May 2, 2021
Order of Worship:
“You will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8). As Luke records them in Acts, these are Christ’s last words to his disciples before he is taken up into heaven. In the last couple weeks we’ve heard about how the community of believers is growing in Jerusalem, but today’s text is taking us out of the city, showing that the good news about Jesus is spreading. May the Spirit open our hearts to the lessons of the Word:
- Philip is told to go south on the road from Jerusalem to Gaza, and the text makes special note that this is a “wilderness road” (verse 26). How many other encounters with God can you think of that happened in the wilderness in scripture? Do you think we are more attentive to the Spirit’s presence when we are out of our comfort zones, and if so why?
- “Now there was an Ethiopian eunuch, a court official of the Candace, queen of the Ethiopians, in charge of her entire treasury who had come to Jerusalem to worship” (verse 27). Think of how many ways this man is different from Philip – one is Ethiopian, the other Galilean; one is a royal court official in a position of power and wealth, the other comes from a poor fishing village. Why is a diversity of perspectives something to be valued in our churches? As each man brings his own experience to the scripture, what do you think they learn from one another?
- The Ethiopian eunuch is an outsider, but it isn’t (as is sometimes assumed by modern readers) because of his race. Those who practiced the Jewish faith in the first century were actually a pretty diverse group, racially and ethnically; we can tell that by how many pilgrims from different parts of the known world were present to celebrate Pentecost. There had been Jews in Ethiopia since the days of Solomon. The real reason he would have been ostracized is because he was a eunuch. It was not uncommon in ancient times for male servants in a royal household to be castrated; we also see this in the story of Esther in the Old Testament. But Jewish law in the Torah was clear, just read Deuteronomy 23:1.This man might have come to Jerusalem to worship, but he would not have been permitted to enter the Temple court, the house of God. How do you imagine this man felt about his exclusion? How would you feel if someone told you that you were not welcome in a church? What message would that send about you, about the church, about God?
- The eunuch is reading the scroll of Isaiah as he journeys home. Isaiah is a prophet of hope and promise, especially for the outcasts. Read Isaiah 56:1-7. What words of comfort and hope do you find? Why would that message have been important to the eunuch? The Ethiopian asks Philip, “About whom does the prophet say this, about himself or someone else?” (verse 34). Tom Long, a great preacher and author, says what he’s really asking is what we all ask when we come to the scripture: “is this about me?” When you read the Bible, where do you see yourself in the story? Why is it important for us to recognize that this Book that we Love is for people of the past and for us today?
After Philip tells the eunuch the “good news about Jesus” (verse 35), he asks another question: “What is to prevent me from being baptized?” The answer is ‘nothing’ – not his race or his sexuality or his court position or his understanding (or lack thereof); Philip baptizes him and he is welcomed in as a beloved child of God. It’s no wonder that he “went on his way rejoicing!”
I pray that you might feel that same joy this week, friends. You too are beloved of God.
Pastor Maggie Rust