Saturday, October 27, 2012

Erasing the Boundary Lines

Unit II – “Who Understands Faith?” The martyrdom of Stephen had caused a great persecution against the church causing the church to scatter throughout Judea, Samaria, Phenice, Cyprus, and Antioch. Acts 11:19 The Lord had commissioned the Gospel be spread to all nations. Acts 1:8 The scattering churches became preaching churches while the apostles remained in Jerusalem. We are introduced to Philip, initially appointed as a deacon (Acts 6:5), who is now an evangelist (Acts 21:8) in Samaria preaching Christ. He is healing the sick, helping lame to walk, and performing miracles through faith in Christ. Unclean spirits came out of the persons they possessed in the name of Jesus. There was great joy in Samaria. They were happy to see their family and friends well again. The Samaritans were happy as they converted to Christianity. In our prior lesson we explored the repercussions that come upon those who treat faith as a commodity. Specifically, we viewed the “conversion” of Simon as recorded at Acts 8:9-24. Today’s lesson shall look at the faith that guided Philip the evangelist and the Ethiopian seeker to examine the Scriptures together. Our lesson is recorded at Acts 8:26-39. The devotional reading is found at Isaiah 56:1-8.

‘And the angel of the Lord spake unto Philip, saying, Arise, and go toward the south unto the way that goeth down from Jerusalem unto Gaza, which is desert.’ Acts 8:26 Philip probably believed he would continue to save souls in the Samaritan area, as he was very successful. That was not God’s plan. Never become comfortable in your status quo as God has another work for you to do in His kingdom. He dispatched a messenger to instruct Philip that he had marching orders to go elsewhere despite his current success. His instructions were specific as to where he was going. He knew he would go south of Jerusalem, taking the road which is basically deserted and desert, to Gaza.

‘And he arose and went: and, behold, a man of Ethiopia, an eunuch of great authority under Candace queen of the Ethiopians, who had the charge of all her treasure, and had come to Jerusalem for to worship, ‘ Acts 8:27 Philip knew that Peter and John had just left Samaria, testifying, praying, and laying hands for the baptism of the Holy Spirit on the Samaritan believers. They had returned to Jerusalem and were closer to the road Philip was instructed to take. Why were they not sent? Philip did not question God, he simply obeyed. He had no idea what God had planned for him to do or who he was to meet. He was first to preach to the Samaritans; now he will be first to preach to a Gentile.

As Philip traveled along the road instructed by God, he saw a man from Ethiopia, a country just south of Egypt in Africa. The Ethiopia that is mentioned is not to be equated with modern-day Ethiopia – which in biblical days would have been Sheba. 1 Kings 10:1-13 Biblical Ethiopia is the land of Cush and refers to the kingdom that flourished between the first and sixth cataracts of the Nile, which was south of Egypt and covers the same territory as the Sudan.1 The man was a eunuch. This term originally applied only to a man who had been castrated and later, celibate. They were of no threat lying with the queen or her female servants. In Ethiopia the king was considered a child of the sun, thus he was too sacred to handle the governing of the country. True power lay in the hands of the “queen” mother of the king, called Candace. This was a general governing title like Pharaoh in Egypt or Caesar in Rome. In Philip’s travels he sees a eunuch who has great financial and political status as keeper of the treasure for the queen in his homeland. Yet the Ethiopian eunuch felt a spiritual void. It is unfortunate the Ethiopian was an outcast from mainstream Israel and was denied full participation in the covenant community. (See Deut 23:1) The Ethiopian had travelled a great distance to Jerusalem knowing eunuchs did not have physical access to the Temple. What hunger he possessed for God’s Word.

‘Was returning, and sitting in his chariot read Esaias the prophet. Then the Spirit said unto Philip, Go near, and join thyself to this chariot. And Philip ran thither to him, and heard him read the prophet Esaias, and said, Understandest thou what thou readest? And he said, How can I, except some man should guide me? And he desired Philip that he would come up and sit with him.’ Acts 8:28-31 It is unknown whether the Ethiopian went to Jerusalem on any other business except to worship the Lord. He was returning from a worship of the Lord to the extent he was included. As a man of importance in Ethiopia, he probably had a driver accompany him on the journey. This allowed him to sit and read aloud. Then the Spirit of God instructed Philip to once again do something. He told Philip to join up with this Ethiopian who believed he had accomplished all his business. Yet his business with God was just beginning. Philip was not going to question God. He ran toward the chariot which held the Ethiopian, a stranger of a different race, culture, and religion. Philip did not want to be robbed of the opportunity to witness given him by God. He heard the Ethiopian reading from the book of Isaiah and inquired if he understood what he was reading. Obviously the Ethiopian was very intelligent or he would not have been in charge of the treasury of Candace queen. However, ‘ …the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.’ 1 Cor 2:14 He knew what the words meant as far as what he was reading, but he could not figure out the message of salvation. He needed a guide. So he invited Philip to sit next to him. That is the best news a student can say to a teacher/preacher.

‘The place of the scripture which he read was this, He was led as a sheep to the slaughter; and like a lamb dumb before his shearer, so opened he not his mouth: In his humiliation his judgment was taken away: and who shall declare his generation? for his life is taken from the earth. And the eunuch answered Philip, and said, I pray thee, of whom speaketh the prophet this? of himself, or of some other man? Then Philip opened his mouth, and began at the same scripture, and preached unto him Jesus.’ Acts 8:32-35 The Ethiopian was reading from Isaiah 53, specifically verses 7-8. This is part of the prophesy concerning the Suffering Servant, the Messiah, Jesus Christ. The entire Suffering Servant section is recorded at Isaiah 52:13-53:12. Perhaps the Ethiopian could relate to the Suffering Servant. The passage from which he read pictured One who was meek and silent before His enemies; One who was hurried away from justice and a fair trial; and One who had no hope of posterity because He was killed in the prime of manhood and while unmarried. The Ethiopian eunuch was very interested in whom the prophet had written. This gave Philip an opening to preach the Gospel to him.

‘And as they went on their way, they came unto a certain water: and the eunuch said, See, here is water; what doth hinder me to be baptized? And Philip said, If thou believest with all thine heart, thou mayest. And he answered and said, I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.’ Acts 8:36-37 The Christian rite of baptism consisted of a complete immersion in water as a means of ritual cleansing and purification. Within early Christian traditions, baptism was performed in obedience to the command of Jesus. (Matt 28:19-20) It was viewed as a prerequisite for inclusion within the Christian church and viewed as the first step to receiving the Holy Spirit. (Acts 2:38, 41) Philip’s ministry to the Ethiopian was successful. God had supplied the Ethiopian an evangelist to explain His Word. Now He is supplying water to be used as a baptismal pool. It does not say whether it was a river, pond, or lake. The Scripture simply described it as “certain water”. The eunuch had no idea when, or if, he would ever see Philip again. He wanted to know what would stop him from being baptized; i.e. cleansed, purified, and included in the Christian Church. Verse 37 is not found in any of the oldest manuscripts of the Acts of the Apostles and is omitted from the text of the NIV version. It appears in the footnote of the NIV. Perhaps a scribe felt it necessary to copy the early Christian confession of faith when he saw it was missing. Basically the eunuch wanted to know if he could be included. Philip stated if he believed with all his heart all that he had just heard, then he could be baptized. Based on the Christian confession of faith the eunuch answered that he believed Jesus Christ is the Son of God.

‘And he commanded the chariot to stand still: and they went down both into the water, both Philip and the eunuch; and he baptized him. And when they were come up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord caught away Philip, that the eunuch saw him no more: and he went on his way rejoicing.’ Acts 8:38-39 The eunuch was excited and commanded the driver to stop the chariot. He and Philip went to the water, and he was baptized. Imagine the surroundings. There was no church congregation or apostles. It was out on a desert route witnessed by his driver and perhaps other servants. In that area of the world, a baptism outside would not be cold. It would be as refreshing physically as it would be spiritually. The eunuch was no longer attempting to become a convert. He was a new convert. For that he could do nothing but rejoice as he went on his way. It appears as if the Scripture had been fulfilled. ‘Princes shall come out of Egypt; Ethiopia shall soon stretch out her hands unto God.’ Ps 68:31 We see the message of God’s great redemption plan beginning to spread to the Gentiles in Africa. What about Philip the evangelist? God has more work for him to do. The Spirit of the Lord takes him away. We are not told of the new assignment at this time. We simply know his assignment was done with the Ethiopian. They parted company. Scripture does not reveal whether they ever exchanged names, although they were now one in the body of Christ.

1 Katherine Doob Sakenfeld, General Editor, New Interpreters Dictionary of the Bible, D-H, Vol. 2, "Ethiopia," (Nashville Abingdon Press, 2007), p. 348.

Written by Deborah C Davis

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