July 31, 2011

Philip and the Eunuch

After Stephen’s stoning, the Believers were persecuted and many were imprisoned. The young man who witnessed Stephen’s death was very active in this. “Saul was ravaging the church by entering house after house; dragging off both men and women, he committed them to prison.” (Acts 8:3) What the council hoped would be the end of the radical movement actually served to spread it. Believers went out of Jerusalem to many other places, where they preached the Gospel.


Philip (the Evangelist not the Apostle), another of the men chosen to minister to the widows, left Jerusalem and went to Samaria. Philip converted many of the Samaritans and “when the apostles at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had accepted the word of God, they sent Peter and John to them. The two went down and prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit (for as yet the Spirit had not come upon any of them; they had only been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus). Then Peter and John laid their hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit.” (Acts 8:14-17)

Consider for a moment the change of heart the disciples had experienced. While with Jesus, they had wanted to avoid traveling through Samaria and were appalled when he spoke to the Samaritan woman. Now, the leading disciples go to Samaria themselves and accept Samaritans into the fellowship of the believers. “Now after Peter and John had testified and spoken the word of the Lord, they returned to Jerusalem, proclaiming the good news to many villages of the Samaritans.” (Acts 8:25)

The Holy Spirit works to bring together and into communion all who are estranged and separated from one another. Philip himself is instrumental in bringing another outcast into the household of faith. Here is the story of Senai Solomon (his name isn’t in the Bible-I made it up), court official and treasurer of Candace of Ethiopia as he reported to his queen upon his return.

“Most gracious and beneficent ruler, Candace Amanitare, Queen mother of all Ethiopia and daughter of the sun, I have returned from my travels to distant Jerusalem. By your gracious favor you, most lovely queen, allowed me to journey there. I have completed important trade alliances along the way for your iron and gold. However, I bring a more valuable message than good commerce.”

“What can this be? You, my trusted minister have been gone for a long season. You left when the sun was at its lowest and return now when it is at the zenith.”

“My lady queen, the journey itself is a moon turning of time. Each stop for trade was a matter of days. As the gracious Candace knows, to gain the advantage in trade, I must be patient until the other party is satisfied.”

“Yes, I know all that. I have become impatient waiting for word of your success. Tell on.”

“Let the daughter of the sun remember how you spared thought for my faith. A moon turning I spent in the holy city of Jerusalem, site of my heart’s desire. I saw the mighty Temple of the One God of the Hebrews and stood at the doors.”

“What is it like, this temple built by the mad king under the thumb of Rome?”

“I can only tell of the shining glory of the outside and the awesome murmur of prayers from beyond the doors and the scent of sweet incense on the breeze. What is beyond the Courtyard I cannot tell you, gracious queen.”

“Why is this? How could anyone refuse admittance to my most trusted minister? I sent you with letters of introduction to the governor and to the high priest.”

“Indeed, I did give the letters to those men. The governor was not in residence, but his tribune honored me with a grand banquet in your honor. High Priest Caiaphas was at the banquet. He is a broad man without humor who only deigned to attend out of duty to the governor’s title and yours. It is the Law of the Jews that no man, maimed as I am in my manhood, can enter the courts of the temple. This I knew, but hoped…”

“You know I would undo what my father did to you.”

“It is of no matter. I drew near to the holy precincts and felt the presence of God. However, it was what happened on my way back to your side, my queen, that I must tell of.”

“Say on, then. Do not keep us in suspense.”

“I was in my chariot, so comfortably provided by your kind majesty, on the road to Gaza. Even in the heat of the sun, the canopy provides shade. It is a luxurious way to travel and I thank you my queen for your consideration. As we traveled, I read from a scroll obtained in Jerusalem. It was confusing to me and I wished someone could explain it to me. Even as I wished for that, a man ran alongside the chariot.”

“How extraordinary. Was there much traffic on the highway?”

“None, my lady, that is why I was surprised when he spoke. ‘Do you understand what you are reading?’ he said. I responded that I did not and showed him the passage.”

“What is this curious reading?”

“Here in the scroll is where I found the words. ‘As a sheep led to the slaughter or a lamb before its shearer is dumb, so he opens not his mouth. In his humiliation justice was denied him. Who can describe his generation? For his life is taken from the earth.’ It is from the Hebrew prophet Isaiah.”

“Indeed a strange statement.”

“Yes, I asked the stranger who the prophet was speaking about. He told me the most amazing things. The man spoken of in the scroll is one Jesus of Nazareth. He was born into Israel as redeemer of all humanity. The stranger, whose name is Philip, told me how the rulers turned against this rabbi and crucified him.”

“How then can he redeem anyone? Dead men cannot rule.”

“This man, Jesus, did not come to rule. He came to die. However, he did not remain in the grave. After three days, he arose.”

“Senai Solomon you mock me. No one, once dead, comes out of the grave, not even the rulers of Ethiopia, the children of the sun.”

“Forgive me, mighty and merciful Candace, I too was skeptical. The man Philip told me how Jesus was seen by many after the resurrection and even ate with his disciples. I had heard rumors of this in Jerusalem, but dismissed it as ramblings of drunkards. Philip was not drunk with anything except the spirit of God. He explained many other scriptures that foretold Messiah.”

“I have heard of Messiah who will come and free Israel. If this Jesus were Messiah, Rome would be vanquished.”

“My queen, I did raise that question. Philip opened my eyes and heart to understand how scripture has been misused to prophecy a warrior king like David, when God’s own word clearly tells of one who will bring healing and restoration and reconcile all creation to God.”

“I can see that you are changed by this conversation. We will speak more of this.”

“One last word, by your leave, gracious queen.”

“Very well.”

“We came to water at the oasis of Ein Yael. Half expecting rejection, I said, ‘Look, here is water! What is to prevent me from being baptized?’ Without hesitation Philip took me, maimed as I am and outcast from worship in the temple, into the water. He baptized me there in the name of Jesus, the Messiah. I came out of the water refreshed and more alive than I have felt in years. No longer did my deformity matter. In God’s eyes, I was whole.”

“I wish you had brought this man with you that I might hear him.”

“Indeed my queen, I would have, but when we came up out of the water, he was gone. It was as if he vanished into the sands of the desert. I have returned to tell you and all who will listen about this Jesus who restores all things.”

“We will speak again. You are changed and it intrigues me.” (Acts 8:26-39)

The eunuch was reconciled to God, despite his deformity. In Jesus we are reconciled to God despite our failings and defects. It doesn’t matter how scarred we are or what we have done. God loves us. How can we break down the walls of prejudice and welcome those who are ‘different’ into communion with us?

The Book of Acts says, “Philip found himself at Azotus, and as he was passing through the region, he proclaimed the good news to all the towns until he came to Caesarea.” Azotus is about 20 miles north of Gaza and Caesarea is another 60 miles further north.” This means that Philip went through Jamnia, Joppa, and other towns while going up the coast. He shared the Gospel with all he met, but we do not hear anything further about his ministry. Tradition holds that he was the first bishop of Anatolia (Turkey).

Next week we will meet Saul/Paul, the most recognized evangelist of the early church.

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