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Philip and the Ethiopian Eunuch

Philip encounters a man from a different world.

Written by David Steltz on .

Notes

Advent Week 2

‌Last week, I introduced the concept of advent with the theme of hope that comes with the promise of a savior.

This week, let’s meditate on the value of preparing and waiting for something, and the value that building anticipation adds to the final consummation of that experience.

Luke 1:26–38 (CSB)
26 In the sixth month, the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, 27 to a virgin engaged to a man named Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. 28 And the angel came to her and said, “Greetings, favored woman! The Lord is with you.” 29 But she was deeply troubled by this statement, wondering what kind of greeting this could be. 30 Then the angel told her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. 31 Now listen: You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you will name him Jesus. 32 He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give him the throne of his father David. 33 He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and his kingdom will have no end.” 34 Mary asked the angel, “How can this be, since I have not had sexual relations with a man?” 35 The angel replied to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. Therefore, the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God. 36 And consider your relative Elizabeth—even she has conceived a son in her old age, and this is the sixth month for her who was called childless. 37 For nothing will be impossible with God.” 38 “See, I am the Lord’s servant,” said Mary. “May it happen to me as you have said.” Then the angel left her.

‌I can only imagine the sense of anticipation, and the hundreds of logistical details that would have gone flying through Mary’s head when she heard this news. This baby wasn’t just going to fall into her lap from heaven, she was going to have to carry this baby to full term and deliver him in a stable. I’m sure there were many things she prepared for, and other things she never could have guessed would happen that way! But regardless, her primary response was to glorify and praise God for choosing to include HER, little Mary, in such an incredible role.

‌So, as we have this hope in Jesus, we know he was already born and lived and died for us, but we still live in a time of anticipation and hope for his final return as well, so this sense of anticipation is definitely still relevant to us.

‌Mark 13:32–33 (NLT)
32 “However, no one knows the day or hour when these things will happen, not even the angels in heaven or the Son himself. Only the Father knows. 33 And since you don’t know when that time will come, be on guard! Stay alert!

‌As we reflect on the countless promises God has kept to us, let us place our hope in the future on those same promises that will continue to hold true for eternity. This is a hope we cling to during present times of darkness and distress.

‌Romans 8:19–25 (LSB)
19 For the anxious longing of the creation eagerly waits for the revealing of the sons of God. 20 For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it, in hope 21 that the creation itself also will be set free from its slavery to corruption into the freedom of the glory of the children of God. 22 For we know that the whole creation groans and suffers the pains of childbirth together until now. 23 And not only this, but also we ourselves, having the first fruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, eagerly waiting for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our body. 24 For in hope we were saved, but hope that is seen is not hope, for who hopes for what he already sees? 25 But if we hope for what we do not see, with perseverance we eagerly wait for it.

Acts 8:25-40

What does it mean to evangelize?

‌Would you say that you have done any evangelizing today? This week? This year?

Last week, Mike took us through the first half of Acts chapter eight, which follows Philip northward in latitude, downward in elevation, to Samaria. There he preaches Christ, and encounters Simon, the sorcerer. Simon, who tries to purchase the power of the Holy Spirit with money. But by this time, it’s not just Philip there anymore is it? Who else joined him there?

‌Back in verse fourteen, we read this:

‌Acts 8:14 (LSB)
14 Now when the apostles in Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent them Peter and John,

‌As we continue in chapter eight, we continue following Philip, Peter, and John, who remain together as they journey on, from Samaria back to Jerusalem, as they proclaim the gospel all the while. At least, they think they’re going back to Jerusalem! But the scattering of the gospel seeds has only just begun.

‌Transition (v25)

‌Verse twenty five is a transitional one that gives us a little information to set up the next story. We’re going to see Philip split off from the group, from Peter and John, to have his own, rather unlikely or unexpected wilderness adventure, in with and through gifts of God’s word and spirit.

‌Let’s read, starting in verse 25:

‌Acts 8:25–40 (NLT)
25 After testifying and preaching the word of the Lord in Samaria, Peter and John returned to Jerusalem. And they stopped in many Samaritan villages along the way to preach the Good News. 26 As for Philip, an angel of the Lord said to him, “Go south down the desert road that runs from Jerusalem to Gaza.” 27 So he started out, and he met the treasurer of Ethiopia, a eunuch of great authority under the Kandake, the queen of Ethiopia. The eunuch had gone to Jerusalem to worship, 28 and he was now returning. Seated in his carriage, he was reading aloud from the book of the prophet Isaiah. 29 The Holy Spirit said to Philip, “Go over and walk along beside the carriage.” 30 Philip ran over and heard the man reading from the prophet Isaiah. Philip asked, “Do you understand what you are reading?” 31 The man replied, “How can I, unless someone instructs me?” And he urged Philip to come up into the carriage and sit with him. 32 The passage of Scripture he had been reading was this: “He was led like a sheep to the slaughter. And as a lamb is silent before the shearers, he did not open his mouth. 33 He was humiliated and received no justice. Who can speak of his descendants? For his life was taken from the earth.” 34 The eunuch asked Philip, “Tell me, was the prophet talking about himself or someone else?” 35 So beginning with this same Scripture, Philip told him the Good News about Jesus. 36 As they rode along, they came to some water, and the eunuch said, “Look! There’s some water! Why can’t I be baptized?” 38 He ordered the carriage to stop, and they went down into the water, and Philip baptized him. 39 When they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord snatched Philip away. The eunuch never saw him again but went on his way rejoicing. 40 Meanwhile, Philip found himself farther north at the town of Azotus. He preached the Good News there and in every town along the way until he came to Caesarea.

‌Understanding the Story

‌First, I want to back up and address a few of the many fascinating features of this story so as to better understand what happened, before looking at some broader implications or takeaway thoughts from this story.

‌Angel and Wilderness

‌First of all, there’s that abrupt change in plans in verse 26.

‌...they started back to Jerusalem, and were proclaiming the gospel to many villages of the Samaritans....

‌Acts 8:26 (LSB)
26 But an angel of the Lord spoke to Philip saying, “Rise up and go south to the road that descends from Jerusalem to Gaza.” (This is a desert road.)

‌This isn’t the first mention of intervention from an Angel of the Lord we saw this back in chapter five verse nineteen, where an angel lets them out of prison

‌Ethiopian Eunuch

‌Ethiopia

‌The geographical name “Ethiopian” would signal to Luke’s audience that this man was from territories south of Egypt. The term "Ethiopia" in ancient times referred to a larger area than the modern nation of Ethiopia. It often encompassed parts of what is today Sudan and South Sudan. This region was known for its wealth and trade connections, and it had interactions with the Roman world.

‌So, it’s a pretty big deal that this guy was part royal court official for the queen of the Ethiopians, in charge of her treasure, even! Eunuchs were frequently used in ancient Near Eastern courts as guards of the harem or sometimes of the treasury.

The Anchor Yale Bible Dictionary: Ethiopian Eunuch
Greek writers had long demonstrated a curiosity about and appreciation of Ethiopians, as is evidenced in Homer’s reference to Ethiopians as the “farthermost of men” (Od. 1.22–23) and in Herodotus’ description of Ethiopians as the tallest and most handsome of all peoples (3.17–20). Luke’s audience would have seen in the Ethiopian a positive figure, perhaps one to whom even an element of mystery would be attached because of his distant homeland.

‌Eunuch

‌What’s a eunuch? A man who had, at some point, been made incapable of reproduction.

The Wycliffe Bible Encyclopedia Ethiopian Eunuch
The designation “eunuch” is elsewhere translated “officer” or “chamberlain,” and carries no special suggestion of mutilation. However, by usage the word had become synonymous with the Latin castratus. signifying one who had been emasculated. If physically a eunuch, the law of Deut 23:1 would have prohibited him from full communion in Judaism.

‌He had just returned from worshiping in Jerusalem and was reading from Isaiah. This suggests that he was a proselyte to Judaism. However, if he was in fact castrated, he would have been unfit to enter the temple according to the law. (Based on Deuteronomy 23:1Leviticus 21:2022:24). What an interesting, and potentially frustrating situation to be in, don’t you think?

To want to worship God with his people, but not be allowed full entry because of something like that? Talk about adding insult to injury!

‌Nevertheless, here he is studying a scroll of Isaiah, when Philip runs up to join him.

What does Philip say?

γινώσκεις ἀναγινώσκεις?

‌Sounds kind of like: Ya’ nose case…ah nah ya’ nose case?

‌Do you know that which you are making known?

‌Are you acquainted with the knowledge you are reading?

Are you comprehending the truth you’re hearing from your own lips?

‌And I love the Ethiopian’s response:

“How can I, unless someone guides me?”

‌The humility of being willing to learn from someone other than yourself, even someone from a totally different social class or cultural niche, and on the flip side the humility of being willing to patiently and gently, yet confidently offer what you know to be true and help someone else understand it for themselves.

The passage he was reading is from Isaiah chapter 53:

Isaiah 53:7–8 (CSB)
7 He was oppressed and afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth. Like a lamb led to the slaughter and like a sheep silent before her shearers, he did not open his mouth. 8 He was taken away because of oppression and judgment, and who considered his fate? For he was cut off from the land of the living; he was struck because of my people’s rebellion.

‌Of Whom?

‌The eunuch understands the general meaning and message of this passage. It’s a passage about the Messiah. His question, or confusion is simply about WHO fulfilled or will fulfill this passage. He wonders if Isaiah, the great prophet, is speaking of himself, or of someone else.

‌Here, we come back to that word “evangelize,” because that’s exactly what Philip does here.

εὐηγγελίσατο

Ya’vanJellySatTho...

‌It’s the verb form of “gospel.”

gospelizing

‌In the LSB, the verb εὐηγγελίζετο (euangelizeto; lit. “gospelizing”) is translated as “proclaiming the gospel” rather than “preaching the gospel” in order to avoid confusion with the other Greek word for “preaching” (κήρυσσω; kēryssō). The Spirit’s work of spreading the gospel message continues here as Philip keeps proclaiming it wherever the Spirit directs or places him.

‌“Evangelizing” or “Gospelizing” is simply proclaiming the good news. If you believe something, it’s not hard to state it as a fact. It doesn’t have to be a speech, or a sermon, or a perfectly rehearsed song and dance with a rousing finale. It’s simply proclaiming the good news.

‌Beginning from this passage...

‌In this case, I wonder if Philip just had him keep reading for a few more chapters, because there is good news that leaps right out of the page for any eunuch who might happen to read it, in chapter 56 of Isaiah:

‌Isaiah 56:3–5 (NLT)
3 “Don’t let foreigners who commit themselves to the Lord say, ‘The Lord will never let me be part of his people.’ And don’t let the eunuchs say, ‘I’m a dried-up tree with no children and no future.’ 4 For this is what the Lord says: I will bless those eunuchs who keep my Sabbath days holy and who choose to do what pleases me and commit their lives to me. 5 I will give them—within the walls of my house— a memorial and a name far greater than sons and daughters could give. For the name I give them is an everlasting one. It will never disappear!

‌Whatever Philip said to the eunuch, however he explained it, we know he gave him the answer to his question of “WHO” is the prophecy about? WHO is the Messiah? WHO will usher in these promises to fulfilment?

‌The answer is Jesus, who already came and lived and was led like a lamb to the slaughter, who was struck down, and who rose again and lives, to lead those who believe in him to eternal life. That’s good news.

‌Baptized​

The Anchor Yale Bible Dictionary Ethiopian Eunuch

By contrast with Philip, who responds almost passively to the instructions given him by the Spirit and the questions asked him by the Ethiopian, the Ethiopian takes an active role in his own conversion. (See CONVERSION.) He invites Philip to join him in his chariot (v 31); he asks Philip for interpretation of the scroll he has been reading (v 34); he actively seeks baptism (v 36); and he goes on his way rejoicing (v 39).

‌I think it’s kind of cool to see this kind of proactive behavior from someone clearly seeking the truth, to see it rewarded in this way is satisfying. The story of Saul in the next chapter is sort of the inverse, where he’s doing everything he can to resist Jesus, but Jesus intervenes to save him anyway.

This is a great demonstration of what a simple baptism can look like, continuing in the pattern already established, where it accompanies a profession of faith. In this case, it looks like God provided a perfectly orchestrated scenario wherein someone was prepared to hear, receive, understand, AND respond to the gospel, without delay, in a situation where apparently time was of the essence! And what did they need to respond, other than belief and some water? Albeit, this was a substantial enough body of water to go “down into” and be “immersed” in, or “baptized” in it. Clearly, the exact nature of the water was not important, rather the ready availability of it and eagerness of the Ethiopian to be dunked in it.

Verse 37

‌Quick poll: is anybody actually missing verse 37 in your translation?

‌Does anyone have a verse 37?

‌If you do, it says something like this:

‌Acts 8:37 (LSB)
37 [And Philip said, “If you believe with all your heart, you may.” And he answered and said, “I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.”]

‌The reason many translations omit it, or put it in a footnote with an explanation, is that the earliest and best manuscripts of this passage do not include it.

‌But, even if those exact words weren’t said, it’s a reference to the implied confession that indicates an outward, verbal verification of intention when it comes to the baptism. Something that is also taught by Paul in Romans.

‌Romans is so incredibly rich and complex, and yet also contains some of the best standalone verses for presenting the gospel message, doesn’t it?

‌Romans 3:23 (LSB)
23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,

‌Romans 6:23 (LSB)
23 For the wages of sin is death, but the gracious gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

‌Romans 10:9–10 (LSB)
9 that if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved; 10 for with the heart a person believes, leading to righteousness, and with the mouth he confesses, leading to salvation.

‌So, confessing the risen Jesus as Lord leads to salvation, but confession is also something we do before God and each other as necessary, as an ongoing spiritual discipline.

‌James 5:16 (LSB)
16 Therefore, confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another so that you may be healed. The effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much.

‌1 John 1:9 (LSB)
9 If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

‌Proverbs 28:13 (LSB)
13 He who conceals his transgressions will not prosper, But he who confesses and forsakes them will receive compassion.

‌We often talk about confession in the context of sinful behavior, in which case confession is a symptom, or precursor, to repentance. Confession is admitting you’re going the wrong way. Repentance is actually stopping the car and turning around to go the other direction.

‌But a “confession” can be any declaration of truth that one freely “admits” to be true. In that sense, a “confession” is simply the verbal expression of a belief held in one’s heart. And those are good things to repeat to ourselves and to others too.

‌Snatched Away

‌Verses 39-40 describe a rather sudden and unexpected deployment to the coast.

When I read this account, in verses 39-40 I sometimes wonder why God doesn’t do this more often, because it seems like it would save a lot of time!!! I should be thankful for how fast and easy travel is now more than ever, but there are still times I wish I could teleport, even just between Lowville and Carthage or Watertown! I can’t imagine having to walk or ride a camel everywhere.

Exactly what happened is not clear in the text, I think because it wasn’t clear to anyone who experienced it! All the eunuch knows is that Philip was there and then he wasn’t, and all Philip knew was he was with the eunuch and then he was at Azotus. That’s really all it says, and we’re left to wonder about the logistics. So were they, I suppose. I probably would have been pretty freaked out, to be honest, which may be why he doesn’t do it…it sounds rather rattling, though not entirely unprecedented, if you’ve read first and second Kings you know this does kind of sound like something God would do.

Applying the Story

‌Divine Guidance and Obedience

‌Philip is led by the Holy Spirit to go to a desert road. His willingness to obey without knowing the outcome is a powerful example of faith in action. This story can be a great reminder of the importance of being attuned to and obedient to God's guidance. Philip was willing for his expectations to be disrupted (not sure how much choice that Angel really gave him…) and simply going down a different road led to a transformative gospel conversation.

‌Proverbs 3:5–6 (LSB)
5 Trust in Yahweh with all your heart And do not lean on your own understanding. 6 In all your ways acknowledge Him, And He will make your paths straight.

‌In all aspects of life, if we first acknowledge God in it, and trust him, we can count on him to keep us straight, even on desert roads through the wilderness.

‌Isaiah 30:21 (LSB)
21 And your ears will hear a word behind you, “This is the way, walk in it,” whenever you turn to the right or to the left.

‌What a beautiful reminder of the concept of God’s voice directing his people on their journey, wherever they may be.

‌If anyone feels that they lack guidance or direction, all I would say is spend more time with God.

‌James 1:5 (LSB)
5 But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him.

‌Psalm 119:105 (LSB)
105 Your word is a lamp to my feet And a light to my path.

‌If your way seems dim or foggy, light it up with the truth of God’s Word! Spend more time reading and understanding the Bible, using the tools and communities available to us to do so.‌

Let us pray with David in Psalm 25:

‌Psalm 25:4–5 (LSB)
4 Make me know Your ways, O Yahweh; Teach me Your paths. 5 Lead me in Your truth and teach me, For You are the God of my salvation; In You I hope all the day.

‌Thanks to Jesus Christ, we gentiles far beyond the ends of the earth get to rejoice in that same salvation, the hope that comes from trusting in the Lord. That’s the core of the gospel, the goodness and mercy of God reaching out to us in love, which Philip knew to be manifested fully in the person of Jesus.

‌That Philip would extend the hope of Jesus to this man is really an extension of God’s promises to David and to Abraham extending to bless and save all the peoples of the earth

‌Inclusive Gospel

‌The Ethiopian eunuch, as a foreigner and a eunuch, would have been considered an outsider in many circles of Jewish society. His encounter with Philip and his subsequent baptism is a powerful testament to the inclusivity of the Gospel message.

‌While Jesus taught that he himself is the exclusive entry point to eternal life, he has extended that offer to anyone who is willing to believe and follow him, regardless of their background.

‌This story highlights that, although cultural differences inevitably cause some clashing and painful growth, the early church was, even since the day of Pentecost, engaging with different cultures and backgrounds.

The Ethiopian, coming as he does from the “end of the earth,” stands at the threshold of the worldwide mission as yet another announcement of that mission (Ps 68:31). He prefigures Cornelius and the attending change in the Church’s understanding of its mission (cf. Acts 10:34, 11:18). His own eagerness to hear Philip and his subsequent request for baptism symbolically convey Luke’s understanding of the willingness of the gentile world to receive the gospel of Jesus Christ. Small wonder that early Church writers pass along a tradition that the Ethiopian returned to his own country and preached the gospel there

‌Galatians 3:28 (LSB)
28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.

‌This verse is a powerful declaration of the equality and unity of believers in Christ, transcending social, cultural, and even gender divisions. None of which is at all contentious anymore in 2023 right?

‌This story is really just the beginning of several revelatory experiences which showcase the inclusive nature of the gospel, so I won’t spend too much time on it today. The most important thing is this:

‌John 3:16 (LSB)
16 “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.

‌This is a well-known verse for good reason. It speaks of God’s unstoppable love for the entire world, offering salvation to “whoever believes...” The salvation of Christ is available to all.

‌Understanding Scripture

‌Having these cross-cultural experiences wherein not just the physical words of scripture, but the true meaning behind God’s word is revealed, that’s how the gospel reaches the ends of the earth. Whether this exact guy went on to evangelize his whole region or not, there IS a rich Ethiopian orthodox Christian church that goes back to the first century, and I think that’s pretty cool!

‌The eunuch is reading from the book of Isaiah, but he does not understand what he is reading. Philip's role in interpreting the Scriptures underscores the importance of teaching and understanding the Bible in the context of evangelism.

Romans 10:13–15 (LSB)
13 for “WHOEVER CALLS ON THE NAME OF THE LORD WILL BE SAVED.” 14 How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed? How will they believe in Him whom they have not heard? And how will they hear without a preacher? 15 And how will they preach unless they are sent? Just as it is written, “HOW BEAUTIFUL ARE THE FEET OF THOSE WHO PROCLAIM GOOD NEWS OF GOOD THINGS!”

‌Which leads me to my final point, which is just to reiterate that this story is an example of God transforming human lives through human encounters.

‌Transformation through human encounter.

‌In other words, we can see God’s spirit at work, of course, throughout this entire story. But he chose to work here, not with a bright light from heaven revealing the truth to the Ethiopian (we’ll get that in the next chapter), but rather through a human conversation with someone more knowledgeable on the subject at hand. Someone God provided to him, but the provision came through human interaction rather than a grand or shocking display of power. Sometimes, the former is more effective in actually reaching our hearts I think.

That the eunuch insisted on baptism to me indicates that he recognized not just the good news of salvation, but its imperative to respond. To understand the gospel is also to understand that it will change you, based on your rejection or acceptance of it, and he wanted to make it very clear that he wanted to pursue Jesus, welcoming whatever changes that would eventually lead to in his life. We don’t know! But It sure is fun to wonder how it affected not just this man, but the whole the court of Candace, and the region beyond, isn’t it?

The eunuch's brief encounter with Philip leads to a transformative experience - his profession of faith in Christ and even his baptism. He went away rejoicing, which we can at least speculate brought further rejoicing wherever he spread the good news.

Both of them being willing to interact with each other. To talk to each other despite whatever communication barriers might be present, to be willing to work around those for the sake of a greater purpose, of coming to know and understand…first, each other, I suppose, so that we can better walk together, in an ever deepening knowledge and appreciation and love for our Savior. This transforms us. For the better.

Prayer/Benediction


Philip and the Ethiopian Eunuch