Friday, February 15

The African Eunuch

26 An angel of the Lord spoke to Philip: “Get up and go south to the road that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.” (This is the desert road.) 27 So he got up and went. There was an Ethiopian man, a eunuch and high official of Candace, queen of the Ethiopians, who was in charge of her entire treasury. He had come to worship in Jerusalem 28 and was sitting in his chariot on his way home, reading the prophet Isaiah aloud.

29 The Spirit told Philip, “Go and join that chariot.”

30 When Philip ran up to it, he heard him reading the prophet Isaiah, and said, “Do you understand what you’re reading?”

31 “How can I,” he said, “unless someone guides me?” So he invited Philip to come up and sit with him. 32 Now the Scripture passage he was reading was this:

He was led like a sheep to the slaughter,
and as a lamb is silent before its shearer,
so he does not open his mouth.
33 In his humiliation justice was denied him.
Who will describe his generation?
For his life is taken from the earth.


34 The eunuch said to Philip, “I ask you, who is the prophet saying this about—himself or someone else?” 35 Philip proceeded to tell him the good news about Jesus, beginning with that Scripture.

36 As they were traveling down the road, they came to some water. The eunuch said, “Look, there’s water. What would keep me from being baptized?” 38 So he ordered the chariot to stop, and both Philip and the eunuch went down into the water, and he baptized him. 39 When they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord carried Philip away, and the eunuch did not see him any longer but went on his way rejoicing. 40 Philip appeared in Azotus, and he was traveling and preaching the gospel in all the towns until he came to Caesarea.

(Act 8:26-26 CSB)

God will arrange divine appointments, if we’re willing to listen and go. Philip had led many Samaritans to faith in Jesus, and building that community would have been worthwhile ministry, but God sends him south. Then, God tells Philip to approach a chariot carrying a high court official—so, not the type of transportation or traveler that an ordinary person wanders over to for some casual conversation. Officials of a queen don’t fly coach.

Scripture provides the common ground, though.

As a court official from Ethiopia, this man was most likely not Jewish, not even a Jew who had moved to Africa as a result of the Exile. He was, however, what Luke often refers to in Acts as a God-fearer—a Gentile who believed in and worshipped the God of the Jews. As biblical commentator F.F. Bruce points out, given the pantheon of warring and petty gods most ancient peoples worshipped, the wisdom, sovereignty and shalom (peace) proffered by the sole deity of the Jewish faith was immensely attractive to surrounding nations (as Moses said it would be). Some God-fearers even converted to the Jewish faith, meaning they were baptized, and males underwent the rite of circumcision. This man could not convert, though, because the Torah (Jewish law) prohibited him from entering the Lord’s assembly. The assembly gathered in the holy presence of Yahweh, so all those entering had to meet purity standards, both for sin but also for ritual cleanness. Ritual purity involved cleansing oneself not from sin, but from those things that were an aberration to life, and thus an aberration from the way Yahweh—who’s very essence is life and being—created life to be. This type of ritual purity is why there all those weird chapters in Leviticus about bleeding, discharge and skin disease. It’s also why, in Deuteronomy 23:1, castrated males are excluded from the Lord’s assembly; their condition, while not sinful, places them in a sort of permanent impurity. This is a brief explanation of a complicated and foreign issue, but important for understanding the Ethiopian official’s reality. Court officers were often castrated in ancient times, but no matter how much honor there was in his political position, it kept him permanently outside of the presence of the God he worshipped.

Yet he worshipped. And studied. Even when he didn’t understand. God honored this man’s devotion, and sent Philip to explain the Gospel—God’s very good news, especially for someone like this official. Luke tells us that Philip ‘began with the Scripture’ he had been reading, which was Isaiah 53. Philip likely  led the man on a Bible study through Isaiah, explaining how Jesus was the fulfillment of all these glorious promises. Then they would have read Isaiah 56:3-7:

No foreigner who has joined himself to the LORD should say, 

“The LORD will exclude me from his people,”

And the eunuch should not say, 

“Look, I am a dried-up tree.”

For the LORD says this:

“For the eunuchs who keep my Sabbaths, 

And choose what pleases me,

And hold firmly to my covenant,

I will give them, in my house and within my walls,

A memorial and a name

Better than sons and daughters.

I will give each of them an everlasting name

That will never be cut off.

As for the foreigners who join themselves to the LORD

To minister to him, to love the name of the LORD,

And to become his servants…

I will bring them to my holy mountain

And let them rejoice in my house of prayer…

For my house will be called a house of prayer for all nations.”


This man was a dark-skinned foreigner. A eunuch. No children to remember him and carry on his name and memory. Permanently excluded from the house of the God He worshipped. 

The Gospel is such good news for him. In Jesus, the doors are flung open wide. Jesus’ purity becomes our purity and all are invited, welcomed, included. No outsiders, no foreigners. None unworthy, none disgraced. All loved.

Can you hear the excitement in the eunuch’s voice when he sees the water? What would keep me from being baptized?!? Before, his skin color and sexual status had kept him permanently excluded, but not anymore.

The eunuch came out of that water a new man, a whole man, a Jesus-following man, and “he went on his way rejoicing.” Christian tradition holds that this man became the first evangelist in Africa.

This man was, by the old system, a hopeless outsider. We’re starting to see a pattern: first Samaritans, now an African eunuch. We often get lost in the details of the stories in Acts 8 and miss the grand narrative. A massive shift is happening. The Gospel hasn’t just gone beyond the geographical boundaries of Jerusalem, it’s going beyond every ethnic, cultural and religious boundary.



Reflection

Re-read Isaiah 56:3-7 through the eyes of the African eunuch, and let the good news wash over you. God’s salvation was for his sin, yes, but he also redeemed every element of that man’s life—elements beyond his control—that made him feel isolated, lonely, hopeless. When we diminish the Gospel to just the forgiveness of sins, we strip it of the radical fullness of the message that, in Jesus, all are invited. All welcomed. All loved. All included. All have a future. All have a family. All have a role and honor.

Look for your divine appointment today, this week, or this month. There is a person who desperately needs to hear the fullness of the Gospel, and you just might be their Philip.

Prayer

Father, thank you for the greatness of your salvation in Jesus. Set up a divine appointment for me that I might share this good, good news with someone who feels permanently excluded from Your love and promises. Amen.


Pick Four More Activities

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  • Listen and Worship.

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  • Read a Book.

  • Retell the Gospel to Yourself.

  • Take Some Notes on Today's Devotional.

  • Pray for Yourself, Your Family, Your Church, and the Lost.

  • Memorize a Verse.

  • List Five Things You're Thankful For.

  • Encourage Someb

Megan NessonComment