Acts 8 26-40
The story told in Acts is so much fun I decided to work with it today instead of focusing on the gospel.
Philip is one of the consistently-named disciples in the lists of disciples. He doesn’t stand out like Peter and John, but he plays an important role in the spread of the good news. The gospel of John tells Philip’s story: Jesus found Philip and called him to follow. Philip believed in Jesus and went to find Nathanael.
Along the shore of the Sea of Galilee, the people are hungry. Jesus has a conversation with Philip about where they can buy food to feed the multitude. Philip is honest and declares that they would need a lot of money to buy just a little food for so many people. Just then Andrew reports that a boy in the crowd has some bread and some fish to share.
During Jesus’ last week, Jesus and the disciples are often in Jerusalem. One day, some Greeks approach Philip, asking to see Jesus. Philip consults with Andrew, and together they go to Jesus, who sees this as a sign that his death is near.
During their last night together, Jesus talks for chapter after chapter. At one point, Philip says to Jesus, “Show us the Father.” Jesus replies, “When you see me, you see the Father.”
In Acts, we learn about the ministry of Philip, who went to Samaria to preach and heal and baptize many people.
Next, we get today’s story about Philip being sent by an angel to go to the road from Jerusalem to Gaza. The Spirit directs Philip to join the eunuch in his chariot, who “just happens” to be travelling on that road.
… Eunuchs in ancient times were often slaves, more expensive than regular slaves. Eunuchs were men who had had surgery to make sure they could not make babies.
They were often personal attendants of the royalty, including kings and queens, and the king’s harem of women. Often they were administrators, such as treasurers. This eunuch is in charge of the Queen’s entire treasury! He must have been wealthy! He was in Jerusalem for a Jewish holiday, but I’d guess he paired it with a business trip, perhaps a trade mission on behalf of the queen.
This particular eunuch was either a Jew or a Gentile believer in the Jewish God. He is called Ethiopian, so he has dark skin like most African people. Because of his altered body, he would not have been allowed in the temple, though some synagogue leaders may have welcomed him.
He was reading – so he was literate, or a servant was reading to him – from a copy of an Isaiah scroll. He was reading a portion which describes the suffering servant from Isaiah 53. “Like a sheep he was led to the slaughter, and like a lamb silent before its shearer, so he does not open his mouth. 33In his humiliation justice was denied him. Who can describe his generation? For his life is taken away from the earth.”
The eunuch asks Philip about this text. “Is Isaiah talking about himself, or someone else?” It’s a perfect opportunity for Philip to tell about Jesus’ life, death and resurrection, and the good news he brings. When Philip has finished talking, the eunuch asks, “Will you baptize me right now?” There is not a lot of water near Jerusalem, but amazingly, there is some water near the road and Philip baptizes him. And then, Philip suddenly disappears and finds himself at Azotus, where he continues to preach, heal, and baptize.
The eunuch continues on his way home.
… I’d like to have some fun with the story now. Imagine that, by some anachronistic miracle, the eunuch and the queen have cell phones. The eunuch is so excited he can’t wait until he gets home to tell the queen about his news, so he pulls his phone out of his tunic and phones home. What would he say, do you think? Jesus rose from the dead and appeared to people; Jesus loves everybody, even people like me!; I just got baptized!; I can’t wait to tell the people at home!
… Imagine that Philip and Peter also have cell phones. What do you imagine their conversation sounded like?
What would Philip say first? I just baptized an Ethiopian eunuch! The Spirit told me to do it! He was reading Isaiah and wanted to know more, so I told him. The Spirit sent me to the Gaza Road, and then, suddenly, here I am in Azotus, miles and miles away.
What do you think Peter said? You did what?! But he’s not Jewish! But he’s not whole! The Spirit did that?
How do you think Philip responded to Peter’s doubts? Jesus loved everybody, including the Centurion and the Samaritan woman and the Canaanite woman. Jesus welcomed all sorts of people. What’s the problem?
What does this mean for us today? We should let the Spirit guide and send us where we would never think of going, and talk to people we would never think of talking to.
I invite you to pay attention this week to the Spirit. Pray for the Spirit to enter your life in a powerful way. Where is the Spirit sending you? To whom? Trust the Spirit to enter your conversation, give you words to say, and to work in the heart of the person you are talking to.
Please pray with me. Amazing Spirit, send us out. Send us to share your love and good news with those whom you are trying to reach. Use us. Amen