“Now an angel of the Lord said to Philip, “Rise and go toward the south to the road that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.” This is a desert place. And he rose and went. And there was an Ethiopian, a eunuch, a court official of Candace, queen of the Ethiopians, who was in charge of all her treasure. He had come to Jerusalem to worship and was returning, seated in his chariot, and he was reading the prophet Isaiah. And the Spirit said to Philip, “Go over and join this chariot.” So Philip ran to him and heard him reading Isaiah the prophet and asked, “Do you understand what you are reading?” And he said, “How can I, unless someone guides me?” And he invited Philip to come up and sit with him. Now the passage of the Scripture that he was reading was this: “Like a sheep he was led to the slaughter and like a lamb before its shearer is silent, so he opens not his mouth. In his humiliation justice was denied him. Who can describe his generation? For his life is taken away from the earth.” And the eunuch said to Philip, “About whom, I ask you, does the prophet say this, about himself or about someone else?” Then Philip opened his mouth, and beginning with this Scripture he told him the good news about Jesus. And as they were going along the road they came to some water, and the eunuch said, “See, here is water! What prevents me from being baptized?” …And he commanded the chariot to stop, and they both went down into the water, Philip and the eunuch, and he baptized him. And when they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord carried Philip away, and the eunuch saw him no more, and went on his way rejoicing. But Philip found himself at Azotus, and as he passed through he preached the gospel to all the towns until he came to Caesarea.” (Acts 8:26-36, 38-40 ESV)
Bullies and Bullying. Most of us despise them. Have you ever been the victim of a bully? I have, not fun. Generally speaking, a bully will find a person’s vulnerability or weakness and then begin to intimidate them based on that knowledge. If anyone in ancient culture would have been the subject of bullying, I’m guessing it would have been Eunuchs. But in this story, God intentionally and specifically targets this Eunuch with the Gospel and God’s unconditional love and not bullying. He offers you the same. Let’s take a look…
First, the status of a eunuch in Judaism was obviously governed by the Old Testament laws and customs (see Deut 23:1-8, for example). They were forbidden to enter the inner courts of the Temple. For those who may not know, a eunuch is a male who has had his testicles removed, crushed or his penis removed. This was often done to those servants or officials who served in the court of a King or Queen. While I won’t go into the specific reasons why this was done, the castration of a eunuch was seen as an aberration of the worship of foreign kings and gods and specifically rejected by the religious laws of Israel. A eunuch’s access to God was very limited, at least through the Jewish Temple worship.
Yet, this Ethiopian eunuch was desperately seeking to know God. He had, literally, traveled a great distance to come and worship God at a place where he could only stand outside and pray. He was forbidden to physically enter the Temple of God, but his heart hungered and thirsted for God and he would be filled (see Matt. 5:6). It appears he had come to Jerusalem for one of the Jewish feasts and was returning home. He wasn’t going to let the restrictive religious laws of Israel keep him from knowing and worshipping the one, true God.
Let me be very clear here, I am not saying the Old Testament worship laws or God’s commands regarding this exclusion were wrong. God gave those commands and laws to them as a means of setting Israel and their worship of Him apart from the rest of the world. He was showing Israel and the rest of the world that He was NOT like the pagan gods and their practices and actions were abhorrent to Him. Our tendency is to simply incorporate our new beliefs and practices into our old habits, and God insisted that must NOT be done. Israel’s worship of the LORD would not resemble the worship of these pagan gods and god-kings. What this story does tell us is that God accepts, loves and heals those who have been “victims” of these aberrant cultic religious practices.
First, notice that God takes specific action to get the true gospel in front of this “seeker.” As we saw last week, Philip had been in Samaria preaching. God was moving among these Samaritan “half-Jew” people and the Apostles witnessed the outpouring of God’s Spirit. Then God begins to move again, in a very specific way, and sends an angel to direct Philip’s next engagement. Instead of sending Philip to another town, he sends him down to a “desert place” on the road out of Jerusalem towards Gaza. While this would seem odd to us, God’s purpose quickly becomes quite clear when Philip encounters this foreign court official of Ethiopia. The Spirit directs Philip to go join himself to the Eunuch’s chariot and Philip overhears him reading aloud from the OT prophecies of Isaiah.
Walking alongside the Eunuch’s chariot, Philip asks if he understands what he’s reading. The Eunuch is reading from Isaiah 52-53 about the Suffering Servant and he asks, “is the prophet speaking about himself or someone else?” If you’ve never read that passage, I suggest you take a moment and go read it, now (Isaiah 52, 53). This is one of the most obvious prophecies regarding the Christ/Messiah and its relationship to Jesus. This is NOT a coincidence. The Spirit had perfect timing, and always does. Philip begins at that passage in Isaiah and shows the Eunuch how Jesus is the fulfillment of the Old Testament’s promised Messiah. In fact, the very passage the Eunuch was reading is about how the Messiah was rejected and despised by “religious” Israel, but accepted by God. The very message this man needed to hear for he had been rejected by men, but accepted by God.
Next, notice that the Ethiopian Eunuch is seeking God through the Old Testament scriptures. We often make the mistake that the Old Testament is harsh, cold and condemning. The entire purpose of the Old Testament and the Mosaic law was to show how man tries to pursue and please God through religious achievement and superficial obedience, but continually falls short of all that God desires. Instead of becoming people who seek justice, extend mercy and stand up for the oppressed (see Isaiah 1:17), the people of God are denying justice, refusing to offer mercy to the suffering, and have become the oppressors of the fatherless and widows. The Old Testament is not a positive commentary on their actions, it is an ongoing promise that God will right all that is wrong. He will send a redeemer for the oppressed and a judge for the wicked.
Philip USES the Old Testament to show how Jesus is the fulfillment of all of its promises. Just like a gem mine, we often need to dig through the rubble of our own misunderstanding to find and enjoy the beautiful gems of God’s promises in the Old Testament. This Eunuch could have been offended by the statements in Deuteronomy 23 and stopped looking for God and the treasure of His love and redemption. Instead, he continued to seek the God of Scripture and he encounters Him in the most unlikeliest of places – a chariot rolling along through the desert. But, here’s my point… we must be willing to encounter God on His terms, not ours. If we insist that God bend His will to our desires then He’s not God, we are. By trying to force Him to fit our demands and expectations, we entirely miss and, ultimately, reject Him.
Finally, through the work of the Holy Spirit and Philip’s witness, the Eunuch recognizes Jesus for who He is – the fulfillment of God’s eternal promises and his redeemer. In response to his confession of faith and seeing a desert oasis, the Eunuch asks if there’s anything that would prevent him from being baptized? Philip’s response is to stop the chariot and baptize him. It is extremely important to note, his faith resulted in obedience. Faith always results in obedience.
While Christians do sin, habitual or ongoing sin and disobedience is a clear sign of false faith.
“If we say, “We have no sin,” we are deceiving ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:8-9 HCSB)
“This is how we are sure that we have come to know Him: by keeping His commands. The one who says, “I have come to know Him,” yet doesn’t keep His commands, is a liar, and the truth is not in him.” (1 John 2:3-4 HCSB)
Let me close with one observation regarding obedience in our modern culture… There are those today who try and say that since Jesus didn’t speak out directly against certain actions or practices, then He must surely approve of them. If Jesus didn’t expressly condemn it, then it isn’t sin or put more simply: silence = approval. This is commonly claimed by those who embrace a pro-homosexuality view of Christian faith, today. Let me address this with one simple observation; Jesus didn’t expressly condemn murder, rape, incest or child abuse and molestation either, but NOBODY thinks he approves of those actions. Simply because Jesus didn’t directly condemn an action doesn’t mean He approves it. Jesus didn’t need to condemn actions already condemned by Old Testament law. That’s bad theology and bad logic.
We are called to obedience through faith. Faith implies trust, trusting God to do what is right and best in and for our lives. In faith, allow God and His Living Word to begin shaping “you” to be the very best “you” possible. The “you” that God intended. Instead of trying to bend God and His will to fit our needs and desires, we should yield to God as He bends us to fit into the image of Christ.