As for Philip, an angel of the Lord said to him, “Go south down the desert road that runs from Jerusalem to Gaza.” So he started out, and he met the treasurer of Ethiopia, a eunuch of great authority under the Kandake, the queen of Ethiopia. The eunuch had gone to Jerusalem to worship, and he was now returning. Seated in his carriage, he was reading aloud from the book of the prophet Isaiah.
The Holy Spirit said to Philip, “Go over and walk along beside the carriage.”
Philip ran over and heard the man reading from the prophet Isaiah. Philip asked, “Do you understand what you are reading?”
The man replied, “How can I, unless someone instructs me?” And he urged Philip to come up into the carriage and sit with him.
The passage of Scripture he had been reading was this:
“He was led like a sheep to the slaughter. And as a lamb is silent before the shearers, he did not open his mouth. He was humiliated and received no justice. Who can speak of his descendants? For his life was taken from the earth.”
The eunuch asked Philip, “Tell me, was the prophet talking about himself or someone else?” So beginning with this same Scripture, Philip told him the Good News about Jesus.
As they rode along, they came to some water, and the eunuch said, “Look! There’s some water! Why can’t I be baptized?” He ordered the carriage to stop, and they went down into the water, and Philip baptized him.
When they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord snatched Philip away. The eunuch never saw him again but went on his way rejoicing. Meanwhile, Philip found himself farther north at the town of Azotus. He preached the Good News there and in every town along the way until he came to Caesarea. — Acts 8:26-40
Growing up in church, I watched quite a lot of Jesus movies. They were alright, they were pretty cheesy but they were earnest and well-meaning, and they told the story of Jesus as best they could. As I grew a bit older, I couldn’t help but notice how Jesus was always a white guy with dirty blonde hair and a gleaming smile. And then came the late 90s and the early 2000s, and almost always you’d get one or two black actors inserted into these movies and TV shows. One TV show had the apostle John played by a black actor, and I clearly remember thinking “Well that seems a bit forced – John was Jewish, definitely not black.” But then again Jesus wasn’t white either. And I would then think about today’s passage; I would say “This story already shows that the gospel is for all people – Jewish, black, white, everyone – there’s no need to play around with racial equality when this passage already deals with that.”
And to be honest that’s how a lot of Christians interpret this passage. The gospel is meant for everyone. The good news is meant for everyone. And that is good news, but it’s not the best news about this passage. It’s not the most powerful thing about this passage.
No, the most powerful thing about this passage happens off screen – it begins about a year before this passage, it begins with Jesus’ last words to his followers, that the good news will go from Jerusalem to all of Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.
This would’ve been just a dim, barely-remembered whisper in Philip’s mind as he walked to Gaza at the start of this passage. Besides, he had other things weighing on his mind. See, when we think of Philip, we shouldn’t picture him as a respectable-looking Bible teacher in a suit; he was more like a refugee. Just a year before this he’d been waiting tables and giving food to widows. Then his good friend Stephen gets murdered, stoned to death by religious teachers. Then Philip himself has to run for his life, as the religious leaders of Jerusalem hunt down the Christians, to erase their message of a risen Jesus.
That should’ve been the end for the gospel of Jesus, the good news of Jesus. All his followers have been scattered, they’ve been driven out from the city of God, and Philip finds himself in Samaria, where no self-respecting Jew would want to be. But he tells the Samaritans about Jesus, and many of them believe. Maybe he’s thinking of Jesus’ last words, that the good news will go from Jerusalem to all of Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth. Maybe something is going on? But he misses his friends. He misses Stephen. He wonders if the others are alright. Are they safe? Are they in prison? Are they even still alive?
Then the Holy Spirit tells him to go down the lonely road to Gaza, but doesn’t tell him whom he’s supposed to speak to. So Philip goes, he comes across this outlandish foreigner from far, far away, and the good news of Jesus finds one more believer.
And now it dawns on Philip. The good news of Jesus has gone from Jerusalem, it’s gone throughout Judea and Samaria, and now it’s reached someone from the ends of the earth, from far, far away. And all of this happened just as Jesus said it would. Nothing could stop the good news because nothing could stop Jesus – not the threats of religious men, not death itself. And even now as Jesus’ followers seem crushed, even now as Jesus’ enemies seem like they’ve won, the good news of Jesus is going out, just as Jesus said it would.
This is the best news of the passage. The good news is meant for all people, yes. That is true, and that is good news. But the best news about this passage, the most powerful thing about this passage, is that the good news of Jesus cannot be stopped.
Christians, this is the gospel, this is the good news. You’ve been entrusted with a gospel that cannot be stopped, not by the enemies of the gospel, not by you, not by anyone. The religious men of Jerusalem tried with all their resources, all their smarts, all the violence they could muster, they couldn’t stop the good news of Jesus from spreading. We as Christians are often shortsighted, cowardly, untrustworthy with this good news, we pick and choose who we think deserves to hear it, we package it the way we want it to sound, omitting the bits we don’t like, or we just fail to speak up when we should – and yet, the good news of Jesus keeps spreading.
Christians, this is the good news we know. This is the good news entrusted to us. It cannot be stopped. Trust that the same power that brought a dead carpenter back from the grave is the same power that carries his good news out into the world today – to mainland China, to far-flung Africa and the Middle East, to your friends, to your parents, and uncles and aunties. And that same power makes you brave to tell the good news. So don’t be afraid. Don’t be afraid to tell the good news, to live out the good news.
The good news about Jesus cannot be stopped. The promises made by Jesus have come true. What does this say about his good news? What does this say about his promise? What does this say about the man who made them?
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