Like all good stories this “episode” has a beginning, a middle, and an end. It begins on a travel route that originates in Jerusalem and heads southward towards Gaza and on through Arabian Peninsula to the upper delta region of the Nile in Egypt. It ended in the Kingdom of Meroe (not the Ethiopia we know of today), an ancient civilization established by the Nubians which flourished between the 8th c. B. C. and the 4th c. A. D. and was designated by the name Cush in the OT Scriptures. The Greeks and Romans considered it to be the furthest boundary of the civilized world. The kings of this civilization were considered to be incarnations of the sun god and were more ceremonial than authoritative. The real power-holders of the kingdom were the queen mothers who held the title of “the Candace”. Luke tells us that the eunuch oversees her treasury, a modern day Minister of Finance. What is a high official from a country beyond the borders of Israel doing on a road leading away from Jerusalem, especially in light of the fact that his nationality would naturally lead us to believe he worshipped the sun god? Is it a coincidence that he is reading the scroll of Isaiah as he travels? Not when the Spirit is involved! And it is the Spirit who directs Philip to travel upon this road at this very moment in time (Acts 8:26). Philip listens to the Spirit a second time when he comes upon the chariot. As it is moving along at a steady but slow pace Philip is able to come alongside it and hears the eunuch reading the very passage that foretells the death of Christ’s sacrificial death.
The middle of the story covers the conversation that follows. It brings to mind passages like Is. 52:7 and Rom. 10:14-15 because as Philip explains what the passage means it is definitely good news for his listener. The conversation also brings to mind many Bible stories (particularly the one on the Road to Emmaus: Lk. 24:13-32) where Scriptures had to be explained in order for the hearer to gain a full understanding of them. The point is not so much that Philip was a Bible Expert, but more in terms of the Spirit guiding his natural talent and ability to work in the life of the eunuch. Like every point of contact, this passage is only the starting point of the Gospel message which is why Philip must begin there but cover all of Scripture like Christ did with the disciples before him (Acts 8:35; Lk. 24:45). The result was that the eunuch was eager to commit his life to Christ and when they passed by a spring he convinced Philip to baptize him (vv.36-38).
The end of this story has an amazing twist. Long before Doc Brown constructed his time machine or Scotty beamed up his Star Trek shipmates, Philip experienced what Madliene L’Engle called a “Wrinkle in Time” in her well-known children’s book. As Philip and the eunuch come up out of the water, the Spirit transports Philip over 20 miles north to the area of Azotus! Ever succinct in his accounts Luke does not tell us how Philip felt about this amazing form of transportation, instead he tells us that Philip continued to preach the Good News finally ending up at Caesarea Maritima located on the coast of the region where he started.
Philip was a visionary in the mission field. Although a Jew his Hellenistic Greek background allowed him to venture into territories that would not naturally be apparent to his Israeli-born Jewish counterparts. The main point of Luke recording this story is not to extol Philip’s ability to expound on Scripture, but to demonstrate the work of the Spirit in the spreading of the Gospel. Philip was open to the guidance of the Spirit and because of that he followed a route that spread the Gospel through Samaria, Judea and back into Samaria again and even into the Nubian realm. Archaeology shows a strong Christian community grew up there. What do you think would happen if you and I were as open to the Spirit as Philip was? Our times are not very different from those in the Book of Acts. If we follow the Spirit’s lead I believe we will see the same kind of results Philip did. What will our stories read like? Stay tuned for the next episode in “How the Gospel Spreads”!
Ann H. LeFevre, M. Div.
https://www.annhlefevre.com; Olivetreeann@mail.com; https://www.linkedin.com/in/annhlefevre; https://www.facebook.com/ann.h.lefevre