Bible Study | May 5, 2021

Philip and the Ethiopian official

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Acts 8:5–6, 26–40

As we move through the book of Acts, we see the story of Jesus spread—both in terms of geography and the types of people invited into the new community of believers. After Stephen’s stoning (Acts 7), Jesus’ disciples begin to feel unsafe in Jerusalem and scatter to the countryside.

Philip goes to Samaria, which brings to mind Jesus’ conversation with the Samaritan woman by the well (John 4). Because of her ethnicity, religion, gender, and marital status, a respectable rabbi such as Jesus had no business talking to this woman. Yet, the significant theological conversation he has with her is the longest one-on-one conversation with Jesus recorded in scripture.

Philip also encounters a marginalized person; an angel has sent him to the “wilderness road” between Jerusalem and Gaza where he meets the Ethiopian eunuch. This non-Jewish Ethiopian had come to Jerusalem to worship and is reading from the book of Isaiah, which suggests that he may have been a “God fearer”—a person who honored the God of the Jewish people, even though he himself was not a Jew. Philip reads scripture with him, shares about Jesus, and finally baptizes the Ethiopian.

With this baptism, the community of believers expands beyond Jewish people to also include a “God-fearer.” This is a necessary step on the way to including Gentiles in the growing Christian church. And so, with Philip’s teaching, the gospel crosses lines of ethnicity, nationality, and religion.

The man’s status as a eunuch is also significant. This person is a sexual minority, not functioning in the world according to traditional norms of masculinity or femininity. In baptizing the Ethiopian, Philip lives out the reality that Paul will later proclaim to the church in Galatia: “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28).

The Holy Spirit continues to call Christians to these types of “wilderness road” experiences—to be in relationship with people who are different from us as we teach and learn, as we give and receive the Good News. We may find ourselves on the road with people of different genders, ethnicities, or from different cultures. The most challenging conversations we have may be with people who look a lot like us but seem to view the world from an entirely different perspective.

The wideness of God’s welcome can feel overwhelming at times; the road we’re on may be more wilderness than we would like. But we know, from the book of Acts, that this is church at its most faithful: to go where the Spirit leads and share Jesus with whoever we find there.

Think about a relationship you have with someone significantly different from you.

  • What are the gifts of that relationship?
  • The challenges?
  • What uncomfortable situations has the Holy Spirit called you into in the past?
  • Where might the Spirit be sending you now?

God, thank you that the story of your love in Jesus was shared so broadly that it was able to reach me. As I seek to follow Jesus, give me ears to hear the prompting of your Spirit and faith to follow where you lead. Amen.

This Bible study comes from Shine: Living in God’s Light, the Sunday school curriculum published by Brethren Press and MennoMedia.