One Lord, one Faith, one Baptism – Reflections on the Ethiopian Eunuch

The book of Acts relates the growth of the New Testament Church following Pentecost.  What we see in Acts is the Holy Spirit working through God’s means of grace as distributed by the apostles and disciples of the early Church.  We see people being brought to faith through the proclamation of the Gospel, people being baptized, and people coming together as one body to partake of Christ’s body and blood in the Sacrament of the Altar.

In Acts 8, the apostle Philip is told to go south to the desert road that connects Jerusalem and Gaza.  While on the road he runs into an Ethiopian eunuch who serves in the court of Candace, the queen of the Ethiopians.  There had been a large Jewish presence in Ethiopia for centuries.  So, Philip meets this particular Ethiopian eunuch as he is returning from worshiping at the Jewish temple in Jerusalem.  

While the Ethiopian is in his chariot, he’s reading from the Old Testament book of Isaiah.  He’s reading, in fact, from Isaiah 53, which is one of the texts we traditionally read on Good Friday, because it talks about the suffering and atoning death of the Christ.  Philip asks the man if he understands what he is reading, but the man replies, “How can I, unless someone guides me?”  So, he invites Philip into his chariot and asks him, “About whom, I ask you, does the prophet say this, about himself or about someone else?”

So, the Ethiopian is reading the Scriptures, but doesn’t fully understand them.  He doesn’t yet know Christ, so the Scriptures don’t quite make sense.  Christ is the center-point and central thread of the Scriptures, so if you don’t know Christ, you miss the main point of the Bible.  So, Philip teaches him and, beginning with Isaiah 53, begins to tell “him the good news about Jesus.”  That is to say, Philip shows the Ethiopian eunuch that Jesus Christ is in the Old Testament and how the Scriptures are fulfilled in Christ.  

Then, as they come upon water, the man says, “See, here is water!  What prevents me from being baptized?”  In some manuscripts and translations of the Bible, there is another verse after this where Philip says, “If you believe with all your heart you may.”  And the man answers, “I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.”  Then, after this confession of faith, they stop, and Philip baptizes the man.  Philip is then carried away and the man “went on his way rejoicing.”

This event with the Ethiopian eunuch helps to demonstrate that there are really four things going on or connected in Baptism: water, the Word of God, the Holy Spirit, and faith.  Water, without these other things is just plain water.  It’s baptismal water when it’s connected with the Word and promise of God.  Yet, it’s not magical water, as if we’re saying a magic formula or incantation.  In fact, in the verses prior to this in Acts 8, the magician Simon Magus attempts to “buy” power from the apostles; he’s missing the point.  The water in itself is not powerful, it’s the Word and promise of God and the bestowal of the Holy Spirit which gives the baptismal event its power.  Yet, without faith, the person receiving the Baptism doesn’t receive all the benefits that Baptism bestows.  Faith is what trusts in the Word and promise of God; faith is what sees that God really does work through the waters of Baptism to claim us as His own and to clothe us with the righteousness of Christ.  

Thus, water, the Word, the Spirit, and faith are all connected in Baptism.  Yet, they don’t all necessarily occur at the same time.  We, as linear-thinking Westerners, tend to want to place everything on a nice neat timeline.  Yet, these four things which are connected in Baptism may, in fact, be separated by time and come in different orders.  

So, some people are baptized as infants, and the faith is confessed by their sponsors for them, just as salvation is won for them by Christ, rather than themselves.  Then, when they get older and are taught the faith, they then confess it for themselves at confirmation; it’s all part of the same baptismal event, though.  Other people are baptized as adults, and the faith is confessed before they are baptized.  

Yet, it’s the same baptism and same faith that both infants and adults receive; it’s the same Spirit and Word that they are given, the same promise of salvation and eternal life in Christ.  As Paul says in Ephesians 4: “There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call— one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all” (Ephesians 4:4-6).  

So, whether you were baptized early in life or later, you all share the same Baptism, confess the same faith, have the same Lord.

And this baptism connects you with Christ’s own death and resurrection.  Do you remember what the payment or wages for sin is?  It’s death, as Paul says in Romans 6:23.  Yet, he also says that the “free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

But, we’re sinners right?  Don’t we deserve to die?  We do, and we have in fact died.  Paul also says, “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?  We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life” (Romans 6:3-4).

In Baptism, God killed you by burying you with Christ.  You were born the first time into the fallen image of Adam, a condemned image chained by sin and death.  But, God killed that person in the waters of Baptism.  Then, he raised you up just as Christ was raised, and rebirthed you into the image of Christ, so that you now walk in newness of life with him and with all the others who have also died and risen with him.  You have been “born again” by water and the Word.  

So, you are not the people you once were; you died and were raised.  Therefore, you are now free to live as the people you are in Christ.  You are called to live as part of Christ’s flock and family, because he has brought you into it, and you all have him as the one and same Shepherd. 

So, we can all talk openly about stuff, important stuff, because we all are living with Christ as our Shepherd who cares for us.  We are freed to talk to each other, because we are all brothers and sisters in Christ as the children of God.  We can talk to each other and ask for forgiveness and apologize to each other when we wrong each other, because we are family.  Family doesn’t worry about whether or not the other members of the family will still love them when they argue, because a family is stuck with each other.  And we are a family, God’s family, stuck with each other, because Christ has made us a family.

So all of you within the Church are part of God’s family, united by Christ, reconciled with God and each other through him.  Look out for each other, pray for each other, love each other, bear with one another, and forgive each other.  Christ has done this for you, and is continuing to do it for you, and so we are to treat each other as Christ has treated us.  We have received mercy, so give mercy to others.  We have received forgiveness, so forgive others.  We sinners have been reconciled to God, so reconcile to each other as well.

Christ died for you.  And he died for all the others in this world, many of whom don’t know it or don’t acknowledge it; the mission of the Church is to bring the word of God to all people so that all people may know Christ and be baptized into his death and resurrection and therefore receive salvation through faith. 

And all of you have been baptized into Christ and have had God’s name placed on you as He called you as His own.  God did this to all of you, and you are all His.  You truly are blood family, because you are united by the blood of Christ that he shed for you on the cross.  You are united with Philip, with the Ethiopian eunuch, with the apostles, with all the other believers of the Old and New Testaments.  You all have one Lord, one faith, one Baptism, and will be re-united in person at the end of the age.  Amen.

 

 

(Image: Saint Philip Baptising the Ethiopian Eunuch, by Aelbert Cuyp – https://artuk.org/discover/artworks/saint-philip-baptising-the-ethiopian-eunuch-170078, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=66141189 )