The Pursuit of God

Serious Topics for Serious Christians

Know Your Bible Lesson 76: The God Dispensers

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SAUL

While a lot of guys struggle to make it in politics, some are born with a great instinct for timing and a great talent for manipulation.  Our young Pharisee named Saul is one of the naturals.  Filled with ambition and confidence, Saul is determined to climb the ranks of Israel’s power structure.  He’s already got breeding and education on his side—now he just needs to make his mark by doing something big.  Stomping out the new Jesus movement and putting an end to this incessant talk about some blasphemer being Israel’s Messiah would be the perfect feather in Saul’s cap.  After all, he can see how frustrated and humiliated the priests feel by these resilient apostles.  And Saul is smart: he hasn’t tried to rush ahead of the Sanhedrin and steal their thunder.  But now that the high priest has stoned Stephen, Saul is clear to launch a violent assault against the Jesus followers without the Sanhedrin feeling threatened. On the contrary, they’ll love him, and they’ll see his efforts as a clear sign of his devotion to all things carnal—er, holy.

A great wave of persecution began that day, sweeping over the church in Jerusalem; and all the believers except the apostles were scattered through the regions of Judea and Samaria. (Some devout men came and buried Stephen with great mourning.) But Saul was going everywhere to destroy the church. He went from house to house, dragging out both men and women to throw them into prison. (Acts 8:1-3)

With the ominous shadow of Rome looming over you, you have to be careful to exercise restraint.  Saul would love to just kill these irritating little twerps who threaten the stability of the Pharisee’s kingdom.  But Rome says no to killing, unless they’re the ones doing it.  So Saul settles for kicking down doors and chucking Jesus followers into prison instead.  There he can arrange for them to be sadistically tortured and Rome won’t care.  Rome doesn’t want to get in the middle of every Jewish tiff.  They just don’t want riots in the streets.

Now while the twelve main apostles nervously hold their ground in Jerusalem, everyone else flees from the city.  They go hide out in other parts of Judea and in the region of Samaria which is located north of Judea.  They’re really not running that far away yet, likely because they want to stick close to their leaders. But they definitely want to escape Saul’s reach.

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PHILIP & THE SORCERER

Now it feels like a score when the believers flee, but when they start preaching about Jesus in the places they flee to, the whole movement gets stronger instead of dying out.  That’s annoying.  And what’s surprising is how even in the city of Samaria, which is filled with icky Samaritans who the Jews love to hate, people are very receptive to the idea that Jesus is the long awaited Messiah.

Way back in Lesson 23, we learned about the fall of the northern kingdom of Israel, whose capital city was Samaria.  After hauling the resident Jews off to live as slaves in foreign lands, the king of Assyria relocated a bunch of non-Jewish pagans to populate the land and keep the farms going.  Over time, some of those non-Jews converted to Judaism, but that wasn’t enough to make up for their great “crime” of cluttering up land which ethnic Jews felt belonged to them.  By the time we reach the New Testament, there’s a hearty hatred between ethnic Jews and the descendants of those pagan settlers who soiled a portion of the Promised Land with their unholy presence.  Of course the Jewish hatred of Samaritans was totally unfounded because the original pagans who got moved into Israel weren’t given a choice about it.  They were forced to relocate there, just as the northern Jews were forcibly exiled.

In the Gospel books, we learned that the Jews were so into their hatred of Samaritans that they refused to touch Samaritans or share dishes with them.  Talking with them was on a need basis only.  And if Samaria wasn’t so inconveniently parked between the regions of Galilee and Judea, Jews in northern Galilee wouldn’t have had to travel through Samaria so often to get to the Temple.  But as it was, there was constant Jewish traffic through Samaria, and here in Acts we find a bunch of Jewish believers fleeing up into the land of the people they hate.  It’s funny how you can start to get over yourself when you’re in desperate need of help, and suddenly we find Jewish believers being a lot more civil towards the people they loved to refer to as “unclean dogs.”

Now as we learned in Lesson 47 when Jesus encountered a Samaritan woman by a well, not all Samaritans accepted the idea that they were outcast.  Some of them sincerely worshiped Yahweh and were also eagerly waiting for the Messiah to come. So when Philip comes along preaching that the Messiah has been identified, that’s great news to sincere believers. Plus, Philip’s doing miracles, and that’s great news for everyone.

But the believers who were scattered preached the Good News about Jesus wherever they went. Philip, for example, went to the city of Samaria and told the people there about the Messiah. Crowds listened intently to Philip because they were eager to hear his message and see the miraculous signs he did. Many evil spirits were cast out, screaming as they left their victims. And many who had been paralyzed or lame were healed. So there was great joy in that city. (Acts 8:4-8)

It seems like every time we hear about miracles, we hear about evil spirits being cast out of people.  Why are so many people in Israel possessed with demons?  Well, the Jews have been addicted to dark magic and sorcery since the beginning, and here in the Roman Empire, the worship of demons abounds among both the Jews and the Gentiles. One of God’s favorite ways of disciplining us for trying to cultivate connections with demonic spirits is to grant demons permission to physically possess us.  Once they get control of your earthsuit, you quickly discover that your little spirit guides have a whole other side to them that you never knew about, and that side is scary.  Soon they’re throwing you into convulsions, trying to kill you, seizing control of your vocal cords, giving you fits of paralysis, and you’re feeling both terrified and helpless.  It’s because there are so many people playing with demons that demonic possession abounds, and Philip has many customers looking for freedom.  Of course God doesn’t need the help of a human to flick demons out of someone, but the Holy Spirit is choosing to use Philip as a prop in the exorcisms in order to call attention to what Philip is saying about Jesus.  Remember that all of these people are very superstitious and big fans of verbal spell casting.  Philip is doing miracles in the Name of Jesus, which means that whoever Jesus is, He’s got some impressive connections.  If you’re a regular person, you’re going to want to know more about who Jesus is.  If you’re a professional sorcerer, then you feel threatened by this new sorcerer who is clearly more powerful than you are.

Competition is fierce among sorcerers in the Roman Empire, and spell casting tips and tricks are closely guarded.  You typically have to pay big bucks to gain access to another sorcerer’s secrets—that’s assuming he’s willing to do business with you.  But plenty of sorcerers were willing to share secrets if the price was right.  Of course, to cut a good deal, you’d be wise to do a lot of schmoozing first, and that’s exactly what one sorcerer named Simon does when he sees that a major competitor has just invaded his turf.

A man named Simon had been a sorcerer there for many years, amazing the people of Samaria and claiming to be someone great. Everyone, from the least to the greatest, often referred to him as “The Great Power of God.” They listened closely to him because for a long time he had astounded them with his sorceries. (Acts 8:9-11)

Simon does real miracles.  Today a lot of Christians feel very threatened by the fact that God allows demons to pull off legitimate miracles.  Well, He does, and He isn’t the least bit threatened by it.  God is not so insecure that He can’t handle some fleck of a demon doing a miracle without feeling like He’s been trumped.  And when people are refusing to listen to God, letting demons wow them with real feats is a great way to keep them spiritually stagnating.  Remember, the wisdom of God and invitations to come closer to God are great privileges.  If we refuse to respect God, why should He give us such rewards?

Consider what we’re being told about Simon.  The sorcerer has fans from every walk of life.  People actually call him “The Great Power of God.”  Everyone hangs on what Simon says solely because the guy dazzles them with his dark arts.  How are Simon’s followers behaving any differently than the folks who Luke is calling “believers”?  They’re not.  Both Simon and the apostles have scores of fans who are all worshiping them and calling them God’s special ones, yet Luke slaps the believer label on one group while the other is viewed as unsaved.  Are you getting a feel for how easily labels can be misapplied?

When Philip comes to town doing miracles that seem even better than the great Simon’s, guess what?  All of those Simon fans start gushing over Philip.  Naturally Philip starts baptizing them all, but should he?  When even Simon himself gets dunked, we really have to ask what baptizing is worth.  It isn’t worth anything.  Getting baptized, praying flowery prayers, fasting, speaking in tongues, performing miracles—none of these things are worth anything by themselves.  It is soul attitude that matters, and you can’t fix your soul attitude just by getting wet.

But now the people believed Philip’s message of Good News concerning the Kingdom of God and the Name of Jesus Christ. As a result, many men and women were baptized. Then Simon himself believed and was baptized. He began following Philip wherever he went, and he was amazed by the signs and great miracles Philip performed. (Acts 8:12-13)

We can just picture Simon sticking to Philip like glue, trying to figure out what Philip’s secrets are.  Simon has been the main man in town and it’s really rather embarrassing how quickly Philip has stolen all of Simon’s fans.

When the apostles in Jerusalem heard that the people of Samaria had accepted God’s message, they sent Peter and John there. As soon as they arrived, they prayed for these new believers to receive the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit had not yet come upon any of them, for they had only been baptized in the Name of the Lord Jesus. Then Peter and John laid their hands upon these believers, and they received the Holy Spirit. (Acts 8:14-17)

Wow, what reeking carnality.  Since when do we need Peter and John to touch people before the Holy Spirit can move?  On what grounds does Luke assume that no one had received the Holy Spirit?  Well, by now, Luke and everyone else seems to think that one of the big boys has to be around to impart the Spirit of Yahweh to people.  What a bunch of rot.  Both Jesus and Yahweh taught that sincere soul submission to God is the way to obtain salvation.  But now we find Peter and John adding to the salvation requirements.  According to them, you now have to have their holy hands rest on you before you can dare to hope that Yahweh accepts you.  How do you think Yahweh feels about this?

THINKING CRITICALLY

It is vital to realize that the promotion of a ritual doesn’t mean that that ritual is approved of by God.  Also, just because some big shot in the Church does or says something, it doesn’t mean that God approves of what was done or said.  This notion that God won’t accept our sincere submission to Him unless we make physical contact with some big name preacher is garbage from beginning to end.  By now we can be sure that Peter and John are being far too revered by other humans, and if they were really serious about honoring God, they’d be teaching these believers the truth about how salvation is attained.  But instead, we find them tacking on a bunch of irrelevant rituals and teaching people to believe that Yahweh won’t acknowledge them unless Peter or John touches them.

Ask yourself this: on what grounds can Luke say people received the Holy Spirit only after Peter and John touched them?  What’s likely happening is that people are acting all dramatic once one of the big shot apostles lays hands on them, and Luke is then interpreting that dramatic behavior as “evidence” that the Holy Spirit has entered people.  Well, do you realize how many people are faking their falls to the ground in Holy Spirit slaying sessions today?  When the big preacher comes to you and touches (or shoves) you with his hands and makes some kind of exclamation, you want to fall.  You want to fall like the other twenty guys who were in line ahead of you.  You want to think you qualify for the spiritual anointing just as much as they do.  You certainly don’t want to just stand there making it obvious to the whole congregation that nothing happened, because that’s embarrassing.  It’s as embarrassing as not speaking in tongues is at the moment that you cry out that you want to be saved.  If everyone else in the group is babbling in tongues, and you don’t say anything, everyone’s going to conclude that God is rejecting you for some reason and, ouch, that’s a painful thought.  So you fake it, because you’re a human, and all humans would rather be applauded, hugged, and accepted, than criticized, shunned, and rejected.

In the Church, we’ve got scores of folks intentionally shamming as they babble in tongues, fall back on the carpet, writhe around, and swear that they’re feeling some rush when in reality they don’t feel anything at all.  This isn’t to say that they’re all faking it—but if you knew how many fakers there were, you’d get a whole new perspective of what’s really going on here in Acts.

It’s important to realize that Acts is not being written by a prophet.  What this means is that we’re not hearing God Himself being quoted.  Moses, Jeremiah, and Isaiah were all prophets, and as we read through their writings, we’ll find many direct quotes from Yahweh which give us key insights about the Divine perspective of what’s happening.  What’s most interesting is how often Yahweh disagrees with what the prophet himself is saying.  Moses, Jeremiah, and Isaiah are refreshingly honest at times and they record exchanges between themselves and Yahweh in which Yahweh is calling them out on their bad attitudes and wrong perspectives.  Yahweh also gives many opinions as to how He feels about the shady shenanigans spiritual leaders are up to.  If we were to take Yahweh’s Voice out of the picture, we’d end up with a very different idea of what’s going on.  This is what’s happening to us here in Acts: we’re only hearing Luke’s perspective of things.  Luke is jotting down quotations from other humans, but we’re not hearing from any of our Gods.

Consider how often in the Gospels Jesus was ripping all over the Pharisees for leading people astray.  As a general rule, the Pharisees were greatly admired by the common Jews, and their many rules and rituals were seen as holy, not carnal.  Suppose we were to go through the Gospel books, erase every quote from Jesus, and then just fill in a narration that was written by someone who thought the Pharisees were great.  Suddenly Jesus would be painted as a very negative, rude, and disrespectful Figure who deserved to die.  The point is this: an author’s bias plays a huge role in how a story is told.  Americans, Germans, and Russians all participated in World War 2, but do you think they all describe the war the same way in their various history books?  Certainly not.  Americans glorify America and demonize the Germans.  Germans are going to glorify Germany, Russians will glorify Russia.  Each country will downplay their own mistakes while amplifying the wrongs of others.  This is the human way, and when we refuse to appreciate the impact of human bias in the biblical records, we end up with all kinds of wrong conclusions.

Acts is being written by Luke, who is an obvious fan of the apostles, especially Peter and John. We can tell this because of the way Luke mentions those two far more often than anyone else.  There are twelve main leaders in this Jesus movement, but often Peter is the only one Luke specifically names.  When Luke says “Peter and the apostles” did this or that, he’s making it clear that Peter is the guy he is especially focused on. Well, as a huge Peter and John fan, is Luke going to question what his heroes are doing?  No, he’s going to just swallow whatever egotistical rot they throw at him.  This is the human way.

Consider this: why do you think the Bible is God-breathed?  Because Church leaders told you that it was.  You never asked God Himself.  Why not?  Because it didn’t seem necessary when you were placing all of your trust in what humans were telling you.  You think the apostle Paul is great because that’s what you’re told in Church.  You haven’t examined his teachings for yourself—it just didn’t occur to you to question what your human leaders told you.  When you stop to think about how many things you’ve believed without questioning, you can understand what’s going on with Luke. Luke trusts Peter and John.  He trusts their discernment and wisdom.  He trusts them so much that it’s not even occurring to him to question them.  In fact, he probably doesn’t want to question them, just as many Christians today don’t want to really think about what they believe.

Why are we such chickens about really examining our beliefs?  Because we’re scared of what kinds of conclusions we’ll come to.  We’re afraid that if the Bible turns out to be full of error and our pastor turns out to be full of baloney, we’ll be totally lost with no hope of finding the truth.  Many Christians honestly think that it is impossible to find truth or to know God apart from the written Word.  But why do we think this?  Because we have no confidence in our Creators whatsoever.  We don’t believe that our Gods really love us enough to communicate with us.  We don’t trust that our Shepherds will shepherd us.  This is the tragic irony of Christians: they gather together on Sunday morning to sing songs about how faithful and trustworthy God is, but if you show them an error in their precious Bible, then suddenly they panic and that panic reveals that they really don’t think God can be counted on at all. Think about it: if the Gods who created all things are really as good as They claim to be, why do you need a book to have a relationship with Them?  If They can create the whole universe from nothing, how is it that you think They’re incapable of communicating to you without the aid of words on a page?  Well, for many Christians, the real fear is not that their Gods are unable to communicate, but rather that They are unwilling.  As always, it comes down to a question of Character—are our Creators good or not?  Do They really love us?  Are They truly interested in us?  Are They really willing to reach out to us and illuminate our minds with truth?  How far do you think you can get with Them if you are never asking these questions?

If you’re going to be saved from your own idolatry and misplaced faith, then you need the Bible to be a mess.  It’s actually a fabulous thing for your soul that Peter and John are turning out to be dingdongs and that Paul is going to just be a power hungry glory hog.  It’s good for you to see Peter misapplying Psalms and publicly rejecting the Divinity of Christ.  By realizing just how imperfect and untrustworthy biblical records and human leaders are, you are forced to ask questions that you’d otherwise spend your whole life trying to avoid.  Can your Gods really be counted on to guide you in life or not?  Because if They can’t be counted on, then the Bible becomes useless, and all of those worship songs you sing are a pathetic attempt on your part to pretend that you have something that you don’t really have.

Here’s a critical point to grasp: if your trust was fully anchored in your Creators the way it’s supposed to be, then it wouldn’t matter that the Bible isn’t perfect.  The degree to which you feel stressed over all of the errors we’re pointing out to you is the degree to which you’re still depending on the book to guide you in life.  You can’t depend on a book.  You need to be depending entirely on Yahweh, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit.  If you’re going to get far with Them, then every obstacle that is standing between you and total dependency on Them must be torn down.  That’s why They have intentionally preserved a collection of records that are so full of wrong theology and bad examples.  Our Gods knew we humans would try to turn the book into an idol that we could replace Them with, so They made sure to riddle the book with idiotic thinking and such glaring errors that we’d be forced to stop worshiping it if we ever started down the road of honest seeking, and we can’t get anywhere with our Gods until we are honest.  So you see, there’s no need to feel threatened by the fact that the early Church leaders were grossly abusing their power by teaching souls to believe that God wouldn’t accept them unless one of the big miracle workers physically laid hands on them.

You don’t need Peter and John to be good spiritual role models when you have a direct connection with the three Gods who reign supreme over all things.  And once you get freed up from needing Peter and John to be perfect, you can become receptive to the important lessons God wants to teach you by examining just how imperfect those two apostles were.  People cannot be trusted to guide you spiritually in life.  People are wrecked by being worshiped.  They let power and popularity go to their heads.  Once God starts doing miracles through them, they quickly leap to the obnoxious conclusion that they can control God.  These are all important insights that we need to be learning from the fact that Peter and John are now promoting themselves as Holy Spirit dispensers.  No, God certainly is not smiling on this kind of behavior.  Remember that we’re not hearing from God in Acts, we’re just hearing Luke’s take on things, and Luke is so impressed by the awesomeness of Peter and John, that he believes whatever they say.  So when Peter and John strut into Samaria announcing that they’ve come to impart the Holy Spirit to people, Luke believes them.  Instead of recognizing what arrogant fatheads they are being, he watches folks get in line to be touched by the holy men and he figures, “Wow, these two men are really controlling the flow of Yahweh’s Spirit.”  Well, Luke might have been a sucker, but that doesn’t mean you have to be.  You need to think. You need to pray.  You need to ask your Gods directly, “What’s going on here?  Do You really approve of this kind of thing?  Were people really getting saved?  Were Peter and John honoring You with their behavior?”  You need to question everything if you’re going to grow spiritually, and you need to be directing your questions to the only Ones who have real answers: Yahweh, Jesus, and the magnificent Holy Spirit.

SIMON MAKES HIS MOVE

Now let’s get back into Acts 8 and remember that sorcerer Simon is watching all of this Holy Spirit hoopla and he’s just frothing with envy.  First Philip comes to town and steals all of Simon’s fans away.  Now Peter and John show up and they’ve got everyone instantly revering them as well.  Remember that the Samaritans used to call Simon “The Great Power of God.”  Now he’s yesterday’s news.  Something has to be done.

As a sorcerer, Simon’s used to working all of the angles and he knows how easy it is con people into mistaking an adrenaline rush for an act of God.  He also knows how real supernatural spirits are and he’s seen his share of real miracles.  From where he’s sitting, Peter and John have hookups with some kind of spirit that Simon doesn’t know yet.  Humans have always clung to a belief that certain kinds of supernatural power can only be transferred through physical touch, so Simon probably thinks that Peter and John could hook him up with their Holy Spirit casting abilities if they were to lay hands on him and say some magic prayer.  So that’s what he tries to pay them to do.  This is standard sorcerer bartering behavior, and from where Simon’s sitting, Peter and John are just like him.  So he doesn’t think there’s anything inappropriate about trying to pay them to share their hooks up with him, yet much to his surprise, Peter gets in a big insulted huff.

When Simon saw that the Spirit was given when the apostles laid their hands on people, he offered them money to buy this power. “Let me have this power, too,” he exclaimed, “so that when I lay my hands on people, they will receive the Holy Spirit!”

But Peter replied, “May your money be destroyed with you for thinking God’s gift can be bought! You can have no part in this, for your heart is not right with God. Repent of your wickedness and pray to Yahweh. Perhaps He will forgive your evil thoughts, for I can see that you are full of bitter jealousy and are held captive by sin.” (Acts 8:18-23)

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Once we realize how pompous Peter is being, it’s rather ironic to hear him calling Simon out for having a wrong soul attitude.  Peter says it’s not right for Simon to try and buy God’s gift with money.  But apparently it’s okay for Peter to teach that no one can receive God’s gift unless the great Peter himself is there to touch them.

Well, Simon is quite surprised by this hostile reaction.  And since he’s a big believer in the power of the spoken word, he feels that Peter has just cast a negative spell on him by saying “may your money be destroyed with you.”  Yikes.  He now pleads for Peter to verbally reverse the curse.

“Pray to Yahweh for me,” Simon exclaimed, “that these terrible things you’ve said won’t happen to me!” (Acts 8:24)

So does Peter pray for Simon?  Interestingly, Luke doesn’t say.  Perhaps Peter blew Simon off.  And here is where you need to realize that other people’s prayers and verbal curses can’t do bumpkus to change your personal standing with God.  God isn’t going to save you because your mother is praying for you, and He isn’t going to throw you into Hell because a bunch of Christians hate you.  God judges you solely by how your soul responds to Him in life.  Other humans can’t control your soul choices, so asking people to pray for you is inappropriate.  Instead of pretending that God listens to other people more than He listens to you, you need to take responsibility for your own growth in life and ask God to help you learn everything that He wants to teach you.  The Christian obsession with praying for others is a total waste of time and a rejection of truth (see Lifting Each Other Up in Prayer).

After testifying and preaching the word of Yahweh in Samaria, Peter and John returned to Jerusalem. And they stopped in many Samaritan villages along the way to preach the Good News. (Acts 8:25)

As they go around promoting themselves as Holy Spirit dispensers, is it any wonder that Peter and John are well received by the Samaritans?  Just look at all of these pompous blowhards in the Church today who claim to have a better connection to God than you do.  Their popularity skyrockets as they offer to pray for people and pray over people’s things (often for a price).  Then we’ve got these jerks who go around making house calls and claiming that they can pray some kind of Divine “covering” over your home and raise a “prayer wall” to keep the demons at bay.  It’s all a bunch of garbage which boils down to the same lie that they’ve got more access to God than you do.  Well, no, this is not what God says.  God says that if you sincerely seek Him, you will be invited close to Him.  God says that He is always listening to you and that He is intimately involved in your life.  God says that He is always talking to you in very personal ways, so anyone who says differently is lying to you (see Learning to Recognize God’s Voice: Seven Principles).  But there are huge profits to be made in teaching Christians that they’ve been tossed onto the pile of God’s less loved rejects, thus on all sides you will find Christian leaders offering to pray for you while simultaneously teaching you that your own prayers just aren’t as effective as theirs are (see Why We Won’t Pray For You).

PHILIP & THE EUNUCH

Now while Peter and John are going around promoting themselves throughout Samaria, Philip suddenly feels convicted to strike out on his own in a different direction.

As for Philip, an angel of Yahweh 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. (Acts 8:26-28)

The term Kandake was like the term Pharaoh—it was a royal title.  Some translations write Candace, which sounds like a woman’s name.  But while the Romans called their emperors Caesar and the Egyptians called their kings Pharaoh, Ethiopians called their queens Kandake. This Ethiopia is not our modern day Ethiopia, but more likely a region in northern Sudan where the Nubian Desert is.  The eunuch is probably dark skinned, since the Greek word that is translated here as “Ethiopian” literally means “scorched face” or “black.”  It’s also useful to note that the ancient region of Cush, which was located near ancient Egypt, is often called Ethiopia in biblical records, thus making everyone think of modern day Ethiopia, which is misleading.  In the Old Testament, where you find references to Ethiopia and Ethiopians, the original language is really referring to Cush and Cushites.  Some translations still preserve this accuracy.

Now this account of the eunuch is a really neat example of how personally God responds to souls who are sincerely seeking Him.  This eunuch is the treasurer of Ethiopia—he’s a man with a lot of clout.  He’s not riding alone, but is with an escort of Ethiopian guards.  The fact that he’s traveled all the way to Jerusalem to worship Yahweh at the Temple reveals that he has personally converted to Judaism.  He isn’t an ethnic Jew, but he is a religious Jew, and he’s really wanting to know the truth.

You have to have money to buy a handwritten copy of some portion of Jewish Scriptures.  This fellow has a copy of Isaiah, and he’s now reading it out loud as he is driven along in his carriage.  Perhaps he purchased the scroll in Jerusalem, we’re not told.  But now along comes Philip, who is going to get a lot of wary looks from the Ethiopian guards as he goes jogging up to the eunuch’s carriage.

The Spirit told Philip, “Go and join that chariot.”

When Philip ran up to it, he heard the eunuch reading the prophet Isaiah, and called out, “Do you understand what you’re reading?”

“How can I,” the eunuch replied, “unless someone instructs me?” So he invited Philip to come up and sit with him. (Acts 8:29-31)

This eunuch isn’t putting on airs.  For a man of such high rank, he’s showing impressive humility to admit that he doesn’t get what he’s reading.  He probably recognizes by sight that Philip is Jewish, thus he has hope that Philip will be able to give him insight.  So he invites Philip to climb aboard the carriage because he cares more about getting spiritual answers than he does about keeping his distance from low ranking nobodies.

The passage of Scripture that the eunuch had been reading was this:

“He was led like a sheep to the slaughter. And just as a lamb is silent before his 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.” [Isa. 53:7-8]

The eunuch asked Philip, “Tell me, was the prophet talking about himself or someone else?” (Acts. 8:32-35)

This is a good question.  At first glance, Isaiah’s long speeches appear to be messages from God, but in reality, the prophet is constantly changing who he is speaking for.  What we find in Isaiah are frequent rotations between Yahweh saying something and Isaiah expressing his own feedback to what Yahweh just said.  So this eunuch is doing well to question who Isaiah is speaking about in this passage.

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Now Isaiah 53 is a legitimate Messianic passage.  It prophetically describes Jesus’ coming to Israel, and His dying as an atonement sacrifice for sins.  Now Isaiah is a very long book and most of it has nothing to do with Jesus.  Yet here our eunuch just happens to be reading one of the longest and most detailed Messianic prophecies in the whole Old Testament.  Coincidence?  Not hardly.  We can just imagine the Holy Spirit maneuvering the eunuch’s fingers to get him to open his thick scroll to just the right spot before Philip came panting onto the scene.

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. (Acts 8:35-38)

Our eunuch is eager to get right with God.  Since Philip is teaching that baptism is important, the eunuch wants to get baptized right away.  Now is baptizing really essential to salvation?  Not at all, because baptism has nothing to do with soul attitude.  But Jesus told His boys to baptize folks as a way of drawing attention to new converts and giving those converts a way to publicly declare their devotion to Yahweh, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit (remember that Jesus said converts were to be baptized in the Names of all three of our Gods).  Today some Christian denominations are putting way too much importance on baptism, and we’ve even invented different kinds. There are infant baptisms and adult baptisms.  There’s being sprinkled and being fully immersed.  Well, Jesus couldn’t care less about how wet or dry your earthsuit is—you’re not getting into His Heaven until your soul reverentially submits to your three Creators as the Supreme Authorities.  But here in Acts, the eagerness of our eunuch is very sweet and we feel confident about his salvation after seeing how receptive he was to the Holy Spirit’s illumination.  And because too much time with the apostles will undoubtedly lead this man astray, it’s a relief to see the Holy Spirit whisk Philip away and leave the eunuch having to depend on God directly for further education.

When they came up out of the water, the Spirit of Yahweh 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 8:39-40)

WHAT ABOUT SAUL?

Well, we’re feeling good about the Ethiopian eunuch and it’s interesting to wonder what he’s going to tell folks back home when he gets there.  But what about Saul?  At the start of Acts 8, Saul was kicking in doors and arresting anyone who he thought was part of the Jesus movement.  Saul’s persecution is the reason that the believers have fled from Jerusalem.  So has he finally run out of steam?  Not hardly.  At the start of Acts 9, we find him going to the high priest asking for letters that will instruct Jews in Damascus to help him identify and arrest Jesus followers.  How will the high priest respond to this zealous young Pharisee who is so eager to protect priestly control over the minds, wealth and worship of Jewish commoners?  We’ll find out in our next lesson.

UP NEXT: Know Your Bible Lesson 77: Debunking the Conversion of Paul

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