To the Ends of the Earth.

26 Now an angel of the Lord said to Philip, “Rise and go toward the south to the road that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.” This is a desert place. 27 And he rose and went. And there was an Ethiopian, a eunuch, a court official of Candace, queen of the Ethiopians, who was in charge of all her treasure. He had come to Jerusalem to worship 28 and was returning, seated in his chariot, and he was reading the prophet Isaiah. 29 And the Spirit said to Philip, “Go over and join this chariot.” 30 So Philip ran to him and heard him reading Isaiah the prophet and asked, “Do you understand what you are reading?” 31 And he said, “How can I, unless someone guides me?” And he invited Philip to come up and sit with him. 32 Now the passage of the Scripture that he was reading was this:

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

34 And the eunuch said to Philip, “About whom, I ask you, does the prophet say this, about himself or about someone else?” 35 Then Philip opened his mouth, and beginning with this Scripture he told him the good news about Jesus. 36 And as they were going along the road they came to some water, and the eunuch said, “See, here is water! What prevents me from being baptized?” 38 And he commanded the chariot to stop, and they both went down into the water, Philip and the eunuch, and he baptized him. 39 And when they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord carried Philip away, and the eunuch saw him no more, and went on his way rejoicing. 40 But Philip found himself at Azotus, and as he passed through he preached the gospel to all the towns until he came to Caesarea. – Acts 8:26-40 ESV

This amazing first-hand account of Philip’s encounter with the Ethiopian eunuch, was most likely conveyed to Luke some 20 years after the fact, when he and Paul visited Caesarea and stayed in the home of Philip. He records that occasion in Acts, chapter 21.

“On the next day we departed and came to Caesarea, and we entered the house of Philip the evangelist, who was one of the seven, and stayed with him.” – Acts 21:8 ESV

You can easily see from the story of Philip’s mission trip to Samaria, how he got his nickname of “the evangelist”. And this account of his sharing of the gospel with the Ethiopian eunuch only solidifies that designation. He had a heart for the lost and a desire to take the message of salvation to those who found themselves outside the bounds of Judaism. He was a Hellenistic, Greek-speaking Jew, so he knew what it was like to be an outsider. And, like Stephen, he made the perfect choice to take the gospel to the Samaritans, who were considered half-breeds by the Jews. And now, in this account, we see Philip being led by the Spirit to take the gospel one step further, providing “the evangelist” with a one-on-one witnessing opportunity with a full-fledged foreigner. But it’s interesting to note how God was slowly and methodically providing new opportunities to share the gospel. As half-Jews, the Samaritans were worshipers of Yahweh, so their receptivity to the message about the Messiah was high. And Luke records that the Ethiopian eunuch, while a foreigner, was also a follower of Yahweh, having just left Jerusalem where he had gone to worship. When Philip catches up with him, this high-placed official in the court of Queen Candace of Ethiopia was reading from the scroll of Isaiah. And it just so happened that the passage he was reading contained a Messianic prophecy. What an obviously Spirit-inspired appointment. This man’s heart had already been prepared by the Spirit. He was ready to hear what Philip had to share with him, and it had all been preordained by God.

Everything about this story screams the sovereignty of God. That this man was a highly-ranked Ethiopian official, who just happened to be a worshiper of Yahweh should not be treated lightly. That he had made the long and arduous trip to Jerusalem in order to worship at this particular time should not be overlooked. Most likely, he had come during the celebrations of Passover and Pentecost, and his timing could not have been better. The fact that Luke designates this man as a eunuch is an important point in the story as well. Now, the label “eunuch” does not necessarily mean he was a literal eunuch. This was often used as a title to refer to a high-ranking official in a Near-Eastern government. But if he was a literal eunuch, having undergone castration, Deuteronomy 23:1 clearly states that his condition would have made him unwelcome in the Temple. “No one whose testicles are crushed or whose male organ is cut off shall enter the assembly of the Lord.” He would have been viewed as unclean and forbidden from worshiping and offering sacrifices in the Temple. And yet, this is the very man to whom Philip was led by the angel of the Lord. God was intentional in His directive to Philip. This man represented a unique blend of attributes that made him a particularly fascinating candidate for salvation. He was a foreigner. In fact, according the ancient Greek historians, Ethiopia was considered the ends of the earth. And that is exactly where Jesus had instructed the disciples to take the gospel. But God had prearranged for this man to be predisposed to the message concerning the Messiah by making him a worshiper of Yahweh. God had a heart for the lost of all nations. He had a divine plan in place to include all people of every tribe, nation and tongue in His family. And His intentions towards eunuchs was articulated long ago in the Book of Isaiah.

“Don’t let foreigners who commit themselves to the Lord say,
    ‘The Lord will never let me be part of his people.’
And don’t let the eunuchs say,
    ‘I’m a dried-up tree with no children and no future.’
For this is what the Lord says:
I will bless those eunuchs
    who keep my Sabbath days holy
and who choose to do what pleases me
    and commit their lives to me.
I will give them—within the walls of my house—
    a memorial and a name
    far greater than sons and daughters could give.
For the name I give them is an everlasting one.
    It will never disappear! – Isaiah 56:3-5 NLT

 

This man fit the bill. He was a Sabbath-keeper. He was faithful follower of God. And now God was going to see that he heard the good news of Jesus Christ. While his status as a eunuch might keep him out of the Temple, it would not keep him out of the household of faith and the body of Christ.

The passage the man was reading was from Isaiah 53:7-8, a prophetic announcement about the suffering Savior. He was at a loss as to who these verses were referring, so he asked Philip for an explanation. And Luke records that “beginning with this same Scripture, Philip told him the Good News about Jesus” (Acts 8:35 NLT). Philip introduced this man to Jesus, the Messiah. He most likely told him about Jesus’ incarnation and earthly ministry. He brought him up to speed about Jesus’ trials and death, but also about His resurrection and ascension. And there is little doubt that Philip shared about all the events that had happened since Pentecost and the arrival of the Spirit of God. The end result was that this man believed and was baptized. It was common practice for Jews to baptize Gentile converts to Judaism, but because this man was a eunuch, baptism would have been withheld due to the Deuteronomy 23:1 passage cited earlier. That is most likely why the man asked Philip if there was anything that might prevent him from undergoing water baptism. Philip happily obliged, baptizing the man as soon as they found a body of water in which to do so. 

Luke records that, after his salvation and baptism, this man went on his way rejoicing. He most likely returned home to Ethiopia, a changed man with a new message of salvation, which he probably shared with all those with whom he worked, including Queen Candace. The gospel was making it to the ends of the earth. And it had been God’s doing. He had made it happen. Philip had been nothing more than a willing and obedient servant, listening to the call of God and sharing the good news about Jesus. It was not Philip who led this man to Christ, but God. Philip was nothing more than a witness to the gospel. It was God who had prepared this man’s heart and prearranged the appointment along the highway where Philip was given the privilege of sharing the message of salvation with one whom God had called.

This man represents the very first full-fledged Gentile convert to Christianity. And it just so happens that he was a foreigner and a eunuch. He was from a distant land, and like the Samaritans, he would have been an outsider among the Jews. He would have been viewed as damaged goods and not fully acceptable in their social and religious contexts. But he was more than welcome in God’s family. And he would become the first fruits of all those who would believe who were outsiders and outcasts. As Paul so aptly reminds us, we were once on the outside, just like this man.

11 Don’t forget that you Gentiles used to be outsiders. You were called “uncircumcised heathens” by the Jews, who were proud of their circumcision, even though it affected only their bodies and not their hearts. 12 In those days you were living apart from Christ. You were excluded from citizenship among the people of Israel, and you did not know the covenant promises God had made to them. You lived in this world without God and without hope. 13 But now you have been united with Christ Jesus. Once you were far away from God, but now you have been brought near to him through the blood of Christ. – Ephesians 2:11-13 NLT

But we have been united with Christ Jesus. Not only that, as Peter reminds us, we have become part of a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession.

But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. 10 Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy. – 1 Peter 2:9-10 ESV

God has seen to it that the good news regarding Jesus has made it to the ends of the earth and we are the beneficiaries of that divine plan. But He is not done yet. There are more who need to hear. There are others whose hearts He has prepared and who are waiting to hear the message of salvation made possible through Jesus Christ. Are you His Philip for this age?

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)  Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

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