Today we looked at a story in the Bible that I think often gets glanced over. It’s a story we may have heard and may have even read it, but also may have missed it. This has been the case for me preparing for it. It’s a story that has more of its content somewhat hidden in it deeper below the general read. Today we looked at another encounter with the Holy Spirit and it involves Philip & The Ethiopian Eunuch as found in Acts 8:26-40.
There’s a lot of very interesting things in this text so in summary I’ll just point to some of the points and lead us towards our connection card questions.
As a reminder again we are now in a stage in the life of the church where the followers of Christ, the disciples, are trying to spread the good news. So they are going to these dense population centers which is what one would naturally want to do if you were trying to get the word out to the biggest amount of people as possible during this time. The Holy Spirit speaks to Philip, a little known disciple/apostle, and Philip is told by the Spirit to go on the dessert road on down to Gaza, and Philip says OK and goes, and heads down to Gaza. Now Gaza at the time was the city that had been destroyed about 100 years earlier and would not be rebuilt for another 30 years after this moment, which means that Philip was being sent to a city that effectively no longer existed. It was basically a ghost town and with that it was about 50 miles away southwest of Jerusalem. Which means it’s about a solid two day walk. In other words, the only reason Philip would go here is because he’s listening to the Spirit.
So first off we saw that is something interesting about how the Holy Spirit works. Sometimes he will plant in us and give us a vision or an idea or some hunch or inclination that we are to go somewhere and to do something that maybe doesn’t make a lot of sense in the world. And then the really funny thing that the Holy Spirit likes to do sometimes is that he basically says go there and you are like gosh I got to go to Gaza and then you realize about half way through that it has nothing to do with Gaza its actually about the road on the way to Gaza.
The person that Philip is led to we are told is a Ethiopian eunuch and he serves in the treasury of the Queen of Ethiopia. Now what do we know about this Ethiopian?
1st We know that he is what we might refer to as a God – fearer – which is someone who ISN’T Jewish because he is from Ethiopia and probably wouldn’t be Jewish. But he somehow finds the Jewish religion and the Jewish description and discussion of God very appealing and so he went to worship in Jerusalem. And what we also know is that this eunuch acquired somehow one of the scrolls of the Old Testament which was the scroll of Isaiah. As a God-fearer he’s reading it out loud on his chariot.
2nd Thing we know about this Ethiopian is that he is a eunuch. And there really is no delicate way to describe a eunuch other than to simply say that he has been castrated. What’s interesting about eunuch’s in the ancient world is that sometimes more often then not they were voluntarily castrated. We learned that there is a reason for this. And that is that in the ancient world especially in Ethiopia, which is where this person comes from, Nubian Kings were considered the offspring of the sun god. And because they were the offspring of the sun god it meant that they were too holy to do any of the actual work of the king. Very convenient right?
Which left the actual work of ruling to the Nubian Queen. So she actually had to do all the work and as a result she had a lot of servants. And what happened was if you were going to be welcomed into service to the Queen and if you were a man you would be castrated so you were not a threat to her power in any way shape or form. Now these eunuchs would then because of the loss of certain body organs their hormones would begin to change the way they looked. They’d take on more feminine attributes and in fact many eunuchs began to even dress more and more like women and more feminine. Eunuchs are considered a 3rd gender and as a consequence they don’t fit in many places and they are not highly regarded. The same would be true of eunuchs of the ancient world. And just like today if you don’t quite fit into a category that culture tries to put you in you often sent out into the margins of society.
And this whole story about what Philip does with this eunuch is really really interesting because in the book of Deuteronomy 23:1 it says specifically that eunuchs will not be accepted into the assembly of God. It literally says…No one who has been emasculated by crushing or cutting may enter the assembly of the Lord. So with a strict prohibition that says a eunuch will not be allowed in the assembly of God it is very very interesting that Philip is sent by the Holy Spirit and goes converts this person and then the man, this eunuch, says “what would prevent me from being baptized?” The answer is simple…well you’re a eunuch you don’t get to be baptized. Sorry. Being a eunuch is not exactly something you can undo or repent of anyways so you’re kind of done… right? But that is not what Philip says instead Philip basically says nothing is stopping us. I’ll baptize you… Here I’ll baptize you right now. And Philip by the power of the Holy Spirit went and baptized an Ethiopian which means he welcomed him into the kingdom of God even though scripture says not too. AND HE NEVER ASKS THE EUNUCH TO CHANGE ANYTHING
Then things get even more amazing with this text…See 2,000 years later this very day in this area of Ethiopia roughly 65% of Ethiopia is a considered a Christian country. 65% and of that the vast majority of that percent are native indigenous Christians of Ethiopia a part of an Ethiopian Christian church. Not western transplants, not missionaries that came from somewhere else, AND they trace there origins back to his very eunuch. What that means is the Holy Spirit not only went out of his way to send Philip to some random place to interact with this eunuch, to give him the gospel, which then converted him, and then he became the carrier and the catalyst that gave birth to an entire new world of Christians and followers of Jesus in Ethiopia. TALK ABOUT A MOVEMENT OF THE HOLY SPIRIT
Now there is something else the storyteller is doing here. He mentions that the eunuch is carrying the scroll of Isaiah. This is a very important scroll because the scroll of Isaiah in chapter 56 says something fascinating that would be very very relevant if you yourself were a eunuch. It says this…Isaiah 56:3-5 And let no eunuch complain, “I am only a dry tree.” 4 For this is what the Lord says: “To the eunuchs who keep my Sabbaths, who choose what pleases me and hold fast to my covenant—5 to them I will give within my temple and its walls a memorial and a name better than sons and daughters; I will give them an everlasting name that will endure forever. This is the story. This is a direct contradiction of Deuteronomy 23:1 and what this shows us is that in the Bible itself we have the story of a God who begins with a narrower covenant and then constantly helps his people and his children widen and expand and evolve and unfold that covenant until it’s bigger and wider and wider and it includes more and more and more people. So that you understand that the original covenant that God gave I’m pretty sure not any of us in this room would be included in. And yet as this covenant begins to unfold throughout the story of scripture more and more people get included and that means that WE ARE INCLUDED. THIS IS SO GOOD! So the story of Philip with this eunuch is the same story. It’s an amazing story of an unfolding wider embrace of “the other” by the ever-loving God. It is the Holy Spirit reaching beyond all the barriers and boundaries and things that are not appropriate and all the categories that seem to make sense and he goes, YOU KNOW I’M NOT REALLY INTERESTED IN ANY OF THAT. I ACCEPT YOU JUST AS YOU ARE. I’M NOT ASKING YOU TO BE SOMETHING DIFFERENT. I’LL START RIGHT WHERE YOU ARE.
The truth of this passage…THE MOST IMPORTANT THING ABOUT THIS PASSAGE – IS THAT IT TEACHES US THAT GOD EXTENDS LOVE TO ALL WHO ARE THIRSTY NOT JUST THOSE WHO ARE WORTHY.
This is the work of the Holy Spirit…
1. Moving us to places we would never go to on our own
2. Talking to people we would never talk to on our own
3. Giving us courage to do things we wouldn’t try to do on our own
4. Giving us compassion to those we normally don’t have compassion for
5. Helping us accept our own stories & the stories of the other in a way that shows Gods love
With all of this we wrestled and pondered some other questions… but you get the picture at this point. This is a powerful story that speaks of the amazing grace, love, acceptance of God and the call and invitation to us by the power of the Holy Spirit to love others in the same way.
TO MAKE THIS PERSONAL HERE ARE SOME CONNECTION CARD QUESTIONS…
1. What have you found yourself demanding of yourself that God does not?
2. What have you found yourself demanding of other people that God does not?
3. How has the grace, love, and acceptance of God effected the way the Holy Spirit is moving to expand his covenant towards others in your heart?