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7. I Understand Nothing!

Can it happen that somone goes home from church and understands nothing of the Bible he has in his hands? It has often happened - as it did with this Ethiopian official!

ACTS 8:31 Read this verse in your Bible and fill in the missing words here:
(NKJ) And he (the official) said, "How can I, unless someone _______________ me?"

An Honest Answer

This man had journeyed from the outpost of the earth to visit the temple, which was the church in Jerusalem. And yet, on his way home he had to confess: "I understand nothing! The Bible remains a closed book to me. How can I understand unless someone explains it to me?"

That was the answer given by the Ethiopian to Philip's question. It strikes us that he spoke so openly about his problem. He didn't attempt to create the impression that he understood the Scriptures. Despite the fact that he was a high official and an important person, he did not blush to confess his inability. Not even to a strange pedestrian!

Going to Church Is Not Enough

We do not know very much about this man from Africa. We do not even know his name. The few things we do know are good things. We cannot help liking him. He was an honest person. An upright man. He was not proud.

And more: he was an earnest searcher. He longed to understand the Bible! He wasn't satisfied to use the Bible as a sort of lucky charm, or a piece of magical equipment. He wanted to know what the Word of God had to say to him. He searched for the true message of the book.

From this we learn an important characteristic of our friend from Africa. He took his religion earnestly. He was not satisfied merely to go to church, even if he had to travel more than 300 kilometres to do it. To read the Bible merely from habit, and give contributions out of sense of duty, evidently could not satisfy him. All these are only external. Even today there are people who are quite happy with an outward religion like this. But not this man!

He had an urgent desire to hear what the Lord wanted to say to him.

The Search Goes On

Some people read the Bible but soon get tired of it. Their excuse is "We understand nothing!" These people don't have the right attitude. They don't try to understand what the Lord wants to say to them. They do not search hard enough for the message of the Bible. They do not want to open their hearts to the work of the Holy Spirit of God. This could never be said of the official from Ethiopia. At first he also didn't understand the message of the Bible correctly. But he kept on searching.

He travelled far to visit the temple and pray there. But he could not find an answer to all his questions. So great was his desire to understand the message of the Bible that on his journey home he was still busy with the Word of God. His search went on.

It need not surprise us that he struggled to understand that passage from Isaiah. The Old Testament tells of the Saviour who would come to give his life for the sins of the world. It is only someone who has come to know this Saviour, Jesus Christ, who can grasp the great message of the Bible correctly. That is why the people in Jerusalem couldn't help him. The Jews he met at the temple evidently did not want to accept this Jesus as the Saviour of the World. And so they could not answer his questions.

He was an earnest, honest searcher. It was sad that, even at this moment he had to cry out: "I have no-one to explain the message of the Bible to me!" This cry for help must have touched Philip's heart.

A Step In The Right Direction

This confession of the Ethiopian was at the same time the first step in the direction of solving his problem. People who are ashamed to say, "I don't know, I don't understand," are very difficult to help. When one is ready to ask for help, help can be found.

Philip was surely very happy to get this reply from the high official. Now he knew what to do. He could make the message of Isaiah and that of the whole Bible clear, step by step. He could take this man by the hand and lead him to Jesus.

Philip Wins Confidence

Just look what a marvellous opportunity the messenger of the Lord was given to continue his conversation with the high official from Ethiopia.

ACTS 8:31
Complete this verse from your Bible:
(NKJ) And he asked Philip to __________ _______ and _______ with him.

There must have been something in the attitude and bearing of Philip which the high official liked very much. It could be dangerous and unwise to pick up a strange person along the road. It is so today, and it was in those days.

Travellers on lonely roads were attacked by robbers from time to time. The Lord Jesus Himself on one occasion told a parable about a man who fell among robbers between Jerusalem and Jericho. They took his possessions and nearly beat him to death (why not read Luke 10:25-37?). Despite these dangers the Ethiopian said to this total stranger: "Get in and sit next to me." From this it is clear that Philip won his confidence very quickly.

Two People Differ Greatly

The official from Ethiopia knew absolutely nothing about the person he had picked up. He did not know that Philip was a deacon in the Christian church in Jerusalem. He also didn't know that Philip had become a messenger from God to explain the gospel of Jesus to people who were searching. What is more, it wasn't even clear to him that the Lord God Himself had sent Philip to that lonely road.

What was obvious was that there were very great differences between these two men:
* They belonged to different nations. Their culture and background were so different that they were not alike at all. They were strangers to each other.
* What is more: they were not of the same status. The traveller was the Minister of Finance in his country. Philip was an ordinary person who lived simply.
* The official was a wealthy man. He travelled in comfort in his chariot and evidently had a number of servants at his disposal. Philip was no prominent citizen. He had to foot it and scratch about for his material needs.

Where there are such great differences, people don't usually speak very readily to each other. The rich man could easily have pretended not to hear Philip's question. He could have snapped, "It's none of your business!"

However, he did not do so. He looked up and issued a friendly invitation to the stranger alongside his chariot. He called him closer and said, "Get in and sit next to me!"

From this we can learn two very Important things:

1. A child of God can be recognised

It is clear that the Ethiopian at once recognised that here he had to do with an exceptional person. This is not unusual. A child of God who is upright, honest and busy doing the Lord's work with boldness, is easily recognised.

He is bold, but not cheeky.
He is friendly but doesn't push himself forward.
He is not frightened or ashamed.
He does his work in dependence on the Lord.

Because Philip behaved like this, he could win the confidence of the traveller in the carriage. We don't always realize it, but it is very important to win the confidence of anyone we wish to lead to Christ.

2. A Genuine Searcher Welcomes Help

The man from Africa was a genuine searcher. He wanted answers to his questions. He wanted to understand the message of the Bible correctly. Therefore he did not mind that Philip was a stranger of another nation and a different status than himself. If only he could help, he was most welcome.

Why did this man think that this unknown person who made no great impact at first sight, might be able to help? Perhaps the Holy Spirit of God was already at work in his heart.

Philip was invited to sit in the chariot. Two heads are better than one. Now he had an excellent opportunity to help this man to see the light of the Bible in the darkness of his life.

Questions to answer

1. Why should you not easily tire of studying the Bible?
2. Mention two things about the man from Africa which tell us that he was  a genuine seeker.
3. Mention at least three big differences between the official and Philip.
4. Why did these differences not prevent them speaking with each other about  Jesus? Mention two reasons.