this important question. Jesus said, “He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned.” Unbelief condemns, but one is saved from condemnation when he “believes and is baptized.” That is what the eunuch heard, learned, and believed when Philip preached Jesus to him. That is why he urgently desired to be baptized – because he knew he wanted to be saved. He rejoiced after he was baptized, not before. Now we understand why, because that is when he was saved. Those who tell you the eunuch was saved before he was baptized contradict Jesus. That is never a good place to be (Jno. 12:48).
28 … And sitting in his chariot, he was reading Isaiah the prophet. 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. (Acts 8:28–31, NKJV)
This man from Ethiopia was reading the Scriptures. He wanted to understand them, yet he recognized his need to be taught their meaning. He put his desire into action by asking Philip to join him in his chariot, upon which he identified the text he was reading and asked Philip, “of whom does the prophet say this, of himself or of someone else” (Acts 8:32-34)? Philip started with that Scripture and preached Jesus to him (Acts 8:35). Our willingness to be taught the Scriptures says some important things about us. It says we want to know God’s will. It says to learn we must have the humility to ask for instruction. It says we do not have all the answers, but the Scriptures do. We learn from this encounter that the Scriptures can be understood. We learn the Scriptures are the source of information to learn about Jesus (not human wisdom, church traditions, credal confessions, etc.). And, we learn God wants us to teach His Scriptures to others. So, we must want to learn from the Scriptures. And, we must want to teach the Scriptures. Both are crucial to faith and salvation in Jesus (Acts 8:36-39).
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?” (Acts 8:35–36, NKJV)
This passage is particularly instructive about what it means to preach Jesus. Preaching Jesus identifies Him as the suffering Servant of God who sacrificed His life (Acts 8:32-34; Isa. 53:7-8). It includes teaching about sin and salvation from it. The Ethiopian was lost, and wanted to be saved. The water would facilitate his salvation. When he asked Philip about baptism, he had not yet announced his personal faith in Jesus, since Philip stated that as the condition upon which he could be baptized (v. 37). To preach Jesus means preaching baptism, since the Ethiopian immediately asked about it when he saw water. How else did he know about baptism, expect that Philip spoke of it when he “preached Jesus” to him? Surely, he told the man what Jesus preached about baptism: “He that believes and is baptized will be saved” (Mk. 16:16). The Ethiopian confessed his personal faith, stopped the chariot, and Philip baptized him (Acts 8:37-38). The man joyfully went on his way, because he was saved when he believed and was baptized. Christ continues to save sinners the same way, today. What hinders you from being baptized to be saved?