Acts 8, contd. – Return of the Philip

Acts 8 continued Bible with Splendid 70 percent Cacao Dark Chocolate

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Today’s PassageActs 8

If you were reading through the New Testament in canonical order, starting with Matthew and ending with Revelation, then Acts 8 would be the last you’d see of Philip. Even in the first half of the chapter, he ends up leaving the limelight as Peter handles Simon the Ex-Sorcerer’s attempt to purchase distribution rights to the Holy Spirit. But in the latter half of the chapter, Philip gets a solo adventure and an opportunity to do some big kingdom work, and it all starts with an angel and a eunuch.

Eunuchs occupied a certain place in the ancient Jewish world. The Torah, with neither explanation nor censure, forbade them and any other males with damaged sexual organs from entering the assembly of the Lord (Deut. 23:1). It simply wasn’t allowed. Nonetheless, Isaiah prophesied that eunuchs, along with foreigners, would have a place in God’s place: “To the eunuchs who…hold fast My covenant, to them I will give in My house and within My walls a memorial…an everlasting name which will not be cut off” (Isaiah 56:4-5). And I may be going out on a limb here, but might I submit that this prophecy found its fulfillment in the inclusivity of the New Covenant, under which foreigners and eunuchs alike find themselves made acceptable to God through Jesus Christ?

Incidentally, Jesus Christ himself has something to say about eunuchs. Concerning those who abstain from marriage out of faithfulness to God’s will for their lives, he says: “For there are eunuchs who were born that way from their mother’s womb; and there are eunuchs who were made eunuchs by men; and there are also eunuchs who made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 19:12). As one who believes God has called him to reproduce spiritually but not necessarily physically, for a long time I’ve felt an affinity with this verse. Y’all know me, fam.

But I’m getting a bit far afield of the Ethiopian eunuch whom Philip encounters. This particular eunuch was made so by men, but God is perfectly capable of using a eunuch of any sort for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. Philip first encounters the man on the road, reading from Isaiah, and it turns out the prophecy he’s reading concerns Jesus Christ. Philip “preaches Jesus to him” (35), and the now-believing eunuch jumps at the chance to get baptized. He had an interest in the scriptures, and moreover, Luke notes he was “a court official of Candace, queen of the Ethiopians” (27). The queen was able to trust him, as a castrated man, to serve in her court without fear for her safety. Church tradition holds that he was instrumental in founding the church at Ethiopia (thanks, GotQuestions.org!), and it’s entirely possible that his influential position in the royal court helped spread the gospel.

But Luke doesn’t tell us what happened with the eunuch when he returns to his home country. Instead, Luke brackets the incident with Philip’s supernatural arrival and departure. Philip is first led to the take the road from Jerusalem to Gaza by an angel (26), and after he meets the eunuch on the road, preaches to him, and baptizes him, Luke notes, “When they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord snatched Philip away…[and he] found himself at Azotus” (39-40). Did the Spirit lead him to leave shortly after the baptism, with the eunuch somehow not noticing until he’d gone? Did he simply vanish? Is one of the gifts of the Spirit teleportation? Luke’s account provides few details and leaves us with unanswered questions. God works in mysterious ways indeed.

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