The Mission of God on the Road to Gaza
Now an angel of the Lord said to Philip, “Rise and go toward the south to the road that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.” This is a desert place. And he rose and went. And there was an Ethiopian, a eunuch, a court official of Candace, queen of the Ethiopians, who was in charge of all her treasure. He had come to Jerusalem to worship and was returning, seated in his chariot, and he was reading the prophet Isaiah. And the Spirit said to Philip, “Go over and join this chariot.” So Philip ran to him and heard him reading Isaiah the prophet and asked, “Do you understand what you are reading?” And he said, “How can I, unless someone guides me?” And he invited Philip to come up and sit with him. Now the passage of the Scripture that he was reading was this: “Like a sheep he was led to the slaughter and like a lamb before its shearer is silent, so he opens not his mouth. In his humiliation justice was denied him. Who can describe his generation? For his life is taken away from the earth.” And the eunuch said to Philip, “About whom, I ask you, does the prophet say this, about himself or about someone else?” Then Philip opened his mouth, and beginning with this Scripture he told him the good news about Jesus.
(Acts 8:26-35 ESV)
“The world must know, beyond all contradiction or confusion, the identity of the living God.” – (Wright, ‘The Mission of God’ p.102) Christopher Wright proposes that the mission of God to be known drives the whole narrative of Scripture. How does that mission, the purpose of God to be known as the unique and universal sovereign creator and lover, handle this passage from Acts?
This is one of our favorite brotherhood texts, because we believe that it clearly displays the appropriate response – IDEAL – the appropriate timing – IMMEDIATE – and mode of baptism – IMMERSION. I mean, you can’t go down into a pitcher, right? Yes, I am caricaturing our traditional response to Philip and the Ethiopian treasurer (no, I’m not going to identify the poor guy by his missing parts! I think after 2000 years, he’s probably really sick of being called that! He’s the treasurer for the queen of the most noble nation in Africa! Let’s show some respect, hey?). I know many of our ministers have treated this passage wth respect. But I was thinking about it after worship today, and there are some key missional ideas that Luke shows us.
Evangelism is our co-mission… it is GOD’s mission, and he is always ahead of us working. The Holy Spirit is DRIVING everything that happens in this story! Luke also shows us a deep commonality between the student and the teacher. Look again above and look for the following ideas:
1) Both are GOERS. Once someone is grasped by the gospel of God, they will move! We don’t have to make it happen, and we won’t be able to control it. They’re not going to go where we want them to go, but where Scripture and Spirit carry them.
2) Both are LISTENERS. The treasurer would never have been on the road unless he listened to the Word of God. Philip would never have met the treasurer if he did not listen to the Spirit of God. But even more important, Philip and the treasurer would never have shared this moment if Philip had not begun their relationship by LISTENING. Imagine if Philip had chased down the treasurer’s chariot and just started his schpiel, without showing any interest or concern for who this man is. How far would this have gone, do you think?
3) Both are QUESTIONERS. Philip does not begin their conversation with a lecture, but with a question. This shows great respect for the lives and real concerns of the people around us. Our assumptions and judgments crush the people around us, and we try to choke them (good-heartedly, of course) with the pearls of our Bible knowledge. Little surprise, then, when they turn and bite us. The treasurer, too, takes a chance and asks Philip the question that Scripture has sparked in his mind. At some point, if we are living missionally, people around us will have questions like this. Maybe not scholarly questions about Isaiah 53, but questions about theology and mission and identity. Unless they trust us, they will save their questions and get their answers from the cracked cisterns of pantheism, self-help, and televangelists.
Which brings me to the most missional statement of the passage: “Beginning with this scripture, he told him the good news about Jesus.” Listen: the good of the whole creation requires that God be known and praised as Creator. As the centerpiece of his self-revelatory mission, God is now to be “known to all humanity through the unique humanity and self-offering of Jesus the Messiah” (Wright, 125).
It is not our mission. It is not our story. We who have been caught up in the grasp of the great and eternal God, who owe our eternal lives to his compassion and mission, must tell – with our words, our hearts, our lives – the story we’ve been caught up in. Changing the story – telling about ourselves, telling about all the things that we try and tell people INSTEAD OF just telling them about Jesus – makes our gospel anathema. NO gospel at all.
The mission of God is wrapped up in the identity and mission of Jesus of Nazareth. Philip and Candace’s treasurer pledge their allegiance to that mission and spend their lives in HIS service. Let’s remember that between us and our neighbors is a great deal more commonality than difference. The God who loves us, loves them. Our commission is to show them that love. Let’s get to work!
in HIS love,