Sunday, March 8, 2009

The Gospel for Eunuchs: A Sermon on Acts 8:26-40

Here is in rough outline the flow of thought from the sermon I preached this morning.

A man is returning home from coming to worship at Jerusalem, he is an official in charge of the treasuries of Ethiopia and as a sign of his prestige rides in a chariot. Philip, following the instructions of an Angel and the prompting of the Spirit runs over to the chariot and hears the man reading from Isaiah.

Why Isaiah?
The official is also a Eunuch. As a foreigner there would have been some restrictions on his worship at the Temple, but as a Eunuch he would have been considered ritually unclean (Deut 23:1, Lev 21:20) and it is unlikely he would even have been allowed into the Temple. And yet something about Judaism has attracted and convinced the Ethiopian eunuch to be a worshipper of Yahweh. Who knows, perhaps it was the attraction of a God who, in contrast to most other ancient deities, was neither sexual himself nor demanded sexual acts as part of his worship; perhaps it has some connection with the extraordinary fact of 120,00 Ethiopian Jews living in modern day Israel today, or perhaps this man had already had some touch of God's Spirit upon his life to draw him closer and prepare him for the revelation of Christ? That is all speculation, but what I do know is is that if I was a eunuch and a worshipper of Yahweh, my favourite scripture would be Isaiah 56:3-7. Here a eunuch finds an extraordinary promise that despite his deformity God would find him acceptable, that God could give him something even better than children and grandchildren, if he lived in covenant relationship with God.

Why Isaiah 53:7-8
So why was the eunuch reading this bit? As Christians we are used to reading this as being about Jesus. We read those words and we understand that the prophet spoke them pointing towards how the messiah would die on the cross. But for the Eunuch he must have been struck by how the experience described mirrored his own of being castrated... humiliation, injustice, his descendants destroyed before they ever had a chance to live, his life blood taken from the earth as the family tree finds a dead end in him. That's why the question for Philip is "who is this about?" It could have been about him.

How is the news about Jesus good news to this eunuch?
Philip starts with this passage. This passage that describes the messiah suffering humiliation, injustice, and destruction of his potential at the hands and for the purposes of others. But that was not the end of the story. Because despite what others had done to the messiah God contradicted all of that by raising Christ from the dead to eternal life. Because of Jesus enduring Isaiah 53:7-8 the day promised in Isaiah 56:5-7 was now dawning. Something better than children was being offered to the eunuch. Because everlasting acceptance and honour were his if he would live in covenant relationship with God through Jesus. The eunuch's final question to Philip is incredibly poignant "is there anything to stop me from being baptised?" All his life he had been prevented from worshipping, from acceptance, from being a whole human in a society in which having children was how you secured your immortality, and now his question is one final doubt.. "is there anything?" And Philip answers this question "no!" because in Jesus no deed done by us or to us can cut us off from God's acceptance and grace.

So what?
1.) This story shows us something of how the Spirit of God flows. Prompting and prodding us towards the eunuchs of the world, those whose lives are without hope or meaning by the world's estimation. The Spirit calls us to find them, walk alongside the, join them, find out where they are at with this God stuff, and then starting with where they are at, tell them the good news about Jesus Christ.

2.) It tells us too that those things of the world which we might be tempted to measure ourselves by, either positively or negatively, our offspring, our legacy, our success, are nothing compared to the being accepted by God and to enter into his eternal life. If we are willing to live in covenant relationship with God there is nothing to stop us, no matter who we are, what we have done, or what has been done to us by others.

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