Best Bible Story Ever

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It is one of the most compelling examples of Abba’s affection for the outcasts. It may not be what you think of first.

It is not the woman at the well, or the woman caught in adultery.

It isn’t the story of the leper or the tax collector.

It isn’t about Samaritans.

It’s deeper in the dumpster.

It is the story of the Eunuch.

Act 8:26-39

Later God’s angel spoke to Philip: “At noon today I want you to walk over to that desolate road that goes from Jerusalem down to Gaza.” He got up and went. He met an Ethiopian eunuch coming down the road. The eunuch had been on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem and was returning to Ethiopia, where he was minister in charge of all the finances of Candace, queen of the Ethiopians. He was riding in a chariot and reading the prophet Isaiah.

 29-30The Spirit told Philip, “Climb into the chariot.” Running up alongside, Philip heard the eunuch reading Isaiah and asked, “Do you understand what you’re reading?”

 31-33He answered, “How can I without some help?” and invited Philip into the chariot with him. The passage he was reading was this: 

As a sheep led to slaughter, 
and quiet as a lamb being sheared,
 
He was silent, saying nothing.
 
He was mocked and put down, never got a fair trial.
 
But who now can count his kin
 
since he’s been taken from the earth?

 

 34-35The eunuch said, “Tell me, who is the prophet talking about: himself or some other?” Philip grabbed his chance. Using this passage as his text, he preached Jesus to him.

 36-39As they continued down the road, they came to a stream of water. The eunuch said, “Here’s water. Why can’t I be baptized?” He ordered the chariot to stop. They both went down to the water, and Philip baptized him on the spot. When they came up out of the water, the Spirit of God suddenly took Philip off, and that was the last the eunuch saw of him. But he didn’t mind. He had what he’d come for and went on down the road as happy as he could be.” –Acts 8:26-39 (The Message)

 

This story is often retold as the birth of the Ethiopian Church and thus, breaking down the racial wall of Christianity. All of this is very true and very important. The Eunuch took hold of his new found life and allowed God to use him to transform a nation.

But are we missing something a bit deeper?

Should we not take a closer look at the first individual ever to be evangelized?

Is there more than one mountain moved here?

If you are unaware, to be a eunuch meant that you were castrated at a young age. The purpose of this heinous practice was to create little male body guards for women of importance, removing the risk of a possible sexual affair.

To be a eunuch was to be a non-heterosexual. To be a eunuch was to be a sexual minority. It was an immutable characteristic that they had no choice in.

Now, having an idea of what a eunuch is, think about what it would be like for him, passing by a temple, hearing the Rabbi recite this:

 

“No one whose testicles are crushed or whose male organ is cut off shall enter the assembly of the Lord.” (Deuteronomy 23:1, ESV)

 

He was doomed from the start. It didn’t matter whether or not he had held the knife, he was uniquely disqualified from grace and salvation.

Yet he still searches.

Reading the passage of a sheep being lead to slaughter, a man with no descendants, one that was mocked for being different, was like reading his own biography.

Could this book be more than a guest list?

Could a eunuch really be beloved?

Once Phillip reaches the chariot, he asks the eunuch if he understands what he is reading. I imagine at this moment, the eunuch is experiencing an earth-shattering moment. It makes sense that he glances up, and utters, “help?”

After beginning a dialogue with Phillip, he gets to the heart of his question. One that, once answered, would define this man’s eternity.

Who is he talking about?

Why is his story so similar to mine?

Philip told him about Jesus of Nazareth.

Grace and love rained down on the eunuch as he began to grasp the reality of what Philip was saying. The King of Kings, Savior of sinners, Lover of the lost, was also rejected by the religious establishment. His father was not someone unfamiliar with pain.

During their trip, they passed a river, and the Eunuch, who I am sure was still struggling with what Deuteronomy said of him, asked Philip what was stopping him from being baptized. I can imagine him cringing, waiting to hear the haunting Old Testament words.

Brian McLaren gives a wonderful exegesis of this moment:

“Imagine what Philip might have said: “I need to contact the authorities in Jerusalem to get a policy statement on this issue. Maybe we should wait a few centuries until the church is more established. Baptizing you could cause real controversy in our fragile religious community. In the interests of not offending people back home, I’ll have to say no. Or at least not yet.”

But Philip doesn’t answer with words; he responds with immediate action. They stop the chariot, and Philip leads him into the water and baptizes him.

Neither race nor sexual identity was an obstacle for the apostles in welcoming a new brother into the community of faith. As early as Acts 8 in the story of Jesus and his apostles, the tough issues of race and sexual identity are being addressed head-on. But as we all know, as the years went on, both issues once again became obstacles. It’s only in my lifetime that we have truly begun to put racism behind us – although even there, we still have a long way to go. Now, it’s time for us to remove the second obstacle. Not in spite of the Bible, but because of it. We’ve lost a lot of ground since Acts 8. That’s why I am among those who dissent from the conventional approach and attitude, appealing back to Philip’s even more ancient church tradition.” (http://www.brianmclaren.net/archives/blog/synchroblogging-on-sexuality.html)

RR

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9 thoughts on “Best Bible Story Ever

  1. Though I see your point, I am skeptical that it is fair to compare expectations for the Jewish covenant community (in Deuteronomy and other parts of the Pentateuch) with expectations for a new Gentile Christian. From what I understand, in the old covenant, the point was to make the Israelites set apart from the peoples around them who worshiped false gods and did many dishonorable things. In the new covenant, many of those old ceremonial requirements were done away with (the entire book of Galatians is about this…spotlight 2:11-12 and ch. 5). So yes, eunuchs and those like yourself with a homosexual orientation are justified by faith (ch. 5 vs. 6) and not by good works, such as trying to be heterosexual. Yet elsewhere, God’s word in the New Testament makes it pretty clear that practicing homosexuality is not honoring to him, in other words, sinful- Romans 1:26-27. And as it is says in several places, (like Romans 6:1-4, Galatians 5:13, 16, and probably more), being justified by faith does not mean we can continue or return to sin with no consequences. Rather, being justified by faith means we have been freed by Christ’s blood to live righteously, a result of communion with His Spirit, as we look forward to ultimate communion with God in heaven. (What good news!!)
    I read your other blog on Rachel Held Evans about how your father was hurt (and you were hurt) by the ideas in that video. I feel sorry that you and your father have been hurt in that way. I guess the question I’m struggling with (and other Christians are struggling with) right now is– how does one reconcile the evidence that many have this unexplained homosexual orientation, yet it appears in God’s word that he calls all people to not live in that way?

    • Thank you for your comment! I really appreciate you taking the time to contribute. I wrote this post to simply relay the fact that the first person to be evangelized was a sexual minority. Him walking by the temple and hearing the verse in Deut is complete speculation on my part since it is found nowhere in scripture. But in that day Rabbi’s recited the Old Testament to their followers quite frequently and I wouldn’t be surprised if this wasn’t included. Additionally, this specific characteristic of the Ethiopian plays into the narrative of the gospel- seeking the marginalized. This guy was someone of great importance, so he wasn’t marginalized socioeconomically. He had a voice to the leaders of Ethiopia, so he certainly had power. I honestly think that his evangelism was a two-fold plan by God. Spread the gospel into Africa, breaking down a racial wall, and baptize a Eunuch, breaking down the wall of sexual identity. (Keep in mind, the apostles fought over circumcision as a requirement for inclusion, and demanded that women be silent.)

      When it comes to the traditional interpretation of homosexuality vs the reformed, I will be honest and tell you that I do not know where I stand. There are elements to both arguments that resonate with me. When it is your own life, your own faith, you take this stuff seriously.

      But we must be careful here, on both sides. Straight Christians have a tendency to be dismissive of gay Christians concerns of loneliness, and of their desires to have families. These same straight Christians tend to vocalize their support for rep therapy or celibacy, BOTH of which have high rates of suicide, so I am doubtful that they are the healthiest options.

      If you are curious about seeing two sides of the debate between two gay christians, one is SIDE A (affirming) the other is SIDE B (Celibacy), here is the link:

      I hope you’ll come back and keep me on my toes ;)

  2. Got one more for you! (Sorry if this is information overload) But Rachel Held Evans posted her “ask a transgender Christian” answers, and I thought this was a MUCH BETTER insight into the story than my own:

    “The sermon that became a pivotal point for me had to do with Philip and the Ethiopian eunuch. Do you ever wonder why Luke, inspired by the Holy Spirit—I’m sure—would include the detail that this Ethiopian official was a eunuch? Why not simply state that the treasurer from a foreign land had travelled hundreds of miles to Jerusalem to attend the Passover. Why mention his sexuality at all? Isn’t the story astonishing enough without this detail? I mean, Philip is the first man in history to be teletransported!

    But I digress. Philip had obviously undergone another conversion—he did not shy away from approaching someone whom he previously might have avoided. As a eunuch, this person was ceremonially unclean. No amount of washing or sacrifices would be able to remove this stigma. Yet, he risks his life and travels an incredible distance out of his conviction to be in Jerusalem for the Passover, even if he is not allowed to enter the temple grounds and participate fully. It didn’t matter—he wanted to be as close to the Holy of Holies and was willing to stand behind the fence to do so.

    The Holy Spirit included this not so small detail because it is what gives this story its object lesson for the church and it explains the significance of the question the eunuch asks Philip, “What prevents me from being baptized?”

    This question melted me when I read it that Sunday. The question was pregnant with all kinds of meaning, as if to say: “Though I have been a Jew and have done everything required of me and have kept the commandments, I am not a full participant, I am not an equal. Will it be the same with Jesus, or can I participate fully? Philip’s answer was just as profound—as if to say, “Nothing prevents you and nothing prevents me, we are equals in Jesus!”

    http://rachelheldevans.com/ask-a-transgender-christian-response

    • Great food for thought. I like what RHE said. And I’ll read those essays when I catch some time….which will be easy cause reading time is plentiful when breastfeeding an infant, which is my situation :)

  3. Pingback: Education of a Church: Recognize | Registered Runaway

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