Wednesday, July 3, 2013



Acts 8:26-39

The eunuch said, "Look, here is water! What is to prevent me from being baptized?" —Acts 8:36

8:26 Then an angel of the Lord said to Philip, "Get up and go toward the south to the road that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza." (This is a wilderness road.) 27So he got up and went. Now there was an Ethiopian eunuch, a court official of the Candace, queen of the Ethiopians, in charge of her entire treasury. He had come to Jerusalem to worship 28and was returning home; seated in his chariot, he was reading the prophet Isaiah. 29Then the Spirit said to Philip, "Go over to this chariot and join it." 30So Philip ran up to it and heard him reading the prophet Isaiah. He asked, "Do you understand what you are reading?" 31He replied, "How can I, unless someone guides me?" And he invited Philip to get in and sit beside him. 32Now the passage of the scripture that he was reading was this:

"Like a sheep he was led to the slaughter, and like a lamb silent before its shearer, so he does not open his mouth. 33 In his humiliation justice was denied him. Who can describe his generation? For his life is taken away from the earth."

34The eunuch asked Philip, "About whom, may I ask you, does the prophet say this, about himself or about someone else?" 35Then Philip began to speak, and starting with this scripture, he proclaimed to him the good news about Jesus. 36As they were going along the road, they came to some water; and the eunuch said, "Look, here is water! What is to prevent me from being baptized?" 38He commanded the chariot to stop, and both of them, Philip and the eunuch, went down into the water, and Philip baptized him. 39When they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord snatched Philip away; the eunuch saw him no more, and went on his way rejoicing.

Note: Acts 8:37 is not in the NRSV. Most scholars believe it to be a later insertion, appearing in manuscripts in the 6th century A.D.


We tend to glamorize early Christians. We think of them as having pure motivations. Since they're so near to Jesus in time, we think we need to "get back" to their good old days. Except the early Christians didn't experience the "good old days" we imagine they did. They struggled with distances and barriers just as we do now.

There are no barriers in the family of faith. Peter had struggles with this as he matured in his ministry, just as we think we're inclusive until different sorts of people show up and reveal that there is, in fact, a wall between them and us. When we say, "They're different than us," we're also saying "They're separate from us," or "They don't belong."

This passage asserts that this assessment is irrelevant. The point is not that we figure out who belongs and who doesn't but that we attend to God's leading in our own lives. Philip attends to God's leading: he goes to Samaria and preaches; he listens to an angel who tells him to follow "a wilderness road"; he follows the Spirit's direction to join a chariot; he follows the Spirit to the Ethiopian who desires baptism; and he is whisked away by the Spirit and starts proclaiming the gospel again, right where he lands.

Philip discerns and obeys at the same time: it's an angel of the Lord and the Spirit of God. If these visitors were not of God, Philip would not have followed them. Having discerned that they are, he obeys.

The Ethiopian does the same thing: he discerns and obeys. This man had traveled great distances to worship the God of a people who excluded him from the covenant of faith. Who does that besides a person who is convinced that the Lord God is One? He was excluded, but he sought this God nonetheless and discerned when the right teacher came to him. Hearing the proclamation of the gospel, he obeyed the call of Christ and sought baptism, understanding with joy that the Lord of the people that excluded him in fact included him.

It's dramatic in that an angel of the Lord speaks to Philip, even though Philip seems to take it as though it's nothing unusual. When Philip follows the Spirit to speak to the Ethiopian, he plows through boundaries that should have shocked him. Perhaps they did. It's not only startling that Philip goes to someone excluded from the people of God (one not allowed to offer a sacrifice at the temple, like everyone else); it's that he also approaches a wealthy, prominent, educated man who is reading and asks him if he understands what he is reading. We usually note the barrier that excludes the Ethiopian. We rarely notice that Philip crossed a barrier of social status.

Actually, both men ignored what they understood about their religious practice or their social roles and simply listened to the same Spirit of God that was active in them both, dissolving barriers. It is as if the barriers never existed.


Have you noticed that no introduction is needed when Philip encounters the Ethiopian eunuch? Both men are rooted in devotion to God. Both pursue the truth of God's salvation. There's no exchange of names and no recital of Philip's credentials. Philip walks to the chariot and with no lead-in asks if the Ethiopian understands what he is reading. The Ethiopian reveals no surprise. Scripture was important to both of them; they both sought the word of the living God with all their hearts. The niceties of social convention were ignored for the sake of a conversation about the living God.

This common bond makes their relationship an intimate one. Philip taught and the Ethiopian learned about the vital gift of salvation. The Spirit of the Lord created this intimacy between the two; the Spirit led the two men to each other. Then the two men became brothers in Christ through baptism

We often unknowingly allow barriers to form between us and others. There are people we don't sit with and people whom we actively exclude for one reason or another. Maybe after reading this story, we can look at things a bit differently and consider that the Spirit has brought us to one another. That might help us to discover our intimacy with those who are different from us, an intimacy grounded in the grace of Christ that binds us all. Like Philip and the Ethiopian, we might very well become allies instead of aliens.


We find it difficult to comprehend that God would exclude anyone from covenant because of life circumstances. The wealthiest are included along with the poorest, males with females, and anyone of any denomination. People might choose to reject covenant with God, but God invites us all.

Some commentators speculate that Philip may also have explained  Isa. 56. In this passage, God challenges the readers' assumptions about the covenant. In Isa. 56:3-7, God speaks and switches things up. Those who treat the covenant glibly, as though all they had to do was follow rules, do not count the covenant with God as prized. Yet in these verses God declares that the eunuch and the foreigner (the Ethiopian on the road!) are included in the covenant because they keep it, follow God's decrees, and keep the Sabbath, not desecrating it. In other words, those that keep covenant with God have covenant with God.

This would surely be reason for the Ethiopian's eagerness for baptism and rejoicing even though he saw Philip no more. In this particular passage from Isaiah (and remember the Ethiopian was reading from Isaiah) those who think they are not Included in the people of God are told, "Yes you are! For you keep my covenant, heed my decrees, and do not desecrate my Sabbath." We know from the passage in Acts that this is what the eunuch did: he traveled far to worship at the temple where he wasn't accepted, which can only be a sign of deep devotion to the one true God.


With which people do we feel distance? What difference serves as a barrier?

How would you describe the relationship between Philip and the Ethiopian eunuch?

Which things of your faith are dear to you? Why? Can you imagine worshiping God even if you were excluded from God's people?


God of peace, your gospel is dear to us: by the power of the Holy Spirit may we share it with those we encounter, no matter who they are. In the name of Christ, we pray. Amen.

Compiled from The Present Word and Congregational Ministries Publishing is not liable for for the content of this Bible Study and Blog.

From The Present Word © 2012 Congregational Ministries Publishing. Used by permission.

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