Here in Acts 8 we find Philip, who just a little earlier had shared the Gospel in Samaria. Now the Gospel goes to the ‘ends of the earth’ through Philip. Luke takes time to develop the persona of Philip. He is portrayed as prophetic – he proclaims the Gospel with signs and wonders, he speaks with angels, he is whisked up by the Spirit, he runs along chariots of mighty men (invokes images of OT prophets). Luke is painting the prophetic missional character of Philip to be a forerunner of the prophetic mission and mandate of the Gospel. The Eunuch
Not only does this wealthy Ethiopian represent people, that to the Jewish Christians, were at the ends of the earth, he also represents people that have been ostracized and kept away from God because of their very identity as a eunuch, a mutilated one.
In antiquity, eunuchs belonged to the most abhorred and ridiculed group of men, often being slaves who had been castrated to inflict punishment or enact servitude. If they did rise to a position of prominence they could not escape the stigma of their sexless condition.
The story of Acts 8:26-40 and its reference to Isaiah 53, portrays a God who wholeheartedly pursues relationship with the outsider and outcast, in this case a foreign eunuch.
In Deuteronomy 23:1 it says that “no one who is emasculated or has his male organ cut off shall enter the assembly of the Lord.”
So to fulfill the prophetic Gospel mandate of the ends of the earth, God chooses an Ethiopian Eunuch – a scandalous choice of grace. This eunuch, although he would be excluded from the religious festival in Jerusalem went to worship anyway “This eunuch, symbolizing the community of ostracised sexual minorities, is among the first of the outcasts from ancient Israel to be welcomed into Jesus' discipleship of equals”
– Jerome Neyrey, paper on the social world of Luke-Acts.
This is indeed a strange and scandalous story. I don’t think those early Jerusalem Christians ever imagined this is what ‘Gospel to the ends of the earth’ message looked like. Perhaps, like us today, they had a much neater, less risqué, ideal of what it would mean for the good news of an incarnate Christ to travel outside their boundaries and comfort zones. Philip’s obedience, courage and kindness results in a conversation of questions:1. Do you understand what you are reading?
Philip makes a genuine enquiry to the Eunuch – this is not an arrogant, patronizing question, but a man who genuinely wants to understand the perspective of the other. “The gospel is not just the illustration (even the best illustration) of an idea. It is the story of actions by which the human situation is irreversibly changed.”
– Lesslie Newbigin, The Gospel in a Pluralist Society
In Luke 4 Jesus sums up his mandate from Isaiah – to preach the good news to the poor, announce release to the prisoners, recovery of sight to the blind, set the oppressed free and announce the year of the Lord’s favour – the Gospel is void of power when disciples do not engage in an active way in making things right.2. How can I understand unless someone explains it to me?
For Philip, this question in the desert and the invitation to sit next to him in the chariot is permission given to share the kingdom story.
Reflections: Firstly, that this whole encounter was orchestrated by God, not by a set of goals or human effort.
Secondly, that Philip’s approach, his humility, his willingness to listen and understand, led to an invitation to share.
3. About whom, may I ask you, does the prophet say this, about himself or about someone else?
Isaiah 53 identified with the Eunuch and then Philip helped him ‘join the dots’. Philip, the disciple of a Missional God (Missio Dei – God as the sent one) helped the Eunuch understand that the Scripture he was reading demonstrated how God was already at work in his life.As a disciple of God as the sent one, the One who has already gone before you, and is already well at work in the life of planet earth – your job, like Philip’s – is to, with humility and gentleness, walk alongside another, and upon their request and invitation, help them join the dots that reveals the Imago Dei (the image of God), God already at work in their lives – and point them to Jesus.
4. Here is water. Why can’t I be baptized?
Imagine the moment for the Eunuch when he realized the Gospel applied to him – a man who has been outcast probably from his birth. He wore a stigma and ridicule from every social sphere – in his culture, in the religion he was trying to pursue, in his role, in his political positioning – everything about him reminded him every day that he did not belong.
And then Philip shares the Gospel – the Gospel that says you are accepted, loved and belong – that faith, believing in your heart that Jesus Christ is Lord is what makes you a disciple and equal amongst the Christian community. This man would have no comprehension of what that would be like – to be equal amongst brothers and sisters.
We also forget that for Philip this whole new journey, this journey of faith takes him totally out of his comfort zone. He realizes as he goes to the water with the eunuch that this will not be popular amongst his fellow Jewish friends, and even amongst most of the Messianic Jews who are still getting their head around the fact that God is bigger than the boundaries of their religion in Samaria.Conclusion“When they came up out of the water, the Spirit of God suddenly took Philip off, and that was the last the eunuch saw of him. But he didn’t mind. He had what he’d come for and went on down the road as happy as he could be.”Discussion Questions
1. The acceptance of the Ethiopian Eunuch into the family of God totally broke the Judaic understanding of who was ‘in’ and who was ‘out’ – how should we reflect about that today?
2. How does the manner in which Philip approaches and shares with the Eunuch inform our modern day understanding of evangelism and mission?
3. Discuss ways in which we can help neighbours/friends ‘join the dots’ to Christ?
4. Do you think modern day Christianity shares the Gospel in such a manner that it leaves people ‘as happy as they could be’?
5. God orchestrated the whole encounter between Philip and the Eunuch. Why should that be such a great source of encouragement for us today?