His News, Your Barriers

While a member of Mars Hill Church, I was honored to serve on the team that wrote inductive studies in support of the sermon series. From 2011 to 2014, we wrote seven inductive studies; many are no longer in print. This series of blogs include the individual lessons I contributed to each study. I pray that they help you come to a deeper understanding of Jesus through the study of God’s word.


Read Acts 8:26-40.

Imagine during a Sunday worship service, a crazy thought enters your mind.  You can’t shake it.  You need to leave church and walk to a nearby coffee shop.  It’s not that you lack focus on the sermon or you suddenly crave a chai latte; this is a direction not from your own imagination but from the Holy Spirit.  As you enter the coffee shop, you notice an open seat next to an unusual-looking fellow.  He’s not dressed like most folks in this part of town.  He’s obviously not from around here.  Perhaps even a foreigner.  His head is buried deep in a book, and as he looks up with puzzlement on his face, he turns to you and asks, “I don’t get this.  What does John 3:16 mean anyway?”[1]

The Holy Spirit has set up the perfect opportunity for you to share the good news of Jesus Christ with a stranger.

In this section of Acts, we see the Holy Spirit call Phillip from success in Samaria where many convert, to a lonely desert road between Jerusalem and Gaza.  Here, the story of the early Church and the unfolding of God’s salvation plan begin a new path.  To this point, the good news of Jesus has been preached to crowds, and conversion has happened en mass.  Now, we see how God uses Phillip the evangelist to save one man – and not any man, an Ethiopian eunuch, with dark skin, from a land far away, and physically maimed in such a way that even though he fears the Lord, he can never enter the temple courts to worship his presence.

Luke’s account demonstrates that God will position each of us to reveal his glory.  The Ethiopian eunuch shows us that no matter our background God will answer the questions of those who ask with a humble and sincere heart.  And most importantly, through the power of the Holy Spirit with the good news of Jesus Christ, God will radically save the unlikely.

 

OBSERVATION

Who are the main characters in this passage, both physical and spiritual? 

Where was Philip previously (Acts 8:4-25) and what had he been doing?  Why does he now change his location?

Where was the Ethiopian returning from?  What is a eunuch?  What do we know about his social status in Ethiopia?

What was the eunuch doing as Philip approached his chariot?  Why is this important?

How does Philip guide the eunuch?  How does the eunuch respond?  What action is taken to memorialize their encounter?

Where do Phillip and the eunuch (implied) go next?

 

INTERPRETATION

Read Jonah 1: 1-3. 

How was Jonah called to Nineveh and how did he respond? How was Phillip called to the eunuch and how did he respond?  Who initiates salvation both in these accounts and in all situations?  Using Jonah and Phillip as examples, what part do we play in the story of salvation?

Some scholars differ on whether the Ethiopian was a physical eunuch.  If he had been one, how would Deuteronomy 23:1 have impacted his recent visit to Jerusalem?  How did Phillip’s encounter with the Ethiopian eunuch fulfill Acts 1:8?

The eunuch is reading from Isaiah 53:7-8, an Old Testament book that prophesies of a coming Messiah.  The specific section foretells of a Suffering Servant. Phillip began with this scripture (Acts 8:35) and told the good news of Jesus, although his actual words are not recorded.  Using Acts 8:32-33, how do you think Phillip specifically revealed Christ to the eunuch?

What three questions does the eunuch ask Phillip (v. 31, v. 34, v.36)?  And what do these questions demonstrate of his character? 

Read Isaiah 56:3-8. 

Two barriers prevent the eunuch from being considered a “full Jew”:  his ethnicity and his physical mutilation.  What is the answer to the Eunuch’s question in Acts 8:36?

Phillip has just previously proclaimed Christ in Samaria (8:4-8).  Why was Simon the Magician not accepted by church leadership (8:20-24)?  What do the baptism of the Eunuch and the challenge to Simon (Acts 8:21) reveal about what God values?

 

APPLICATION

The Holy Spirit commands Phillip to leave Samaria, a region where crowds come to Christ, and witness to one unlikely, Gentile Ethiopian.  God values one soul as much as a crowd, and often calls us to what the world deems foolish or unfruitful.  How is the Holy Spirit calling you to an unlikely, seemingly unfruitful place? 

The Ethiopian eunuch is returning from Jerusalem – the city of Jesus’ death and resurrection, now filled with several thousand Christian believers.  Either he was oblivious that the Messiah had come or had rejected it, yet the Holy Spirit chases him down literally through the feet of Phillip.  How has God pursued you or is currently pursuing you in order to save you?

What are some common barriers you construct that you mistakenly believe keep you from Christ?  What promises from Scripture demolish those barriers?  Make a list of the many barriers and refuting promises to keep for future moments when the Holy Spirit directs you to share the good news of Jesus.

 

An Interesting Fact…

You may notice that the ESV omits Acts 8:37 as do most common translations.  You can find Acts 8:37 in the KJV, NKJV, and NASB.   Acts 8:37 (NKJV) reads as follows:

“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.”

Scholars believe that verse 37 was not original to Luke’s account, as it does not occur in some of the earliest and most highly regarded versions of Acts.  A copyist is believed to have added it at some point.  John Polhill states,

The added verse, however, has considerable value. It seems to embody a very early Christian baptismal confession where the one baptizing asked the candidate if he believed in Christ with all his heart, to which the candidate would respond by confessing Jesus Christ as the Son of God. This old confession is of real significance to the history of early Christian confessions and would be appropriate to the baptismal ceremony today.[2]

——

[1] This story is adapted from an original idea in Gangel, K. O. (1998). Vol. 5: Acts. Holman New Testament Commentary (127). Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers.  Accessed via Logos software on January 9, 2014.

[2] Polhill, J. B. (1995). Vol. 26: Acts. The New American Commentary (226). Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers.

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