The church’s one foundation.
Christ himself is the Key to the church’s faith, the Cornerstone of all that they believe.
One of my absolute favorite little stories in all of the Bible occurs in the latter half of Acts chapter 8, which recounts Philip’s encounter with the Ethiopian eunuch (Acts 8:26–40). All in all, it’s a passage with immense depth, highlighting the early church’s method of evangelism, means of discipleship, and mode of baptism. It also contains the fundamental premise for one of my favorite topics. Namely, that “all of Scripture is pure Christ.” That turn of phrase has become part of my spiritual vernacular, and I pray to continue cluing others in to its resonance as well. In fact, I even used it as the title for the very first sermon I delivered at the church where I serve. It hails from a longer quote by Martin Luther, who proceeds to say:
Everything is focused on this Son, so that we might know him distinctively and in that way see the Father and the Holy Spirit eternally as one God. To him who has the Son, the Scripture is an open book; and the stronger his faith in Christ becomes, the more brightly will the light of Scripture shine for him. (3)
Such, I’d say, is the principal takeaway from the scene with Philip and the eunuch. As it was, Philip was preaching “in many villages of the Samaritans” (Acts 8:25). He was enjoying the fruits of successful ministry, complete with signs and wonders and miracles bringing many to salvation (Acts 8:6, 13). Now, however, God gives him the clear direction to leave that productive and established ministry to go to “nowhere,” basically (Acts 8:26). From the bustling heights of the Jerusalem metroplex, he is called by “the angel of the Lord” to continue his witness in the wilder-wasteland outside of town. And so, after being told to “arise, and go,” Philip “arose and went.” Rather stay where he was, Philip follows the Spirit’s direction, and goes “down from Jerusalem unto Gaza, which is desert.” Along the way, he happens upon “a man of Ethiopia, an eunuch of great authority under Candace queen of the Ethiopians” (Acts 8:27). This, of course, wasn’t happenstance or luck at all. This was a divinely ordained and orchestrated encounter at the hands of the Spirit of the Lord. He was the One who brought all things together in order to place Philip and this eunuch on the road together at the same exact time.
Now, a couple of things about this “Ethiopian eunuch.” (1) He was “an eunuch,” which likely meant that he had been emasculated by the very monarchy he served. This wasn’t an uncommon practice, however uncomfortable it sounds to me as I talk about it. It was usually done under the auspices of safeguarding the royal line. If you’re a king with multiple wives, how do you make sure no one but you impregnates them? Well, by castrating anyone who regularly interacts with them. In that way, then, the throne would be preserved from any unwanted claims to it. (2) He was a man of high rank as we’re told he held “great authority” in the court where he served. In fact, Luke tells us that he was the royal family’s chief treasurer (Acts 8:27). Daily he was in proximity to the royal family and their comings and goings, which, I gather, likewise meant that he was intimately familiar with both their political and spiritual dispositions. And that last part is really interesting.
Primarily because: (3) He was visiting Jerusalem “for to worship” (Acts 8:27). For some reason, this aristocratic out-of-towner had ventured to the City of Jehovah for the express purpose of worshiping and learning. Perhaps he had heard rumors about “the Christ,” and wanted to know more. Perhaps he was spiritually thirsty, and all other avenues of spirituality had all but dried up already. Whatever the case may be, Philip finds him in his chariot reading an Old Testament scroll (Acts 8:28–29). In fact, it “just so happens” that he’s reading from Isaiah 53! I say that tongue-in-cheek, because, again, this is no chance encounter. It wasn’t serendipity, it was divine sovereignty. The eunuch is reading from that grandiloquent prophecy of the Man of Sorrows, but he’s unable to make sense of what he’s reading.
And Philip ran thither to him, and heard him read the prophet Esaias, and said, Understandest thou what thou readest? And he said, How can I, except some man should guide me? And he desired Philip that he would come up and sit with him. The place of the scripture which he read was this, He was led as a sheep to the slaughter; and like a lamb dumb before his shearer, so opened he not his mouth: in his humiliation his judgment was taken away: and who shall declare his generation? for his life is taken from the earth. And the eunuch answered Philip, and said, I pray thee, of whom speaketh the prophet this? of himself, or of some other man? (Acts 8:30–34)
And that’s when Philip opens his mouth and, in so doing, opens the doors to this eunuch’s heart. “Then Philip opened his mouth, and began at the same scripture, and preached unto him Jesus” (Acts 8:35). From “the same scripture,” Philip expounded and explained how it all pointed to Jesus. That same Jesus of Nazareth is himself the hinge upon whom all of Scripture, all of history, turns. He’s the focal point, the fulfillment, the divine finale. And it is in that way, then, that Philip’s testimony demonstrates that from the earliest days of the church, there existed a conviction that Christ Jesus was at the center of all of it. He was the Key to the church’s faith. The Cornerstone of all that they believe. I wonder, does the modern church have the same conviction?
One of the reasons why the christocentricity of Scripture is such a significant topic for me is because I see it one of the prevailing problems in the church today (consider, “The things concerning himself” — “On the christo-centricity of Scripture” — “Jesus is the better everything” — “The mountainous gospel of God”). We’ve forgotten what our Bible is for. Far too often, it’s regarded as nothing more than a compendium of spiritual, moral, and ethical truths, with the exemplary pattern of Jesus as the model to follow for a “well-lived life.” But if that’s all we believe the Bible is, no wonder we walk around like spiritual zombies. No wonder we don’t find the faith animating and intoxicating. What quickens those who are “dead in sin” isn’t the articulation of biblical philosophy but the proclamation of a Person. “The intent of the Divine Author,” writes Andrew Herbert, “is that every text points to Jesus. Therefore, there is not a dichotomy between discovering the original intent of the text and the Christocentric focus of the text — those two tasks are one and the same. That is, the road of true Biblical exegesis will always arrive at the destination of a Jesus-centered sermon” (26).
Chad Bird echoes the same thing when he writes: “The key called Christ not only opens the doors of every room from Genesis to Malachi; when you walk inside, what you see there is Christ as well. He is the key, and he is the content. In one way or another, every narrative, every prophet, every psalm, whispers his name and winks about his mission” (vii). Every single page in the Bible is meant to drive us to Jesus. That’s not just an esoteric fad or hermeneutical trend. That’s the elemental foundation of all biblical truth. And I say that because Jesus made the same assertion. “And beginning at Moses and all the prophets, he expounded unto them in all the scriptures the things concerning himself” (Luke 24:27). The apostles’ understanding, and the eunuch’s after them, and every believer ever since, was opened at the realization that Christ himself is the point. To get away from him, even in the slightest degree, is to get away from the One who is himself the divine crescendo of God’s Story.
Actually, I think Sally Lloyd-Jones says it best:
Now, some people think the Bible is a book of rules, telling you what you should and shouldn’t do. the Bible certainly does have some rules in it. They show you how life works best. But the Bible isn’t mainly about you and what you should be doing. It’s about God and what he has done.
Other people think the Bible is a book of heroes, showing you people you should copy. the Bible does have some heroes in it, but (as you’ll soon find out) most of the people in the Bible aren’t heroes at all. They make some big mistakes (sometimes on purpose). They get afraid and run away. At times they are downright mean.
No, the Bible isn’t a book of rules, or a book of heroes. the Bible is most of all a Story. It’s an adventure story about a young Hero who comes from a far country to win back his lost treasure. It’s a love story about a brave Prince who leaves his palace, his throne — everything — to rescue the one he loves. It’s like the most wonderful of fairy tales that has come true in real life!
You see, the best thing about this Story is — it’s true.
There are lots of stories in the Bible, but all the stories are telling one Big Story. The Story of how God loves his children and comes to rescue them.
It takes the whole Bible to tell this Story. And at the center of the Story, there is a baby. Every Story in the Bible whispers his name. He is like the missing piece in a puzzle — the piece that makes all the other pieces fit together, and suddenly you can see a beautiful picture. (2–3)
Grace and peace, my friends.
Chad Bird, The Christ Key: Unlocking the Centrality of Christ in the Old Testament (Irvine, CA: 1517, 2021).
Andrew Herbert, “How to Make Jesus the Hero of Every Sermon,” But We Preach Christ Crucified: Preachers on Preaching, edited by Jason K. Allen (Kansas City, MO: Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, 2015.
Sally Lloyd-Jones, The Story of God’s Love for You (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2015).
Martin Luther, quoted in Charles A. Gieschen, “All Scripture Is Pure Christ: Luther’s Christocentric Interpretation in the Context of Reformation Exegesis,” Concordia Theological Quarterly 81 (2017): 3–17.