Pinebrooke Community Church
Sunday, September 20, 2020

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Pastor  Bob Johnson

15 March 2020                                                        “Philip and the Ethiopian Eunuch”                                                                  Acts 8: 26-40

Some scenes in the scriptures grab our imagination more dramatically than others and today’s scene is one of those.  Dust off your imagination if you will and let Luke’s history-telling pick you up and carry you along.

Acts 8:26-40

              Run along with Philip as he runs up to the chariot and then alongside.  The chariot is pulled by two horses not in full gallop, like Ben Hur, but walking.  It is a long way to Ethiopia.  Ethiopia in that day was not simply an East African country, but the whole region of the Upper Nile from Aswan to Khartom.                                                                                                                                         

As he jogs beside the chariot, he sees a rather regal black man with a scroll opened to Isaiah reading aloud from the scroll.  In that day reading the Scriptures aloud was the normal way to read the Scriptures.  Archbishop of Constantinople, St. John Chrysostom once wrote, ‘… so great a thing is the careful reading of the Scriptures.”  I suspect that is still true.                                   

          This regal black man turns out to be the Secretary of the Treasury of Candace, queen of Ethiopia.  This Ethiopian leader was either a Jew from birth or a convert to Judaism.  Whichever is the case he is obviously a dedicated man to make the long journey of pilgrimage to Jerusalem from Ethiopia.  Pilgrimage doesn’t always mean walking; it just means slow.                   

Seated in his chariot he is engrossed in reading Isaiah.  Philip’s initiative was rather simple and direct, “Do you understand what you are reading?”  Could you see yourself asking that question?  I have a friend that lives in the DC area that goes to an area university to simply engage students in conversations about Jesus.  I have such admiration for her.                                                

The eunuch’s response as a man of authority surprises me.  Unlike many in roles of leadership the eunuch is humble enough to ask for help.  Maybe that quality set him apart and contributed to his leadership instead of taking away from it.  Eunuch’s were often given authority over others because of their condition, but also because they proved themselves.                            

Philip proceeded to link Jesus’ story with this passage.  It seems that faith in Christ came easily and quickly for the eunuch.  There was little ego to overcome as humility already seems to have characterized his heart.  There was no absence with the Holy Spirit as there had been initially in Samaria because this was a Jewish context and the Holy Spirit had already appeared to Jews at Pentecost.                                                                                                                                         

Maybe Philip said something about baptism, but more likely as a good Jew the eunuch knew that baptism commonly followed repentance.  Whatever the case, the Ethiopian was clearly redeemed as he went on his way rejoicing.  The image that Luke then provides reminds us of the ascension of Jesus; Philip seems to just disappear.  The main substance of the scene is that the Spirit of the Lord took him, and the next recognizable place was Azotus, another coastal village.  Before the credits run on our episode today Philip is described as sharing Jesus’ gospel from village to village all the way north until he reached Caesarea.  Luke tells us in Acts 21:8 that Caesarea became Philip’s home.                                                                                                             

I’ve been reading a lot of history lately and I’ve come to the conclusion that the history that you and I learned in school has a lot of loose ends that never got addresses, so here we face the same thing.  Let’s get perspective!                                                                                                                     

Soon after Peter and John depart Samaria, an angel of the Lord who turns out to be the Spirit gives Philip a new assignment, “go south” to the desert.  There is often a lot that happens in the desert even now.  This desert road is a 60 mi. road from Jerusalem to Gaza.  Gaza is in our newspapers today, but not just a town, but a whole strip of land.  It was the most southerly of the five Philistine cities near the Mediterranean coast.  There were land routes that led from Gaza to north Africa, so the Ethiopian was on his way home after his pilgrimage to Jerusalem.  With the Exodus account, I used to think that the Red Sea separated the desert from Egypt, but not all the way from the Mediterranean to the Gulf of Aqaba.  I can’t help but wonder if the conflict that Jewish establishment had with the believers had impacted him in any way when he was in Jerusalem.                                               

As to the reading of Isaiah out loud, I don’t know if you have ever listened to the scriptures being read on tape or quoted extensively in a public place, but I guarantee that it has real power in hearing it.  Recently, I saw and heard a YouTube worship service of McClean Bible Church in the DC area and the speaker David Platt quoted Romans 8 verbatim.  It felt different than simply reading it.                                                                                                                                 

What then do we learn about our ancestor, Philip?  To begin with Philip the evangelist who believed what he had been taught all that Jesus said and did.  So far, he evangelized in two different contexts: Samaria before a substantial audience (without COVID 19 virus) and a dusty desert road before an audience of one.  In Samaria, a half-breed population influenced by the occult.  On the desert road with a black African, a eunuch, a practicing Jew in government service.  He was ready in both circumstances to proclaim the truth.  Am I ready to do that?  Are you ready to do that?  Peter says it this way, “… Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have…...”  Can we say that Peter assumes that we will live in a hopeful way?                                                                                 

There was no longer any barrier between himself and the eunuch.  In Deut. 25:1, a man in the eunuch’s condition was isolated from the community of faith, yet in Isa. 56:3-4 that kind of man is welcomed and invited in.  Who are the people that we think are too far gone to be redeemed by God?  I have a young friend, Jen, who told me some years ago that she was “too far gone” to be forgiven.  I find it interesting that we who are unrighteous can supersede the ways of God with our own fleshly sensibilities.  Depending on who we are and what our circumstance, who is it that we ignore or despise?  Philip was so full of the gospel of Jesus that it didn’t matter who he was sent to or when he was sent.                                                                              We see in Philip a clarity in his relationship with God, so that he could respond immediately to the “voice of Jesus.”  Learning to listen for Jesus’ voice is an essential part of being his disciples.  Have we made the necessary space to hear his voice?  Remember what Elijah was able to teach us, “God whispers.”  I would appreciate your prayers because the weekend after Easter, I’ve been asked to give a retreat on “Hearing God’s Knock.”  Yes, God speaks to us directly through the Scriptures, but He also speaks to us in the silence of everyday living.  Can you distinguish his voice?                                                                                                         

We see in Philip a responsiveness to God.  If this account is how the gospel came to Africa, all on the continent ought to sing praises to God.  For the eunuch, hearing the good news of Jesus, receiving it and letting it fill his soul; no wonder he went away rejoicing and no doubt he didn’t keep it to himself.                                                                                                                                    We have a great opportunity in the despair and panic of our day, if we are willing to embrace the spark of Philip that the Holy Spirit has placed within us!

 
 
 

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Message Speaker Date
Acts 2:1-13 Bob Johnson 29 September 2019
Acts 2:41-47 Bob Johnson 13 October 2019
Acts 3:11-26 Bob Johnson 27 October 2019
Acts 4:1-22 Bob Johnson 3 November 2019
Acts 4:23-31 Bob Johnson 10 November 2019
Acts 4:32-37 Bob Johnson 24 November 2019
Matthew 24:36-44 Bob Johnson 1 December 2019
Matthew 3:1-12 Bob Johnson 8 December 2019
Matthew 11:2-11 Bob Johnson 15 December 2019
Matthew 1:18-25 Bob Johnson 22 December 2019
A Case for Miracles Deb Mitchell 29 December 2019
     
     
     
James 5:1-6 Bob Johnson 18 August 2019
James 5:7-12 Bob Johnson 25 August 2019
James 5:13-20 Bob Johnson 1 September 2019
Acts 1:1-5 Bob Johnson 18 September 2019
Acts 1:12-28 Bob Johnson 22 September 2019