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Acts 8:26-40 – The good news extends to Ethiopia

In Acts 8 the gospel is moving out from Jerusalem to Judea and Samaria. The gospel is for all those who are far away – those on the fringes of Judaism. One of those of the fringes and certainly far away is an Ethiopian eunuch, a treasurer of Candace the queen of Ethiopia.

The Ethiopian eunuch has travelled 1500 km to worship at Jerusalem – a five month journey each way. However, being a eunuch, he would only have been able to worship at the outside gate of the temple. Like the lame man who was placed at the gate to beg, the inadequacy of the temple is apparent when it comes to those who are excluded.

It is upon his return trip to Ethiopia that God will speak to him through Philip. Here is another example, along with that of the Samaritans, that God’s presence and revelation are not limited to the temple c.f. Stephen’s speech.

Like Elijah in the Old Testament, Philip is directed by an angel to journey south along a road. The road Philip is told to take is the road that goes to Gaza with the next stop being Egypt. Philip must have wondered if he was being sent there and would have had no idea why. Coming upon the Ethiopian’s chariot, the Spirit directs Philip to walk alongside. Everything about this has the feel of a divine appointment – Jesus is directing his mission.

Philip runs to the chariot which must have seemed a bit presumptuous and weird. The Ethiopian “happens” to be reading Isaiah and “happens” to be reading “Isaiah 53”. Philip takes the initiative in asking, “Do you understand what you are reading?”. The Ethiopian indicates that he needs a guide. Philip then explains the passage in relation to Jesus.

In may ways this encounter reminds one of Luke’s account of Jesus on the Emmaus road – travel on a southern road from Jerusalem, a chance encounter with a fellow traveller who engages with a question, a discussion about the death and resurrection of Jesus in relation to OT scriptures, the breaking of bread/baptism, the vanishing of the fellow traveller, a heartfelt emotion such as joy.

Having believed the word spoken by Philip they “happen upon” some water in the desert and the Ethiopian requests baptism. Specifically, he says, “What prevents me from being baptized?” The Ethiopian would have been denied proselyte baptism in Jerusalem on account of his being a eunuch – nothing prevents his being baptized when he places his faith in Jesus.

Philip and the Ethiopian both went down into the water and Philip baptized him. 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 – the same response as the Samaritans had had.

The Spirit took Philip away and he found himself at Azotus (Ashdod 50 km from Gaza). Azotus, like Gaza, was one of the old Philistine coastal cities. Philip then travelled along the coast from Gaza to Caesarea passing through coastal towns such as Lydda and Joppa that will feature later in Acts.

Philip shared the gospel amongst the Samaritans and with an Ethiopian God-fearer – people on the fringes of Judaism i.e. those who were far off. As Philip works in Samaria and along the coastal strip the gospel is advancing from Jerusalem (Philip’s origin) to Judea and Samaria. We will meet Philip again later in Acts.

Lessons: The Lord works in providence to bring people to himself; Philip’s obedience was important as was he understanding the Scriptures; The gospel is to be taken to the far-off fringes.