Day 68 – The Ethiopian Eunuch

Today’s reading: Acts 8:25-40

This is one of my favorite passages of scripture.  The story is simple and straight forward, yet it is ruddy and real.  You can almost see the dust being kicked up as the men travel the desert road.

Phillip is sent south by an angel and on the road he meets the Ethiopian Eunuch.  This is a man of means.  He is an assistant to his queen.  He has sufficient wealth to travel all the way to Jerusalem, presumably with an entourage.  His chariot is big enough for two men to sit in.  He is rich enough to own his own scroll of Isaiah.

Phillip asks him a simple question, “Do you understand what you are reading?”

The eunuch gives him a simple answer, “How can I, unless someone guides me?”

Thus the bible tells us, you cannot know the meaning of the Scripture unless you have a teacher!

This makes sense.  If you wanted to learn surgery you could take out a surgery textbook and just start reading.  You could read that surgery text book once, a dozen times or a hundred times but I hope you wouldn’t then go out and cut anybody open.  If you wanted to learn Cricket, you could get a copy of the Rules of Cricket and just start reading. You might learn a close approximation of the game but you wouldn’t understand the nuances like someone who grew up in a culture that played cricket.

But Physics, Surgery, Chemistry, Advertising, History, Engineering, Law, Baseball, Football, or whatever are all subjects of a limited nature.  Yet you still can’t fully learn them unless you have a good teacher.

God however is infinite.  And the Scriptures therefore are full of infinite revelation of an infinite God.  Yet people seem to think that they can just pick up the Bible, read it and figure it out.  Of course, if you very carefully read a Physics textbook, you would understand a more about Physics.  Likewise if you just read the Bible you will begin to understand more about God.  But to really know it, you must be taught it by an expert.

Who then are the experts about God and the revelation of his son, Jesus Christ?

Jesus tells us in Matthew 28, in the great commission he gives the Apostles,

And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.  Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age.

We will see in the readings to come and we know from history that the Apostles passed on this teaching mission to other men by ordaining them Bishops through the laying on of hands.  Through this special calling down of the Holy Spirit, the promise of Jesus, “and lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age” is assured.  That promise of Jesus, together with his promise that what the Apostles “bind on earth is bound in heaven…” assures that the Church has authority to teach the Gospel and interpret the Scriptures.  They are the experts that can teach what the textbook of the infinite actually means.

There is another aspect to this as well.  People do not usually learn well only from just studying books.  People learn well from doing.  Of course, God knows this.  That is in part why he established Christianity as a PHYSICAL experience.  That is in part why we baptize.  That is in part why we have the laying on of hands.  That is in part why Jesus established the focus of Christian worship as a meal when he said at the Last Supper, “do this in memory of me.”  That is why the bible establishes the anointing of the sick with oil (which we will read about later).  It is not enough just to read and study, one must go and do.  No matter how many books you read about baseball you won’t necessarily be able to hit a ball until you go out and learn to do it.  And again, who teaches you matters.  If you are taught by someone who knows, who is an expert, you will learn better.

There is something else that is interesting about this story.  Despite his desire to worship God among the Jews, due to his physical condition the eunuch would not have been able to be circumcised and would therefore not be allowed to be admitted to the inner courts of the Temple.  That means he traveled all the way from Ethiopia to Jerusalem just to go to the outer courts.  Philip’s baptism of the eunuch is a definitive sign that the old covenant rules no longer apply.  The eunuch can readily be admitted to the new covenant.

Tomorrow: Acts 9:1-22

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