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Diocese of Charleston Bible Study + May 18, 2016

Acts 8:26-39
John 6:40-44

Acts 8:2 6-39 (NKJV) 
Now an angel of the Lord spoke to Philip, saying, "Arise and go toward the south along the road which goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza." This is desert. So he arose and went. And behold, a man of Ethi-opia, a eunuch of great authority under Candace the queen of the Ethiopians, who had charge of all her treasury, and had come to Jerusalem to worship, was returning. And sitting in his chariot, he was reading Isaiah the prophet. Then the Spirit said to Philip, "Go near and overtake this chariot." So Philip ran to him, and heard him reading the prophet Isaiah, and said, "Do you understand what you are reading?" And he said, "How can I, unless someone guides me?" And he asked Philip to come up and sit with him. The place in the Scripture which he read was this: "He was led as a sheep to the slaughter; and as a lamb before its shearer is silent, so He opened not His mouth. In His humiliation His justice was taken away, and who will declare His generation? For His life is taken from the earth." So the eunuch answered Philip and said, "I ask you, of whom does the prophet say this, of himself or of some other man?" Then Philip opened his mouth, and beginning at this Scripture, preached Jesus to him. Now as they went down the road, they came to some water. And the eunuch said, "See, here is water. What hinders me from being baptized?" Then Philip said, "If you believe with all your heart, you may." And he answered and said, "I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God." So he commanded the chariot to stand still. And both Philip and the eunuch went down into the water, and he baptized him. Now when they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord caught Philip away, so that the eunuch saw him no more; and he went on his way rejoicing.

John 6:40-44 (NKJV)
The Lord said, "And this is the will of Him who sent Me, that everyone who sees the Son and believes in Him may have everlasting life; and I will raise him up at the last day." The Jews then complained about Him, because He said, "I am the bread which came down from heav-en." And they said, "Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How is it then that He says, 'I have come down from heaven'?" Jesus therefore answered and said to them, "Do not murmur among yourselves. No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up at the last day."


In the prologue to his account of the Gospel, St. John said to us on Pascha night, "He came to His own, but His own received Him not." In today's Gospel reading, we are watching this theme play out in the Life of our Lord Himself. Jesus came as the Christ, the Messiah, the anointed king of the people of Judea. He came as precisely their Messiah, to fulfill promises and prophecies which had been made first and foremost to them. They were the nation that God had created in order to bear His Torah, His teaching, into the world. He had chosen them to receive His name. He had chosen them to live before the other nations in a new and different way, a way which would draw all of the other nations, ultimately, to come and worship the true and living God. They had failed in this mission, but Jesus had not come to condemn them any more than he came to condemn the rest of the world. He came rather to complete the mission which God had given them, and to draw all men to Himself.

Unfortunately, the Judean people had not just failed in their calling to be a light to the nations, and to be the people of their God, but they had actively rejected that calling. And so, when their Messiah came to them to fulfill this calling and to bring about their salvation and that of the world, they rejected Him as well. Because of this rejection, rather than salvation coming to the Judeans, judgment comes upon them instead, and this in both senses. The vast body of the Judeans who did not receive Jesus, who as St. John makes clear repeatedly, did not do so because they had chosen not to be God's people already, were cut off from the fulfillment of the promises made to their forefathers. At the same time, those who were true to their forefathers, to their love of God and their faith, were purified and found salvation. So, as in the parable of the wedding banquet, the festivities of the consummation of the nation of Israel did not spill out into the streets to include all the nations. Rather, much of Israel failed to attend, leaving open places at the table which our Lord desired most of all to fill.

Therefore, in a strange turn of events, since Judea would not give God her faithfulness, He used instead her unfaithfulness to bring about the salvation of the nations. In the Acts of the Apostles, we have just read of the death of St. Stephen, and the continued violent rejection of Christ by the people of Judea, a persecution that had moved to the shedding of innocent blood. This persecution of Christ, however, does not slow or hinder the spread of the Gospel. Rather, this violent Judean rejection of Jesus is the catalyst that drives the apostles out into the world, first into Samaria, where many Samaritans believed the Gospel and received the Holy Spirit. Now, in today's reading, we see the first fruits of the Gentiles themselves coming to faith and baptism.

Ethiopia is not only a Gentile country, but in the first century A.D., it was a country that was symbolic of the exotic and remote. As black Africans, Ethiopians did not look like most of the people of the Middle East, certainly not of the greater Roman Empire. Their land was distant and difficult to reach over the Nile cataract. Despite this distance, their culture was known to be ancient and to possess wisdom. By the first century A.D., a large number of Ethiopians had come to believe in a form of Judaism inherited from refugees from Judah who came to dwell in Egypt during the Exile centuries before. It is this that explains his possession of a scroll of Isaiah. This particular Ethiopian, in addition to being a Gentile from a remote place, was also a eunuch, meaning that he even above other Gentiles could never become a part of the Judean religion as it existed at that time do to his mutilation in violation of the Torah. He would have remained always on the outside looking in, at the fringes of the community at best.

St. Philip, however, is brought to this eunuch by the Holy Spirit not to give a Bible lesson, not merely to explain the meaning of a passage of Isaiah, or to present to the eunuch an offer, of sorts, to become a Christian. Rather, St. Philip tells the Ethiopian eunuch the truth of what Christ has done, what He has accomplished for the world, and for him. When the eunuch sees the water and asks if there is anything preventing him from being baptized, he is likely referring to his status as a eunuch, and expecting to discover that he is still not 'truly' a Judean. The answer he receives, however, is that there is in fact nothing preventing his baptism, not his ethnicity, not his physical status, all of these barriers have been knocked down and destroyed by Christ. Even Israel's sinfulness, even our own sinfulness and rejection of God, is not enough of a barrier to keep us apart from God, because of the Resurrection of our Lord and God and Savior Jesus Christ. Any and all may come, and Jesus Christ is and will be the Savior of the world. The question posed to us is whether we wish to be participants in Christ's salvation, or if we will separate ourselves from Him, and He will save this world in spite of us.

Questions to Ponder 

  1. In today's reading from the Acts of the Apostles, the Ethiopian eunuch discovers Jesus through the Scriptures. Do you spend time in the Scriptures daily? Do you read other spiritual books to help you understand and interpret what it is that you are reading? As Orthodox Christians, we say that all of the Scriptures come to us from God, do you spend time reading the Scriptures accordingly.
  2. Though the Ethiopian eunuch had a relatively high position in his home society, from the perspective of the Torah and Judean religion, he was a foreigner, a Gentile, and an outcast. What the Holy Spirit communicates to and through Philip is that the Gospel of Jesus Christ is for everyone. Are you selective of who you're willing to talk to about your faith? Are there people who you don't think are 'right' for your church? Is your church aimed at a 'demographic' of people like yourselves, or are you, your home, and your church open to anyone for the sake of Jesus Christ?
  3. We see in the life of our Lord in today's Gospel reading the old adage that familiarity breeds contempt. Because the people are so familiar with Jesus and His family, they are unable to hear and to understand what He is trying to communicate to them. God speaks to each of us through all manner of people and circumstances in our lives. Are you actively listening for what God is trying to teach you in the day to day encounters and events of your life? Are there certain people who you've decided are authorities and that you listen to, and others in your life whom you ignore because you think they have nothing to teach you? Do you look at your experiences as merely momentary joys and frustrations, or do you seek to understand, learn, and better yourself through repentance?

Questions or Comments?

Note from the Author – No rights reserved. If you find anything good, or helpful, or worthwhile in these Bible studies from week to week, feel free to take and use it as you see fit. I do not need credit.

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