READ – Acts 8:26-40
Acts 8-10 is a blueprint for how the gospel gets out to everyone everywhere. We see that in Acts 8 as Philip and the scattered Christians begin implementing the vision of Stephen’s teaching by crossing boundaries to reach people who both rejected the temple (Samaritans) and could not access the temple (Ethiopian eunuch). In Acts 9-10 we’ll see the gospel transforming a conservative Pharisee and then a Roman centurion.
1. HOW INSIDERS GO OUT
The first part of Acts 8 shows the fruitful evangelistic efforts of Philip. As part of a scattered minority, Philip was one of many early Christians who went public with his faith. The result: places and people formerly unreached by the good news began to embrace Jesus as Savior and Lord. But right when Philip begins experiencing ‘success’ reaching people, planting churches, receiving accolades from the leadership in Jerusalem, God sends him to a desert road between Jerusalem and Gaza. God sends Philip out to the middle of nowhere for one person. That’s remarkable. It shows us God’s heart. Philip is the ultimate insider; an established leader and pace-setter of early Christianity. But God sends him out – away from comfort and security to reach one person in a desert place.
2. HOW OUTSIDERS COME IN
Consider this Ethiopian eunuch. First, we need to know that this man is a black African. “Ethiopia” in the New Testament world applied to all of Africa south of Egypt. In Philip’s world, Ethiopia would have been considered at the limits or beyond the limits of the empire. This Ethiopian is a cultural outsider.
Second, he’s described as a “court official” of the queen of the Ethiopians. That was a significant role in his kingdom – more like a prime minister than our modern day secretary of treasury. That detail tells us that this man has reached the pinnacle of his career. He is at the top of his game and probably holds a significant amount of power, prestige, and political mobility. And yet, this man has taken a dangerous, lengthy journey, leaving his culture, religion, and kingdom to discover something in Jerusalem. Perhaps he thought that the God of the Bible would give him what neither his identity, career, or achievements could give him.
Third, the characteristic that is most highlighted by the text (it’s indicated five times) is that this man is a eunuch. He’s been castrated. Often in the ancient world this was the price to pay in the political arena if you weren’t of royal blood, but wanted access to the royal family. His status as a eunuch would have been incredibly significant for this man’s life. He gave up the ability to have children and raise a family in a world where passing on your legacy and lineage was one of the most important things you could do. Though his identity as a eunuch afforded him political power, it would have also made him despised in the eyes of many. Castration in the ancient world was thought to remove a man’s status as male. At least in Jewish culture, being a eunuch made you a permanent outsider. Deuteronomy 23 gave strict restrictions on eunuchs’ ability to enter into the temple. So this eunuch would have traveled thousands of miles over many months only to be denied access to the temple.
So why is this Ethiopian eunuch, a man who is both racially other and sexually-altered, reading Isaiah? We know he’s reading Isaiah 53. Perhaps it’s because he has heard about Isaiah 56 which prophesies that one day God would give inclusion to foreigners and a name better than sons and daughters to eunuchs – a name that could never be cut off. And he’s reading Isaiah 53 because that’s the chapter that zooms in on a mysterious figure named “the servant” who was said to be like a sheep led to the slaughter and the one who “no one cared that he died without descendants” (NLT). The eunuch is reading about someone who voluntarily became equivalent to a eunuch as a way of substitution.
That’s where Philip engages him and the eunuch asks, “Who is this?”
3. THE KEY TO GOING OUT AND COMING IN
We’re told that “beginning with this Scripture [Philip] told him the good news about Jesus.” That’s the key. Jesus is the key to it all. The Jesus who substituted heaven for a manger, who exchanged a throne for a cross, who traded places with sinners. Even though he was the source of life, he became like a eunuch. He was the ultimate insider who went out. He became the ultimate outsider so we could be brought in.
QUESTIONS FOR DISCUSSION
1. What about the sermon most impacted you or left you with questions?
2. What are the obstacles and barriers to getting public with your faith? For me, it’s the limited time that I have with people who aren’t religious. In many cases, I feel like I haven’t yet earned the right to speak into their lives with the gospel.
3. Who do you most identity with in this passage – Philip or the eunuch? Why?
4. How is the gospel both the key to getting out and coming in?
5. If you’re an insider to Christianity (in other words, a follower of Jesus) who is the “Ethiopian eunuch” in your life? Maybe it’s someone who is culturally or religiously other? Maybe it’s just someone who is weird and awkward. What might it look like to move toward them this year?