Monday, March 22, 2010

Philip and the Ethiopian

Christ Is Preached to an Ethiopian

Acts 8   
26 Now an angel of the Lord spoke to Philip, saying, "Arise and go toward the south along the road which goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza." This is desert.

[Philip the evangelist fresh from his success in Samaria is told by an Angel to travel the road south from Jerusalem to Gaza. Gaza was the last settlement along the coast before the wilderness trail leading to Egypt. He is not told why, or anything about the trip, he is just commanded to go.]

27 So he arose and went. And behold, a man of Ethiopia, a eunuch of great authority under Candace the queen of the Ethiopians, who had charge of all her treasury, and had come to Jerusalem to worship, 28 was returning. And sitting in his chariot, he was reading Isaiah the prophet.

[Eunuch's were common within hereditary monarchies of most cultures. The general idea is that to keep the royal bloodline uncorrupted, any male servant close enough to enter the bed chamber of the king or queen had to be emasculated, such that any offspring could only come from the monarch. So common was this practice that by the end of the first century the term would refer to a royal servant whether or not they had actually been altered. This man was the finance minister for the queen of Ethiopia. Candace derives from the Nubian term "Kantake" which means "queen mother". Ethiopia is part of the empire of Kush south of Egypt. What is interesting here is that an Ethiopian Eunuch would come to Jerusalem to worship. While is it is true that there were some converts to Judaism, proselytes they are called, a Eunuch would have an obstacle to overcome. Deuteronomy 23 says that "He who is emasculated by crushing or mutilation shall not enter the assembly of the LORD." There also were some partial converts to Judaism that were just referred to a "God fearers". So we don't know the full extent of this Ethiopian's status as a Jewish convert, we know he believed in and worshiped God, and he had wealth and education such that he could travel for worship and even own a personal copy of the scriptures. ]

29 Then the Spirit said to Philip, "Go near and overtake this chariot."
30 So Philip ran to him, and heard him reading the prophet Isaiah, and said, "Do you understand what you are reading?"

[Directed by the Holy Spirit, Philip runs to catch the Ethiopian's chariot. Now this would not be like a two wheeled roman battle chariot, this was probably more like an ox cart, and the word had a very generic usage for any wheeled vehicle that could be ridden. Since the Eunuch is reading while riding, he a probably seated and traveling fairly slow. Philip hears him reading from Isaiah and asks if he understands the text.]

31 And he said, "How can I, unless someone guides me?" And he asked Philip to come up and sit with him. 32 The place in the Scripture which he read was this:

      " He was led as a sheep to the slaughter;
      And as a lamb before its shearer is
       So He opened not His mouth.
In His humiliation His
justice was taken away,
      And who will declare His generation?
      For His life is
taken from the earth."
– Isaiah 53

34 So the eunuch answered Philip and said, "I ask you, of whom does the prophet say this, of himself or of some other man?" 35 Then Philip opened his mouth, and beginning at this Scripture, preached Jesus to him.

[As Christians we almost always preach Jesus using the New Testament writings of the Apostles, but if you want to preach Jesus as Messiah to a Jewish believer you might take a different approach, using scriptures they already regard as prophetic. Philip finds him reading Isaiah 53, so let's look at that passage and see if we can see Jesus there.]

Isaiah 53

3 He is despised and rejected by men,
      A Man of sorrows and acquainted with grief.
      And we hid, as it were, our faces from Him;
      He was despised, and we did not esteem Him.
Surely He has borne our griefs
      And carried our sorrows;
      Yet we esteemed Him stricken,
      Smitten by God, and afflicted.
       5 But He was
wounded for our transgressions,
      He was
bruised for our iniquities;
      The chastisement for our peace was upon Him,
      And by His stripes we are healed.
       6 All we like sheep have gone astray;
      We have turned, every one, to his own way;
      And the LORD has laid on Him the iniquity of us all.

       7 He was oppressed and He was afflicted,
      Yet He opened not His mouth;
      He was led as a lamb to the slaughter,
      And as a sheep before its shearers is silent,
      So He opened not His mouth.
       8 He was taken from prison and from judgment,
      And who will declare His generation?
      For He was cut off from the land of the living;
      For the transgressions of My people He was stricken.
       9 And they[a] made His grave with the wicked—
      But with the rich at His death,
      Because He had done no violence,
      Nor was any deceit in His mouth.
       10 Yet it pleased the LORD to bruise Him;
      He has put Him to grief.
      When You make His soul an offering for sin,
      He shall see His seed, He shall prolong His days,
      And the pleasure of the LORD shall prosper in His hand.
       11 He shall see the labor of His soul, and be satisfied.
      By His knowledge My righteous Servant shall justify many,
      For He shall bear their iniquities.
       12 Therefore I will divide Him a portion with the great,
      And He shall divide the spoil with the strong,
      Because He poured out His soul unto death,
      And He was numbered with the transgressors,
      And He bore the sin of many,
      And made intercession for the transgressors.

[So do you think a disciple of Jesus can preach Jesus as the suffering Messiah using Isaiah 53. As we discussed before the Jews were looking for a conquering Messiah not a suffering savior, so this would be a life changing message for the Ethiopian Eunuch. I don't know how far Philip went in the scripture but if he made it as far as Isaiah 56 he would have seen a special promise for Eunuchs:

Isaiah 56

4 For thus says the LORD:

      " To the eunuchs who keep My Sabbaths,
      And choose what pleases Me,
      And hold fast My covenant,
       5 Even to them I will give in My house
      And within My walls a place and a name
      Better than that of sons and daughters;
      I will give them an everlasting name
      That shall not be cut off.

[But whatever the scripture Philip used the Eunuch trusted in Jesus.]

Acts 8   

36 Now as they went down the road, they came to some water. And the eunuch said, "See, here is water. What hinders me from being baptized?"
37 Then 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."

[Depending on your Bible translation verse 37 may be in brackets and the NIV excludes it altogether. It is not most Greek manuscripts, and some believe it was added later to emphasize the faith of the Eunuch before baptism. But if Philip preached Jesus, and the Ethiopian asked to be baptized it was obvious he had expressed his faith to Philip. Now if someone asks to be baptized and you have not taught them about Jesus as the savior, then you need to be cautious that they are not trusting in a ritual to save them, but Philip did not have this problem.]

38 So he commanded the chariot to stand still. And both Philip and the eunuch went down into the water, and he baptized him. 39 Now when they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord caught Philip away, so that the eunuch saw him no more; and he went on his way rejoicing. 40 But Philip was found at Azotus. And passing through, he preached in all the cities till he came to Caesarea.

[Philip was a remarkable evangelist very much empowered by the Holy Spirit. A second century church father named Irenaeus wrote that the Eunuch returned to Ethiopia and became a missionary for Jesus to his own people. Similar to the Samaritans this Ethiopian was a God fearing man, who was at least somewhat excluded by traditional Judaism. When the gospel spread from Jerusalem, it went first to those who already believed in the God of Abraham. Slowly this inclusive salvation began to build an ever more diverse church, eventually reaching even to the gentiles.]

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